Gamson Jr Mawallil Quijano
DOHA, Qatar (MindaNews) — At around 3:30 a.m. on September 9, 2013, I was awakened by the sound of chaos outside.
My phone alert for messages kept ringing. I did not become aware of what was going on outside until I read my friend’s messages. “Māguy na kami kanda Ina’ sabab simud na in MILF magbunu’ na iban sin parinta!” I was not alarmed then perhaps due to my past experience of being sandwiched in an armed conflict.
Nevertheless, I performed ablution and prayed the Fajr then sat on the bench outside of our rented rooms sipping my morning tea with my maternal grandfather. But the exchange of gunfire was getting closer.
To be honest, I was not afraid for my life, but for the lives of my mother, my younger sister and my grandfather. I was thinking, how will I save them if the situation worsened?
As the sound of gunfire was coming closer and some of the MILF troops kept knocking on every house, I stood up and went to perform ablution again, donned my veil and grabbed my father’s “barung.”
In my thought, if I will die today, I will not die without a fight. I will protect my family no matter what. I know “barung” is futile against bullets.
Nevertheless, I did not intend to die without a fight if anyone from the combatants will do something wrong to my family. With “barung” on left hand and my “mushaf” on my right, I went out again, sat on the bench and read a few verses of the Qur’an. I waited for someone to barge into our home and threaten my family.
At sunrise, my worries mounted. I was not worried for myself but for my mother and my grandfather, and my sister. My younger brother then was not with us during that crucial moment. He stayed at his friends’ boarding house near Universidad de Zamboanga Tetuan campus because they have an exam early morning that day. The phone signals got jammed. And the only thing we could do was to pray and pray harder for the safety of everyone.
Around 10 am, a ceasefire happened. All the trapped civilians were allowed to go, and we were among them. Alhamdu Lillāhi, for us, we didn’t have to walk. We were able to board the car of the kindhearted owner of the place we rented. But along the way, I saw people, young and old, carrying their things to nowhere. No one believed that day was going to change our lives forever.
The siege of Zamboanga lasted a month, and the damages were tremendous. And the things I was able to save from my handful of belongings were some of my books, clothes, and important credentials. Just like other people, I thought that armed conflict would only last a few days, then we could go home, but I was wrong.
Narrative of my wife, Nur Aisa
I had just graduated from college in 2013. Most of the time I spent reading books because I was preparing for my upcoming nursing licensure exam. I can vividly remember the 9th day of September 2013, around 3 a.m. when I heard our neighbors shouting outside as if there was some commotion happening.
They anxiously knocked on the door of our sari-sari store shouting, “Hji, wake up, allow us to buy load!” My parents wondered what was happening outside. Why were our neighbors fretfully shouting and wanting to buy load in the wee hours of the morning? They wanted to immediately contact other members of their families because MNLF forces were milling around outside.
After that, my mother immediately went up and woke us up, gathered all of us then told us, “I can foresee skirmish is about to take place.” She encouraged us to wear secured garments such as Abaya, pack our valuable things individually, and secure our important documents.
My sister Aisha and I separately packed our things. Mother called us again and reminded us that whatever it takes, we need to have a presence of mind and be steadfast.
When the Fajr time came, my father, who is the regular “muaddzin” at Sta. Barbara Masjid went to the Masjid to do the call for prayer for Fajr. We were so worried for his safety since lots of military were present outside and possible encounter between them and the MNLF might transpire anytime.
We were afraid that he would be trapped in the crossfire. We pleaded with him not to go anymore but out of this devotion to do the Adhan for Fajr prayer, he assured us, “don’t you worry, Allah is with me.”
Finally, we heard my father’s voice calling for Fajr prayer reverberating across barangay Sta. Barbara. According to him, when he was on his way home, he heard gunfire nearby. As soon as he reached home, he told us, get ready to leave because almost all of our neighbors have already evacuated.
Together with our remaining neighbors, we carried our valuable belongings, left our houses and headed to the safe area fronting Zamboanga City Medical Center. What we went through during our evacuation was extremely hard.
To flee safely and not to be trapped in a crossfire, we needed to transfer from one house to another. We also climbed individually to the metal house rooftop then jumped into that area fronting the hospital. Children, adults and elderly underwent that difficult process because we didn’t have any other way out.
As the gunfire continued, I could clearly hear both children and adults screaming out of fear. (TOMORROW: Surviving the siege)
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