Marawi: Women under siege

Women in Marawi - Action Against Hunger Canada

May 23rd, 2017 marked the first day of the 5-month battle of Marawi in the Philippines. It began when the Philippine army tried to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the head of a southern militia who swore allegiance to the Islamic State. During those five months of bloodshed, more than 360,000 people fled their homes.

Even if the city was “liberated” in late October, today, 60,000 people are still internally displaced. Women like Aliyah still haven’t returned home and are struggling to adapt to a different environment and struggling with the uncertainty of when, or if, they can ever return home.

Here are their stories.

“Before we had a big house, a bakery and a fast food store. Now we live in a container.”

Name: Aliyah Pacalundo
Age: 67 years
Status: Internally displaced from Marawi ground zero
Lives in: Bakwit Village Camp, Matunggao (Philippines)

Around 12 o’clock, we heard the sound of a bomb near Mindanao State University. We locked ourselves in the house and from the window we saw the Dansalan school burn. The next morning our son came to look for us, we tried to resist, but he informed us that if we did not leave we would be caught in the crossfire. However, my husband had no way of convincing him. He did not want to leave our house. He did not want to leave Marawi.

We said goodbye in tears. My son’s car was old but we managed to fit six adults and four children in it. We went to Saguiaran and during Ramadan we could not stop thinking about my husband. After five days we were desperate, so we tried to return to rescue him, but the roads leading to the centre of the city were closed.

My husband, Ansari, was under siege for 16 days. He survived on rice with salt and 2 gallons of water that we had stored. And for light at night, he used candles. He was alone. He would hide during the day and from time to time would look out the window to see what was happening outside. That’s what he did. He watched the members of ISIS from the window. One day they started shooting at the front of the house when they realized that someone was inside.

My children went to the capitol and asked the rescue workers to help their father. We had posted his picture on Facebook and asked anyone who saw him to please let us know. A member of ISIS recognised him and called us. He told us that my husband was still alive and that they could help him out of the city. We accepted and my daughter reminded them that her father was alone at home and had reduced mobility.

So on the agreed day, at 7 in the morning, they went to pick him up by car. They passed by the market and the city jail, but before along the way the car was shot down by the military. So, they got out and started running towards a nearby mosque. They hid for a few hours until the firing ceased. Then, when it was safe to leave, they returned to the car and left him in Lilod.

My husband crossed the bridge very slowly because his legs were not responding well. He arrived at Saduc, where he was met by the rescue team and the soldiers. When we were reunited, I burst with joy, even though I noticed that he had lost a lot of weight. But that happiness was short-lived; he was soon hospitalised after suffering a stroke. He spent three days in the Intensive Care Unit and then five more in another ward. He was prescribed some medication to prevent another stroke and to maintain his blood sugar levels, but didn’t have money to buy it.

We now live in Bakwit Village, Matunggao, with other residents from ground zero of Marawi. Before we had a big house, a bakery and a fast food store. Now we live in a container. It is difficult to adapt to this life, especially because we do not know when we can return to our home.

“We flee with our nanny, who is Christian, was hidden among the suitcases”.

Name: Jawada Pacalundo
Age: 12 years
Status: Internally displaced from Marawi ground zero
Lives in: Bakwit Village Camp, Matunggao (Philippines)

As we were fleeing from Marawi, some ISIS members stopped us at a checkpoint. We rolled down the windows of the car and after saying good morning they assured us that we could return in three days. We were all cramped and scared to death. Our nanny, who is Christian, was hidden among the suitcases. We had heard that members of the Islamic State were killing Christians.

As soon as we left, she went to her family’s village and has not returned since. We call her regularly to find out how she is doing. She always says that she is well, that she misses us, but that her mother will not let let her come back with us because she fears for her life. It breaks my heart. We have not even been able to pay her her last salary.

The arrival of ISIS changed everything: first they set fire to the Dansalan School, where several of my cousins were studying. Then they killed several Christians and cut off their heads. I saw the heads on the ground. I also saw strewn legs and arms. The teachers at the school who were murdered were killed by mutilation. I do not know why they did that to them. These people were innocent; they had not done anything wrong.

