Sitting, waiting, praying: The makeshift lives of Maranao bakwits

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 22 2018 08:34 PM | Updated as of May 22 2018 09:03 PM

MARAWI, Lanao del Sur—Despite a heavy downpour here Monday, the first in about 2 weeks, the rain was not able to fill even half of the large drum where bakwit (evacuee) Jalilah Dimaampao gets water for her family’s everyday use in Barangay Sagonsongan, their home for the next 3 or so years.

Bakwits use large blue water drums provided by the government to catch rain from the elusive summer downpour because rations from government agencies have been inconsistent since they settled in this temporary shelter last January.

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Bakwits in Barangay Sonsongan wait for ration or rain to fill this water drum for washing dishes, clothes and other house chores. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

But the 27-year-old mother of 4, a trader who used to live near Lake Lanao in Lambac Marinaut, couldn’t wait for rain or ration so she travels daily to fetch water from an artesian well near the entrance of this city, at least 3 kilometers from their house, spending at least P60 for back-and-forth tricycle rides.

“Sobrang hirap talaga dito ng tubig,” Dimaampao told ABS-CBN News as she dragged a plastic chair outside, trying to escape the intense summer heat trapped inside the 4-meter-by-6-meter house whose walls are made of fiber cement boards. 

(It’s very hard to get water here.)

The white plastic chair is the only piece of home she recovered when displaced Maranaos were allowed to enter and salvage what they can from the ruins of their homes inside the 250-hectare most destroyed area in Marawi.

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Jalilah Dimaampao poses for a photo with her 3-year-old daughter while sitting on a plastic chair, the only thing she salvaged from her destroyed home in Ground Zero. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

In a go-for-broke escape, Dimaampao said her family left their hometown on May 25 last year, the third day after the war erupted and the day the bombings began. They settled at an evacuation center in Iligan City but it was not long before she was hospitalized for weeks after suffering depression.

“Parang tumanda ako sa nangyari. Pero ngayon, ang lakas ko lang ‘yung mga anak ko. Kapag tinatawag nila ako, kailangan ko lang magpalakas para sa kanila. Ayaw kong magpa-depress. Gusto ko nang makalimutan ang dati,” she said, shedding a tear, while her 3-year-old hugged her.

(I think I aged faster because of what happened in Marawi, but now I draw strength from my kids. When they call out to me, I need to be strong for them. I don’t want to be depressed anymore. I want to forget our misfortunes.)

A couple of blocks away from Dimaampao’s house, 66-year-old bakwit Wanisa Dia had to be carried by her children to the comfort room as her legs have been paralyzed after suffering a stroke last month due to the intense heat at their temporary shelter.

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Siblings Jaria and Norodin carry their mother Wanisa to the comfort room. The 66-year-old mother suffered a stroke last month due to the heat inside the temporary shelter. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

“Gabi noon, naliligo siya tapos nakuwan (lock) ang bibig niya,” her 33-year-old daughter Jaria Umbar told ABS-CBN News. There were no ambulances around the area so they brought her mother to a nearby health center using a tricycle of a fellow bakwit. 

(She was taking a bath one night when her jaws locked.)

Dia continues to live with her daughter and 5 other family in a small temporary home. The heat and a shortage of water continues to make things difficult for the 66-year-old Maranao, who used to live peacefully in Barangay West Marinaut.

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Sailanie Umbar, the leader of a block in their temporary shelter, shows to his fellow bakwits a logbook showing cash-for-work payments that haven’t been given to them in the past week. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Her son-in-law, Sailanie Umbar, said he plans to go to Manila because he couldn’t find work in Marawi or even in nearby cities. He said they need money not just for their daily needs and Dia’s condition, but also for his children’s illness.

“Normal sila ipinanganak pero noong mag-8 sila, bigla na lang ‘yan hindi makalakad,” shared Umbar, who used to be a dispatcher at a tricycle terminal in the town center, while working as a security escort for local government officials on the side. 

(They were normal at birth but upon reaching 8, they suddenly couldn’t walk.)

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Sailanie Umbar’s 10-year-old daughter sleeps amid the cruel summer heat. Doors and windows of their temporary shelter are always open during the day to let cooler air in. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

When he came back to West Marinaut on the first week of May, all he could salvage were scrap metals from their pulverized home, which he sold to a junk shop for P300, an amount that wouldn’t even last a couple of days in their temporary home.

Even the kids’ new wheelchairs, which they left in Marawi on May 23, 2017, were destroyed, he added, recalling how he had to carry his daughter on his shoulder, and his son on his back when the fighting broke out.

“Nakita ko pa ‘yung kasamahan ko si Wawid, biglang binaril ng ISIS. Na-trauma ‘yung isa kong anak,” he said, referring to an experience he would never forget when they were escaping the terror that took over their hometown last year.

(I even saw my friend, Wawid, shot dead by an ISIS fighter. My daughter saw it too and was traumatized.)

Traders by nature, Maranao bakwits said they wish the government would provide them small capital so they could do something about their woes at their temporary homes. They also called on the government to resolve their water problems.

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Bakwits come home with full containers after fetching water from an artesian well near Marawi City’s entrance. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Asked about possible water sources, Task Force Bangon Marawi assistant secretary Felix Castro said his group is still trying to dig for water so pipes can be laid as soon as possible. He said they only have 8 trucks that deliver water “on a rotation basis” every day.

“We tried digging for water already. The first site was abandoned because there was no sufficient water. In the second site, we continue to test if the water is sufficient. So we can lay pipes already,” he said.

Castro said they have finished construction of more than a thousand temporary shelters, which will be temporary houses of Maranaos who used to live in Ground Zero, a 250-hectare area in the town center, where 14,000 homes once stood. About a thousand more shelters will be finished within the year.

Compensation for the displaced residents will have to go through Congress, Castro said, adding that a “Compensation Bill” is being pushed before the House of the Representatives. No timeline has been given for this.

The displaced Maranaos’ only prayer for Ramadan is for them to go back home and start rebuilding their houses, piece by piece, the way their forefathers built Marawi. But for now, they will have to endure living at the temporary shelters for the next years until the government says otherwise.