As the violence settles down in Marawi, its denizens’ stories of struggle and personal tragedy are finally starting to come to light.
To authentically capture these stories, CNN Philippines, in partnership with Havas Media Ortega, traveled to ground zero of the conflict, where they were given an unprecedented 45 minutes to explore the war-torn region and get a firsthand glimpse at what happened to the once-bustling city center.
They were accompanied by Moro millennials from MARADECA, a local non-profit that had been sheltering refugees from the city. LG Electronics loaned out two units of its flagship smartphone, the V30+, given to the respondents so that they could capture a unique perspective on the ground.
26-year-old Norliah Deron became a social media figure when she posted a collage of Marawi on her Facebook wall with the question, “Why were they killed?” Her post went viral; within an hour she got over a thousand friend requests. (Photos were taken with the LG V30+. This is a project in collaboration between Havas Ortega Group & CNN Philippines.)
The area where Norliah’s house once stood was still considered a dangerous area by the military at the time of her visit to ground zero. She hadn’t seen her house since she left Marawi, and wanted to see what happened to it. She tells a story of how she used to gaze at a nearby basketball court from the third floor of her cousin’s house – she had a crush on a local boy who used to play there. Both her home and her cousin’s home, as well as the basketball court, are likely gone, but her memories remain. Today, though, she can still gaze across the beautiful lake, as she always has. (Photos were taken with the LG V30+. This is a project in collaboration between Havas Ortega Group & CNN Philippines.)
Norliah taught the Christians in her group how to say the Shahada, in case ISIS militants stopped them in search of non-Muslims to kill. At one point, they were questioned by a militant who asked why a girl in their group was wearing her hijab incorrectly. Norliah quickly defused the situation by speaking calmly, and teaching the scared girl how to properly wear it. (Photos were taken with the LG V30+. This is a project in collaboration between Havas Ortega Group & CNN Philippines.)
In the aftermath of the evacuation, a grieving Norliah was comforted by her colleagues, who said that she may have lost her valuables, but more important than anything else, she is still alive. (Photos were taken with the LG V30+. This is a project in collaboration between Havas Ortega Group & CNN Philippines.)
One of the motivations for Norjanah Cosain’s quick escape was the fear that her brother would be recruited by the Mautes. In her haste, Norjanah’s mother-in-law even forgot her savings on her bed, consisting of some P20,000 in cash. All the while, she was using Facebook to stay in constant communication with her husband Najer Hadji Jalel, a MARADECA project staffer, who was out of the country at the time – ironically, for a disaster preparedness workshop. (Photos were taken with the LG V30+. This is a project in collaboration between Havas Ortega Group & CNN Philippines.)
Since their escape, Norjanah and her family have been living in an empty lot owned by a wealthy landowner, who generously provided the land and also pays for the electricity. Norjanah reminisces about the home that she left behind, which she and her husband Najer had slowly been building up for the last two years – “ipon and patayo” as she put it. Shortly before the siege, Norjanah had even purchased a brand-new wardrobe and curtains, in preparation for Ramadan. All of these are gone now. (Photos were taken with the LG V30+. This is a project in collaboration between Havas Ortega Group & CNN Philippines.)
Just like Norliah Deron, Norjanah grew agitated as she crossed the bridge to Marawi, pointing across the river, saying that her house was right there; she too wanted to jump off the bridge and swim to the other side, to see what remained. She, however, already knew the fate of their home -her Facebook group had shown her the smoldering remains of her house, burned by the Mautes and bombed by the military. (Photos were taken with the LG V30+. This is a project in collaboration between Havas Ortega Group & CNN Philippines.)
While CNN provided traditional news media coverage of the site, the Moro respondents, equipped with the V30+ and its high-end camera, gave a more deeply personal look. Norliah Deron, a young woman who lost her home in the siege, captured a beautiful photo of the lake near the city, across which she used to gaze as a child.
She also took selfies of her and fellow Moros whose lives were disrupted by the war, eyes red and stained with tears but still hopeful for the future. Norjanah Cosain, a millennial mother, and schoolteacher who evacuated her home along with her five children, took photos of the shacks that serve as the temporary homes of more than 30 families.
Through the lens of the V30+, these young women were able to not just tell, but show their story to the world, every detail captured in every shot.
Their photos bear silent testimony to not only the terrors of war but also the indefatigable human spirit, ready to pick themselves up once more even after such tragedy.