Only the rat-a-tat of gunfire cuts through the thick smoke standing unafraid in the stillness. Then, dusty feet climb soundless on the ash-carpeted stairs onto a tiered stage nested amidst rubble and fallen stone pillars — and slowly the haze lifts like a curtain rising. High gothic arches loom as backdrop, and the light from a shattered stained-glass rose window shines upon a full symphonic orchestra and choir: it is Zubin Mehta conducting the Sarajevo Symphony and Choir, for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem in D-minor.”
It was at the saddest height of the infamous Siege of Sarajevo that Mozart’s “Requiem” was played in 1994. The charred remains of the National Library, once the Sarajevo City Hall, was a tragic monument to “some 10,000 people, the vast majority civilians and many of them children, (who) have died or disappeared during the Serbian nationalists’ bombardment of Sarajevo (April 5, 1992 to Feb. 29, 1996) (The New York Times, 06.20.1994).” The 10-minute video of the 35-minute full concert showed buildings burning from air strikes and bombings, juxtaposed with horrible vignettes of the wounded and killed. Children and babies wide-eyed with fear must have harkened, in their innocence, to the plaintive wailing of violins in the requiem and the magnified pounding of their hearts in the heavy bassoons and drums.
The persistent adagio of Mozart’s Requiem bears on the hearts of all in predominantly Muslim Marawi, as in the whole country today, like it did in Sarajevo two decades ago — still to evoke the rueful destruction from ethnic/religious conflicts and rebellions between and among citizens of one country.
“I weep for all the civilians who were mercilessly killed, I weep for the lost homes of my people and I weep for the loss of the true essence of Islam in the people who caused all these destructions to our lives and properties,” Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra painfully shared (AP, 06.14.2017).
Nearly every day for weeks, the Philippine military has pounded Marawi with rockets and bombs, to ferret out militants believed to be linked to the terrorist Islamic State group. It is one of the fiercest urban combat this volatile region has seen in decades, the Mindanao Sunstar notes (06.12.2017).
On May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte issued Proclamation No. 216 declaring martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao (ABS-CBN News, 05.23.2017). Around 400,000 residents of Marawi City and neighboring towns in Lanao del Sur have been displaced in different parts of the country. Reports of death of civilians due to indiscriminate aerial bombardment have risen to 39 individuals by government reports, according to the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines or RMP, founded by the Association of Major Women Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMWRSP), a religious civil activist group. The military confirms that around 507 people have died — of this number, 379 were terrorists; 89 were soldiers and rest were civilians (msn.com, 07.20.2017).
“Thousands of families have been staying in different evacuation centers since the fighting erupted before the start of Ramadan on May 23. Many people have died not because they were caught in the crossfire but because of the poor condition at evacuation centers, Sharjah resident and former MarCom (Maranao Community) president Roy Tamano said (Ibid.). “Many cadavers are not yet collected,” he said. “Only after the war has concluded and a thorough clearing operation is conducted can we ascertain the number of casualties,” he explained. Evacuees worried that they will have nothing left of their properties when they go back home (Ibid.)
Yet two months on, and the fighting is still going on in Marawi. Meanwhile, the declaration of martial law, which was effective for a maximum 60 days as prescribed in the Constitution, was to end on July 22. To the rescue, the Philippine Congress met for a marathon joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives to vote on President Duterte’s letter request for the extension of martial law for another 152 days, to expire on Dec. 31 (CNN Philippines live coverage, 07.22.2017).
The Senate House voted 16 Yes and 4 No to the motion of Sen. Gregorio Honasan to allow Duterte’s request for a 152-day extension of martial law. Sen. Franklin Drilon tried to submit an amended motion to limit the extension only for another 60 days, as also proposed by a few other legislators, and as it would be more in keeping with the original 60 days of initial declaration. His motion was denied, and Honasan’s motion was approved.
The House of Representatives voted 245 Yes and 14 No to the motion of Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, which was identical to the Honasan motion. Rep. Edcel Lagman tried to object to Fariñas’s motion on the argument that there was no factual basis for martial law ab initio. All objections were put aside as a combined total vote of 261 Yes and 18 No from both Houses gave Duterte an overwhelming mandate to effectively proceed with the siege of Marawi, armed with legitimate martial law for the whole Mindanao, until Dec. 31.
“Please ask us how we feel. Please ask us how do we stand up and rise,” Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, Meranon civil rights leader pleaded in tears to the joint Congress at Saturday’s hearing on Duterte’s request. Tindeg Ranao, a group formed by Marawi City evacuees as “a response to the need to unite evacuees that call for justice to victims of human rights violations, calls for a stop to military air strikes that resulted in the destruction of their communities, and calls to lift martial law declaration that has resulted in military abuses (http://rmp-nmr.org).” Tindeg Ranao wants martial law lifted, to allow the 260,000 displaced Marawi residents to return to their homes (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 07.22.2017).
But the cymbals clashed a metallic death clang for Marawi as the final decision was made at the joint-Houses voting to extend President Duterte’s martial law powers over Mindanao. The air strikes and strafing will continue and collateral damage to people and property will continue. Search and destroy assaults by the military will capture Maute and supporters-accomplices, or more likely, kill rebels and innocents alike, in the facelessness of the foe in the very first extensive and long-playing open urban war of brother against brother in recent Philippine rebellion history.
Mozart’s “Requiem” is played for Marawi.