Still looking for Michael

“Daddy, wala pa ring balita tungkol kay Michael?” nags my daughter Paramanis-Alia. Still no news about Michael? It’s an irritating question repeated through months of waiting, referring to Michael, our household help who went missing during the siege of Marawi (Opinion, 6/29/17). Among my children she feels the most pain from the “loss” of Michael because as the de facto matron of our house, she was the last one to evacuate on the fateful night of May 23, 2017, leaving behind Michael, his wife and 2-year-old daughter, Russel.

Michael’s narrative describes the untold suffering of families grieving for a member whose whereabouts they still cannot trace after a year of search. They are struggling with uncertainty and doubt, hanging on to any bit of information about the circumstances of the death of family or friend, perchance to perform the appropriate religious rituals and prayers. If adopted families like us feel the terrible pain of loss, think of how hard it must hit the biological families of the  missing.


During the weeks following the discovery that Michael was missing, I thought I could use the little influence I have on the concerned authorities to locate him. I was wrong. We face a blank wall to this day. Our fear that Michael is now reduced to a mere statistic in a senseless fratricide is real. I have grown weary exploring ways of locating him. Our situation betrays the lack of preparedness, if not the ineptitude of the government, to deal with this kind of disaster.

Which brings us to the question: How can the government deal with this kind of problem? Local government units and agencies like the Departments of Health and of Social Welfare and Development can perhaps incorporate in their programs a module to address this conundrum. These agencies can provide and promote special training, seminars and other relevant activities. Now is the right time. Let’s not wait for another Marawi catastrophe to happen. The military, which was the sole authority visible during the siege, can only dish out figures on the number of casualties (the wounded and the dead)—data that could very well be guesswork, not independently validated. Soldiers are trained to fight wars, not to search for missing persons. The agency that could qualify for this humanitarian task is the International Committee of the Red Cross, which derives its ability from experience in wars in other countries. Unfortunately, we did not see its expertise being tapped and properly employed in our setting.


Residents of Marawi took offense at last week’s “celebration” of the anniversary of the start of the siege. It was like rubbing salt on a wound; they felt the insensitivity of their leaders. What was there to celebrate? The ruin of their life, future, homes and precious possessions? Their unabated sacrifice in transitional shelters, evacuation centers? Their endless waiting for the rehabilitation of the city to start? Their fight to drive away their demons, the deep hatred, the cry for blood and vengeance that overwhelms them, and the utter helplessness to rebuild a shattered life?

As if these were not enough pain, they learned from media reports that their “kin,” President Duterte, is open to negotiation with the leaders of the Maute group—the very devils who caused the apocalypse. The wounds of the war are still fresh, yet there are government subalterns playing footsies with the terrorists and suggesting a détente to the President.

What the city residents want to hear is the President brandishing his machismo and declaring with his signature braggadocio that he would hunt the remnants of the Maute group to the ends of the earth to “kill” them, and ordering the speedy trial of those incarcerated so they can be meted a penalty more painful than death by garrote. There should be no mercy for them!

Meanwhile, my family is resigned to the fact that not even Michael’s corpse will be found.

* * *

Macabangkit B. Lanto ([email protected]), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright fellow at New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government in various capacities—as congressman, ambassador, undersecretary of justice and of tourism, etc.

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TAGS: Domestic helpers, Inquirer Commentary, macabangkit b. lanto, Marawi siege
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