From the lenses of a local: Homes shattered, memories lost and moving on

Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 03 2017 06:43 PM | Updated as of Oct 04 2017 12:43 AM

MARAWI CITY - When a man in the Ranao Rescue Team's office handed her a phone showing the image of a destroyed house, Anaida Rascal shook her head. 

"Hindi 'yan ang bahay namin," she said. 

But it only took a few seconds before her denial turned into sheer sorrow. Then a loud cry, a realization that the home her parents had worked hard for has been reduced to rubble.

In between sobs and heavy breathing, all she could say was "Ya Allah" (My God).

The guns and bombs that have left Marawi City in shambles over the last four months spared no one - rich or poor, influential or ordinary. 

And, coming face to face with the destruction, Marawi residents who have suffered tremendous loss find it difficult to comprehend the pain and resentment, said Marawi crisis spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong.

NOT JUST A HOUSE

The Alonto ancestral home several years before the Marawi siege. Photo courtesy: Zia Alonto Adiong

It was not just any house. It was his family's ancestral home, built by their grandparents, Senator Domocao and Hadja Mohmina Alonto, in Pangarungan Village. The house was that of a typical Filipino family of their stature. 

Adiong said most of his childhood memories take him back to the "pink steps" of the house, the favorite spot of the Alonto matriarch. Beside the cobblestone wall, she would sit with her grandchildren, watch them play and be carefree. On special occasions, it was also where she greeted every visitor. 

Hadja Mohmina with her grandchildren. The young Zia is second from the left.. Photo courtesy: Zia Alonto Adiong

"Sometimes she doesn't know the people who visit our home. She likes welcoming people, she would never ask who they were. Pero always ang tanong niya "Kumain ka na ba?" he shared.

Built in the 1950's, the Alonto home also served as headquarters for the United Democratic Opposition (UNIDO) during the Marcos dictatorship. Meetings were convened in the household, and family members, friends and political allies worked there to print streamers and other UNIDO materials.

It was indeed a happy place. Adiong's early years, and his consciousness of the world around him, was formed there. Up until high school, he slept by his grandmother's side. 

The Alonto ancestral home several years before the Marawi siege. Photo courtesy: Zia Alonto Adiong

Like any Filipino boy, his memory of his grandmother and their home was one that remained vivid and would always become a topic of conversation with anyone he met. But those memories, no matter how happy they were, come to him with a pang now. 

Four months into the crisis gripping Marawi, their home, where his happiest times with family were anchored, is now gone. All but the pink steps and his grandmother's favorite spot were beyond recognition, just pieces of cement, stone, glass and metal which now have no meaning. 

I'M HERE NOW...

The pink steps and a wall are what's left of the home more than four months into the crisis. Photo courtesy: Zia Alonto Adiong

Soldiers escorted Adiong to see his home for the first time since the clashes began. He brushed off the thought of becoming emotional as he has seen the city's condition in media reports countless times.

"I was confident na hindi ako iiyak, hindi ako magiging emotional. Pero iba pala 'pag nandun ka na. 'Yung environment, 'yung feeling, 'yung surroundings. Kasi lahat puwede mo nang hawakan. Sa images, sa pictures, hindi mo mahahawakan 'yun. Ito puwede mo nang hawakan, the smell of the surroundings. Lahat 'yun naga-add dun sa emotion na hindi mo talaga makayang i-express into words," he said. 

When his vehicle reached the driveway and he set foot on the compound for the first time after several months, Adiong lost it. 

"Totoo pala 'yung napapaluhod ka sa sobrang sakit, dahil nandun ka na. Tapos the familiarity is no longer present. That hits you hard and then lahat ng memories mo in the past, good and bad, nare-recall mo. Then you start to think, paano ko naman ibabangon 'yung sarili ko," he said. 

His tears were catharsis for the inexplicable pain. Behind him, Col. Romeo Brawner, Deputy Commander of Joint Task Group Ranao, rubbed his back for comfort. Adiong appreciated it, felt ashamed even. But then he thought, no amount of gestures and kind words could rebuild what was already lost.

He said seeing what was once a place of comfort and safety now in ruins made him lose his bearings. His first instinct was to look for the pink steps and Hadja Mohmina's favorite spot. 

When he did, he saw how it had barely survived the airstrikes and heavy firefights. It added so much more to the pain he was already experiencing, because this was the grave site of his grandmother and their other relatives. 

Adiong said he immediately walked to his grandmother's grave. Scrambling for words, all he could say in Maranao was "nandito na ako (I'm here)."

His visit to his family's ancestral home was quick. But looking around, Adiong said, what he imagined more beyond his memories was how members of the terrorist Maute group had destroyed it. 

How each bullet pierced through its walls and how bombs reduced it to ruins is an image that played continuously in his head.

ACCEPTANCE

Anaida and Adiong are just two of the thousands of Maranaos left homeless by the ravages of war. When the conflict finally ends, then begins the harder task of accepting what has become of the city.

"Emotions are and will be high, we know. Ine-expect namin talaga 'yung resentment and frustration," he said. 

But Adiong is confident that the resilience of the Maranaos will eventually bring them back up. 

"First thing is acceptance. It is what it is. I guess it's a question of moving forward," Adiong said. 

The local government of Lanao Del Sur has committed to closely monitor the rehabilitation budget for destroyed properties. 

Aid is also continuously pouring in - a source of comfort for the thousands of internally placed persons in numerous evacuation centers. 

It will take several years and a lot of hard work before Marawi, once a commercial and cultural capital, regains its vibrance. But as the war rages on, small steps are already being taken towards bringing things back to the way they were. 

Clearing operations of debris and rubble have begun in areas already regained by the military. 

From a distance, gunshots and explosions could still heard as troops battle remnants of the terrorist group that laid siege on the city on May 23.

State forces still incur casualties, but bodies of enemies are also being recovered. 

For residents, the wait has become too much. But then, what is another week or two of waiting for government troops to neutralize all the enemies hiding in the war zone? 

Anaida and Adiong share the same thoughts. No matter how badly they want to return, they would rather wait it out in temporary shelters and make sure the city is cleared of terrorists. 

The crisis that has befallen Marawi City shocked the nation. But for Adiong, it is also a defining moment for the Maranaos to show that they are a people united amid chaos and confusion. 

"It will not determine our fate. We just have to move one. Let all the things be a lesson and, from there, we will regain our strength, move forward and stand up on our own two feet again," Adiong said smiling.