Stories from Under the Rubble:

Inside the Battle of

Marawi

Story by Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News
Images by Jonathan Cellona and Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

Atop a sniper's nest

Chapter I

That morning, just over 200 meters away from the position of Santor, in an abandoned building in the business district of Marawi, a Marine sniper slipped his rifle into a "rat hole," held it in perfect stillness, an eye on the scope, waiting for a kill.

sniper Falcon

"One shot, one kill," thought the sniper, Falcon , as he breathed in and out trying to catch his rhythm, making an effort to ignore the thoughts of his fallen comrades who were just with him a few months ago.

It was on Mapandi bridge—one of 3 key bridges crossing Agus River going east to the main battle area—where 13 of his fellow Marines died, including his dear friend, Technical Sgt. Aldrin Dinglasan.

"Isang matapang na Marino. Mahilig makipag-joke. Magaling magturo ng mga nalalaman niyang technique," a mournful Falcon described his friend, who was a member of the elite Marine Special Operations Group (MARSOG).

(A brave Marine, a joker and a good teacher of military techniques.)

It was a death trap, recalled Falcon, who was on higher ground watching eye-squinted through the scope of his rifle, when Marine troops tried to advance from the bridge towards the street, surrounded by buildings just a few hours past midnight.

But they only realized they were caught in a kill zone when the terrorists, already fortified in the upper floors of the buildings, suddenly unleashed a storm of heavy gunfire, grenades and molotov cocktails. At least 14 hours of firefight followed.

"Pumunta kami doon alas-2:00 madaling araw. Noong nagkabakbakan na, nagpursige na kami na umatras. Nakaatras kami doon mga gabi, mga 10:00... Kalakasan pa nila e, marami pa silang bala noon. Hindi lang bala ang kuwan kundi gasolina, granada ang itinatapon sa 'min," he recounted.

(We went there 2:00 a.m. When the firefight started, we decided to retreat. It was already dark when we were able to retreat, probably around 10:00 p.m. They still had a lot of ammunition. And not just that, they also threw gasoline and grenade at us.)

"Binakantehan nila 'yung isang building tapos 'yung isang building naka-dug in na pala sila para pagpasok ng sundalo, doon nila titirahin. Pinagplanuhan talaga nila," he said.

He added that most of them in the Marines were trained for thick jungle battles, like the ones in the mountains of Sulu, but not for urban warfare.

(They deliberately left some buildings vacant while they were already dug inside the adjacent structures. When soldiers came in, they attacked in surprise. They really planned for it.)

But the battle did not end in retreat. Despite the difficulty of getting through an area in the middle of terrorist-infested buildings, the valiant troops did not give up. Instead, they tried to enter the Mapandi area through a much farther bridge.

As planned, Falcon and his team took a position in an abandoned building, made another rat hole, slipped his rifle, eye on the scope, waited for an enemy in perfect stillness, breathed in, breathed out—"one shot, one kill."

"Naghanap kami ng ibang plano. Umikot kami sa ibang bridge at doon na kami nagpuwesto ulit sa kabilang bridge, pa-forward papuntang Mapandi. Kaming snipers, support kami sa tropa kung mag-move na sila," he said.

(We thought of another plan. We turned back and went to another bridge. We established position there and went forward to Mapandi. We, snipers, were the support if the troops move in.)

"Pag makakuha ka ng isang ISIS o Maute, makapatay ka, malaking bagay 'yan kahit man lang isa o marami. Malaking bagay yan para mabawas-bawasan 'yung strength nila o lakas nila. Maka-low morale din sa kalaban," he added.

(Whether you kill one or many ISIS or Maute fighters, it is a big help to weaken them or damage their morale.)

Col. Romeo Brawner

Room by room, building by building, this was how it went for the Marines as they closed in at Mapandi, according to the deputy commander of Task Force Marawi, Col. Romeo Brawner, describing the difficulties of urban warfare.

By sheer will and persistence, the Marines were able to retake the bridge in at least 2 months, a turning point in the war that allowed the military to bring in more troops and supplies to the main battle area.

The bridge also became a key route used to transport rescued civilians and wounded soldiers, said Brawner.

"Yung nag-overrun nitong Mapandi bridge are the Marines. Talagang very persistent sila, talagang ginamitan nila ng lahat ng firepower nila para makuha nila yun. Once nakuha natin 'yung Mapandi bridge, it became our main supply route. It became a very important route for the military," he said.

(The Marines overran Mapandi bridge. They were very persistent. They used all their firepower to retake the bridge. When we captured Mapandi, it became our main supply route. It became a very important route for the military.)

Falcon, who thought he would die that time, carried the weight of his fallen comrades along the way. He said he lost count of his kills as they went deeper into the battle area, but he remembered killing 3 more enemies in the Padian area where the terrorists made their last stand.

