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‘Maratabat’ in Marawi

05:05 AM July 26, 2017

A unique Maranao cultural trait has foiled the jihadists’ aim of total domination over Marawi. “Maratabat,” loosely translated as amor propio, hiya, or personal esteem and honor, is a trait peculiar to the Maranao. It means a preference to die rather than be shamed.

Local lore is rich with tales of the Maranao’s irrational choice of death over loss of face because of maratabat. Thus, when the jihadists sent an emissary to Marawi Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra, who had dug in at City Hall, to hand the building over to them, the mayor’s maratabat was piqued, leading him to reply that he was ready to declare a rido or clan war against them and fight to the death rather than surrender. In retaliation, the jihadists ransacked and torched the mayor’s ancestral home and those of his siblings and parents-in-law (that is, my wife and myself).

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If not for the mayor’s maratabat, the terrorists could have trumpeted total victory for capturing City Hall, the tangible symbol of government sovereignty and authority, and hoisted the black Islamic State flag, as they did on the bridges and streets of Marawi for all the world to see. It would have been a propaganda nightmare for the government.

The four-hectare City Hall complex houses the courts and the offices of the prosecutors, public attorneys, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and other offices within concrete walls. It is nested among public and private buildings and about “par 5” away from the Amaipakpak Hospital assaulted by the jihadists on Day 1 of the siege. Some of these buildings were occupied by the enemy, effectively boxing in the defenders of City Hall. The main force of the jihadists was strategically located at Banggolo, the commercial center on the east-west side of the city, and separated from City Hall by Agus River (the source of hydropower that supplies about 80 percent of energy in Mindanao), with three bridges connecting them.

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The sense of another Maranao characteristic, “paninindeg” or high social and moral standing, like one helping another, brought us to City Hall on Day 3 of the siege. We breached the gauntlet of checkpoints after haggling with the soldiers guarding them (the rebels have their own checkpoints in Banggolo and elsewhere). We had a visual of the rebels positioned in the buildings surrounding City Hall. Unknown to them, the complex was poorly protected and vulnerable. Incredibly, we did not see any soldier or policeman protecting the complex; instead, there was a ragtag group of volunteers composed of the mayor’s relatives, some with only sidearms and many with nothing but their maratabat. The jihadists subjected them to sporadic sniper shots and harassment attacks to weaken their resolve to fight.

As sniper fire whizzed past us, I could not help but recall the historic tale of the Siege of Mecca, when Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and his remaining loyal followers (two of his sons defected to the rival Umayyad Caliphate) made a last stand at Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, where they fought to the death. Flashes of the tragic annihilation of the defenders of Forts Alamo and Masada brought chills up and down my spine.

Mayor Gandamra told us then that since Day 1 he had been calling for reinforcements from the military and police but that none came. (Was this the reason the Army commander was relieved?) It was only on the fifth day that Army reinforcements came to take over the defense of the complex and extricate the mayor and his followers, who then moved to the provincial Capitol to establish the temporary city government office.

The gallantry of the men who defended City Hall has been buried beneath the media reports of skirmishes, intermittent airstrikes, mopping-up operations and the humanitarian crisis involving the evacuees. But history should not forget the few men who laid their lives on the line to protect the symbol of government of Marawi City.

Maratabat may have saved the day for the government, but a pall of gloom and misery still engulfs Marawi.

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Macabangkit B. Lanto ([email protected]), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright Fellow in New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government as congressman, ambassador, undersecretary, among other responsibilities.

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TAGS: amor propio, hiya, honor, Inquirer Commentary, Macangkit B. Lanto, Maranao culture, maratabat, personal esteem
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