I grew up in bucolic Lanao (before politicians gerrymandered it into Del Sur and Del Norte). One of my fond memories of the past was a family trip with my father driving our road-beaten “Eisenhower Willy’s” jeep in a rugged sand and gravel road for hours on end just to pay a visit to a graveyard cum shrine in a beachside. The trip stoked my juvenile curiosity. My father, now deceased, explained that it was the burial place of the “Saber sa Radapan” or Martyr of Radapan. According to legend, the martyr (to this day, I don’t know his name) died fighting against foreign invaders.
It has become so popular that Maranaws flocked there with offering of food, including coins thrown to the grave. The Saber was supposed to cure the sick, bring blessing and fortune. It was unmitigated idolatry, a mortal sin in pure Islam. But it demonstrated strong faith to the Great Unknown.
In the highway in Maguindanao near the boundary of Datu Odin Sinsuat town, there is a curve with makeshift bamboo structure shading a graveyard. Motorists slacken speed and throw coins to the yard. It was also believed to bring luck and protection to devotees.
In pre-Islam, animism was common. But with Islam, any reference to anything as the Divine Creator other than Allah or God is a mortal sin.
I narrate these tales because of the discovery by the Marawi residents of a marker obliquely referring to the leaders of the Maute-Abu Sayaff Group — Ispilon Hapilon and al-alim Omar Maute, culprits in the horrific siege of Marawi. There is a rumor making the rounds among residents of Marawi laced with heavy sarcasm, if not jocular, that government is incubating the idea of constructing a shrine, if not a pantheon for them. While this strikes one as nonsense, yet the fact that residents are talking about it is symptomatic of people suffering from PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to clinical psychologists, its manifestations include hypervigilance and ultra-sensitivity or being always on guard — a description that fits the Marawi victims.
But it is one hell of a joke! Pure hogwash and garbage. Recall that their post-mortem circumstances are shrouded with mystery. How their cadavers were disposed of by the military and the situs of burial ground (or lake?) is unknown to this day (The remains of Osama Bin Laden was unloaded in the ocean after allegedly undergoing Koranic ritual for the dead).
The talk was sparked by the discovery of about 20×20 inches of a granite marker on the exact spot in Ground Zero where they were fell down by a military sniper bullet one fateful night. (Pictures were uploaded by Dr. Ali Dalidig, Chief of Marawi Health Office). Their death effectively put finis to the protracted 5-month war in Marawi. Inscribed on the signage constructed by the Philippine Army were: “On the 16th of October 2017, troops of the Joint Task Force Marawi neutralized the two highest ranking leaders of the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group at Brgy. Datu sa Dansalan. This achievement prompted President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to announce the Liberation of Marawi City…”
Residents ask: why the marker? To herald the victory of government troops over the rebels after an embarrassing five months hostaging of the city? A victory over an outnumbered and outgunned rebel group with the combined arsenal, firepower and might of government forces in land, air and water unleashed recklessly and indiscriminately? A victory over a ragtag armed men who sent feelers for a possible surrender that would have saved the city from Armageddon but casually dismissed just to assert military power and might of authority? A pyrrhic victory at the expense of the thousands of lives and the leveling of a city into rubbles and charred skeleton of structures? In our book it was anything but victory.
Many residents would rather opt that any reference about the hellish trauma be trashed in the dustbin of history and forever forgotten. And this include any tangible object that will bring back their painful memories, still haunting them into sleepless nights on end.
The mortal remains of our househelper, Michael, his wife, Robella and 2-year old daughter are unaccounted to this day. And you call that victory and neutralization of the enemies? As the military themselves say: “Tell that to the Marines!”