Into the war zone: Rent a car drivers head to Marawi for business

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 08 2017 06:21 PM

Car rental driver Joms Delos Santos puts on a "media" signage behind the rear view mirror of their vehicle going up to Marawi. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

ILIGAN CITY - The original assignment of car rental driver Jose Marie "Joms" Delos Santos, 28, was just to transport a couple of Manila- based journalists from Cagayan de Oro to this city, which was 30 kilometers away from war zone Marawi.

But plans changed and the driver now had to take a trip to the once-peaceful city where military and terrorists have launched offensives. 

That moment, Delos Santos said he felt nervous knowing the risks of heading to a place of where terrorist snipers were hiding and military attack helicopters were dropping bombs. 

"Sinabi ko sa kanya (boss) kung kasama pa ba sa usapan 'to? Napakalma naman niya ako. Sabi niya diyan lang 'yan sa may checkpoint maglalakad lang 'yan," he said.

(I asked my boss if this was still part of the deal. But he calmed me down. He told me I won't be crossing checkpoints and the two would just walk from there.)

Despite the danger, the Cagayan de Oro native said he pushed through with the assignment as he needed the job to provide for his kid and his pregnant wife.

Car rental driver Joms Delos Santos in action with a bullet proof vest and helmet as goes up to Marawi City Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Going up to Marawi City the first time, the news team was advised to wear bullet proof vests and helmet on a certain area. Delos Santos had to wear one too for his safety. 

"Sobrang kaba na talaga noon kasi bakit ako pinagsusuot nito, e hindi naman ako kasali?" he recalled the first time putting on the bullet proof vest.

(I felt very nervous. I was thinking why am I made to wear this. I'm not even a part of this event.)

But more than the money he badly needed, Delos Santos said he felt it was his duty to go on with the coverage because of his Muslim heritage. 

"'Christian ako pero 'yung lolo ko Muslim. So parang 1/4 Muslim na rin ako. Naisip ko na tulong ko na rin 'to sa kanila kahit papaano," he said. 

(I'm a Christian but my grandfather is a Muslim. So I'm like 1/4 Muslim. I thought this is the least I could do to help them.)

The journalists made sure Delos Santos only stayed in the safe zone inside the provincial capitol of Lanao del Sur throughout the coverage, an area well-guarded by soldiers, far from the skirmishes. 

Despite the distance, Delos Santos recalled seeing and hearing helicopters dropping bombs on a city that was once booming with business. He also recalled seeing the sad Maranaos who fled to different evacuation centers.

The 28-year-old, who witnessed the busy and peaceful Marawi before the conflict, said he was not used to seeing its people down.

"Hindi 'yan papaapi," he added.

When it was time to go home, Delos Santos stopped by a store on the border of Iligan to buy bibingka, a peace offering for his wife.