To commemorate the anniversary of the Marawi siege, we have produced a short video documentary, 'Maratabat: Mga Kuwento ng Kagitingan sa Marawi' (Honor: Stories of Valor in Marawi).
The documentary highlights the work of unsung heroes during the conflict and the power of local responses that cut across faith, ethnicity and identity in the midst of tragedy.
'Maratabat' reveals stories of the 'Suicide Squad' (also known as white helmets), a group of friends from prominent clans in Lanao del Sur that rescued some 1,800 people at the height of the extremist takeover of the city.
The documentary also highlights stories of Muslims protecting Christians from being captured by the terrorists, and explores the importance of local knowledge and context-relevant responses as the rebuilding of the country’s only Islamic city commences.
"The Maranao’s maratabat – or sense of honor – has often been cited as one of the reasons for the deadly clan feuds in Lanao del Sur,” said Francisco Lara Jr., our Senior Peace and Conflict Adviser for Asia. "The documentary shows that this deep sense of pride can also spur local heroism, where ordinary people risk their lives and save others, kin or not."
Saripada 'Tong' Pacasum Jr., head of the Lanao del Sur Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, said, "In the first days of the takeover, volunteers were going in and out of the city to save relatives who were left behind. We later agreed to organise ourselves and came up with a rescue hotline number."
Pacasum said the Suicide Squad received numerous distress calls from relatives of the people trapped in city in the first days of the siege. Armed only with basic protective gear like the white helmets meant for disasters, he and squad members entered the main battle area by car.
"I could not bring myself to step on the gas, so my cousin told me to sit on the passenger side and he took the wheel. It was suicide, but we decided to do it anyway. It did not matter if we died, as long as we did the right thing," Pacasum recalled.
"There was the risk that the army and police would mistake us for members of the Maute Group or of us being held hostage by the Maute Group themselves," said Merah Pimping Jr., another Suicide Squad member. He recalled how stray bullets whizzed past them, missing them by only inches.
Lara explained, "People turn to clans in Muslim Mindanao because they are able to provide protection and welfare to poor members. What the Suicide Squad did during the siege – enter an active battle zone and save not only clan members, but also the most vulnerable citizens – showed how this sense of honor and pride remains strong among young Maranaos."
While a military response is important in a situation like Marawi, local efforts should also be encouraged and harnessed – for crises or other undertakings, such as the city’s reconstruction and rehabilitation.
"The Marawi experience has shown that people can do great things for themselves – especially in times of crisis," said Lara. "They know the context, they understand the history of violence in the area, and they can identify who can be harnessed in helping resolve these conflicts. It is important for government and non-governmental actors to recognise this in the rehabilitation of Marawi, but also in the broader work towards inclusive peace in Mindanao."
'Maratabat' was launched today at the Yuchengco Museum in Makati City. It opened with a photo exhibition featuring renowned Mindanao-based photojournalists Ferdinandh Cabrera, Manman Dejeto and Bobby Timonera, as well as Marawi residents.
A panel discussion with Suicide Squad members, the photographers and International Alert followed the screening, facilitated by veteran journalist Ed Lingao, who wrote and narrated the documentary.
The documentary was produced with support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Australian government.