Negros Occidental honors Marawi soldiers

HEROES' PARTY. Some soldiers based in Negros Island are honored on November 3, 2017, in rites held at the Provincial Capitol grounds in Bacolod City. Photo by Marchel Espina/Rappler

HEROES' PARTY. Some soldiers based in Negros Island are honored on November 3, 2017, in rites held at the Provincial Capitol grounds in Bacolod City.

Photo by Marchel Espina/Rappler

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – A few weeks after the war-torn city of Marawi was liberated from Islamic State-linked Maute Group, soldiers who came home to Negros Occidental were greeted with a heroes' welcome.

Some 81 soldiers of the 31st Division Reconnaissance Company of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Capiz were honored Friday, November 3, at the provincial capitol grounds here.

Leading the ceremony were Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr, Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, and Major General Jon Aying, commander of 3rd Infantry Division based in Jamindan, Capiz. 

The soldiers were joined by their families and the kin of the 6 Negrense soldiers who were killed during the urban warfare which lasted for almost 5 months. 

During the program, First Lieutenant Richard Paul Gobway, commander of the 31st Division Reconnaissance Company, said they were stationed in Bohol when they received the order deploying them to Marawi.

He recalled their assignment in Marawi was to conduct clear security, such as preventing enemy reinforcement and withdrawal from the main battle area.

He also said they conducted "foot security to allow the seamless flow of combat support operation" of the assaulting units.

He added they were also tasked to secure cleared buildings "to prevent enemies from occupying it again."

"During the later phase of the battle, we contributed to sandbagging, wherein we bring the sandbags to the frontliners in order for them (assaulting units) to advance because almost all of the buildings are destroyed and nothing to cover," Gobway said.

He said that in the duration of their stay in Marawi, their unit was able to rescue 4 civilians who were trapped for almost a month in the main battle area. "We have also recovered 11 high powered firearms and two rifle grenades," he added.

On April 11, Gobway's unit also clashed with Abu Sayyaf bandits in Bohol, killing 3 soldiers, a police officer, and 5 terrorists.

He said the difference between the Bohol crisis and Marawi was the cooperation of the community.

"The people in Bohol cooperated in eliminating the Abu Sayyaf, whose plans didn't materialize because the civilians reported them immediately. In Marawi, even if they were visible to the community, they didn't dare to report it to the authorities," he said.

He said maintaining peace and order is not only the responsibility of the army and the police, but the community as well.

Some afraid, others excited

For Technical Sergeant Jose Lumayno of Sipalay City, he said some of them got afraid while others were excited when they first got the news they will be deployed to Marawi.

He said he informed his wife he'll be deployed to Marawi over the phone en route to Cagayan de Oro from Bohol.

He said their first task was to focus on security operations including roadblocks and checkpoints.

He pointed out the assignment was never easy, adding they weren't able to sleep in their first few weeks due to fear that terrorists might attack them.

He said they drank from the rain and it took weeks for them to take a bath, for which they also used rain water. 

They have to find garbage bins to store water from the rain and a solar panel to charge their cell phones so they can communicate, he said.

He also recalled that their food for months was only canned goods.

Further, he shared there are many options on how to be killed in Marawi. "If not by their bullet, through the stray bullet or dengue."

He also said their unit was able to intercept an injured terrorist from a nipa hut. 

At first, they thought of slaughtering the man, who can barely walk as his legs were severely damaged, but they didn't because they're still human beings, he said. 

He said they turned over the man to the higher command, as well as the 3 other persons they caught in the battlefield. 

He said they have done their task to liberate the Maranao people, adding that their team is "one of the units who are proud to be called Marawi liberators." he said. 

Aying said about 500 soldiers from Negros Island were sent to Mindanao, and the 81 were the first ones to return to the province. –