Amid the ruins of war in Marawi, residents mourn losing homes

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The ancestral home of Lanao Del Sur Crisis Management Committee Spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong before (inset) and after being hit in the Marawi conflict.

Marawi City (CNN Philippines, October 1) — It was once a house of memories, now reduced to rubble.

The once glorious structure in the city – the Alonto ancestral home – has been razed nearly to the ground, the war burning down the walls and everything with it.

Lanao Del Sur Crisis Management Committee Spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong said his grandfather, former Senator Domocao Alonto, built the house in Pangarungan Village in the 50s, and he remembers each moment his family spent there.

"Diyan lagi nakaupo si lola sa may pink stairs (Grandmother used to always sit on the pink stairs)," he said, adding Hadja Mohmina Alonto would stay there to watch over her grandchildren.

Marawi_people_CNNPH.jpg Hadja Mominta Alonto, wife of former Senator Domocao Alonto, watching over her grandchildren including ARMM Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong (third from the right).  

The Alonto house is located near the Islamic Center Mosque or the Grand Mosque, where intense firefight took place until August 24, when government troops finally recovered the mosque, once a Maute stronghold.

Now only the wall near the entrance of the house as well as the "pink stairs" remain standing.

Adiong said he first saw what was left of their ancestral home when he was shown photos and video footage. But he said it was an entirely different feeling to see and feel the place where he grew up in.

"At first, there's a denial – 'Am I really here? Is this really my house?' And then suddenly the realization that it's no longer there. It's the house. Yung familiarity nga, the comfort of the place is no longer there," Adiong said, sobbing.

Even the grave markers of his grandparents are gone, but he remembers exactly where they were buried. He was on his knees, crying before the grave of his grandmother who raised him.

"Kataya ako ina (I'm here, grandmother)," Adiong whispered.

His cousin, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management officer in charge Amer Hussein Lucman, was also in tears.

"The semblance of recognition mo doon sa bahay na yun, wala na (You can no longer recognize the house). As if half of your life has disappeared," Adiong added.

Anti-martial law house

It was more than just ancestral house, Adiong said, as it was where opposition senators would meet during martial law under the Marcos regime.

As a child, Adiong had seen former senators Lorenzo Tañada and Teofisto Guingona Jr., former Vice President Salvador Laurel, former Zamboanga City Mayor Cesar Climaco and other members of the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO) meeting with his grandfather, their house being the opposition party's headquarters.

"Lahat ng mga oppositionists that time, doon sila nagpupunta at nagkakaroon ng meetings. Kung ano ang next activity nila para ipakita yung disgust against the tyrannical rule and dictatorship during that time," he said.

(Translation: All the opposition members at the time went to the house for the meetings. They would plot their next activities and express their disgust against the dictatorship.)

Rebuilding lives

There are hundreds of thousands others like Adiong and his family, mourning over what they have lost in the war.

Anaida Rascal, one of the evacuees, also broke down in tears when she saw a photo of her community in Barangay Bangolo.

She has yet to see her house which she said is probably in ruins.

"Kawawa ang nanay ko, umaasa pa na hindi nasali ang bahay namin (My mother is still hoping our house was spared). Ay Allah!" Rascal cried.

Her brother, Jalal, remains a hostage of the Maute terrorists.

She is oping he will return alive, and together, they can rebuild their damaged homes and start over.

"Sana po matulungan niyo ang kapatid ko na ilabas doon ng buhay, maibalik po sa amin ng buhay (I hope they can rescue my brother and return him to us alive)," Rascal pleaded.

Adiong said they are expecting the same reaction from other displaced residents, with all the years of hard work gone.

"Ine-expect talaga namin na pagpasok ng tao diyan, merong resentment, merong frustration (We expect people to be resentful, frustrated)," he added.

Road to rehabilitation

The military has started clearing operations in some areas in the main battle area, working first on the main roads and other historical and religious sites.

"The engineering battalions are busy clearing the area inside. Soon, the damage assessment team will start their work (too)... (on the) first week of October," says Brawner.

And by November, the military said the residents whose houses are in areas that have been cleared may be allowed to enter.

For thousands of Maranaos who had lost their homes and do not have money to rebuild these, Adiong hopes there will be a decent reparation package for them.

"Again, that frustration can be addressed fully by way of making sure that these people will be guaranteed with reparation," Adiong offered.

President Rodrigo Duterte promised to raise money for the rehabilitation of the war-torn city.