Thursday, November 23, 2017
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A warm welcome home

opinion / Columnists
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At Large

A warm welcome home

Most touching was TV footage of the warm welcome that awaited soldiers returning from almost six months of battle in Marawi.

As troops belonging to the Army’s First Infantry Battalion of the Second Infantry Division, who were among the first to be deployed to Marawi when fighting broke out between government forces and fighters belonging to the Maute-Islamic State group, deplaned, TV cameras shifted focus to their wives, children and other relatives gathered at the Villamor Air Base.

It was hard to tell which was more moving: the sudden smiles blooming on the faces of the battle-hardened soldiers, or the tears and joyous expressions on family members finally catching sight of husbands, fathers, brothers and, perhaps in a few cases, wives, mothers and sisters.

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Though we have become inured to sights of soldiers in uniform, buildings and homes in ruins, and even bodies being carried out of still-smoking rubble, the scenes at Villamor roused feelings of empathy and relief that now the fighting is over.

I could not but be moved by the sight of wives and children waiting anxiously on the sidelines, they who had shared the agony of the last months as they awaited word of their family members’ safety. The welcome signs they held up may have been crude and handmade, but they were very real expressions of the pride — and relief — they must have felt at the moment. May they find in the next few days a respite from the anxiety of the past few months, and the chance to reconnect and rebuild their ties with their loved ones.

Unfortunately for the civilians left behind in Marawi, the sense of finality and closure has yet to come.

They face months, years even, of rebuilding their beloved city from scratch, and starting over with practically nothing to their name. Their sleep will be disturbed, and moments of anxiety will punctuate their days, as memories of the street-by-street fighting and bombardment come back. For the children, there is the need to start anew with their interrupted education and cope with the free-floating anxiety that haunts them.

Certainly, this is not the time to abandon the people of Marawi, not at this moment of their greatest challenge and struggle. They may no longer need relief goods or the basics of survival but they will need everything else, including permanent housing, basic infrastructure, and the capital they need to start over.

Marawi will rise again, but all of us need to get together with its people and pool our capacities for even more generosity.

* * *

You know Christmas is approaching when talk turns to bazaars, gift-giving, festivals and feasts.

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One of the more exciting Christmas activities set in December is “Christmas by Manila Bay.” It is a project sponsored by the Department of Tourism, with the Automobile Association of the Philippines and the International School of Sustainable Tourism headed by former tourism secretary Mina Gabor. They are supported by ABS-CBN, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Citem, the Department of Trade and Industry, and other government entities.

On Dec. 15-17, the entire area fronting the Quirino Grandstand will be the site of various Christmas-themed events, including a Christmas Market, a staging area for “Palarong Pinoy” featuring indigenous children’s games, a cooking exhibition of Pinoy food, fluvial and car parades, Simbang Gabi, and a Christmas concert on the last day. ABS-CBN will also be staging live shows including “Tawag ng Tanghalan,” “It’s Showtime,” and “ASAP.”

But if you ask Gabor, the “heart” of the three-day event is the Christmas gift-giving for the children of Marawi, Tacloban and various impoverished communities. For a minimum of P200, said Gabor, the public can give a gift to one child from these target areas, although people are free to donate more than one gift, or gifts, beyond the minimum cost. So while holiday-makers are enjoying the sights, sounds and merriment of our typical Pinoy Yuletide celebrations, everyone will also be given a chance to share a gift from the heart, to children who most need to feel the spirit of the season.

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TAGS: 1st Infantry Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, At Large, Christmas by Manila Bay, Marawi evacuees, Marawi siege, Rina Jimenez-David
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