It has been a little more than 365 days since the ISIS-bannered Maute group laid siege to Marawi, stirring up a five-month long war between the militant forces and the military. Over the sky and in mid-air, bombs and bullets dropped to turn more than 1,000 warm bodies cold and displace at least 50,000 living ones into roofless zones of terror and trauma. It’s just facts and figures to some, until you listen to those stricken by yet the longest urban warfare in modern Philippines. Or even to those who were just helping out from the sidelines.
One of whom, whose story has risen because of his social media savvy is Major Abdul Ontok. The neurosurgeon led the medical team tasked to aid fellow military men and civilians who’ve suffered in the war. Ever popular online with 31,000 Instagram followers and counting, Ontok has used his influence to relay the untold, often morbid and depressing stories that molded the war through his pictures.
“Isang taon na rin,” he whispered as we met him for the interview and shoot. Ontok is currently assigned in Manila, where he discussed anew how it has been since the bloodshed. Behind his ear-to-ear smiles and laughter, the news-maker tells us here in quotes about life after the many deaths—including that of the once vibrant city—he has witnessed.
[related: In Focus: IG-Famous Military Surgeon Captures Marawi's Battlefront In These Piercing Photos]
How much has changed in you one year after?
"Like others who were previously deployed in Marawi, some recognized me as one of the heroes. After the siege, I have been involved in activities to assess and improve the health services provided in the field."
How has your perception of social media changed?
"Social media is a powerful tool to influence others. Because of its availability, it surpassed printed, TV, and radio."
What’s the most inspiring comment you’ve received online?
"A simple thank you means a lot. Appreciating the extra things that I do just to perform my job more than expected boosts my morale."
What’s the most disappointing or disturbing comment you’ve received online?
"It’s not really disappointing because it is human nature to gauge someone’s ability based on physical appearance only."
What's your new definition of war after what you've seen in Marawi last year?
"War breaks out when there is failure to respect and accept differences."
And that of peace?
"In addition to sense of tranquility, the happiness of an individual and respect to one another in a community picture peace."
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from all this?
"Peace talks and negotiations are invaluable."
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Photographs by Steph Toben