'Bakwits' appeal for medical supplies, blankets
ILIGAN CITY - "Mag-iingat kayo... Huwag kayong lalabas ng bahay (Take care, don't go out of the house)."
These were the words of Aliasgar Ibrahim, 42, to his pregnant wife and 6 children before he fled his hometown of Marawi City with his two other wives and his children with them.
It was Wednesday when Ibrahim and his family left the Islamic City and found shelter in a packed evacuation center in the adjacent town of Saguiaran, along with 109 other "bakwit" - a local term for evacuees.
He said Marawi was like a ghost town when they left. He claimed seeing several terrorists hiding along routes going out of the city. It was Marawi like he had never seen before in his life.
"Ayaw talaga nilang lumuwas doon. Akala nila 'di pa lálakí ang gulo. Ang sabi nila doon na muna sila," he said in an interview on Saturday, the first day of Ramadan, after his noontime prayers.
(They did not want to come with us. They thought the conflict would not escalate. They told me they will just stay.)
But upon hearing about the conflict between government troops and the terrorist Maute group, Ibrahim said he wanted to go home and rescue his family. The problem was, he said, he was not sure if there remained safe areas in his hometown.
"Pinipilit ko pong makapunta diyan pero mahirap talagang puntahan. Hindi ko alam kung makakadaan kami o hindi," he said frustrated, shedding tears as he longs to see his kids again.
(I was really trying to go there, but it was hard. I did not know where we can safely pass by.)
He may have found a safe place to stay for now, but Ibrahim has been sleepless the past two nights as he kept thinking about his family who may still be trapped in their house while the military continued to pursue terrorists hiding in the city.
As to the condition of his family, he has no way to know: no phone contact, no internet, nothing.
"Hindi namin alam kung buhay pa sila o ano.. 'Yan ang napasakit ko 'yung pamiilya ko. Di ko alam kung buhay pa sila o tinamaan na sila na ng bomba," he said bursting in tears.
(I don't know if they are still alive or what. That is very painful, my family... I do not even know if they are still alive or if they have been hit by a bomb.)
The government has been conducting bomb runs to flush out members of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, who have been engaged in clashes with troops since Tuesday.
At least four houses were shattered into pieces after it was hit by military air strikes on Saturday amid continuing operations against terror groups.
Saturday marked the start of the holy month of Ramadan, and Ibrahim is calling for peace, even just for this once-a-year occasion.
He said Ramadan was a very important event for Muslims - a supposedly happy and prayerful season turned into a nightmare.
"Gusto ko po talagang manawagan ng kapayapaan para sa lugar namin, na kung puwede sana, itong Ramadan, kahit itong Ramadan lang po sana, palipasin lang nila ang gulo na ito," he said, wiping away tears.
As of latest tally, there are a total of 2,040 evacuees in 10 different evacuation centers in Saguiaran. Evacuees there are appealing for help, especially with medicine, first aid kits, blankets, and sleeping mats.
Thousands of evacuees are also staying at different evacuation centers in Iligan City. About 1,295 "bakwits" at the Barangay Maria Cristina covered court are also appealing for help as kids and senior citizens there have started getting ill.
The evacuees are hoping that the conflict will end soon as they all want to return to their normal lives, especially now that the holy month of Ramadan has begun.
Western Mindanao Command chief Major General Carlito Galvez Jr. said local government officials and government troops would do their part to gain peace in Marawi City as soon as possible.
"Mamadaliin po namin ang normalcy, [so that residents can] go back in time for Ramadan…Hopefully tingnan natin, within three days we can [clear the city],” Galvez told reporters in a briefing in Marawi City.--with reports from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News