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Published on Aug 23, 2017
Lumbab, along with eight co-workers, was caught by the outbreak of fighting between government forces and ISIS-affiliated militants in Marawi City. The group, employees of Fulrubell Corporation, a contractor of PLDT and Smart Communications, was then working on a Smart project site in Barangay Ramain, Marawi.
Throughout the 12 days, they constantly faced death, if not at the hands of the terrorists, from shrapnel and sniper fire, or starvation, said Lumbab, project site supervisor.
They found refuge in the residence of former ARMM Deputy Gov. Norodin Alonto Lucman, who not only offered food and shelter but protection, when the terrorists were at the gate, ordering him to turn over any Christians he might be hiding.
Lumbab and his team’s ordeal began when they were traveling along the highway linking Marawi and Iligan, about three hours after the clashes began. Their company vehicle was stopped by two armed men in black t-shirts and black bonnets with ISIS markings.
The men asked where they were from and demanded to see their IDs. After several tense minutes, the armed men let them go.
The workers heaved a sigh of relief – prematurely, It turned out.
“About 50 meters from there, two more ISIS men stopped us,” Lumbab recounted in Tagalog. “They angrily asked why we were allowed past the first checkpoint.”
This time, Lumbab and his team mates were ordered to get off the vehicle and form a line on the grassy roadside. At gunpoint, the armed men confiscated their mobile phones.
“I thought that was it, we were going to be shot,” he exclaimed.
Lumbab noticed a lad of about 14 or 15 standing on the other side of the road. Probably a lookout, he thought. Just then a motorcycle carrying four men approached. Apparently seeing the black-clad figures, the men jumped off the motorcycle and ran. The ISIS men opened fire on them.
Lumbab and his men seized the moment to clamber back into the vehicle – their driver stayed inside – and were able to escape.
They fled to the Lucman compound in Brgy. Sugod 25 meters away, and were let in by the official’s niece, Nawaz.
“Mr. Lucman and his family know us, they see us working sometimes in the Smart cell site right beside the compound,” Lumbab explained.
By nightfall, the clashes intensified, the city was put on lockdown, power and communications lines were shut down, and roads were blocked.
As Lucman told a tv interviewer the next morning, “In Marawi, no one slept last night.” That included his own household, consisting of himself, his niece, a housemaid, and the nine workers whom he advised to spend the night for their safety. The other members of his family had earlier evacuated to Iligan City.
One night stretched to eight, as the fighting raged, with no end in sight.
Lucman offered whatever he had, but their provisions soon proved insufficient for 12 adults. Hunger compounded their fear. At one point, Lumbab recalled, he and his team shared one pack of uncooked noodles or one papaya. When they ran out of drinking water, they thanked the heavens for rain.
As if that were not enough, Lumbab and his team braved sniper fire whenever they turned on the generator to activate the cell site in the morning and turn it off in the afternoon, to keep communication lines open, until fuel ran out.
Once, Lumbab was grazed by shrapnel in the left shoulder.
By the ninth day, with no food left, Lucman decided they should transfer to his nephew’s house, also within the compound. The family living there had also gone to Iligan, and it had become shelter for a group of people, who turned out to be employees of another Smart contractor.
Fortunately, these workers still had their mobile phones. Lumbab and his team borrowed their phones to call their families and their manager, Ronald Nabua.
“I feared for their safety,” Nabua said in a phone interview. “I had been coordinating daily with the AFP for their safe conduct, but I was advised that it was best for the team to stay in hiding.”
He added that Lucman kept in touch with the commanding officer in the region to ask that safe paths be charted for the civilians to leave the city as soon as the area was cleared of Maute terrorists.
Lumbab, a father of four, said his wife Jennylyn feared he had been held hostage by the terrorists, and was relieved to hear from him.
This positive turn of events, however, was closely followed by their most harrowing experience yet.
While they were in the second house the terrorists nearly caught up with them. Once they overheard Lucman talking to three militants at the gate. The men asked if he had guns and if there were Christians inside. None, Lucman told them (lying about the Christians).
Apparently seeing how young and probably inexperienced the three strangers were, Lucman advised them that they did not have to risk their lives. They could just remove their black shirts, change their clothes and walk away, he said.
“I overheard that one was 22 years old, a Tagalog from Cavite; another was 20, a Tausug,” Lumbab said.
The young men would not be persuaded. Eventually, failing to get guns, they left.
During such tense moments, Lumbab said he and his companions prayed. He also tried to reassure the others that Lucman would do everything to protect them. Some of his companions seemed to be in a state of shock, he mentioned.
Finally on the evening of June 3, the military announced that certain areas had been cleared and that civilians traveling around the city should wave white cloth.
On June 4, as instructed by the military, Lucman and the groups he sheltered left the compound and headed for Bayabao Bridge, two kilometers away. The military had set up a station there and would escort them on their way out of Marawi.
“We walked from 4 to 7:30 a.m.,” Lumbab said. When they got there, there was a brief exchange of gunfire between the military and the Maute Group, who were on opposite ends of the bridge,” he said.
Lumbab and his team sought safety on the sides of the bridge, while Lucman called out, “we’re caught in the middle, there are no Christians here.”
When the shooting subsided, Lucman told the soldiers posted at a station on the bridge that they were to proceed to the Lanao del Sur Provincial Capitol building. From there, Lumbab and his team were escorted to Iligan City.
Lumbab has been working on various Smart projects in Lanao for more than three years. After a two-week break, he and his team have returned to work on the project site in Barangay Ramain.
Throughout their 13-day ordeal, Lumbab said, he constantly urged his team mates not to lose hope, to pray and keep faith in God.
As though to drive home the point that their prayers were answered, Lumbab and his team were met by their families in the house of God, the Señor San Miguel Arcangel Cathedral in Iligan City.