BALOI, Lanao del Sur – Amid the humanitarian crisis brought by the challenge of moving and sheltering hundreds of thousands of people affected by the siege in Marawi City, a family has taken to the streets in true Maranao spirit of helping one another, by feeding those displaced in the conflict.
That trait is known to Maranao locals as Kathatabanga, and to the family led by Abner Sulug, 42, a farmer and businessman, it is also the instinctive response to a situation that demands true charity and compassion, as true Islam embodies.
Sulug’s family members started to cook and give out free food to weary travellers passing their home right after he saw hungry evacuees asking for food on the highway in the town of Baloi.
“On the evening of May 23, during the first day of the conflict, some of the evacuees who passed our house asked for food and meal. They said that they haven’t had breakfast, lunch and dinner. Seeing them soaked in rainwater just broke my heart and as a Maranao, I felt their pain. We immediately tried to feed them. That incident made me realize the need to help, even in a small way of giving out food and water to those travelling from Marawi City to evacuation centers,” said Sulug.
“We did not mind whom we were feeding, Muslims or Christians. As Maranaos, as Filipinos we just wanted to help everyone in need,” he emphasized.
Sulug with his wife, 13 children and some relatives started to give out free food the next day and then continued to give out food from morning to dawn until their supply ran out.
“We did not think of how many we would be able to feed; we just did it because we felt that it was the right [thing] to do. When we ran out of bread, we then turned to sweet potato. Since it was hard to make them drink from cups and eat in place as those in vehicles need to keep moving [lest they] cause traffic in our narrow road, we decided to put the water and food in cellophanes.” That way, he explained, “they would be able to drink while they travel. And then the demand spiked as more and more people kept on leaving Marawi City the third day,” recalled Sulug.
Sulug’s 28-year-old son, Amer Hassan Lope Riga who is a registered nurse and works at the local government of Baloi, helped in the distribution of food and posted on social media the family’s effort.
“Our effort is in the spirit of Kathatabanga, which means helping one another, one of the core values of the Maranao people. A lot of the displaced individuals who passed by and were given food and drink turned to social media. We did not realize that suddenly hundreds of people started donating food to help our efforts. From the second day of the conflict, until now, our team grew. From just family and relatives, neighbors started to help in the cooking and distribution of food,” said Riga.
For several of the Christian students from Mindanao State University (MSU), the free hot meal of sweet potatoes was a relief after being trapped in traffic at the checkpoint for 4 hours.
“The taste and feel of the food just melted right through our sense. We were so thankful of their simple gesture. We were very thirsty along the highway and the water they gave us was a huge help. So thankful in having such kind of people,” said Alex, one of the hundreds of fleeing students headed for the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology campus.
Roslaina Dicali, 54, a public school teacher who was trapped for four days in their home close to where the firefights erupted, received her free meal on May 26, Friday evening.
“We passed the area in Baloi in the evening, after being trapped in traffic for 10 hours, when they handed the free sweet potatoes. We felt ashamed for the free meal, we are not used to asking for a meal. But after being trapped for four days and not having a hot meal, the hot sweet potatoes was just a huge relief. We can’t thank them enough for their efforts,” said Dicali, who was travelling from Marawi City with two older women and four other people in a small car to Iligan City.
The Sulug family has revealed that help from concerned individuals had started pouring in and – assuming they can hurdle the security and logistical challnge – they are planning to send food to those who can’t get out of the area and haven’t eaten for several days, as the entire effort has grown into their neighborhood and community.