Maranao businessman returns to his properties decimated by war

By Bonita L. Ermac

Marawi City – Ismael Oti, a businessman who used to own businesses in two five-story buildings here, still cannot understand why all his possessions, culled from decades of honest, hard work are suddenly gone.

"Walang masama diyan, hindi ako nagdroga, hindi ako nagnakaw at nag five/six, masama sa amin iyan (None of them came from illegal activities. I did not steal, I did not engage in usurious lending. Those are bad for us, Muslims)", Oti said as he sat across his burned property on Barrio Naga Street here, almost a year after the Maute Terrorist Group laid siege to the city that led to a five-month armed conflict with the government.

Businessman Ismael Oti Businessman Ismael Oti

Oti, 68, could only say in between sobs: “Ang dalawang building ko, ang dalawang building ko (My two buildings, my two buildings).”

Oti had lived a decent life with his nine children, who, themselves are all businessmen. The family had a bakery, snack bar, retail and wholesale stores, and other businesses in their buildings line a cellular phone station.

In sheer disgust, he lashed at those who sowed terror in this city.

According to Oti, “those Maranaos who did bad things here are not Muslims.”

“Maraming nagsabi na mga Muslim, hindi iyan totoo. Basta may nagawang masama, hindi iyan Muslim (Many said they were Muslims. That’s not true. Because if they did something bad, they are not Muslims),” he said.

And a year later, it was obvious that he still had so much rage in his heart.

“Yang mga masamang Maranao, kung may makikita ako sa kanila, ngayon din papatayin ko (As for those bad Maranaos, if I see them now, immediately I will kill them),” he said.

Oti was among the residents of the most affected area (MAA) here who were allowed to return home to retrieve whatever they can from their residences, or assess the severity of damage to their homes.

And the mere sight of his properties – all burned and destroyed – suddenly leaves Oti with a feeling of helplessness.

"Iyong mga ari-arian namin, Diyos lang mahibalo diyan (As for our properties. Only God now knows about them),” he said.