“Are you really Philippine soldiers or you are Maute terrorists?”
ND Tacurong students recall ordeal during Marawi siege
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Speaking with www.ndbcnews.com.ph Saturday after they were rescued by government forces and brought here by disaster officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) en route to Tacurong City, the students, a male and six females, said at one point in their ordeal, they thought “it was the end of the road for us.”
“But we have faith in God and thanks to our Muslim friends, classmates,” said Dey Ann Castillon, 19, one of the seven students trapped in a dorm in Mindanao State University (MSU) when Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf stormed the city on May 23.
There were 11 students in one of the dormitories in MSU compound, seven Ilonggos from Tacurong City, a Yemeni national, a Tausug and two female Maranaws. The 11 Ilonggos were NDTC graduates of Bachelor of Science in Social Work who went to MSU-Marawi to review for board examination.
(Jay Gee Villaruz)
With Castillon were Jay Gee Villaruz, 20, Eana Gaile Beleño, 20, Michelle Peniero, 30, Diane Coritana, 20, Judy Ann Gravino, 20 and Crystal Ebetero, 20. They were in MSU-Marawi City for only nine days when the hostilities started at 2 p.m. of May 23.
“We were told to drop when shooting started,” Villaruz said. “Then words spread around that the Maute will kill the non-Muslims.”
Castillon said their Maranaw classmates lend them “hijabs” and long Muslim dress for women. “They told us to act naturally and memorize a Muslim prayer, which we did.”
“We wore the Muslim long dress from Tuesday night until Thursday morning when the soldiers brought us to the capitol,” Castillon said.
“It was really horrifying, we are not used to gun fire, we are not used to tension, difficult and life-death situation,” she added.
(Dey Ann Castillon)
“Our Maranaw classmates did not leave us,” she said. “They said if we die, all of us will die, if we survive, all of us will survive,” Castillon said of her Muslim classmates. “So, we hugged each other as we recite ecumenical prayers.”
Villaruz said their Maranaw friends told them to always keep quite because the Maute were just outside the dorm, knocking on the gates.
“We talk in whispers, not to make any noise, our mobile phones in silent mode, we scattered in the room, lying down on the mat and told not to use our phones at night because the light might attract the terrorists,” he recalled. “We had two longest nights in our lives.”
“We cannot even use the comfort rooms because flushing the bowl makes noise and could attract the Maute,” Villaruz recalled.
“I just urinate beside the wall of CR so it won’t make noise, my females companions pee on the floor then slowly flush water with minimized noise.”
Most of the time at night, Villaruz recalled, they were on the floor as gun fire continue to reverberate the city.
Their day was filled with the sounds of military helicopters firing rockets and sporadic and automatic gun fire from nowhere.
Castillon said their Yemeni classmate told them not to worry and keep praying. She said the Yemeni told them “if the terrorist will come, I will have my head cut for you and keep you safe.”
Villaruz, the lone male in the group, said one of them has a soldier-relative who also instructed them what to do and what not to do. All throughout their journey they kept their parents posted and updated.
“I was so scared because I am the only male and the Maute were looking for non-Muslim males, so I use hijab and long male Muslim dress,” Villaruz said.
(NDTC students, still in Muslim clothes, smile aboard Army truck after they were rescued from MSU dorm at the height of terrorists' attacks)
Then on Thursday dawn, men in fatigue uniform came knocking. “We were terrified because we thought they were terrorists in Army fatigue uniforms,” Castillon said.
She opened the “high” gate, took a look and yelled at the soldiers in Filipino: “Are you really Philippine soldiers or you are Maute terrorists?” “They responded in Tagalog and showed their IDs, so we allowed them entry.”
“We shouted for joy but a subdued one, we clapped our hands without sounds, we jumped for joy without sounds…nasanay kami na wag mag-ingay, alam mo yon you are very happy yet you cannot make sounds,” Castillon recalled.
Soldiers escorted them to the Lanao Sur provincial capitol where ARMM-HEART workers brought them to Iligan then to Cotabato City. ARMM HEART billeted them at Al Nor Hotel and ARMM Exec. Sec. Laisa Alamia sent them to Tacurong City in a government van.
“To our Maranaw friends, we will never forget your kindness, some day we can reciprocate your kindness, surely we will meet again,” Castillon said. (Edwin O. Fernandez)
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