BAY, Laguna – Life of a “bakwit” (evacuee) from the Mindanao State University (MSU) in its Marawi City campus at the height of the scourge of the five-month war was really “devastating” but there are still “treasured” recollections according to an MSU graduate.
In an interview with the PNA, 22-year-old Lyka Amethyst Casamayor, a born-again Christian from Bunawan, Agusan del Sur, who studied at the Mindanao State University (MSU) Marawi City Campus revealed “I missed Marawi, the people, the beautiful places, the culture and artifacts the people have preserved through the years.”
Lyka narrated her ordeal how spending four years and completing her thesis for the A.B. Communication and Media Studies major in Journalism course and slated to graduate third week of June this year was marred by fear during the Marawi seige that bean on May 23. This led her to become a ‘bakwit’ (evacuee).
She was among the nearly 2,000 graduates of MSU Marawi Campus whose graduation rite was moved to July 13, 2017 in two venues - one at the De La Salle University in Iligan City and another batch at the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology (IIT) at the height of the skirmish.
Now, she and co-graduates are referred to as the “Bakwit” Batch 2017.
A scholar of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (MRI) in San Pablo City, Lyka was called in to join the company only last Sept. 25 as corporate communication assistant in the Corporate Communications Department without a transcript of records (TOR) to show except a resumé.
Her latest assignment with CARD MRI was to coordinate with media practitioners from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao who participated in the 4-day “Lakbay Aral” (study tour) sponsored by the company from December 6-9, 2017 in San Pablo City.
It was at the culminating event of the study tour held at the Jardin de Julieta in Tranca Village (barangay) here that Lyka narrated her ordeal at the start of the Marawi City siege.
The Marawi City siege and her way out
“It was about 2:00 p.m. on May 23, I was reading my thesis papers inside my room at the dormitory, when I heard sounds of guns reverberating throughout the campus,” Lyka recalled.
“My roommates and I at first dismissed the incident as ordinary occurrence in the campus until there were successive gun fires in varied intensity and bomb explosions filled the air. We realized something unusual was going on,” she narrated.
Text messages spread like wildfire informing them that government forces were having intense firefight with the Maute terrorist group in the city and they were asked to get ready with important things and few clothes to carry as evacuation was evident, she said.
On May 24, Lyka, carrying her back pack bag containing her thesis materials and two pairs of clothes, went outside to the 7th Street together with roommates to buy foods with prices soaring to doubled or tripled than usual.
“We cannot cook our foods. We just softened rice and noodles with water before we ate them, “she recounted.
While in the dorm, they were told through text messages not to wear something black or they might be wrongly identified as members of terrorist group who wore black outfit; to keep low and stay away from the window; to close all doors; and not to entertain strangers.
Then, a power glitch plunged the area into darkness prompting Lyka and the “Lakas Angkan” Ministry members to pray silently in the dark and then she hid inside a blanket while texting for updates outside for as long as their batteries can sustain.
Luckily, she said, she was able to contact her mother Leticia, 42, and father Elmer, 45, assuring her of possible rescue and their way out from harm’s way. Deafening sounds of gun fires and bomb explosions were heard throughout the once peaceful campus, and lulled during heavy downpour.
“Ten men clad in military uniforms came looking for me, but hesitated to take me out because they could not assure the safety of the other 80 students who were with me at that time who also wanted to leave the dormitory, and they left,” she narrated her ordeal.
Dawn of May 25, they decided to move out stealthily from the dormitory by several groups towards the administration building which was used as the evacuation staging ground as they joined 300 more students waiting for a ride towards MSU-IIT in Iligan City as their designated temporary refuge.
On May 26, Lyka arrived at the MSU-IIT campus along with other students with a sigh of relief and waited for money coming from her parents for her ride back home in Agusan del Sur.
“While waiting for the fare money, I continued reviewing my thesis papers in the evacuation center . I also noticed other students reviewing their thesis materials as well,” she related with a smile.
At 3 p.m. on May 28, Lyka was finally home in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur after a 15-hour bus ride from Iligan City.
It was a tearful reunion with her mother who is a member and center chief of CARD MRI and her father, a security guard, as well as her siblings. She is the second among six siblings.
Thesis works through online instructions
As the battle to liberate Marawi City continued, Lyka had to finish her 5-chapter thesis through online communications with her instructors.
“There were series of online instructions for the corrections and revisions of my thesis materials which were at the concluding chapter then,” she explained.
According to Lyka, her thesis was about errors on Rappler articles based on the 13-point evaluation questions approved by her instructors which required her to be constantly connected to the Internet.
Finally, she made it as candidate for graduation although the submission of the final book bound copy of her thesis is still pending until today.
Life after “Bakwit” graduation
“Our graduation was somewhat confusing since there were two venues for the 2,000 “Bakwit” Batch 2017. It was already in the afternoon of July 13 at the De La Salle Iligan Campus that I finally joined the rite,” she said.
After the ceremony, she and her disheartened parents proceeded back home on board a rented van, as she described how her parents had heavy hearts as we travelled back home for not being able to come up on stage to put a lei on me.
She said, she was reluctant to apply for work because she had no transcript of records (TOR) to show as her credentials but she felt relieved when a call from CARD MRI told her to report for work at its main office in San Pablo City on September 25, 2017, bringing only a resumé to present.
After the two-week training at CARD MRI Baguio, Lyka is currently working as a corporate communication assistant at the CARD MRI Corporate Communications Department at its main office.
Lyka has been thankful to CARD MRI for supporting her college education and the chance to practice her profession in the corporate communications department of the company.
She looked back to her life in Marawi City as “a memorable and enjoyable one” before the siege and was enthused after learning she will be going back to Marawi City in 2018 for her upcoming assignments at CARD MRI branches in Mindanao.
She knew that the trauma of her ordeal still haunts her but she is fighting it out with prayers, happy thoughts and with the help of the CARD MRI family who supported her all along without reservations.
“I loved to watch fireworks display even when I was younger. But now, hearing an explosion makes me shiver. The trauma of my ordeal is still within me,” she paused.
Thinking about the place which was my second home for four years, makes me wonder if I could still see the places where I used to go with friends and the artifacts, I missed them,” Lyka, member of MSU Marawi “Bakwit” Batch 2017 concluded. (Zen Trinidad/PNA)