Despite this, the pain of losing comrades remained.

The terrorists'
tunnel-diggers

CHAPTER II

On the other side of the war, down below the ground, tunnel-diggers who turned out to be civilian hostages were ordered by the Maute group to absorb military firepower on the frontlines. They had to do this, otherwise their captors would kill them.

"Rogelio"

There were more than 20 of them, recalled "Rogelio," digging tunnels from the water drainage system underneath the landmark Bato Ali Mosque, across Gomisa Avenue, to the C&D "Landbank" building. The women, meanwhile, were held in a separate stronghold.

"Marami 'yung maghukay sa Bato mosque, sobra beinte. Mga lalaki saka mga bata, tawid-tawid ng kalsada. Pati mga bahay, binutasan din namin," he said with a far-gazing look as if he could still see his fellow hostages digging underground or creating holes in the walls of buildings.

(We were more than 20 that time, digging tunnels at Bato Mosque -- men and young boys -- crossing the street. We were also punching holes into the houses.)

While some of them dug, the rest of the men were given long firearms, were dressed in black similar to the terrorists, and were made to guard the frontlines. Sometimes, they were even tasked to retrieve wounded or dead terrorists, recalled Rogelio.

"Kuwan lang kami, gumagapang para makuha namin ang namatay nilang kasama. Kasama man namin ang namatay. Marami mang namatay na mga kasama namin, nabaril ng sundalo. Kaya naisip siguro ng mga sundalo na mga ISIS," he said.

(We crawled to retrieve the bodies of the terrorists. But we ended up retrieving the body of our fellow hostages. A lot of hostages died by military fire. Soldiers easily mistook us for an ISIS fighter.)

When they returned to the Maute stronghold, they were ordered to start digging again like nothing happened. This was their life for 5 months in the hands of the terrorists.

"Minsan dinala kami sa frontline. Sabi nila, magkuwan daw, maghukay daw kami doon. Naisip namin, 'Ah maghukay lang pala.' Sama kami. Pero pinadala kami ng baril. Pagdating namin doon, pinaguwardiya kami," he said.

(There was time when we were again brought to the frontline. They said we'll just dig tunnels. We thought, 'okay, digging tunnels, that's easy.' So we went with them. But when we got there, they gave us guns and made us man the frontline.)

"Magsilip kami ng mga butas. Meron bang sundalo. Pag walang sundalo, magpaputok kami. Utusan kami, ‘Magpaputok kayo!’ Sabi namin, ‘Walang sundalo.’ Sabi nila, ‘Kahit na walang sundalo, para hindi sila makalapit sa atin,’" he added.

(We'd look into holes of buildings to see if there were soldiers. If there's none, we'd fire. They ordered us, "Shoot!" We'll say, "There are no soldiers here." They'd say, "Shoot even if there are no soldiers so they won't come near us.")

The 39-year-old construction worker was in Marawi for the first time on May 22 for a contract to build a resident's house. He went there with his two sons. The following day, they were abducted by the terrorists.

Rogelio's older son was separated from him in just a few weeks, leaving only him and his 17-year-old son together. Months of digging tunnels, evading bullets and bombs, he admitted they almost lost hope, were it not for their faith in God.

"May Divine Mercy ako. Palagi kong pinahahalikan sa anak ko. 'Dong halik ka, tatlo-tatlo.' Maghalik naman ako, mag-pray rin kami," he recalled doing this discreetly, away from the terrorists' eyes.

(I have this Divine Mercy image with me. I always ask my son to kiss it 3 times. Then I'll do the same. After that, we'll pray.)

Their prayers were answered, albeit in an unexpected way, in October. Bombs were falling that day near Bato Mosque and they were still digging a foxhole and tunnel going to Padian.

Suddenly, what appeared to be a canon ball from a tank hit their area, almost hitting his son, who fell into the foxhole they were digging. Time stopped for him, he recalled, as he thought his son had been killed.

"Sumigaw anak ko, tinamaan daw siya, pinuntahan ko siya doon. Mabuti naman naawa ang Diyos, walang sugat dito sa likod. 'Yung kanyon [mula] sa tangke, natamaan siya [nun] pero natapon siya. Di nasugatan. Namaga lang dito," he recalled.

(My son shouted, saying he was hit. I went there and by God's mercy he wasn't hit by the shrapnel from the tank's canon. He was hit by the impact which pushed him into the foxhole. He was not badly injured but some parts of his body got swollen.)

"Nagsigaw kasama ko sa taas, 'Alis tayo!' Akyat kami. Tapos labas kami. Pinaganun ako ng puting tela, nakatali dito na puti. Anak ko ang kasama ko. Tumigil ang putok. May eskenita man diyan. Gapang kami papunta ng mga sundalo," he said.

