Reflections on #OplanMalasakit

By Lorraine LorenzoJanuary 7, 2018

2 volunteers recount their life-changing experience in Marawi

WHEN DR. TIGER Garrido, an orthopedic surgeon at the De La Salle University Medical Center, heard about the escalating conflict in Marawi, he did not think twice in immediately organizing a volunteer group to help those he knew would be displaced by an impending war.

“There’s always this thing that gets triggered when we see things like the Marawi siege happen. It’s sort of like a feeling or a sense of urgency, and it’s something I’m sure the other volunteers feel. One thing that really got to me is that this calamity is the worst, simply because it is man-made and that makes it more tragic. When you realize that there are about 30,000 displaced families, something has to be done. I say ‘we’ because I was never truly alone with these projects. #OplanMalasakit is a small movement me and a few friends started over a private chatroom,” Garrido said.


A Bridge to Help

What followed was a series of activities that immediately addressed what most of those caught in the crossfire needed. #OplanMalasakit functioned as liason between the refugees of the war, and Filipinos all over the country who wanted to help.

“The help I provided (which had many different recipients), was to serve as a bridge. A bridge in a sense that, when your network gets bigger, you realize that there are so many people who want to help out, donate, and contribute in whatever way they can. They just don’t know how to go about doing so. So we simply provided a means for people from across the archipelago to bring help all the way to a small town in Mindanao,” he said.

What followed was a barrage of assistance which their group dutifully organized.

“When the whole thing happened, it was a daunting task when we realized everyone needed help. For example, the refugees needed certain important things that we usually take for granted: Shelter, food, clothing, clean water, babies needed diapers, women needed sanitary napkins.”

The more difficult needs also gave the group some bigger challenges: The towns outside of Marawi needed places to house the refugees. People were also getting sick so they needed medical professionals and medications.

“I would like to say that the local doctors there did an amazing job and they still haven’t stopped serving the people. Not only did the civilians need help; our heroes, our soldiers needed some form of support, as well. In hindsight, and also in looking forward, the population that needed and needs to be prioritized are the children. I say this because I believe in whatever circumstance of hardship, it’s always the children who suffer the most and have the most to lose,” Garrido explained.

Joe Green, another volunteer, also felt the urgency to help those affected by the Marawi siege.

“Marawi was not new to me. I have an uncle who grew up in Marawi and ever since I have been hearing stories of my uncle’s childhood there. So when the news broke out, I went to Iligan City as soon as I can to see what I can do to help on the first week of the siege. Together with my club, Land Rover Club of the Philippines, we gathered enough money to buy relief goods and distribute it to evacuation areas within Iligan City,” recalled Green.

He added: “Upon knowing I was in Iligan City helping evacuees, my former boss Ginggay Hontiveros-Malvar (who is now with GoNegosyo) asked me to deliver the first large-scale relief efforts for them which was called #KapatidForMarawi. I was responsible for coordinating the relief efforts on the Mindanao side from logistics to distribution. After which I launched my own relief drive along with two other friends Paul Hinlo and Dr. Garrido with our small group of friends who started #OplanMalasakit. We collected briefs, socks, and letters of thanks for our soldiers. My first delivery went to the scout rangers under the command of Gen. Paje which I personally turned over inside Campo Ranao at the height of the battle,” he recounted.

#OplanMalasakit was mainly to “boost the moral of our soldiers and make them see that we, the Filipino people, are rallying behind them. We want to show how thankful we are as a country for their sacrifice and heroism.”


Unforgettable Encounters

For both Garrido and Green, their volunteer work in Marawi was an eye-opener.

“I was in the middle of a medical mission when I encountered a Maranao. I didn’t understand what the patient was saying. Good thing there was a nurse there who was a volunteer as well. There was a huge language barrier. He was in his 50s I’m guessing and came for a simple ailment. The patient and I were taking turns looking at the translator then to each other when the translator was speaking. After the consult and after giving him meds, we had a short conversation as I couldn’t spend too much time because there were still other patients to see. In a nutshell, he said something to the effect of ‘I’m surprised to see someone here helping us that’s not from Mindanao, I always thought that people from Manila didn’t care about us’. It did break my heart to hear a man thinking that for the last 50 years that people a couple thousand miles away, from the same race, don’t care about them. I guess to some point, there is some truth to what he was feeling,” Garrido said.

Green’s encounter was also heartbreaking: “My most memorable encounter was in CDO, where I met this young boy named Ote who is 12, about my son’s age. He was forced to sell shades on the side walk in Cogon Market for his uncle since he fled Marawi with his family. Although he couldn’t speak much, I could see that he was truly in shock and very much traumatized. The first thing I heard from him was, ‘wala na kaming school‘. I couldn’t identify which school he went to but I know it’s gone, and he said ‘di na siguro ako mag-aaral ulit uncle kasi wala na kaming school.‘ I haven’t really started my relief efforts at that time but I saw who the real victims in this conflict – it’s the innocent children of Marawi.”


Lessons Learned

Although both volunteers have been giving aid for years (Garrido has been helping impoverished communities during med school and volunteered during Yolanda, while Green helped during various major typhoons and the earthquake in Cebu and Bohol), their work in Marawi gave them new realizations.

Green realized the importance of something we usually keep for granted: Freedom.

“In this disaster, I saw one thing was stripped away from the people of Marawi or even us who are far from the war zone, and that is freedom. Now we live in fear, fear of something we don’t really understand, fear of being caught in the middle of this terrorist attack wherever we are in this country. But in the middle of this fear we become more resilient and even become stronger.”

As for Garrido, it is “dignity, humanity and respect.”

“Deep down these are what the victims long for. For them to be treated with dignity and to be dealt with humanely. It’s for their state of mind to be respected. My experience made me realize the Maranaos are our brothers and sisters and it is our duty and responsibility to help them.”