CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — Noraidah Lala, 35, insisted that his husband, Arafat, who was recently arrested and charged with a rebellion by Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police, was not a member of the Maute group.
“Sibilyan po kami. Kung napatunayan na ISIS pala siya, bakit andito kami? Dapat nagtago-tago na kami (We are civilians. If it were true that he was a member of the ISIS, why would we come here? We would have gone in hiding),” Noraidah told Davao Today in an interview on Friday, July 29.
Arafat, 38 was arrested on July 23 at the evacuation center in Saguiaran Town, Lanao del Sur. Authorities found 12 identification cards from his possession. He was unarmed.
Arafat has since been charged with rebellion and conspiracy after an arrested Maute member “positively identified” him. Other reports indicated that few vigilant evacuees also spotted him posing as an internally displaced person.
Noraidah vehemently denied these accusations. She recounted that the last time she saw Arafat, he had just come back from nearby Iligan City to secure relief goods from the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Arafat, she said, was a civilian volunteer often assigned to facilitate the distribution of relief goods. Before the fighting began, Arafat had been providing for their 13 children as a mechanic.
Noraidah said a police officer later approached Arafat, who said some motorcycles were in need of repairing. Arafat readily accompanied the officer, who was simply thinking that the authorities needed his services.
She later heard that her husband was arrested. When she went to the nearby police station, the authorities denied knowledge of his husband’s whereabouts.
Noraidah only learned of Arafat’s fate online, after searching for his name several times over.
Noraidah now fears for the fate of her family. With her husband jailed, she will have to look for ways to feed her 13 children, nine of whom had been Arafat’s children from his first wife who died of Hepatitis a few years earlier.
One daughter, Norjannah, was lost amidst the fray when the fighting broke out and was never seen again. She was 15 years old.
“Hindi ko na po alam anong gagawin. Gusto ko na rin siyang makita, kung ano mang nangyari, kasi di ko na alam anong nangyari sa kanya. Kailangan ko na makalabas na siya agad kasi kawawa na mga anak namin. Walang makakabuhay sa amin, siya lang isa kasi mekaniko siya (I do not know what do anymore. I want to see him, to know what happened to him because I have no idea. I need him freed immediately because no one will provide for us. He alone has been supporting us through his job as a mechanic), Noraidah said, forcing back tears.
Monera Macatoon Rascal, a DSWD social worker managing the evacuation center in Saguiaran, attested to Arafat’s reputation within the center.
“Si Arafat, from the start na nagdating siya dito, lahat ng trabaho nagvo-volunteer ‘yan. Kahit hindi namin tawagin (Since they arrived here, Arafat has been volunteering for the daily work here. We do not even have to call for him),” she said.
Furthermore, Rascal said the identification cards found with Arafat were the identification cards of his fellow volunteers whom he kept for safekeeping that day as their group leader.
Rascal said they issued the identification cards themselves.
Rascal explained that as camp manager, she divided the evacuees into four groups to better manage the distribution of relief goods. Arafat led Group 3, which was composed of over 100 families.
On the day of his arrest, Arafat was the appointed leader of the volunteers.
The evacuation center, in particular, the covered court, houses 370 families with 1,578 individuals. (davaotoday.com)