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Eerie in Marawi

As I was scrolling through my social media feed on a seemingly typical afternoon, I saw pictures of armed men roaming nondescript streets lined by structures made of wood and concrete.

Little did I know that I was looking at the makings of another attack on a city—and according to the initial news reports, the situation had somewhat run out of control in the early hours of the siege. Subsequently sketchy pictures and reports of depressing things came through. Even at that point, people were still trying to understand what was going on in Marawi City.

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The hashtag #PrayForMarawi quickly trended on social media. Along with well-intentioned messages, there were expressions of surprise, of hatred, of confusion: Why in the world would a couple of people try to torch a whole city, with all the innocent civilians in it?

It was one of those rare times in which I couldn’t get myself to sleep as I thought of my friends and acquaintances who were trapped in that little version of hell. After all, I had gone through the same “routine” twice in my life: during the Cabatangan attacks in 2001 and during the notorious Zamboanga City crisis in 2013.

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I called my family members thrice in Zamboanga that night, and they assured me that everything was fine and that they were updating themselves of the developments on the news.

When I saw the pictures, I immediately realized that the situation was somewhat similar to what happened back in my hometown Zamboanga in 2013, where people tried their best to live “normal lives without panicking” in the face of insurgents taking over six of the city’s coastal districts.

Yet, it was also a different beast this time. Major intersections were locked down, all points of entry into the city of Marawi were blocked off, and key buildings were overrun. One could feel the fear hanging in the air, to the point that one of my friends described it on social media as an “eerie experience.”

War is always a horrible thing to experience. The military operations may look smooth and sleek on television, but down there, it is way different than anyone could imagine.

I am talking about innocent people dying, of families trying to evacuate, of major landmarks being razed. I am not even talking about the prospect of an untimely death by a stray bullet or other means; that’s always a given in any conflict.

The worst part is this: One will see symbols that define one’s way of life taken down one by one by people who are, for a lack of a better word to describe them, heartless. This is indeed the worst outcome for those who manage to come out of the ordeal alive.

How will you be able to resume a normal life in a place that you don’t recognize anymore?

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As the blanket of darkness came down that evening, the government started to air statements on “doing its best to place the situation under control.” At around 10 p.m., martial law for the whole of Mindanao was declared by President Duterte, and as I wrote these very words, military operations were in full swing, with civilians fleeing the city in droves.

There are three takeaways from what happened in Marawi on May 23: First, the price of maintaining peace is eternal vigilance. Second, terrorism does not choose anyone, regardless of age, race, or creed. And finally, standing together in the face of this conflict is the best way to show that we are a strong country.

Yes, it doesn’t need to be pointed out that this is not the time for partisan politics or the pursuit of self-serving interests.

We should help each other out there. It’s time to show the measure of our worth as Filipinos.
Earl Carlo Guevarra, 23, is a teacher of English at Fountain International School.

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TAGS: #PrayForMarawi, Marawi, social media, Terror Attack
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