By Martin Sadongdong
MARAWI CITY — The bullet-riddled signage of this war-torn city stood proud in the middle of dilapidated buildings and piles of rubbles from demolished structures.
It was adorned with flowers and colorful decorations, and a group of five Maranaos was behind the playful yet meaningful act.
Amid the light drizzle on a Wednesday afternoon, the group decorated the city name marker. They said it would inspire the soldiers who are rebuilding their beloved city.
“A lot of people used to take their pictures here because Lake Lanao is one of our main tourist attractions,” said Allysah Pangandaman, the spokesperson of the group.
Pangandaman is a former college secretary and lecturer at the Jamiatul Philippine al Islamia, a Muslim learning institution.
She lost her job because the private school was one of the many structures that got destroyed during the war.
She recalled her experience when the war broke out on May 23, 2017.
Pangandaman said she was at the school while screening a batch of teacher-applicants who were applying for an opening.
“I was trapped for one night at the school because we ignored the gunshots that we heard. We’re used to hearing gunshots but we didn’t expect it had gotten very serious,” she said.
After learning the severity of the situation, Pangandaman urged one of her co-lecturers to call a relative to pick them up.
The uncle of her co-lecturer came the following morning, May 24, 2017, and pleaded to the terrorists to let them go.
When she got out of the school, Pangandaman said she was expecting to see bulky and “scary-looking” terrorists.
To her surprise, she saw teenage boys with a hint of fear in their eyes while holding long firearms.
“I was afraid but I could see in their eyes that they were also frightened,” she recalled.
Luckily, they got out of Marawi before the situation got even worse with the arrival of military forces.
On Thursday, October 17, the nation will commemorate the second year anniversary of the liberation of Marawi City from terrorist forces.
But Pangandaman felt the Maranaos aren’t totally free as they are still suffering from the effects of the war caused by the terrorists.
“Maybe we are partially [free]. We are not yet totally free. If I see that the Maranaos are able to get back here, I might say that we are totally free,” she said.
“But as of this moment, at least we are not giving up Marawi City,” she said at the end of the interview with the Manila Bulletin, before going back to putting up designs.