(One of our fellow hostages shouted at us, 'Let's go!' Then we went up. We hoisted a white cloth. I was with my son. The firefight stopped. There was a narrow passageway, we crawled there towards the military.)

They spent over a week at a military "safe house" for debriefing after their rescue. There, Rogelio learned that his older son was rescued first. They came back home together in November, welcomed by tears and hugs by every member of the family who all thought they were dead.

Marawi by the Numbers
SOURCE: City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council

Of raining bombs, flattened buildings and dead people

Chapter III

The sound of bombs raining and flattening the city of Marawi impaired the hearing of 78-year-old Nanay Linda, who also spent 5 months in the hands of the Islamic-State-inspired terrorists.

"Nagugulat pa ako sa mga simpleng putok lang ng tambutso ng sasakyan. Epekto na ito ng pangyayari," she said a month after the war ended.

(I still shudder at the simplest sound of a car exhaust spewing fume. This is still the effect of what happened.)

Nanay Linda, a retired health worker in Marawi, was taken hostage by black-clad terrorists at nightfall on May 23. She was abducted with Fr. Chito Suganob and 4 parishioners at St. Mary's Cathedral.

That night, she recalled, they were taken in a van with the teachers who the terrorists abducted from Dansalan College, which by that time was already being engulfed by fire set by the Maute fighters.

The terrorists drove all over the city center looking for more hostages and looking for possible strongholds. The next day, they settled in a building on Gomisa Avenue where they spent months in uncertainty.

Nanay Linda recalled Omar Maute visiting them a few times in that building. An alumnus of Dansalan College, the wanted terrorist leader would always talk to his former school principal about the good old days.

She recalled Omar assuring them that they would not be killed since they only wanted the military to withdraw their forces. The plan of the Mautes, she said, was to establish their own "Shariah" in Marawi.

"Kung halimbawa sa kanila na ang lugar, kailangan daw kung hindi daw mag-Balik Islam, magbayad ng tax. Puwede magbayad ng tax pero hindi gaano kamahal kagaya ng BIR tax. Kung hindi naman din daw magbayad ng tax, putulan din daw ng ulo. ‘Yan ang option," she said.

The first couple of days were relatively calm, she recalled, except for the fact that one terrorist, who appeared to have authority, told someone over the phone that they would kill Fr. Chito if the military would not withdraw.

The priest went pale, the septuagenarian recalled, so she urged to calm him down. During their time together in the hands of the terrorists, they all had to comfort each other when fear struck; it was the least they could do to stay alive.

The third day came, Nanay Linda recalled, and down went the bombs. They were looking through a window, she said, when she saw a bomb hit the building across the street where some hostages were held.

"Mga 10 agad pagbasag ng isang bomba. Nakita namin, kay naano na namin 'yung mga dugo-dugo ng mga nangamatay na bihag... Katapat lang namin na building. Tinakbo naman sa amin ‘yung mga sugatan. Takbo naman sila doon siguro sa hospital. Binomba naman ang hospital, natapos na rin. Namatay," she recalled.

(Around 10 died instantly when the bomb hit the building. We saw it, the blood of the dead hostages in the building across. Some were brought to our place, some ran to the hospital perhaps. But the hospital was bombed too so I assumed they also died there.)

As fire surrounded them in the aftermath of the first rain of bombs, the terrorists smashed a hole into the wall and led them out across the street to the Bato Mosque where they saw the buildings on the street where they came from turn into rubble.

Bombs rained everyday, said Nanay Linda, and they had to run down to the Padian area and back again to the mosque as they tried to stay alive. In the mad scramble for safety, the hostages, including Fr. Chito, were separated from them.

"Palagi nang nagbomba, nagbomba, nagbomba na iyon. Hanggang sa halos lahat na building na-flat na doon. Takbo naman kami doon sa may Quezon Avenue na rin, yung pharmacy... Binombahan, bombahan, bombahan na naman," she recalled.

(It was always raining bombs until almost all of the structures there were flattened. We ran across Quezon Avenue, at a pharmacy there. Then it was raining bombs again.)

Nanay Linda said 8 of them stayed together until the end—5 teachers from Dansalan and 3 from St. Mary's, all women. She said they ran away from bombs for months, building to building, praying to the heavens, until one day, it was no longer a bomb that fell from the sky.

A friendly buzz from the sky

CHAPTER IV

In captivity, Nanay Linda and the others heard some news — soldiers who were supposed to conduct an assault and rescue mission at their location were thought to have been killed by terrorists on the frontlines of the main battle area.

She said they had plans of escaping, but when they heard about the supposed killings they lost hope. That moment, she thought about her grandson who will graduate from the national police academy in a few years' time. She thought she'd miss that day.

Following the terrorists' lead, Nanay Linda and the others reached the Padian area, particularly the spot locally known as "lumber" near the lake. The old woman was closely acquainted with the place as she has lived in Marawi for at least 50 years.

