Muted birthday celebration for ‘Marawi siege baby’ in makeshift tent

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 23 2018 01:04 AM | Updated as of May 23 2018 01:48 AM

Baby Anisa is among the hundreds of evacuees in this “tent city” standing on a slope near Barangay Sagonsongan. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MARAWI, Lanao del Sur—Baby “Fariah” (not her real name) is turning 1 on Wednesday, exactly a year after the siege of this city erupted. But there will be no parties for the baby, said the mother, Anisa, 16, while washing the dishes, sweating in the afternoon heat inside their makeshift tent.

“ ’Pag may pera, bibili kami ng hotcake,” Anisa (not her real name) told ABS-CBN News. “ ’Pag wala kantahan na lang namin siya.” (If we get money, maybe we’ll buy hotcake. If not, we’ll just sing her a happy birthday.)

Anisa gives baby Fariah a bottle of breast-pumped milk. They have to endure the sweltering heat inside their tent every afternoon. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Anisa’s water broke on the road on May 23, 2017, while they were rushing to safety near Saguiaran, the town adjacent to Marawi. Some of the fleeing Maranaos helped her as she went through labor. (Her baby’s real name was derived after martial law, which was declared in Mindanao the night Anisa escaped.)

They left Barangay Sabala Manao that day, thinking the firefights would not last a week. The siege lasted for half a year and destroyed their village, along with 23 other barangays. Now, they no longer know when they can return and settle for good in their hometown.

A year into her existence, baby Fariah has survived several fevers and diarrhea attacks without taking any medicine at the evacuation center located on a slope overseeing temporary shelters in Barangay Sagonsongan.

Anisa said she’s having a hard time keeping her first baby healthy because they have no money to buy milk, vitamins or diapers.

Baby Fariah grabs a bottle of milk from her mother’s hand. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Her husband put up a small store with the cash that remained from the P5,000 financial assistance her family received when they transferred to the “Sarimanok Tent City” a month ago. 

But their fellow bakwits (evacuees) seldom buy from their small store because most of them, particularly those with bigger families, have already spent the money on basic needs.

“Gusto ko lang manawagan ng pangkabuhayan . . . Saka pera kasi mahirap dito,” she said. 

(I am appealing for financial and livelihood help because life is hard here.)

Anisa’s family is among the 200 living in the mountainside tent city. They use a common kitchen and common comfort rooms. Their lives depend on relief goods and daily water rations.

Bakwits line up as government truck delivers water for them. The water is both for drinking and domestic use. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

But Anisa’s uncle, Ansawi, said Maranaos, traders by nature, are not used to waiting on donations. “Tubig at pera pangkapital ang kailangan dito,” said Ansawi, who leads the first row of families in the tent city. 

(We need a stable water source and money for capital.)

The tent city bakwits here came together to build a makeshift prayer space at the entrance of the evacuation center. They took some beds out of the tents, dismantled them and used the wood to put up a wall.

They pray here at least 5 times and day and do the iftar, a community prayer by sunset, for Ramadan. This prayer space is important, Ansawi stressed, because in these difficult times, Allah is their only hope.

Maranao bakwits in their daily afternoon prayer at a makeshift prayer space inside the “Sarimanok Tent City.” Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

“Sobrang hirap ng buhay dito. Siya (Allah) lang ang maasahan namin,” he said. 

(Life is difficult here. Allah is our only hope.)

The families in the tent city have no idea when they will be transferred to the sturdier temporary shelters in Barangay Sagonsongan, which can be seen from their location.

Housing czar Eduardo del Rosario earlier told DZMM Teleradyo that they have already finished 1,000 temporary shelters, and they will finish 1,000 more within the year.

The bakwits are expected to stay in these temporary shelters for at least 3 years, while the government rebuilds the 250-hectare most destroyed area in Marawi City.