Marawi is no stranger to calamity, natural or manmade. Its people have experienced untold physical, emotional and psychological trauma but have always emerged “wounded but unbowed.” And, figuratively like the fabled bamboo, they sway with the wind, however strong, yet their spirit remains intact. The introspective cannot help but ask what they have done to incur the wrath of Allah (SWT). Have they been remiss and deviant from the teachings of the Quran al Karim and Hadith al Sharif? They have a share of the drug problem, kidnapping for ransom, mismanagement by past city administrators, etc., but these are nowhere near the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I distinctly recall that on April 19, 1955, the eve of my graduation from Dansalan (the former name of Marawi) Central Elementary School, we were hit by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that caused scores of deaths, mostly by drowning and the collapse of buildings and infrastructures. Lanao del Sur is one of the seismically active provinces in the country because of the Mindanao Fault, and the shaking of the ground caused what volcanologists call a seiche, or a “phenomenon causing temporary oscillation in an enclosed body of water.” The people around the lake, hundreds of them, were the victims, with Marawi taking the brunt of the destruction.
On Oct. 21, 1972, the first shot in defiance of martial law was fired in Marawi when rebels identifying themselves as “Ikhlas” and affiliated with the mainstream Moro National Liberation Front besieged and almost overran the city. There was heavy fighting between government forces and the rebels, but it lasted only about four days because the rebels had run short of ammo and firepower and fled the city.
The principal victims were the Christian residents of Marawi. A number of commercial buildings were razed. Since then, Marawi has been threatened by marauding armed groups masquerading as mujahideen. This started the diaspora of the Maranaw, who settled in other places that honed their enterprising character (selling DVDs and other wares in Greenhills, for example, or elsewhere in the country’s urban areas).
In 2015, Marawi was hit by another “calamity” of tectonic proportions: Almost all families in the city fell prey to the get-rich-quick Ponzi scheme concocted by a young enterprising man, Coco Rasuman (now behind bars). They were swindled of billions of pesos; a tribe of lesser mettle would have broken down, its spirit crushed. While the pain was not physical, still it exacted a heavy toll on their mental and social condition. The scandal triggered the breakup of families and even rido or clan wars. The case is still under litigation, leaving the victims holding the empty bag, so to speak.
And now the present impasse in the war between government troops and local jihadists motivated by the imported Wahhabi-Salafist ideology of the Daesh, wreaking havoc on the city and causing a humanitarian crisis with no end in sight.
In a recent visit to an evacuation center in Iligan, President Duterte accurately described the resilience of the Maranaw to weather crises. He summed up their enterprising character by saying they could fabricate “just about anything” and pass it off as real. While this was said probably with tongue in cheek, it is true. This brings to mind my “baptismal” litigation case concerning a client, Datu Molok, from Tugaya, a town famous for brass making. He was criminally charged for minting Philippine coins. I can’t forget the case if only for his offer of a ganta of coins as attorney’s fee for winning the case, which I declined.
As I have written earlier, Marawi, like the fabled phoenix, will rise again from the ruins of the war, in sha Allah (God permitting), and will come out stronger to regain its beauty. Let me wax poetic by quoting the poet William Wordsworth: “Though nothing can bring back the hour/ Of splendour in the grass…/ We will grieve not, rather find/ Strength in what remains behind….”
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Macabangkit Lanto ([email protected]), UP Law 1967, was Fulbright Fellow to New York University for postgraduate studies. He has served government in various capacities.
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