Nanay Linda recalled that by that that time, the terrorists were worn out like them. She said they had not eaten properly in days as supplies had depleted. Their captors, fatigued, let their guard down once in a while.

One night, they heard a buzz from the sky.

"Yung drone, nakakatuwa dahil nu'ng wala na ang ISIS sa amin — hindi na kami masyadong ginuguwardiyahan — lumapit itong 3 babae sa drone. Umakyat sila sa itaas tapos kinakaway-kawayan ang drone. Ito mang drone — friendly man din daw ang drone. Ang isa, tumakbo sa amin, 'Gusto ninyo makita ang drone?" Linda said.

(We were happy to see the drone because when the ISIS fighters were not around — they weren't guarding us too tightly — 3 women from our group went near the drone. They went up the building and waved at the drone. It was friendly. One of the women ran back to us and asked, "You want to see a drone?")

According to Linda, drones flew frequently nearby during the early months of the war but she and her group were kept out of the drones' sight. The terrorists said the drones would shoot. This night was the first time the captives saw a drone up close.

One of the teachers raised a white cloth with the word "help" written on it (they used lipstick to scribble the note), hoping the drone would catch their call to be rescued.

"Pagka-next day hinulugan kami ng cellphone. Tapos ang isang ISIS daw sabi ng isa, ano raw ba 'yung nakita niya. Sabi naman din ng kasama namin, 'Wala 'yun, parang papel lang yata 'yun kung ano-ano lang.' Parang bina-bluff niya 'yung ISIS. Hanggang sa umiyak kami sa saya, kumbaga ito na ang panahon," Linda shared.

(The next day, the drone dropped a phone. One ISIS fighter asked what was it that fell to the ground. 'Looked like paper, whatever, ' our friend said. We cried tears of joy. We realized it's about time we escape.)

The military sent the women information detailing an escape plan. Linda said 9 men who were also held hostage by the Maute group joined them.

"Escape kami early dawn pero grabe ang dasal namin. Nalaglag ang luha sa pagdasal namin na di sila (terrorists) makagising sa panahon na paalis kami," she recalled. "Aysus! Grabe, takbo kami nang patakas. Ako kay, ako ang matanda. Sabi ko iiwan na lang ninyo ako kay hindi na ako [makatakbo]."

(We escaped early dawn. We prayed really hard. Tears fell down on our cheeks as we were praying that the terrorists would not wake up when we escaped. Jesus! We ran like never before. I'm old. I didn't want to hold them back so I says just leave me behind, because I couldn't run anymore.)

Nanay Linda, 78, ran as fast as she could. She suffered cuts and scratches, as she disregarded the sharp objects littered along the path to her freedom. State forces were waiting for them near a white mosque.

That was October 4, she remembered, just 3 weeks before the military announced the end of combat operations. They breathed a sigh of relief when they boarded the military rescue vehicle.

She said they stayed for 8 days at a military safe house before they were allowed to go home."Ang saya-saya! Hindi rin ma-explain ang saya. Parang pelikula pero hindi scripted."

(We were so happy, it's hard to explain. It was like a movie, but without a script.)

Nanay Linda has been praying hard everyday. She remembers those who died in the war, and she prays for their souls, too. She said she needs to connect with God because it gives her peace. She prays because the sight of death haunts her in her sleep.

Rendezvous no more

CHAPTER V

Holding back his tears, barangay chairman Bashir Manri looked to the west with a long woeful gaze as he stood atop a barren wasteland of filth, metal scrap, debris and a fallen Jose Rizal monument, a place that used to be a lively park in the city’s center.

chairman Bashir Manri

He was looking for Barangay Dansalan, the village he presides over and his home for decades. But all he could see was a long stretch of rubble, a few standing minarets and placid Lanao Lake.

"Tinatanaw ko 'yung mga . . . siyempre di mawala sa'tin bilang isang tao . . . ‘yung mga . . . una 'yung bahay ko pero hindi ko nakilala sa pagkasira ng lugar namin. Hindi ko na nakilala," he said, stuttering.

(I was trying to look for . . . of course, as a human being, I looked for my home first. But I couldn't even recognize our place because of the damage. I can no longer recognize home.)

Dansalan used to be the name of the city before it was changed to Marawi during the Commonwealth period. It means “destination point” or “rendezvous” as scores of Maranaos frequent the area for trade and leisure.

Manri said Danlasan had everything — from restaurants to grocery stores, from construction equipment to, yes, even gold. The park just above the Padian market offered locals a safe, fun place to gather. That thriving community, that scene is now gone.

Manri was one of 24 village leaders allowed to visit portions of ground zero in November; they hadn't been there in 5 months. There were only 2 stops of 10 minutes each. What he saw broke his heart.

