May 23, 2018

Stuck in the Mud (My Marawi Experience)

Exactly a year ago today...Iligan City...

see? how excited we were...
I woke up with much excitement since it was my son's 6th birthday and I will be going back home to CDO after work and we'll celebrate his birthday with the entire family.

I did my early morning devotion and God's words that struck me that day were..."Hope comes with help from God and others"! After praying, I greeted my son and sang him a "Birthday" song thru video call and told him to wait for me because mommy will be going home later in the evening to be with them.

Excited that I will be with my loved-ones in a few more hours, , I went to work with a happy heart and I was so eager to deliver my tasks for that day ASAP!

It was Tuesday, May 23, 2017. At around 2 o'clock in the afternoon of that fateful day, I went to Marawi City to deliver "Cash Assistance" for  Marawi City Branch. As I have always been used to,  I prayed before leaving my "boarding" (lodging) house and again, before boarding the armored car that would bring me to Marawi. I never failed to ask God for his divine protection whenever and wherever I go.

Along the way, I napped. When we were about to enter the City of Marawi, one of my security escorts received a radio message coming from Marawi branch asking for our exact location. As I don't understand the Maranao dialect and I had no idea about their further exchange of radio messages/conversation, I asked him what was  going on? He answered me that the ISIS group were already in front of the Land Bank branch in Marawi. I was so shocked and automatically asked him "How about me?" Will I be safe? (But at the back of my mind, what's going on? I used to hear that "ISIS word" on TV). I was already very nervous. The good thing was that, they assured me that nothing will happen to me because they will protect me at all cost. Feeling a bit assured, I still managed to pray as we proceeded to the bank premises, asking for protection not just for myself but for all of us.

When we arrived at the branch, I could already feel the tense situation and observed the unusual alertness of security escorts. My knees were shaking as I jumped out of the armored car, praying that no harm will befall on me. The Lord was so good, that I was able to get inside the bank safely! The Marawi Branch employees were all worried about me that when I entered, they hugged me tightly (take note they were fully-armed) which all the more made my nervousness and shaking more intense. No words can describe the fear that I felt at that moment. Amidst all it, I still managed to turn-over the money to the Branch Cashier and have it bundle- counted randomly.

Even with the very tense and volatile situation  outside the bank, I insisted to be brought back to Iligan at around 3:40 pm because I really wanted to be home in CdO.  Ma'am Tata Dindang, told me not to be hard-headed and to stay-put or else I will be put into harm's way. But, again, I insisted because I need to be home and be with my son who was to celebrate his birthday that night. As I was about to step out at the front door, they shouted at me..."Phebie, huwag matigas ang ulo" you will not be safe if you'll travel back to Iligan because the Maute group already took over the place and have positioned themselves all over. I had no choice, I had to heed their counsel. I just broke into tears, I called my husband and my manager and  told them about everything that had just happened. I was uncontrollably sobbing, thinking of my son who was waiting for me to be home to celebrate his birthday with him. But still, I saw the Lord's immeasurable goodness in giving me a husband who assured me not to worry and fear because God is always with me. He kept on reminding me not to panic but instead to pray harder and and even told me not worry about our son's birthday as we can celebrate it once I will be home.  While I was on the phone, calling out my friends and loved-ones to pray for our safety, I had this feeling of helplessness and was really crying so hard like most of  Maranao co-employees. My Maranao colleagues, who have since become my friends, kept on comforting me, assuring that they will never ever leave me whatever happens.

With no one and nowhere to run to, I surrendered my fate to the Lord.

True enough, I felt God's presence when I  communed with him when at around 6PM, the Maute Group where now at the front of the bank premise shouting, using a megaphone, "Oh Landbank, surrrender nyo na lahat ang armas ninyo, kung hindi magpapa putok kami, isa, dalawa,...", It was then when our security guards shouted "Dapa!" and  all of us inside the bank were already in "panic mode" as we crawled going into to the records room. There, all of us were crying out of fear (Maranaos and Christians), they prayed and I prayed, too! Them in their Islamic supplications and me, in my Christian prayers. That was the time when I already committed fully my life to the Lord, because I didn't know then what will happen to me. Whether I can come out of this alive or not. Whether I could still see my husband and my kids or not... I texted my husband to take good care of the kids, and that I love them so much (even though there was no signal inside the room),  hoping that somehow they will be able to read it, if and when he will be able to receive it. 



It was already pitch-dark. Electricity was cut off. There was no food. It was raining so hard and all we heard from outside were the thunderous of the RPGs  and the endless sound of the machine guns. The sound of the fireworks at the SM grounds every Christmas season hugely paled in comparison. 

I always recalled my husband's reminder not to panic, but to stay focused, so that I could survive and be able to escape the place if an opportunity comes. Indeed, I already made a plan on where should I hide if the Maute's will enter the bank at around 9pm (since they gave us an ultimatum that by 9PM we already have to vacate the place or else they will throw a bomb at us).

