A Different Breed Of Maute Is Helping Refugees Get Back On Their Feet

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Image via Rappler

The name Maute has been a plague for people in Marawi, thanks to the two extremist Islamic brothers that led the attack on Marawi City on May 23, 2017.  The attack triggered a 5-month siege and a humanitarian crisis, and displaced nearly 5 million residents because of the fighting.

But for one barangay in town of Balo-i, Lanao del Norte, the Maute name is carried by a village chief, a woman no less, now leading the efforts to help shelter thousands of evacuees from the besieged city.

32-year old Okura Samporna Pacalundo-Maute is the village chief of Barangay Pacalundo. Mother of 10, Okura is a widow, her husband gunned down by political rivals more than a year ago. She became village chief when elders led by sultans asked her to lead after the demise of her husband.

But despite the events of May 23, she still doesn’t mind if visitors address her as Captain Maute. “It’s just a name,” she told Rappler in an interview. “Dahil tradisyon, tayong mga babae ang mga pangalan natin galing sa mga lalaki – sa tatay o asawa. Pero puwede namang hindi, puwede tayong mamili (Because of tradition, we women take the names of the men in our lives – our father or husband. But we can choose not to).” Her colleagues now refer to her as Cap.

“My husband was a good man and public servant. I honor his name. But I will also strive to be a good human being, with or without that name attached to mine,” she adds.

Pacalundo has been a model for barangays in the area that have been accepting internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Marawi, whose number has ballooned to 360,000, according to data recorded by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Cap’s barangay accomodated more than 600 families in the first two months of fighting. In September, 20 families from West Poblacion sought refuge in Cap’s barangay because of tough conditions in their area. By October an additional 105 families asked to be transferred to Cap’s barangay. More and more people are asking if there’s still space in Pacalundo to the point that there’s now more IDP’s in the area compared to her actual constituents.

But despite this, Cap still wants to help. She had IDPs build tent dwellings be built on the vacant lot adjacent to the barangay hall, which her family owns. Evacuees now tend to a fruit and vegetable garden, and the area has ample water supply from pumps and deep wells.

While Cap is symphatetic to the plight of the refugees, she could not contain her anger when Barangay heads of Marawi City started looking for their constituents.

“I told the barangay captains, bakit ngayon lang kayo maghahanap ng constituents ninyo? Nasaan kayo noong nagkagulo (why are you only looking for your constituents now? Where were you when there was chaos)?”

Some of them did not help relief efforts, and according to Cap, some even had the gall to stay in hotels in Iligan City and Cagayan De Oro City while the fighting was taking place.

“They’re comfortable but their displaced volunteers can’t even take a rest with work around the evacuation sites, even doing Sunday missions,” she said.

“Kung leader ka, kayanin mo (If you’re a leader, take it on),” she said. “You seek them out, ask them how they’re doing and do anything you can to at least make them feel better,” she adds.

Even as the fighting ends, there’s still lots to do since not all evacuees are able to return to their homes. Jobs for the IDPs are paramount, since many of them left their homes with the clothes on their back and nothing more.

But despite this, many volunteers that have worked with Cap have nothing but praise for Captain Maute.

“She is a very strong woman despite what happened to her husband last year. She is 32 with many kids and family problems but she does not forget her responsibility to her community,” said Mohammad Shiek Pandapatan.

“Men like me can learn a lot from Cap’s being a woman leader. We see her brave the challenges and we try to keep up,” he adds.

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