"Naalala ko lalo na ‘yung mga bahay ng parents namin. ‘Yung sa ‘kin, bago lang 'yan. ‘Yung iniwan sa amin ng mga magulang namin, ‘yun ang talagang, kumbaga sa sakit, sagad na sagad. ‘Yun lang ang naalala ko," he said.

(I remember the house we inherited from our parents. Actually, my house was new. But the house my parents left us, that's really . . . The pain was unbearable. That's all I can remember.)

If it were up to the village leaders, Manri said they would prefer not to wait for government help to arrive. They would start the rebuild now. A public worker himself, Manri said if government were involved the reconstruction would take longer than if they began the process themselves. They all just wanted to go home.

"Kung kami ang tatanungin, hindi namin hihintayin ang tulong ng gobyerno muna. Gusto namin maski 'yung mga nasunog na yero, gusto naming itayo sa mga kinatatayuan ng mga bahay namin . . . Maaaring 'pag kami muna mismo ang nag-initiate, maski papano makakahanap kami ng kabuhayan kahit konti. Kahit kami-kami lang," he said, reflecting the pride of a Maranao.

(We want to begin rebuilding in the places where our houses once stood, even if we start by using burnt tin roofs . . . If we take the initiative, maybe we could find some sort of livelihood, even if it's just among us.)

A bomb dropped home

CHAPTER VI

While Manri witnessed the destruction first-hand, Al-Johari Solaiman, 29, saw it only on his smartphone.

Al-Johari Solaiman

During the short trip inside the main battle area, ABS-CBN News captured an image of the Solaiman residence in the area of Raya Madaya — a 3-floor structure with wrecked walls and a roof torn by big bullets.

“Pinaghirapan namin ‘yun mabuo. Hanggang sa umabot ng nakabili pa kami ng lupa, nakapagpatayo pa kami ng another business. Masakit ‘yun para sa tatay ko ginawa n'ya ang lahat para mabigyan kami ng magandang kinabuksan,” he said, shaking his head.

(We worked hard for our properties. We even bought other lots and put up another business. It’s painful especially for my father who did everything to give us a bright future.)

Solaiman used to manage the school-supplies store on the ground floor of their house, helping his father as the family aimed to expand their business. Now, he helps his dad make some money through a makeshift sari-sari store at the evacuation center at the provincial capitol.

Looking closely at the image of their house, the soft-spoken Solaiman pointed out that the camera didn't capture the hole at the back of their house. A bomb caused that damage while he and his family were trapped there in the first 2 weeks of the siege.

“Nabutas ‘yung pader sa likod ng bahay namin. Du’n nakatago ‘yung kapatid ko. Kompleto kami doon sa bodega maliban lang du'n sa kapatid ko na du'n pala nagtago. OK naman siya pero nu'ng mabutas ‘yung pader, tumakbo sa ‘min ‘yung kapatid ko. Alam mo ‘yung dust ng semento, ta's nagsisigaw at nag-iiyak,” he shared.

(A bomb left a hole in the wall at the back of the house where my younger sister was hiding. The rest of us were inside the storage area. She was OK. When the wall collapsed, she ran toward us with dust all over her body. She was screaming and crying.)

On the eve of the siege, the Solaimans stayed at home, hoping the conflict would end in just a week or so, as the sound of firefights are quite normal in Marawi City where clan wars, locally called “rido”, erupted and died down all within a matter of days.

But the firefights persisted for much longer and by the third day, when the Islamic State-inspired terrorists established strongholds at the heart of the city, bombs began to fall. In fear, Solaiman said he collapsed when he first heard the roaring sound of the airstrikes.

After this, a small group of terrorists raided the Solaiman household, unleashing a round of gunfire at their door. The family thought they’d be killed, as there were reports that some men who refused to join the terrorists were shot to death.

Still shaking at the sound of gunfire, Solaiman’s mother responded by shouting in the local language: “Praise be to Allah alone.” Then, the armed men left.

When the bomb hit their house, the Solaimans decided to go for a “suicide escape” and ran out of the house toward the nearby bridge. Everything happened fast, Solaiman said. As they escaped, they found themselves in the middle of fighting soldiers and terrorists.

“Pagdating namin sa gitna ng bridge, pinatigil kami ng mga sundalo. ‘Hanggang diyan na lang kayo, dapa kayo diyan, dapa,’ sabi nila . . . Then nu'ng nakita kami ng ISIS sa likod namin na naka-hold kami doon sa gitna ng bridge. Nagpaputok ‘yung ISIS para mag-panic kami,” he said.

(When we got to the middle of the bridge, the soldiers told us to stop. “Hold it right there, stay down.” Then the ISIS fighters saw us. They fired their guns to cause us to panic.)

