In Tibanga, Iligan, I saw a community of “bakwits” that lives to tell the tale of how a church, the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), saved them from the fighting in Marawi.
I am not a member of the INC. I encountered this story when we were in Iligan to distribute blankets and mats to people in evacuation centers.
Hazel dela Cruz is one of the 484 evacuees from Brgy. Datu Saber in Marawi City. They are now staying in the Tibanga gym, less than an hour away from Marawi. Their village, Datu Saber, is home to Camp Ranao, which is in turn the home of the 103rd Brigade of the Philippine Army. When the rebel group Maute attacked Camp Ranao on May 25, Day 1 of the siege, Hazel and her neighbors were caught in the cross fight between the soldiers and rebels. They could not leave the area. They endured three days of terror before help came, in the form of trucks sent by their church, the INC. The trucks ferried them in the evening of May 26 from Datu Saber to Brgy Tibanga, in neighboring Iligan province.
DSWD officer Alicia J. Madiam said they decided to house all the 122 families who are members of the INC together in one location, the Tibanga gym. There are some 700 other members who are living with relatives in Iligan City.
Tibanga is perhaps one of the most organized and clean evacuation centers I have ever seen. When I asked Ms. Madiam what her secret was, she admitted that it helps that the evacuees belong to one church. “Organized talaga. May naka-assign kung sino ang maglilinis ng CR, ng loob (ng gym), pati sa labas.”
The church’s assistance did not end with transporting their flock to a safe zone. Madiam revealed that the church also consistently provides for the evacuees’ meals. This is why, she said, the evacuees are able to store the rice and canned goods they receive for future use.
After almost three weeks, the families have developed a system of sorts, their belongings such as bags and water jugs serving as delineators of their temporary ‘living areas.’ When we visited in the afternoon, some kids were sleeping on mats and carton boards spread on the gym’s floor. A few preschoolers played with each other; their parents watching from the bleachers.
Hazel is grateful for the help. In the meantime, the long and uncertain wait is for her just the preview to an already certain loss. She is convinced that she will return to a home already looted. “Yung bahay wala na, ninakawan na, wala na talaga.” 30