Four years after the bloody siege in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, dozens of families are still unaware what happened to their missing loved ones.
One of those longing for the missing is 26-year-old Julio.
“Life goes on. Four years has passed and it’s still hard to accept (what happened),” said Julio, whose father, a construction worker, remains missing.
“I thank him for raising us well. For instilling in us not to break the law. I just miss him so much because he was my guide (in life),” he shared while getting emotional.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made an assessment in 2019 to evaluate the needs of affected individuals and families following the disappearance.
“Beyond the psychological pain of not knowing what has happened to their loved ones, families of missing people also have economic, legal, and psychosocial needs. Many have lost their breadwinners and face legal and administrative gaps that limit their access to social benefits and pensions,” it stated.
The assessment also showed that families’ top priority was to clarify the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, followed by financial aid; and addressing the psychosocial challenges they face in dealing with absence.
This prompted the ICRC to create what it called the Accompaniment Program to strengthen the abilities of individuals and families to deal with difficulties related to the disappearance of their relatives and to eventually resume their social lives.
The “accompaniers” who have experienced the loss of a loved one were trained to set up peer-support groups of 6 to 8 people from the same area. They met twice a month wearing masks in well-ventilated settings, with respect to COVID-19 protocols, in a span of six months.
In these sessions, facilitators taught participants better ways of coping and managing stress. The participants shared their emotions, daily struggles, and positive memories of the missing loved ones, as well as their own roles and the changes they faced after the disappearance.
“Having others experiencing this situation is important for healing.
We are not promoting forgetting. We are helping them to learn to live with the ambiguity and create a new hope and meaning in life,” said Sherzod Musrifshoev, ICRC mental and psychosocial support delegate based in Iligan City.
The cycle of group sessions comprises nine psychological and psychosocial support sessions. When the cycle is completed, families also benefit from 2-3 information sessions that tackle health or legal matters. In its fifth session, families bring their missing relatives’ favorite food or items and share with the group the memories attached to them.
This is followed by a group commemoration, an activity to represent their missing loved ones. Participants choose the project and design the implementation themselves, while the ICRC provides them monetary support for the needed materials.
One group decided to plant 45 mahogany trees to symbolize their missing relatives’ presence, while families in Libertad, Misamis Oriental, built a waiting shed and a heart-shaped memorial signage to remember missing loved ones.
“When the accompaniment program concludes, we plan to still gather during special occasions related to our missing loved ones such as birthdays. The heart (signage) symbolizes our love, care, and honor and our respect to our families who disappeared during the Marawi siege,” said “Melissa,” an “accompanier” from Libertad, Misamis Oriental, whose husband and son remain missing.
The ICRC’s accompaniment program continues to date, expanding to the areas of Zamboanga and Cotabato cities in Mindanao where some families of missing persons live.