He recalled being stripped naked, like all the males that went through that bridge, at a military checkpoint, as soldiers wanted to make sure they were unarmed. They were eventually led to safety after a short debriefing.

Solaiman said he thought he'd heard the worst from the war but while he was at the evacuation center, he got news that a close friend, a Maranao woman who was also held hostage by the Maute group, was raped by a terrorist while she was in captivity.

"Tinakot pa daw siya na huwag magsumbong kay Hapilon o kay Omar," he said in disgust, as Maranaos hold women in high regard.

(She was even threatened and was told not to tell what happened to Hapilon or Omar.)

‘I would’ve kissed our house before I left’

CHAPTER VII

Not even the powerful clans in Marawi were spared by the destruction.

Zia Alonto Adiong

Provincial government official Zia Alonto Adiong broke down in tears as when he saw the devastation that turned their ancestral house into a pile of broken stones and twisted steel.

"Pagbaba ko ng sasakyan on the same ground na few months ago, iba ‘yung itsura — nakatayo pa rin ‘yung bahay – pero pagdating mo doon same location, same area standing on the same ground, pero iba na ‘yung nakikita mong surroundings, wala ‘yung familiarity,” he said.

(I got off the vehicle and stood on the same ground I left a few months ago when the house was still there. As I stood there, everything looked different. It wasn't familiar.)

The “pink steps” leading to the doorway, Alonto matriarch Hadja Mohmina's favorite part of the house, survived the war, albeit burnt, along with the arc and the bullet-riddled front wall of the residence. But the rest of the house was gone.

Like a child running to his grandparents’ arms, Adiong rushed to the part of the compound where they were laid to rest to check if their grave site survived the devastation — also buried there are his great grandmother, his uncle, aunt and a cousin.

“Nu'ng nakita ko talagang flattened siya. 'Yung mga markings, tanggal siya. Doon ako napaiyak. Kaya nga tinawag ‘yan na resting place. Flattened siya. Ito ‘yung one of the commonalities between Islam and Christianity, na kailangan respetuhin mo ‘yung final resting place ng tao. Sa nangyari, sa nakita ko, wala talagang respect,” he said.

(When I saw the grave-site flattened and the markings gone, that's when I cried. That's why call it a resting place. This is one of the commonalities between Islam and Christianity, that you have to respect a man's final resting place. From what I saw, there's clearly no respect.)

Adiong’s grandfather, the late senator Domacao Alonto, began to build the house in Panganuran village in the 1950s. Their residence was treated as an open house, as Maranaos freely entered the compound on many occasions.

Adiong said after the Jabidah massacre and when martial law was declared in the 1970s, it became the hub of the United Democratic Opposition, a group that fought against the Marcos regime.

Open discussions inside the walls of the “Kota” awakened Adiong's young mind, making him aware of the social conditions at that time, before the People Power Revolution.

“Kung alam ko lang ‘yun ang mangyayari, eh di hinalikan ko muna ‘yung bahay. Di lang estruktura ‘yan, ‘yan ‘yung nag-define sa amin. Lumaki kami at namulat kami sa social issues dahil diyan sa bahay na ‘yan,” he said.

(If I knew this was going to happen, I would’ve kissed our home before I left. It’s not just a structure. This place defined us. We grew up there and we learned a lot about the social issues in that house.)

He said the family has yet to discuss how to rebuild their ancestral house. He has proposed retaining a portion of the ruins as a marker for people to see, a reminder to the next generation of the destructive power of hatred.

“There’s no alternative to peace,” stressed Adiong.

Minarets on mute

CHAPTER VIII

Simultaneous calls for prayer from towering minarets scattered throughout central Marawi used to wake up Maranaos from their lakeside slumber before daybreak. But the war silenced these Islamic beacons of peace as the nightmare of destruction befell the town area.

Out of at least 56 mosques or masjids — big and small alike — in the 24 barangays in the main battle area, 48 were wrecked and would need to be built from scratch, according to the United Imam of the Philippines. Most of the destroyed mosques were the big ones, including the landmark Islamic Center.

Also called Masjid Center and Grand Mosque, located in Pangarungan village. The mosque, built in the early 1950s through the leadership of the late senator Domocao Alonto, was big enough to accommodate more than a thousand Muslims for Friday prayers.

What made the Islamic Center remarkable was that it was not built by one family. Generations of Maranaos, rich and poor alike, contributed in its construction. Imam Abdul Majeed Djamla said the structure was still up for expansion before the war erupted.

“Memorial ito na mosque kasi galing ito sa mga indibiduwal na tao. Ang ginastos dito sa mosque na ito, galing sa piso-piso. Hindi tulad sa ibang mosque na galing sa ibang country ang ginastos para itayo ang mosque,” said Djamla, who misses praying and giving sermons on Fridays at the Grand Mosque.

