SOLDIERS from Negros Island who fought the Islamic State-linked terrorists in Marawi City shared their hardships and sacrifices in the urban siege that lasted almost five months.
Eighty-one soldiers of the 31st Division Reconnaissance Company of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division were honored Friday, November 3, in rites held at the Provincial Capitol grounds in Bacolod City.
The rites was led by Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, and Major General Jon Aying, commander of 3rd Infantry Division.
They were also joined by their families and the kin of six Negrense soldiers killed in action.
First Lieutenant Richard Paul Gobway, commander of the 31st Division Reconnaissance Company, said during the program that they received their transfer order last June while stationed in Bohol.
He said their assignment in Marawi entailed the conduct of security clearing like preventing enemy reinforcement and withdrawal from the main battle area.
Gobway also said they conducted “foot security to allow the seamless flow of combat support operation” of the assaulting units.
He added that 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 for them (assaulting units) to advance because almost all of the buildings are destroyed and they had nothing for cover,” Gobway said.
He said that during their stay in Marawi, their unit was able to rescue four civilians trapped for almost a month in the main battle area.
“We have also recovered 11 high-powered firearms and two rifle grenades,” he added.
Gobway, whose unit clashed with the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Bohol on April 11 that killed three soldiers, a police officer, and five terrorists, said the difference between Bohol and Marawi is the cooperation of the community.
“The people in Bohol cooperated in eliminating the Abu Sayyaf, whose plans did not 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.
Gobaway said maintaining peace and order is not only the responsibility of the army and the police, but of the community as well.
Technical Sergeant Jose Lumayno of Sipalay City said some of them got scared while others were excited when they first got the news they will be deployed to Marawi.
He said he informed his wife he will be deployed to the war-torn city over the phone en route to Cagayan de Oro from Bohol.
Lumayno said their first task is to focus on security operations, including road blocks and check points.
He added that it wasn’t easy being deployed in Marawi.
On the first week, they could barely sleep as they had to be always on alert for the Mautes’ presence, he said.
“Kung magtulog ka, full uniform and barikotot ka sa dingding. Basa ka kung ulan kay wasak ang building na amon istaran,” he recalled.
He said they drank from the rain and that it took weeks before they could take a bath also using rain water.
He added that they had to find garbage bins to store rainwater.
Lumayno said they had to find solar panels so they can charge their cell phones.
“Night and day you would hear gunshots, explosions,” he added.
Lumayno also recalled that their food for months were all canned goods.
He added that there were many ways to die in Marawi.
“If not by their bullet, through stray bullet, it could be dengue,” he said.
He also said their unit was able to intercept an injured terrorist staying in a nipa hut.
At first, they thought of killing the man, who can barely walk as his legs were severely damaged, but they did not, knowing he is also a human being, Lumayno said.
He said they turned over the man to the higher command as well as the three other persons they caught in the battlefield.
He said they have achieved their task to liberate the Maranao people.
“Kung maging history man ang Marawi siege, the 31st Division Reconnaissance Company is one of the units proud to be called the Marawi liberators," he said.
Aying said the Marawi soldiers were “hardened” as they were different when they left.
“With their experience in Marawi, they are now complete soldiers who can fight anywhere,” he said.
Aying said there are still three battalions from Negros Island in Mindanao since the martial law has not been lifted yet.
About 500 soldiers from Negros Island were sent to Mindanao, and the 81 were the first ones to return to the province, he added.
Marañon thanked the soldiers for their sacrifices for the country.
He also asked the Negrenses to remain united as "the success and development of our province is in our hands."
He urged the public to make an effort to make the province peaceful and ready for further development as it will open more opportunities for investments.
He said the province is "100 percent behind" the Marawi heroes.
The governor added that the provincial government will give "small amount" to the families of the killed Negrense soldiers.
“Let's make this province more peaceful and progressive,” he urged the Negrenses.