ILIGAN CITY, Philippines — Retired Technical Sergeant Amer Maca-antal Ali, 63, fought for five Presidents during his career in the army — Marcos, Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo, before retiring from military service in 2002.
Ali last trained his guns on the Abu Sayyaf in an encounter in Tuburan, Basilan in 2002. The rebels killed two soldiers and wounded 30 more. Ali said he could not be sure, but remembers that no casualties were recorded from the other side.
Given the length of his service, it is needless to say that Ali has had his share of war.
However, he now calls on the government to talk peace with the people, instead of simply trying to eliminate every single Maute member and sympathizer.
In an interview with Davao Today, Ali warned that no matter how many rebels the government kills, more would rise up to take arms.
“Kaning gibuhat sa atong kagamhanan diri, dili sakto nga solusyon. Abi nimo sa amo sa Maranao ba, mutuo kag dili, murag isa ka plato nga kan-on, bisag pa giunsa nimo pag ingon nga imong tiwason, naa pay mabilin ana nga mutindog, mubarog mangitag pamaagi, so ay’g ingna nga ang mga taga diha, mahurot”
(What our government here is not the correct solution. Believe it or not, we Maranaos are like a plateful of rice. No matter how much you try to finish the meal, you will always leave a few morsels behind. These grains are like the few rebels that will stand up and find a way, so don’t say you will eliminate us all), he said.
Ali said most of the Maute’s recruits started as young and eager youth ready to give their loves to God, but along the way, were misled and “brainwashed” by people with ulterior motives.
He said most of the recruits are simply thinking that they are offering their lives to God in the form of “Jihad.”
“Ang ISIS, sama lugar sa nagsakay sa barko, nga ang ila, usa ra, para sa Ginoo lang. Pero wala silay hanaw nga ilang gisakyan nga barko, ang piloto ato dili maayo ang plano. Katong mga pasahero, para sa Ginoo, Jihad ang tawag nato. Pero not knowing na ang pilot nga lain ang iyang plano”
(The ISIS, let’s imagine them as passengers in a boat whose journey, they thought would lead them to God. However, they did not realize that the captain of the ship had different plans), he said.
Ali also criticized the way the Army is trying to retake the embattled city, which it has been trying to recapture for more than two months now.
Ali said that the Maute are so few in number during the early days of the fighting, that the military could have killed every last one of the rebels if they bombed them in Butig, Lanao Del Sur, right there and then.
“Dili man sa gina-blame nako ang gobyerno pero sakit lang sa amoa kay wala nila gi maximize ang ilang pagtira sa mga [Maute]. Unya karon pag-abot sa Marawi nga daghan kayo ug tao, didto na nila gigamit ang full strength ng gobyerno”
(It’s not that I want to blame the government, but it’s just painful for us because the government did not hit the Maute as hard as they could then. Now when the fighting erupted in Marawi, they used the full strength of the government), Ali said.
But Ali said the Army should stop using the air strikes now, because it would only bring about greater destruction.
He said the Maute are very few in number relative to the government’s forces, and could engage the rebels man to man, instead of destroying the city through airstrikes.
“Pwede man tingali na lang wala gigamit ang mga bomba aron dili dakong damage” (Maybe they should not have used the bombs to miminize the damages), he said.
Ali’s own house in Barangay Banggolo burned to the ground after it was hit by a bomb dropped from a FA-50 fighter jets.
A second house located far from the fighting, in Papandayan, Canyugan, Ali believes had already been looted. He said the second house contained several belongings he had acquired through the years.
A flat screen television, some desktop computers, jewelry and other valuables had been left behind after they fled.
Neighbors who evacuated a few days later than he and his family did, said they found the gates of his house in Canyugan left open. Ali surmises that looters have probably emptied his house by now.
Ali is now in a makeshift evacuation in a Madrasah school in Barangay Tomas Cabili, Iligan City. His youngest daughter, 4-month old Shahn, has contracted coughs and rashes — an ailment that has been spreading like wildfire between the children in the evacuation center.
A visiting volunteer doctor advised Ali to keep Shahn dry to abate the rashes. Ali said it is very difficult to keep Shahn free from sweat given how humid the rooms get in particularly hot days, not to mention the fact that at least four to five families share the same room every night — bags and belongings included.
Hygiene in particular has become a serious issue, given how the evacuation center’s sole source of water is a faucet located at the back of the property.
“Ang panawagan namo sa President Duterte nga unta masulbad ning problema nato diri sa Mindanao labi na sa Marawi city, nga ang mga taga Marawi pud makabalik sa ilang panimalay kay lisod kay ning kahimtang nato diri”
(To President Duterte, we hope that the problem of Mindanao, especially Marawi City can be solved so that we residents can return to our homes. Our conditions here are very hard), Ali said.
“Sandwich mi aning lugara. Vulnerable pa sa sakit kay ang mga kauban nimo diha wala kay hanaw nga naa diay gibati” (We’re like sandwiches here. You’re also very prone to diseases because we never know who’s sick and whose not), he added.
The fighting rages on in Marawi, with army officials claiming that the war will end soon, despite declining to give a timeline.
As of July 21, 105 soldiers 428 rebels and 45 civilians have perished in the fighting.