SOON after the deaths of Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon on the early morning of October 16, combat operations in Marawi City fwas finally terminated, signaling the end of "war" after 5 months of brutal fighting.
But even now, tears well up in Mary Jane Apao’s eyes every time she hears the word ‘Marawi’ as she remembers the nightmare.
Apao had lost her husband, Sergeant Philip Apao of the 5th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, in an airstrike last May 31.
Sgt. Apao was part of a group of soldiers assaulting extremists’ positions when he was killed.
It was the 8th day of fighting following the seizure of the predominantly Muslim city by ISIS-inspired extremists.
Six months after the death of her husband, Mary Jane and Philip’s family are still having difficulties accepting the soldier’s death especially since he and the other 10 government troopers were killed by what the military calls ‘friendly fire’.
Mary Jane is not blaming anyone, not even the government, because she understands it was an accident. But she and her late husband’s family still want to be enlightened by what really happened.
“Hindi siya namatay sa kalaban, namatay siya sa kasamahan niya sa airstrike. Madaling matanggap kung namatay sa kalaban (He was not killed by the enemy but by friendly forces in an airstrike. It is easier to accept if he was killed by the enemy),” she said.
According to Mary Jane, the war in Marawi was not her husband’s first time to go into combat. Philip had been in military operations in Jolo and other parts of Mindanao against various rebel groups.
Mary Jane recalled she was talking with Philip on the phone for one hour in the morning of May 31. Minutes after their long conversation, she received a text message, informing her that her husband was hit by a bomb.
“Nung nag-usap kami, sinabi niya sa mga bata ‘Mga anak, huwag magpasaway sa Mama nyo, magpakabait kayo. Hindi ako makapaniwala (When we were talking, he told our children not to be hard-headed and to always respect their mother. I could not believe the news of his death),” Mary Jane said.
She went straight to St. Peter’s Chapel in Iligan City after being told of Philip’s death.
“Mainit pa siya pagdating ko, parang kamamatay lang niya. Sobrang sakit (He was still warm when I arrived. It was so painful) ,” she added.
She said it is especially painful when their two sons, aged 6 and 4 years old, ask about their father.
“Mahirap lalo na kung sasabihin ng mga bata ‘Ma, nami-miss ko na si Papa, mabubuhay pa ba siya’? Ang hirap sagutin (It is hard especially when the children ask, ’Ma, I miss Papa, will he come back to life’) ,” Mary Jane said.
About her husband, Mary Jane said Philip was a very good and responsible head of the family.
They had met at the market in 2010 when Philip and his troops were doing the usual weekly marketing for the troops.
Her family was selling meat in the market; Philip’s group was their customer.
They exchanged contact numbers and she was eventually courted by the soldier through text. They became a couple through text and it was in the same way that she heard about her husband’s death.
Widowed by the war, Mary Jane said she has fulfilled her wedding promise