Our Hideaway

A Step at Ground Zero

By Cesar Jay-R Ramirez

Jay-R, from Barra, Cagayan de Oro, is the assistant vocation animator for Mindanao.

Filthy things were everywhere. Remnants of missiles scattered. Bullets were all over the place. I got teary-eyed at the heartbreaking scenario at Marawi Ground Zero.

I was with Jesuit seminarians and a Columban aspirant when we went to Barangay Bito Buadi Itowa, Lanao del Sur on May 3, 2018. The area was less affected during the Marawi siege so it became a shelter to internally displaced persons (IDPs). Before going there, we went through the Immersion Orientation program where we had a briefing about the Maranao culture. This was held at Xavier University–Ateneo de Cagayan.

I thought it would be a strange and scary experience to have an interfaith immersion in Marawi. I entertained a lot of thoughts from what I had heard about the attitude and customs of the people and the place itself. I had so many “what ifs”: What if I will be killed there? What if we can’t go back home? What if they will be uncomfortable with us? But these thoughts and what ifs vanished when I immersed into their way of living on the day we arrived. It was a day full of laughter with the kids. We spent our time nattering with them, telling stories and learning several Maranao words. It was a cloud nine experience for me to see their natural smiles as we entertained them. Happiness did not allow any sorrow from the siege to take hold of them. We stayed there for three days. Being immersed in another culture, especially at a time of crisis, was a blessing and worth keeping.

Jay-R at Ground Zero, Marawi, May 2018

On our way home, we took a detour leading to Ground Zero of Marawi and the sight of it astonished me all the more. I was stunned as I stepped down to a place full of bullets. No structure escaped the destruction. It was heartbreaking to see the place and to think of the lives destroyed by the tragedy. I felt its brokenness. It brought me to the realization of the world’s suffering today – racism.

I have lived with history’s prejudice against Muslims. But that view has changed after my immersion. My experience has proven me that Maranaos are open-minded, friendly and helpful even with Christians. Goodness comes from God. And goodness is innate in the Maranaos.

This insightful experience of stepping on the ground, where the Marawi siege shook the country, awakened me to a life-changing mission.