It’s been a year since the Marawi Siege. Hostilities started on May 23, 2017, when the members of the infamous ISIS-affiliated Maute Group launched the assault and planned the takeover of the Islamic City of Marawi. Many lives were lost, dislocated, traumatized. The Battle for Marawi lasted for almost five months and now the challenging task of recovery is still yet to be in full swing.
International Alert Philippines, with the support of Australian Aid, launched a photo exhibit that runs from May 24 to June 06, 2018. The exhibit is in the Dragon Gallery of the Yuchengco Museum at the RCBC Plaza, Makati.
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The exhibit’s title: “Maratabat: Mga Kuwento ng Kagitingan sa Marawi” (Honor: Stories of Valor in Marawi).
Diana Moraleta of Alert International Philippines, one of the organizers, explained that the photos in the exhibit are the results of months-long work by several photojournalists who covered the battle-scarred city. The project also works in conjunction with a documentary by veteran journalist Ed Lingao entitled “Maratabat”.
Maratabat means the sense of honor and pride among the Maranaos. Maratabat is one of the many Luwaran (Laws or Code) among the Muslims of Mindanao. It is one of the many principles that inspired and guided the huramentados of the Moros against the Spanish and American invaders. Contrary to popular belief, the act of Huramentado is not done in sheer madness or in animal bloodlust but is done in the defense of one’s community, in the name of the lives, dignity, and honor of its people. In an extreme form, the fulfillment of Maratabat has been used to start and prolong the many bloody rido or clan wars.
The photos show the devastation of conflict—human and material—to the city of Marawi. The aftermath shows a particularly harrowing feel to it since the Muslims are commemorating the holy month of Ramadan. One particular shot shows women, wailing over the covered body a man who died by snipershot while praying inside the mosque. Staring at it, it seems that the lamentation spills beyond the frames and goes straight to the heart.
The landscape of Marawi is strewn with debris and ruins from the buildings and other establishments that were damaged or destroyed through bombs and shellings. Bullet-riddled pillars and walls are familiar sights.
But the photos also depict a more humane, a more hopeful side—a seller with her colorful merchandise, rescuers in their act of love and service, a small plot of backyard vegetables, a man walks through the scarred land carrying the Qur’an, perhaps he is a Messenger of Hope.
The collective local sentiment is also documented as seen in the images of a protest march demanding that the rehabilitation of Marawi must be of and for the people and not as something to be dictated and done by outsiders.
Armed conflict continues to threaten Mindanao as economic and political inequality dogs the resource-rich region. This is a fact that is equally true for resource-rich locations where the wealth of the land is unequally owned and distributed.
War is sorrowful. The flames of war burn away life and dreams and bonds, leaving behind countless sorrows. Sorrow gives birth to tragedy. And Tragedy gives birth to demons. War makes demons of otherwise good, ordinary men.
The challenge to rebuild Marawi will definitely take time and grueling work. The least we can do is try to understand the root of the conflict, the loss, and support all efforts to empower the survivors. And to never forget.