If you think about the events of the Marawi siege, probably all you can remember were the bloodshed and the hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens, displaced. But for the hostages and those trapped inside the area of conflict, they remember “Bin Laden,” who negotiated a ceasefire so they can flee to safer grounds.
Agakhan Sharief, known as Bin Laden because his beard resembles that of the Al-Qaeda militant founder, was a peace activist and Maranao leader who saved hundreds of trapped civilians in Marawi City in 2017. (Read: Catholic Church Mourns Death of Two Filipino Priests)
He died yesterday, May 25, of liver cirrhosis at around 1:25 am at the Amai Pakpak Medical Center in Marawi City. He was 49 years old.
Marawi Siege Hero
During the onslaught of violence between the military forces and Maute group, Sharief, the then-acting president of the Philippine Muslim Teachers College (PMTC), convinced brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute to spare the PMTC building.
The militant group chose the six-story building because of its strategic view. It has a good view of Amai Pakpak Hospital, Campo Ranao of the PMA’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, and of any approaching forces coming down from Sarimanok Avenue.
Sharief highlighted his relations with the brothers’ mother Farhana and asked for her help to convince them to leave. But when Farhana arrived, her sons and their men had left. (Read: Jolo Twin Blasts, 2019 Cathedral Bombing Believed to Have the Same Mastermind)
Sharief was also a vital negotiator for the ceasefire that allowed the rescue of 255 civilians inside Ground Zero. While President Rodrigo Duterte criticized the move as “negotiating with Maute militants,” Sharief argued that it was needed to ensure that he can enter the battlegrounds without being shot.
Riding on a small motorcycle on June 4, 2017, Sharief called out to civilians who were hiding in their houses in Marawi City and urged them to move to the nearby evacuation center. (Read: Filipino Catholics join Muslims in Welcoming Ramadan)
“Omar Maute would sometimes wait for us on the side of the street to guide us to where the civilians were hiding,” Sharief said in an interview with Mindanews. He admitted that he was scared that somebody would break the ceasefire and he and his team would be trapped in the crossfire.
Dickson Hermoso, a retired army Colonel who used to head the government side of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessastion of Hostilities, said that most volunteers who entered ground zero had no bulletproof vest— an indication that they had their full trust that both the military and Maute gunmen would honor the ceasefire.
The civilians and volunteers barely got out when the gunfires resumed. But the ceasefire negotiation was vital not only for the lives of the 255 civilians, but also for the trucks that were able to pass through and deliver foodstuff to other towns in Lanao del Sur.
Sharief was buried Tuesday morning in a place called “Heaven” inside the Mindanao State University, in keeping with Muslim tradition.