Here in Matunggao, everything is different. I no longer go to school because I am not able to concentrate. I fail the subjects that I used to get top grades for. So instead, I keep myself busy doing chores. For example, every day I go to fetch water with buckets and I help my grandmother cook and wash clothes. Actually, I am still adapting … Before we had employees who were responsible for household chores. Everything was easier, but I know I have to accept that this is my new life.

I don’t think we can go back to Marawi because we have nothing left: no house, no school, no shop. But have not lost hope altogether. I dream every day about going back and playing with my friends. I do not know if they are still alive or dead, but I dream of seeing them again.

“There is no market in Marawi to sell our products”

Name: Johairah Macaombao
Age: 27 years
Status: Returned
Location: Papandayan Kanyogan, Marawi

Bombs do not choose on whom to fall, civilians or enemies. That’s why we decided to leave. We walked along the secondary roads because the battle had already intensified on the main roads. Bombs were falling everywhere: one hit the mosque and two of my nephews were hit.

When we finally arrived at my parents’ house in Pantar we felt safe. However, we had difficulties in obtaining the emergency items distributed by government agencies and NGOs to those displaced by the conflict and who took refuge in the evacuation centres. We only received rice. Nothing more. Those 8 months were very hard.

The war ended in October and on January 19, we were allowed to return to our house, but upon arrival we saw it had been totally ransacked. In addition we had lost our livelihood. Before the war we worked in agriculture, but there is no market in Marawi to sell our products. If we go to the city of Iligan, we spend more on transportation than we would receive from selling the goods. So, it is harder and harder to survive without income. My children ask for food, they cry constantly because they are hungry, but we have nothing to give them.

Now, they are always sick, like all the other children in the neighbourhood. First, it was my son Rahim, who kept crying and had red spots on his skin. He just cried and slept. He slept too much and that also worried me. Sometimes I would wake him up just to see if he was still alive and then the crying would start again. He cried and cried. I tried to breastfeed him but he didn’t want to. I did not understand what was wrong. My mother advised me to take him to the hospital, but we didn’t have any money. How were we going to pay the bills? Or the medicine prescribed by the doctor?

One day we went to Bliss, near Medina. An Action Against Hunger team was doing a medical check-up on children under the age of five, so I took mine to see them. There we met Jonathan, who took the measurements of my three youngest children and after a week he phoned us to arrange a home visit.

She told me that the twins were suffering from acute malnutrition and my daughter, from moderate malnutrition. But how could they not be sick if our only food for months had been boiled rice? They gave us some sachets of peanut paste (Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food) and told us how we should take it. So from that day onwards, I began to feed them with these sachets and by the time the Action Against Hunger staff came back after a week they found that the twins were gaining weight and were much more active. I was so happy to see my children recovering … Now it’s my daughter Sarah who is undergoing treatment.

Hopefully we can go back to our previous life when we earned enough to keep the family healthy. Hopefully we can return to agriculture. Hopefully life comes back to Marawi. Hopefully we can eat again.

“The siege has cut off even the wastes we used to live of”

Name: Arma Dulon
Age: 45 years
Status: Returned
Location: Barangay Papandayan, Marawi

Living in a landfill was never easy, but relying on it to live was never as difficult as it is now. My husband and I moved in 2001 fleeing a clan fight where we ran the risk of being killed. We had six children and we worked in the collection of recyclable materials from the garbage that came from Marawi.

But when the siege began, we resisted for a month until several members of ISIS arrived and hid here. Shots were heard at all hours. We did not want to be killed so we left our house and walked to a safe place. In Baloi, they hosted us in an evacuation centre for several months until we were allowed to return.

Now we have no food left, not even rice. Some days we do not earn a single peso because Marawi no longer generates garbage and therefore the recycling business is practically finished. My little daughter, Alimira, has been very sick, about to die. First she had measles and then she got thinner until her eyes lost their brightness. Older people said it was because of the pollution caused by the bombs. But I think it’s also because of the garbage and water that we drink, which is contaminated. If you add to this the lack of food, I think the result is obvious.

We did not have money to take have her admitted to hospital, so I thought my little girl would die, like I’ve seen other babies die here. But Action Against Hunger took her to the hospital and saved her. Now we receive some therapeutic sachets for her, as well as food and hygiene items. We are very grateful, although we do not know how long this help will last. And most importantly: then what?