DUBAI – Going back home to the Philippine has always been a safe haven for many Filipinos. Having sacrificed to lead a better life for their loved ones back home, coming home to their hometown is like a breath of fresh air.
That was not the case for Roy Tamano. The Filipino, who is from Tugaya, 20 kilometers from Marawi in the Philippines, did not expect to come home to a conflict in his own place.
Speaking to Kabayan Weekly, Tamano shared that his trip to the Philippine last month was supposed to be a short vacation only.
“I arrived in Manila on Wednesday, May 17, to host my cousin’s wedding and then on Sunday, May 21 and Monday, May 22, I went to Mindanao to attend the first Homecoming of MSU Alumni in Tugaya to be a guest speaker for the closing program scheduled on Wednesday, May 24,” he said.
However, by the afternoon of Tuesday, May 23, a fire broke out. A group of rebels attacked Marawi City burning establishments and created chaos.
“At around 2:30 p.m., a fire broke out and I was in Iligan City on the way to Marawi. I managed to sneak back to our place. On that night, they burned the City Jail and a school,” Tamano mentioned, recalling that he heard multiple shots fired throughout the entire night.
The next day, the government confirmed that it was the Maute Group together with the Abu Sayyaf fighters who were responsible for the chaos within the city and said that they had occupied almost all of the important locations in the city including three bridges along the Angus River.
The City Government requested for a ceasefire at dawn to allow thousands of innocent civilians trapped within the conflict to flee.
“At around 6 a.m. on Wednesday, I crossed one of the bridges as the house of my cousin was on the upper hillside of the city near the Capitol area,” Tamano said.
A majority of his siblings lived in the central part of the city. The Maranao experienced first-hand how people from all walks of life evacuated the city in panic while Maute fighters were seen everywhere with temporary checkpoints at the bridges.
The Filipino went straight to his families, picking them all up to leave the city. Tamano shared that they also took the risk of helping out his cousin’s nanny who was a non-Muslim to escape the place with them.
“We asked her to wear a hijab and long clothes as the Maute rebels were checking all passing cars,” he said.
In a four-car convoy, Tamano and his family left the Capitol area leaving their beloved homes behind thinking that they would be able to return within a few days. However, that did not happen. He admitted that he underestimated the capabilities of the rebels to control the city this long.
Reaching the highway, their 10-kilometer journey which usually takes around 10 minutes took them almost a day to travel. At one point, the road became a parking area and everyone including Tamano and his family were stranded on the road.
“We left around 7 a.m. and reached the boundary at 1 p.m.,” he shared, noting that their 45-minute travel from Marawi to Iligan turned into a 12-hour ordeal.
The Filipino was very grateful for the locals on the way who gave them free water and snacks.
The next day, they arrived in Iligan City. However, due to the huge number of people who had just come from Marawi, Tamano and his family decided to travel further to Cagayan de Oro as most of the hotels and apartments were fully booked. According to him, the government failed to facilitate an evacuation area at that time.
“My niece was also pregnant and her [time] came. She needed to be in a safe hospital,” he recalled.
Tamano shared that they arrived at 10 that night and were lucky to take their dinner at a generous family friend’s home in Cagayan de Oro City.
“The following day, on Thursday, May 25, I left for Manila as my flight for Dubai was on Friday. I needed to rush back to be with my family for the start of the holy month of Ramadan,” he said.
Filled with mixed emotions, the Marano felt sad and drained from what had happened, especially for his own siblings and friends.
Back in Dubai, the Filipino watched the crises in Marawi intensify calling their city the next Aleppo of the east due to the continuous fight in the area.
“Our family and friends back home suffered a lot, especially during Ramadan. No one expected this to happen as we are not ready to become Internally Displaced Persons,” Tamano said, noting that all of their belongings and homes have either been burned, occupied or looted by the militants.
As the Filipino celebrated Eid Al-Fitr on Sunday, June 25, he urged his Maranao brothers and sisters to refrain from blaming anyone and instead stay strong and be united so that one day help rebuild their city.
“This ongoing war served as a wake-up call to us, as a Maranao. Coming from the City of Marawi, I am appealing to everyone to refrain from blaming anyone, this is a phenomenon that everyone wishes not to happen. This is the time for us to be united and to help each other, the weak by the strong, the masses by its government and to continue to pray that in the soonest time peace will prevail and we will overcome all of these to start rebuilding our city in its due time, and Marawi will soon rise to be better and stronger,” Tamano said.