LOCAL MUSIC. Tunog Mindanao 2013 winner Maan Chua serenades the resettlement community at Barangay Bito Buadi Itowa in Marawi City. Photo by Marco Villanueva.
Report by Angelo Lorenzo
(Note: To safeguard the identities of the IDPs, some names have not been mentioned in the article.)
When Marawi crumbled, its people rose.
Far beyond the reach of the war waged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the ISIS-inspired Maute terrorist group, the resettlement site of Barangay Bito Buadi Itowa in the province of Lanao del Sur has offered the internally displaced persons (IDPs), who had sought refuge in the five-month conflict, their temporary homes.
An estimated total of 122 tents may have provided shelter to families, but comfort may often be fleeting.
“The day’s heat can sometimes be inevitable,” said a mother whose 18-member extended family shares one roof. “Whenever our children get sick, we ask aid from the barangay health center; and they would give us medicine for free.”
To address their needs, camp manager Joanna Abdel-Fattah claimed that, besides the 50 huts provided by the Tarlac Heritage Foundation Inc in October, a hundred more tents will arrive in the coming months.
“We have been told that there are more IDPs who will come to stay here,” shared Abdel-Fattah, who was assigned to the role by the Department of Social Welfare and Development Region 12 (DSWD-12). “Those who come from the capitol (in Marawi) will be transferred here.”
Although the war has concluded, with the AFP emerging victorious and President Rodrigo Duterte declaring the city’s liberation from the terrorists last October, the people who have been directly affected did not waver.
Instead, they thrived.
COMMUNAL JOY. IDP families and their children witness with smiles on their faces the performances of local artists brought by the Xavier Center for Culture and the Arts during the Sining Para sa Kalinaw social outreach program last Nov 26 at Brgy Bito Buadi Itowa, Marawi City. Photo by Marco Villanueva.
Sowing and sewing responsibilities and relationships
To sustain their needs, the community has cultivated the land.
Nestled on fertile earth that turns red when the sun hovers high in the sky during noon, the resettlement site does not only contain rows of tents but is mapped by fields where edible plants and crops are grown and tended by the residents.
Brgy captain Solaiman D Ali has encouraged the practice so that the community will not run out of resources. Some of the tended vegetables and crops like eggplants, squash, kangkong (watercress), and pechay (Chinese cabbage).
Like the vibrant civilizations in Mindanao before the indigenous people were driven out by the brutal conquest of colonizers and the eventual surge of migrant settlers, the community has genuinely relied on the agricultural system as a shared responsibility to cope with their needs and to stay resilient from the challenges of displacement.
RESILIENT. IDP families and their children gather within Brgy Bito Buadi Itowa where they take refuge from the war in Marawi that raged for nearly six months. Photo by Marco Villanueva.
Every day, most of the youth members in the community gather in one shed where a pipe, provided by the Red Cross, perpetually spring forth water. Besides using it for bathing and consumption, they sprinkle water over the fields.
“Once the fields are ripe, the people gather for the harvest,” Abdel-Fattah said.
“They can do whatever they want with the produce – they can either sell them or they can take them for their household supply. They usually sell the produce in the Municipality of Saguiaran,” she added.
The municipality is located in the northern part of Lanao del Sur, along the border between this province and Lanao del Norte.
One matron selling turon (deep-fried caramelized bananas wrapped in spring-roll sheets) under one tent claimed this livelihood has helped her support her eight children, and send them to school so they will not end up being radicalized.
“My eldest is in high school,” she shared as the treats sizzled in the pan before her. “I will do what I can to give my children the proper education they deserve.” Her tent stands as a shelter and a store.
Some of the residents, particularly the women and their daughters, retained their culture of sewing for livelihood. But the challenge, according to Abdel-Fattah, is the limited number of sewing machines available.
“They usually market these products in Iligan City, but with fewer sewing machines and cloths gradually decreasing in number, these skills might not be sustained,” she said.
HARMONY. Singer-songwriter and music artist Bayang Barrios serenades the community at the Brgy Bito Buadi Itowa multipurpose building during the Sining Para sa Kalinaw social outreach program. Photo by Marco Villanueva
Abdel-Fattah further added that other residents wanted to become entrepreneurs like the matron who sells turon. “Sari-sari stores can benefit them as much as the harvest that they acquire from the field.”
Initially contributing to the cultivation was Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan and its participating departments and affiliated organizations. With the perennial call to aid people in distress, the university has established a relationship with the community through economic and progressive measures.
During the Xavier University Festival Days in late November and early December this year (the university’s annual celebration of its foundation and in honor of St Francis Xavier, one of founding fathers of the Society of Jesus and the university’s namesake), the community’s Farmers Cluster, under the leadership of Araiz Buyog, set up booths within the university’s campus to sell the community’s produce.
In front of the university’s museum, wherein the Meranaw people’s culture is often exhibited, basins of ginger, mung beans, string beans, bananas, string onions, cabbages, and cassava were sold. All of these were grown in the community’s fields, tended by people who share the same culture and religious belief.
“We thank the university and the rest of our donors who have continued to help and support us,” Buyog said.
LEARNING. A girl in the community attempts to color a page from the sketches distributed among children and their families during the Sining Para sa Kalinaw social outreach program. The sketches from the coloring activity book, Pinagkaisa ng Pagkakaiba (United in Diversity), were drawn by artist Kublai Millan and published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Photograph by Marco Villanueva.
