There was nothing out of the ordinary for general surgeon Hanisah Guro on the afternoon of May 23, 2017. In fact, she was about to head home from Marawi’s Amai Pakpak Medical Center when she heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire near the gates. She instantly knew that something was horribly wrong.
“One of the security guards told me to go back because some militants… went inside the hospital and that they shot a policeman outside the gate,” she shared with FemaleNetwork.com in an interview via email. “I hurriedly went back to the doctors' lounge and there I saw…hospital employees in panic. We locked ourselves inside the lounge for hiding (sic).”
Those gunshots signaled the start of the Marawi Siege, a crisis that has now gone on for more than two months. As an answer to an unsuccessful government raid of the hideout of Abu Sayaff leader Insilon Hapilon in Marawi, the IS-linked Maute group attacked the city at around two o’ clock on that fateful Tuesday afternoon, forcing it into a lockdown. Militants began entering important government facilities, including Amai Pakpak Medical Center.
“The nurses at the ER called the surgeon on duty and told her that they brought the wounded policeman to the ER…” Hanisah recalled. “But the surgeon on duty was a Catholic, and I told her that she needed to hide… I volunteered to do the surgery.”
Amai Pakpak was instantly transformed into a war hospital, and Hanisah’s training kicked in. “I did surgery on the wounded policeman… At the same time, the militant group brought in one of their wounded fighters…
“In the middle of the [policeman’s] surgery, the nurses told me that the wounded fighter of the MG died. At that moment, I felt that I was in danger because they might barge inside the operating room and hurt us... I was doing surgery and at the same time I was praying for our lives inside the OR. Thank God we finished the surgery unharmed… [Sadly, the policeman] died two hours after…”
Amai Pakpak Medical Center did not fall into the hands of the Maute group, but the first days of the siege remained chaotic. Hanisah recalled how admitted patients fled for their lives, sometimes even taking their beds with them. Those who were in critical condition had to stay—and it meant that their hospital chief and some of the staff had to as well.
“Most of our staff evacuated their families to Iligan. On the fifth day of the siege, a team of doctors including me went back to the hospital, but we were advised by the military to leave...as it was not safe yet to stay because of the heavy gunfights and they haven’t yet taken control of the areas surrounding the hospital.”
The Department of Health ordered the closing of the facility to the public, but as the violence continued to escalate and the numbers of those injured and dead continued to rise, medical professionals were needed back in the field.
“We were deployed to the hospital by teams which were composed of doctors of different specializations, nurses, and other hospital staff. Each team would stay on duty… for three nights. We would usually cater to only emergency cases such as victims of stray bullets, rescued survivors, and patients referred by nearby municipalities and evacuation centers.
“Every time we go on duty, we know that our lives are at risk, but it is our duty to serve the people of Marawi especially at this time of crisis.”
Australian journalist Adam Harvey of ABC News came under Hanisah's care with a bullet lodged in his neck. Over the sound of gunfire, Adam asked about how close the shots were, and with a calm smile, she replied, “Yeah, I think it is just near… Just near us.”
Adam was only one of the many she had to treat, and her calmness hid her deep sorrow about the war. “The whole scenario itself is the worst, people fleeing Marawi to nearby cities for safety, the situation of the evacuees at the evacuation centers… We never expected this to happen to our beloved city.”
And yet, there were always reasons to stay.
“Everybody who is in one way or another doing his or her part in this situation [is a hero]… The military and the policemen who are risking their lives in the battlefield, medical professionals and health workers serving both in the hospitals and evacuation centers, the LGU who is also doing their best in alleviating the conditions of their constituents, the rescue teams who also risked their lives in rescuing survivors in the battlefield, Maranaos who protected Christians from being harmed, and private individuals involved in relief operations…
“Amidst this chaos, what gives me courage to keep on serving is the HOPE that everything will fall into place and that Almighty God is always with me and the people of Marawi. As Neil Gaiman said, ‘Being brave doesn't mean you aren't scared. Being brave means you are scared, really scared, badly scared, and you do the right thing anyway.’"