(This is a memorial of how individuals contributed to the building of the mosque. This was built using the people's money, unlike other mosques where the funding came from other countries.)

When the war erupted, enemy forces took the house of prayer and turned it into their bunker, knowing the military wouldn’t dare drop a bomb or fire a bullet in one of the most beloved masjids in Marawi. It took the government troops 3 months to retake the Grand Mosque, as they used a slow, elaborate ground assault.

Unlike the Bato Mosque, the Masjid Center is still recognizable although its rock-solid walls now look like they were gnawed at by giant rats, with big bullet holes left by the brutal gunfire between terrorists and soldiers. Gaping holes on the mosque’s dome and roof left a painful reminder of the war.

"Talagang nu'ng nakita namin ang itsura ng mosque ay naunang naisip namin masakit sa kalooban namin ang nangyari dito sa Grand Mosque,” Djamla said upon seeing and entering the masjid for the first time in November, half a year after the siege of Marawi began.

(We were hurt when we saw the sorry state of the Grand Mosque.)

Another masjid dear to the Maranaos, is the Bato Ali Mosque.

Before bombs and bullets stripped the prayer house of its pink exterior paint, it was one of the most easily recognizable mosques in town not only because of its size but also because of its location near the marketplace, the park and the main street of Gomisa in Barangay Dansalan.

Tirmizy Abdullah

"Maraming nagpe-pray doon. ‘Yung mga travellers, 'yung mga dumadaan. Not necessarily 'yung taga-doon sa town. But yung mga dumadaan doon ;yung mga estudyante, bisita sa town, namimili,” recalled homegrown Maranao Tirmizy Abdullah, who teaches history at the Mindanao State University.

(A lot of people pray there. Travelers, passersby not necessarily from town — the students, visitors, shoppers.)

The 27-year-old Marawi native remembered how as kids they’d play near the madrasah (Muslim school) located under the crowded Bato Mosque. Some of his friends, he candidly recalled, skated on the big drainage area under the masjid — big pipes the terrorists turned into escape routes.

Abdullah described the Bato Mosque as the townfolks’ Google before there was Google, as local scholars, known academics and other respected individuals in the city discussed not only spirituality but also current events inside the masjid. Far from its current devastated state, this was the Masjid Bato Ali that he remembered.

“Masjid Bato Ali is a market of ideas. Me, personally, every time na gusto ko ma-update sa current events, doon ako pumupunta sa Masjid Bato Ali kapag Friday. Usually, ang nagbibigay doon ng sermon, mga known local scholars,” he shared.

(Masjid Bato Ali is a market of ideas. Me, personally, every time I sought updates on current events, I went there especially on Fridays. Known local scholars usually gave sermons there.)

Minarets outside the battle area still make the usual calls for prayer — before daybreak, during midday, in the afternoon, after sunset and at nightfall — while silence echoes from the fallen masjids in the heart of the country’s only Islamic city, a quiet that followed 5 months of booms, bangs and cries of horror and death.

What rises on Ground Zero

CHAPTER IX

Wider roads, a modern business district, riverside parks, and promenades, are just some of the improvements expected to rise from the ashes of war in Marawi City. And what the battle destroyed in 5 bloody months, the government promises to rebuild in 4 years at most.

Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario

The man tasked to lead the reconstruction of the war-torn city is retired general Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), the lead agency for Task Force Bangon Marawi, a man who is just barely a year in his current position.

“Hindi lang ito build back better kundi much, much, much better,” an optimistic Del Rosario told ABS-CBN News, as he shared the vision of a modern city for the capital of Lanao del Sur. (It’s not just build back better, but much, much, much better.)

According to the HUDCC chief, the reconstruction of the 24 most affected barangays inside the 250-hectare land that used to be the main battle area would require an estimated P48 billion. An initial amount of P10 billion has already been included in the 2018 budget for the first phase of reconstruction.

But this vision is still 3 years away, and about 11,000 families from ground zero remain uprooted from their own homeland. While some of the displaced residents have relatives to go to, a lot of them remain in evacuation centers. As of January 2018, only 20 percent of the targeted 6,400 temporary homes have been turned over to the bakwits.

What will make reconstruction efforts complicated is that many property owners in the Padian area, the focus of land development, have no titles because residents say such official ownership is not practiced by Maranaos. Locals say properties there were inherited from their ancestors.

Padian, a reclaimed area, thrived for years without government intervention, allowing properties to rise and providing space for the vibrant Maranao culture of trade. But the HUDCC chief stands firm that those who don’t have land titles to show will be hit by land development.

“Wala naman silang titles, lalo na itong Padian area kasi reclaimed area ‘yan. That is owned by the local government. Tatamaan sila. And they have to rent from the LGU,” Del Rosario said when asked about the land title issue in Padian, a reclaimed area that stretches to about 40 hectares.