Preserving the way of life
On one of the fields where the seedlings have yet to sprout, a boy not more than 12 years old flew his kite. A yarn connected it to the handle, which was an empty soda bottle he held firmly.
Made of torn plastic bags plastered together and tied firmly onto twigs, the kite suspended mid-air after he tossed it before it dropped to the soil. Trailing his steps over the soft earth, the boy picked it up and waited for another wind to pass.
Despite the sweltering heat of the late morning sun, he stood his ground. His frustration was manifested in a tight frown before it softened to a brief smile when a wind blew after waiting for several minutes. Soon, it was airborne, flying above the tents, as blue as the sky.
The boy claimed that this was his hobby. “I play with my kite every day,” he said. Before the war in Marawi, this was his game.
But unimpeded by the current circumstance, he retained this hobby after his family relocated to the site. Later in the afternoon, other boys joined him with kites of their own.
Boys in the community, such as the kite fliers, have resorted to sports and games for recreation to veer from trauma.
LEARNING. A pair of friends color the sketches distributed among children and their families during the Sining Para sa Kalinaw social outreach program. Photo by Marco Villanueva.
The Magis Football Club, an athletic organization from Cagayan de Oro City that is mostly composed of former Xavier Ateneo varsity athletes, has donated three balls to the community for its children to play with, besides training them to play the sport. One field was reserved for games.
Some of the community’s activities involved communing together to preserve their heritage and enliven their disposition.
Such was the objective of the outreach program organized by the Xavier Ateneo’s Social Development cluster and Xavier Center for Culture and the Arts (XCCA) on the last weekend of November this year as a prelude to the annual Mindanao Week of Peace (taking place every last Thursday of November to the first Wednesday of December as mandated by Proclamation 127).
Recognized by the university as “Sining Para sa Kalinaw” (Art for Peace), the outreach program had gathered artists who advocate for the indigenous cultural preservation and social awareness to grace the community within the barangay’s multipurpose center with songs and music.
Singing her originally composed songs and strumming her guitar amid a crowd of Meranaw, Manobo-born singer-songwriter and music artist Bayang Barrios who grew up in Agusan del Sur and whose career in music has spanned three decades with international recognition, exclaimed in her message: “Peace comes from ourselves. May we bring peace in the world.”
Pilipinas Got Talent Season 3 third-placer Jeff Bringas, together with another music artist with Manobo heritage, Melchor Bayawan, sang “Agila,” also an originally composed song. They masterfully-blended their voices as they sang its lyrics, “Tayo’y lumipad, salubungin ang hangin (We shall fly and welcome the wind).” The line resembles the kite flown by the some of the boys in the community.
THE GIFTS. IDPs receive their relief goods from donors during the Sining Para sa Kalinaw. Photo by Marco Villanueva
Aspiring for Peace in Mindanao
With the war now concluded, efforts to achieve peace are currently being undertaken.
Tunog Mindanao 2013 winner Maan Chua amplifies this endeavor during the outreach program by distributing sketches drawn by Kublai Millan. Handing out copies of pages taken from his book, "Pinagkaisa ng Pagkakaiba" (United by Diversity), published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Chua also added crayons as complementary materials to children within the multipurpose hall.
Some of the drawings represent the three groups of people living in unity in Mindanao: Christians, Lumad, and Muslims. While the children colored, Chua sang. “Mindanao has been the inspiration of my songs,” she said. “This is for the Philippines to see the beauty of Mindanao.”
THE GIFTS. IDPs receive their relief goods from donors during the Sining Para sa Kalinaw.Photo by Marco Villanueva.
XCCA director Hobart Savior, who was with the university’s academe, staff, and volunteers, shared that this undertaking is one of the ways to actualize peace in Mindanao.
“We have a lot of opportunities to help,” Savior said. “Aspiring for peace is important so that we could all live in peace.”
In an interfaith dialogue forum held within campus last October, which was also organized by the XCCA, discussions about historical injustice, particularly against marginalized people, came into focus.Hence, solutions to uphold peace in the present are done and more can be expected and hoped for.
The community has welcomed the delegation warmly, with some of the children performing the traditional Meranaw dance “Pagapir.” With the steady rhythm of the beating drums, the children, garbed in golden shimmering garments, swung their fans and brushed their feet over smooth concrete in graceful and delicate steps.
As relief goods in packs and parcels were distributed, smiles neither wavered nor faded.
PREPARING FOR FLIGHT. A child prepares to fly his kite on one of the open fields of Brgy Bito Buadi Itowa. Photo by Angelo Lorenzo.
Although the community in Brgy Bito Buadi Itowa may gradually return to their homeland as Marawi’s rehabilitation is currently undergoing, their pursuit to survival and their zeal to retain their way of life, despite experiencing and winning over the cruelty of war, have marked their resilience.
Like crops planted on Mindanao’s fertile earth and kites flown high by innocent children playing on sunny days, the people could only grow and reach greater heights wherever they may be if they choose to live for and with peace.∎
PAGAPIR. Children in the Brgy Bito Buadi Itowa community dance the traditional Meranaw dance known as Pagapir. Photo by Angelo Lorenzo.
LIVELIHOOD. A matron sells turon (deep-fried caramelized bananas wrapped in spring-roll sheets) beneath her tent. She sells the treats for her daily livelihood so she could earn to support her children for school. Photo by Angelo Lorenzo.
THE LONG ROAD. A child carries gallons filled with water on the path that leads to his home. Photo by Angelo Lorenzo.