Marawi: Heartbreak and Homecoming

CNN Philippines, in collaboration with Havas Ortega, developed a series of reports on contemporary topics that were inspired and informed by the insights gained from the Asia Pacific Millennial Codes.

Asia Pacific Millennial Codes

Published on June 2018


IT’S ONE THING TO LEARN how Millennials are informed by their Codes, and another thing to really see them in action. CNN Philippines, in collaboration with Havas Ortega, developed a series of reports on contemporary topics that were inspired and informed by the insights gained from the Asia Pacific Millennial Codes.

One of the most devastating periods in our country’s recent history, the siege of Marawi evicted some 1.1 million civilians from their once-vibrant hometown. CNN Philippines talked to the Maranaos displaced by the war, capturing their stories of being forced to leave, finally coming home after months, and maintaining hope despite losing nearly everything. CNN also spoke with the Mayor of Marawi, as well as its residents and various groups, about rebuilding the city and finding home once more.

Many of the displaced civilians were budding Millennials, studying or just starting jobs. In partnership with Havas, CNN Philippines entered the war-torn city, barely two months after its liberation, and revisited the devastation through Millennial eyes.

Two young women, Norliah Deron and Norjanah Cosain, both Millennials whose lives were disrupted by the war, told their stories as they walked through refugee camps, crumbling neighborhoods, and even ground zero of the battle itself.

Millennial in Focus – Norliah’s Homecoming

Millennial in Focus – Norliah’s Homecoming

Amidst the rubble and destruction of post-siege Marawi, a young woman has found her voice. 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.

Norliah left Marawi with nothing but the clothes on her back, having given up the opportunity to take more of her belongings with her so that her evacuation vehicle could take in more seniors and children. She 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 among 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.

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.

Norliah’s house is in ruins, her hometown reduced to ashes and debris. Take a look, however, at her Instagram account, and you see her smiling, posting photos of her daily life like any normal millennial. Hers isn’t the social media presence of a human being in suffering, but a woman who perseveres despite having lost everything. In sharing her experiences with her peers and using her voice to speak up about Marawi, she has found a means of coping with a harsh reality that few could face with such an admirably stiff upper lip.

Millennial in Focus – Norliah’s Homecoming

Norliah’s experiences have made her more confident in expressing herself and cemented her identity as an uplifting voice in Marawi. Rather than taking the opportunity to flee to Manila, she spends her days keeping up the spirits of her fellow indigenous peoples. She is highly active in discussions regarding the rehabilitation of Marawi; she takes every opportunity to spread awareness, and remind institutional representatives caught up in debates on what to do with ground zero. “We want to go home but we have no home to go to. So what will you do for us?”

Millennial in Focus – Norjanah’s Journey

Millennial in Focus – Norjanah’s Journey

As the Maute rebels advanced towards what would eventually become Ground Zero, one young mother had to act fast. Norjanah Cosain, a public schoolteacher and mother of five, grabbed the first things that came to mind – her children’s milk and clothes – and fled Marawi on foot. She could never have known that they’d be gone for so long.

One of the motivations for their quick escape was the fear that Norjanah’s brother would be recruited by the Mautes. In her haste, Norjanah’s mother-in-law even forgot her life 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.

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. They join more than 30 other families living in shacks with blue trapal for partitions, and donated metal roofing.

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.

Millennial in Focus – Norjanah’s Journey

At the moment, Najer and Norjanah are busy preparing the documents to prove the identity of the ten members of their household. The requirements are ID pictures that cost P20 each, and a family tree showing the relationships among every member. These documents are required by the military, as they profile people who are re-entering Marawi.

Norjanah and her family are holding steady; her and her husband’s jobs have allowed them to stay afloat while staying at the empty lot. They would like nothing more, however, than to return and see what happened to their house. They don’t know when they’ll be able to go back, even if they’re ready every day to do so.

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.

Both women exemplify a unique application of the APAC Millennial Codes, a validation of how they continue to meet their challenges and find their identity even in the face of unprecedented struggle. Discover their journeys, as well as the stories of the displaced Maranaos in the aftermath of the siege, in CNN Philippines’ two-part series: Marawi: Heartbreak and Homecoming.

Part 1

Part 2

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