The man who buries the lost lives in Marawi

Oct. 06, 2017

UNDERTAKER. Jelbin Darantinao says he offers a prayer before he starts digging the graves. “Please don’t scare me, I’m just doing my job,” he says, as if speaking to the departed. (Photo by Divina M. Suson /

MARAWI CITY, Philippines – For seven years, excavating canals and constructing roads are what Jelbin Darantinao has done for a living. But these days his employer has taken him to a role that reminds him of how a war refuses to choose which innocent lives it would take.

And every time he begins his work, he does so with a prayer.

“I am only doing my job. I’m just following orders,” Darantinao would say in silence.

Aboard a backhoe truck on Thursday morning, October 5, Darantinao dug the earth to bury dead bodies of those killed in the war between troops and the Daesh-inspired Maute group.

Darantinao, one of Lanao del Sur province’s heavy equipment operator, buried the remains of an estimated 40.

“Please don’t scare me,” Darantinao recalled of what hje prayed for before before the mass burial began.

This is the third time Marawi City has buried bodies since the war began in May 23. And another batch could be underway.

In June, eleven bodies, believed to be those of civilians killed by the militants, were buried in a public cemetery in the neighboring city of Iligan.

In the same month, four bodies of Maute members who were killed in an ambush at the boundaries in Pantar and Baloi, Lanao del Norte, were also buried in that same cemetery.

In all of these burials, Darantinao served as the backhoe truck operator.

“It’s an eerie feeling to bury a group of people you don’t even know. As a Christian, I believe that each person has a soul so I silently talk to them,” he said, explaining to why he says a prayer before the burials begin.

The military hopes to end the war in Marawi soon. But even so, Darantinao, a government employee, won’t likely be returning to his original task.

He has been assigned to join the clearing operations in Marawi, right in the heart of the war where he expects to see more dead bodies to be buried.

But despite how painful his work could get, Darantinao said he is willing to do all these. The only thing he hopes for, he said, is that after all the work has been done, he could still come home alive.

“I only wish that everything will be totally cleared when the military allows us to get inside and start our work…I have a family waiting for me to come home,” he said. (

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