Marawi, Marawi!

We cannot help being sentimental about Marawi, that once verdant city by placid Lake Lanao, the summer capital of Mindanao. How idyllic it was, the first time my husband and I went there, in 1967 thereabouts, upon the invitation of our dear friends, Sultan Al Rashid Lucman (may he rest in peace) and his wife Bai Tarhata Alonto Lucman.That was a half century ago! Those 50 years have flown so swiftly.

We were invited to the inauguration of the Aga Khan Museum of Islamic Art. Dr. Antonio Isidro, Mrs. Linang Mandangaan, and I were asked to cut the ribbon with a Maranaw kris. The picture of that momentous occasion is still there at the museum, I was informed.

Senator Mamintal Tamano (may he rest in peace) and his wife were among the guests and so were members of other prominent clans like the Alonto, Abas, Sinsuat, Dianalan, and Dimaporo. I wonder where they are now; these days the names that we read about and hear in the news – Ampatuan and Maute – were unheard of in those pre-Marcos martial law days. Neither did we hear about the MNLF, MILF, Abu Sayaf, Al Jarakatul, Jemaah Islamiya, etc. A certain discontent with the national government was perceptible, but no one dreamt of schemes like the BBL.

Last Sunday while I was at the Villa Escudero for the traditional Feast of the Ascencion, I received a PMS from my husband saying how sad it is to see Marawi City destroyed. “We had such good memories of it with Tarhata Alonto and Rashid Lucman, our hosts half a century ago…” Indeed, that visit was like a watershed for both of us. We realized how Eurocentric and Western-oriented we were out here in distant Luzon. The people we met there spoke about their travels to Saudi Arabia and other kingdoms of the Middle East, and to Malaysia and Pakistan.

There was a splendid Paganang Maranaw in our honor and I was amazed that after dinner, guests would get up and sing Maranaw songs and perform their dances at the slightest provocation. I remember a distinguished gentleman chanting a song while holding a fan; a young Macapanton Abas performed an energetic war dance. One of the elders told me that they were happy that I wore the malong as Miss Philippines during the Miss International competition in Long Beach. He said the young ladies were beginning to discard the malong but started wearing it again. I was more than flattered by what he said.

“God bless all of them,” continued my husband’s PMS, “May they rise again…” Apparently, the “surgical air strikes” had resumed that Sunday afternoon. Significantly, during the High Mass at Villa Escudero, the national anthem was played during the Consecration by a band positioned by the door of the church, a traditional offering of our country to God, explained Don Ado Escudero. That was timely, I thought.

According to the Armed Forces, surgical air strikes are aimed at buildings which the Maute group and their snipers have taken over to inflict damage on the civilian population. I fervently pray that the Mindanao State University and the Aga Khan Museum in its campus are spared.

Marawi, a city of 201,185 (2015 census) has lost 55,000 of its population; they have fled for their lives to Iligan and other safer places. From this distance, one is riveted with fear and desperation, what must we do to prevent the suffering of our fellow Filipinos, the destruction of Marawi, and the dismembering of this republic? Much as we abhor martial law and condemn rape jokes, we are constrained to close ranks to support a President who was elected by 16 million voters.

These are perilous times; the Republic of the Philippines faces both external and internal threats. Marawi may just be the beginning.