Marawi jolted us. 

On the 23rd of May 2017, what looked like a local skirmish in a small barangay in inner Marawi would quickly escalate into a full-blown war pairing the army against Maute – ISIS inspired terrorists.   There is massive exchange of gunfire climaxing into the declaration of Martial Law over all of the Philippine island of Mindanao by midnight.  At dawn, the residents of the Islamic City of Marawi flee their houses, fearful of getting caught in the crossfire.   They take only a few essentials for they are sure of returning to their homes within a few days in the way ordinary skirmishes among families tend to resolve themselves.

Bombing and airstrike ensue and the people would wait more than five months in exile before they are able to set foot in Marawi again.

Marawi broke us.

The rest of us watched the drama unfold in social media or on television.

The consistent visual of a city being razed to the ground held us captive, sometimes immune, to the sights and sounds of war.   We watched, we were angered, we were touched but we were paralyzed. We wept for our soldiers and cursed the “enemy” as in a stereotypical war movie about two opposing sides.

Alternative feeds on the net from supposed Maute-ISIS rebels push the agendum of a supposed religious war upfront and it did not help an already fragile peace situation.

Experts of disaster risk reduction and management say Marawi is one of the worst so far—plaguing a people who had no contingencies for a disaster of this caliber, with no way to be helped by able neighbors since the air was not cleared to pave the way for  intervention of humanitarian organizations of other nations.

Marawi challenged us.

When we started to engage the people of Marawi to begin to tell their stories against the backdrop of both sensational and propagandist media, we realized what we had missed in the picture—

A Meranaw employer-business woman  who risked her life and property and stood up to the terrorists when they attempted to take her Christian employees;   Meranaw women lined up at Maute checkpoints who wrapped a Christian woman in their traditional hijab to help her evade the ire of the terrorists;

Simple Meranaw families who stowed their Christian workers out of the war zone into safety subsequently risking their own lives;

A priest who had lived out his belief in interfaith coexistence in Marawi even as he had was held in captivity by the Maute group for most of the five months of the seige;

His  young MSU  student volunteer in the chaplaincy who was eager to graduate and explore the world  but  who also got held captive and eventually perished in one of the many war encounters;

The head of the clergy in Marawi who was forced out of church and home, and who, like the people of Marawi had lived in diaspora—adopted by friends and family until today;

Parishes and congregations from all over the country responding to the call for food, for human resource, for medical attention, for any kind of intervention to alleviate the situation;

Young Meranaw  and Christian volunteers  of Duyog Marawi who decided to pick themselves up from the rubble, arm themselves with skills, training, patience, love, respect and understanding to eventually became the forerunners of healing and peace-building in what they envision to be a better Marawi;

Muslim and Christian families of the DM volunteers who supported their children with respect and understanding, despite their initial apprehensions.

Marawi healed us. 

We realize how the story of Marawi ring as our own.

Their stories of losing loved ones from execution by terrorists and unknown elements share the grief of families who have been terrorized by the drug war elsewhere, or of those soldiers who have fought all kinds of wars in this nation’s name.  The subsequent stories of broken dreams, inability to continue schooling, unemployment, discrimination, separation from family throb like our own wounds elsewhere in this nation.

The conditions of the Internally Displaced People in the evacuation centers along the highly inaccessible Peace Corridor resonate with the everyday struggle of the indigenous peoples in the most remote areas and the informal settlers in the most urban settlements.

We realize how truly related we all are beyond manifest differences in our local cultures, in our preferences and even in our situations and contexts. We struggle in this world to become more and more human, more and more Muslim and Christian, less and less stereotypical.

We realize too that it is getting more and more possible to work beyond differences and to continue to purify who we are as a people and who we are as humans working for peace and coexistence.

We keep in mind these stories to tell ourselves that it is time to rebuild one Marawi along with many other Marawis in our own communities, too.

(Written by: Des Mendoza-Lopez)