(They don’t have titles, particularly here in Padian, because this is a reclaimed area. This is owned by the local government. They will be hit by the land development. They have to rent from the LGU.)

Reconstruction begins late April or early May, so the government is already in talks with potential bidders for the Marawi rehabilitation. While thousands of Maranaos have yet to see what has become of their homes, potential investors have been allowed to see the most affected areas as early as November 2017.

A 10-hectare military camp worth P400 million will also be developed in Barangay Kapataran to make sure terrorists would not re-enter the Lanao del Sur capital. This is expected to rise in 2020, a year earlier than the target completion of reconstruction of structures in war-ravaged barangays.

Del Rosario assured the public that locals would be consulted every step of the way, but Maranao civil society organizations said these “consultations” made by the Task Force Bangon Marawi have not reached the grassroots.

“We were not consulted, especially those in the evacuation sites and even the civil society,” Sultan Abdul Hamidullah Atar, a member of civil society group “Sowara O Miyamagoyag” (Voice of the Evacuees), told ABS-CBN News.

“We are not demanding na maging Dubai ang Marawi. What we are demanding ay normalcy ng pamumuhay. Makabalik kami sa lupa namin . . . We are not dreaming like Manila. What we are dreaming ay normal ma buhay,” added Atar, who has been in constant talks with displaced Maranaos.

Normalcy is not just a dream of Maranaos, but also of the entire Mindanao, which has been plagued by more than 4 decades of conflict sparked by land disputes. “Didn’t the government learn from the land disposition problem in Mindanao? Now they will do that in Marawi?” Atar wondered.

Atar said the government must recognize that the Maranao identity is embedded in the land. He insisted that the city is an ancestral land inherited a long time ago from their forefathers and cannot just be taken away by the government.

Dr. Ansawil Ronsing

“That’s why Muslims in Mindanao, since the beginning, fight against the government—to exert their own rights,” echoed Dr. Ansawil Ronsing, the dean of the Mindanao State University’s King Faisal Center for Islamic, Arabic, and Asian Studies.

Ronsing said he fears that land ownership may even be an issue among the residents themselves, whose claims on properties might overlap. Locals said the government should seek help from the community elders and ulamas (Muslim scholars) to address this issue.

“Sila lang na may-ari diyan magka-conflict na sila. Halimbawa, 5 tayo magkakapatid. Dati, ikaw lang ang may bahay diyan. Ngayon nga, nasira. I-rebuild ko. Ako naman ang magpatayo ng bahay. E we are brothers. Dati, ikaw nagpatayo ng bahay, ako naman hindi ko nabigyan,” he said.

(Conflict may arise between owners. For example we’re 5 brothers. Before you have a house there but, because it’s destroyed now, I’ll rebuild it. It’s my turn to build a house. We’re brothers. You built one before, and I wasn’t given anything.)

How locals and the national government view reconstruction work may even lead to a worse problem -- radicalism -- said researcher Steven Rood, a former University of the Philippines Baguio professor who has done studies on the Moro conflict both for the Social Weather Stations and the Asia Foundation.

According to Rood, while the leaders of the Maute terrorists have been killed, the idea propagated by violent extremists, particularly the Islamic State, remains. He said government response to the needs of the displaced Maranaos will have a major impact in the continuing tug-of-war with fundamentalists for the “hearts and minds” of civilians.

"The worst thing you can do to an angry public is keep them in the dark and that's what's happening," Rood said in a forum titled “The Marawi Struggle,” where he presented a 2017 study of the Asia Foundation on the decades-old Mindanao problem.

“What it does is it immediately plays into the narrative of the Maute or the ISIS, that says, ‘This is what happens in Muslims in the Philippines and we need a caliphate,’ ” Rood said, adding that the government must go beyond military tactics in addressing the problem of violent extremism.

(The owners will decide what to do with their land. If you want, construct a building, build a mall, grocery store, whatever you like. It’s yours.)

The former UP Baguio professor said he sees the “Bangsamoro narrative” as a key counter-narrative against the Islamic State’s propaganda. However, the Bangsamoro Basic Law is currently facing a rough ride in Congress, as the administration pushes for federalism as a better alternative, he noted.

The 24 most affected barangays will be flattened in April, said HUDCC chief Del Rosario. By flattening, he explained, the government will remove the rubble of destroyed structures. A week before this, residents will be allowed to return and see what is left of their homes.

While the government’s plan tries to paint a beautiful and modern picture of a reconstructed Marawi in 3 more years, the Maranaos have a simpler vision—good ol' home. As the Maranao saying goes: “Minsanoray bolawan a oran ko isa ka inged na mapangingiroy tadn i tarintik sangganatan."

Roughly translated in English, it means: “Even if gold rains in other places, I will prefer the raindrops in Lanao."

Additional credits and acknowledgements