MANILA, Philippines – After months enduring intense battle in Marawi, some Philippine soldiers are looking forward to rest and relaxation, and possibly a trip to Hong Kong care of President Rodrigo Duterte.
"That's why soldiers are excited for the war to end because they will continue on to Hong Kong," said Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Major General Restituto Padilla on Friday, October 20, in a press briefing.
Duterte had enticed soldiers in Marawi with a trip to Hong Kong as reward for their efforts in retaking the city. The trip would go to soldiers awarded the Medal of Valor.
"Siguro may prize ako 'yung ano – 'yung Valor, 'yung mga tigas. Mga Hong Kong siguro," he said to applause from the uniformed personnel. (Maybe I will give a prize – for the [Medal of] Valor [awardees], the tough ones. Maybe, Hong Kong.)
"Hong Kong, that's free. If you want, bring a partner, your spouse," the President added.
In a later Marawi visit, Duterte told soldiers he would raffle off the all-expense-paid Hong Kong trips.
"I'll have a raffle. If you're lucky, you can bring your spouse and children," said the President on September 11.
He reasoned that a vacation without loved ones is meaningless: "They'd always hanker for the children and the wife."
If the soldiers would rather not go abroad, Duterte offered another option: a chance for the soldiers to meet a celebrity.
"Kung ayaw mo naman, ituro mo 'yung artista na gusto mo at pakiusapan natin," said Duterte in August. (If you don't want, identify the celebrities you like, and we will request an audience with them)
Rest from fighting
With the end of hostilities in Marawi in sight, Padilla said some troops are already being transferred out of Marawi so the soldiers can take a rest and then go back to training.
The first unit to be sent to Marawi, the First Infantry Battalion headed by Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Tampus, has been sent off following the AFP's rule of "first in, first out."
"They will also be going back to Luzon for a much-needed break and for their long-delayed training in Fort Magsaysay and in other camps of the Philippine Army," said Padilla.
The area vacated by Tampus' unit will be taken over by other military units to continue providing security during the recovery and rehabilitation phase.
The First Infantry Battalion is credited for the successful rescue of 34 hostages during the height of the conflict. The unit lost one soldier while several were wounded.
It received the Silver Cross Medal and a Command Plaque from the Western Mindanao Command, said Padilla.
Token of gratitude
Aside from his promise of a Hong Kong trip, the President also promised to give firearms to all soldiers who fought in Marawi.
Padilla said this commitment is being gradually fulfilled.
"There was a ceremonial turnover of 500 firearms, which our Commander-in-Chief gave to our soldiers," said the military spokesman.
Some 3,000 to 5,000 more firearms are set to be delivered. It has taken some time for this to be arranged because of the process of acquisition. The firearms were purchased from a local company.
The 5 months of armed conflict in Marawi saw the President visiting the besieged city a total of 7 times, more than once a month on average.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.