Tears just flowed out of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks thinking of the "what ifs?" while we were still inside the records room. 😭 I was kneeling down praying to God, sobbing like a kid, asking for his protection and making myself prepared and ready to face Him, my Creator and that if ever the Maute's will ask me who my God is, I was so firmly ready to stand up for His name..JESUS! I don't care if they will behead me! Because for me, I'd rather die for His name than  renounce my faith in Him, His identity and His Kingship!.

The chaos and the fears, notwithstanding, the goodness and generosity of my Maranao friends stood out. They gave me food to eat that night (Skyflakes) and water. I did not consume it all, I left 2 cuts for my next meal (hoping I will still be alive by the following day). Thanks to Ma'am Haya's relatives who favorably responded to her text message-request that we spend the night over at their place just for us to escape from the bank since the Maute's already threatened us. The Lord was so good again, that we were able to escape from the bank using the back door at around 9PM (so dark and drizzling). We safely made it to  the house  of the cousin of one of our colleagues. They even prepared dinner for us knowing that we were so hungry. A big "thank you" to them for filling-up our hungry tummy and for offering us a place to stay for the night (though not a good night's sleep) because we did not know when the Maute's will invade the place we were staying in. Again, I cried thinking of my family while trying to put myself to sleep. Instead, I prayed and I prayed until somehow, I fell asleep.

May 24, 2017.
At round 5AM we planed  to transfer to another house because the Maute's might have had a hint already that we were staying in just one house. We attempted to go out of the gate, but to our surprise the Mautes were still nearby and in-front of the bank!  Again, endless rapid sounds of  machine guns were so close that scampered back inside the house in order to hide and not be hit

tryin to escape Marawi City
After sometime, we were able to make it safely to the  second house, another of Ma'am Haya's relatives, where we were offered coffee and they also lent me a black Abaya to make me look like a "Maranao looking" lady so that the terrorists would not capture or  kill me (because somehow, they still had some respect for Maranao women).

I was already so desperate then, that I even texted our Manager to have us rescued using a chopper (hahaha)😂. It was then, when we saw some freed Maute captives passing by (they were being freed because they were Maranaos, but their Christian companions were held captives by the Mautes. Their fate unknown), they advised us to get out of the house, otherwise, we will surely be trapped inside and when the Mautes come and might even be massacred by them. I was crying hysterically, (one by one of my Maranao colleagues hugged me and I was pleading them not to leave me alone), I don't know what will happen to me if I'll go alone in the streets and I don't even know where to go since I am not familiar with their place. I called up a friend asking for help since I got the signal, I was crying so hard asking him, "How about me?", What shall I do?" He assured me that nothing will happen to me If I'll just go with Ma'am Tata and not to let her  leave me. So true, in less than 5 mins, the husband of Ma'am Tata called her and said that he was  waiting at the other side of the road and that we were going to escape out of the place and will directly drive back to CDO.


Dash to Freedom.
Without any second thoughts, I ran together with  my co-employees, with my borrowed black Abaya covering my head and face, as if no one's watching. Not minding the gun-fires from every direction! Making the fastest dash of our lives, we jumped into the waiting a pick-up vehicle of Ma'am Tata Dindang's husband! But still, we were far from safe safe as we still have to cross the bridge where the Maute's had established a checkpoint, checking each passing vehicle making sure that there are no Christians that could pass through! Again, I prayed and God answered it! The terrorists were not able to identify who among the passengers were Christians!

The pick-up vehicle, with us on-board, was allowed  to pass the Maute checkpoint cross the bridge! They just let us pass without checking on us at the back of the pick-up!.

A very short bridge that seemed to us to be the longest bridge that we ever and will ever cross in all of our lives....

We were now safe! We are now free!

It was by God's miracle that we all came out of it alive!!!

Thanks be to God!

Psalm 40 recounts God's faithfulness when David cried for help. "I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he...heard me cry. He lifted  me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and mire". Whether this psalm refers to an actual pit or to challenging circumstances, David knew that he could always call on God for deliverance.

Indeed, God will help us too when we call on Him. Sometimes He intervenes directly, but more often He works through other people. When we admit our need to Him- and perhaps to others- we can count on His faithfulness!

Lord, Thank you for the wonderful experience that I went through, Indeed you showed me how you care, how you protect, how you answer our prayers and how faithful you are to us, Your children! You're just simply an AMAZING GOD!
The reason of my existence aside from God...
I LOVE YOU THREE!

This calls for a celebration after they fetched me in Iligan!
Indeed, the Lord is so good to me and to my whole family....

I praise You, heavenly Father, that You can rescue me from any pit, no matter how deep. Help me to accept the help of others and be ready to offer it to those in need.

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