IT was a fine, silent afternoon last May 23, and I could feel the cool breeze in the Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi, after spending the entire night doing my final requirements.
I can still remember the time. It was 1:23 p.m. when my empty stomach disturbed me after two hours of sleep, and so I went out and to find something to eat. The campus was lively. I saw many students roaming around, each busy doing their papers because the semester was ending soon.
I stopped at a small stand to buy street food. While waiting, I heard helicopters and gunshots, along with some people saying, “Myaka sold dn su mga ISIS sa Marawi.” (“The ISIS are now inside Marawi.”) Hearing that was not new to me.
But later, the gunshots didn’t stop. It became worse than what we used to hear. Classes were forced to stop and some stores closed. As I ran to reach my cottage, I heard more gunshots. The campus became very busy with people running everywhere and parents arriving to take their children. Everyone rushed to go home.
As I reached my cottage, I found my board mates packing their things. “Mas maayo na ni para deretso ta dagan ba, kay mora’g delikado na gyud ni (It’s better to be ready so we can go right away. This sounds dangerous),” one of them said. Some bought canned goods, rice, and eggs. I was confused, but the most important things I had in mind were the final exam left and the requirements that had to be submitted next day.
I didn’t notice that it was already evening, and there was no electricity. Worse, there was no water. We saw only darkness and heard explosions from everywhere.
Social media was full of posts about Marawi. Text messages were received every minute and the sound of gunshots continued, with bomb explosions added, until the morning of May 24.
All of us didn’t have much sleep. We decided to evacuate but then people stopped us, saying it was dangerous to go outside the campus and there was no transportation to Iligan City.
The school administration’s office offered some bread and water to the students who were trapped inside the campus. I had to wait for the go-signal to go to Iligan. On the second day of martial law in Mindanao, the administration arranged for some free transportation to evacuate all the students.
I was one of the thousands of students who fell in line from 6 a.m. at a dormitory, hoping for a ride to escape Marawi. We grouped ourselves into 15 to 20. The environment felt scary and all of us were hungry while waiting for the next vehicle to arrive.
Some cried, others stayed busy answering their relatives’ calls, and the sound of gunshots was still there.
Long way from home
At 10 a.m. when four more vehicles arrived, I pushed through a crowd to enter one. I can still remember a cameraman filming the scene, but I had no time to be embarrassed. I had to go home because my parents had no access to me due to an unstable signal. My feet trembled, my stomach was empty. All we had was a limited supply of water.
To leave Marawi, our vehicle had to cross a river. In the middle of a heavy downpour, the tires got stuck in the mud, so we had to get out and push. After 15 or so minutes, we pushed the vehicle free.
When we reached Barangay Balo-i, what welcomed us was overwhelming. Some Muslim brothers and sisters were standing in the street, offering food and free water to the evacuees. I almost cried thinking how warm-hearted Filipinos are.
We arrived in Iligan at exactly 1 p.m. I later heard that some vehicles who took another route were caught in traffic. Some students had to travel for 16 hours.
Nakaginhawa gyud ko ug ayo pag-abot sa Iligan kay samtang naa pa mi sa area sa Lanao wala gyud mi nahimutang sige’g huna-huna basin unya’g pabuthan me ug sunogon among jeep. (I heaved a sigh of relief in Iligan. While we were in Lanao, I couldn’t help but worry that we might get shot or that our vehicle might get burned.)
Once in Iligan, I ate my fill, after two days without any rice.
I thought the war would end in just three days. I regret not bringing my shoes and more clothes, because I thought we would manage to return to Marawi soon.
I will miss the foggy environment of Marawi, the sweet and caring people who live there. Asa na kaha karon akong mga friends nga Maranao? (I wonder where my Maranao friends are now?)
It was once a fine, cold afternoon in Marawi, but in just an unexpected moment, the bombs and gunfire ruined the calm place that we called home. I wonder when we can go back there without fear. Rigine Clyr L. Arraz, Marawi State University Intern