DAVAO CITY: The soldiers who defeated Islamic State-inspired terrorists in Marawi City after five months of fighting were collectively given the “Man of the Year” award during The Manila Times’ 7th Business Forum at Marco Polo Hotel.
In his speech, The Manila Times President and Chief Executive Officer Dante Francis Ang 2nd said the “Man of the Year” award was “meant to recognize an individual who had great impact on this country over the last year.”
In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte received the award “for capturing the imagination of the Filipino people and setting off a dawn of new politics.”
This year, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero received the award on behalf of the state forces that liberated Marawi City.
Ang said the soldiers and policemen deployed to Marawi were recognized for their gallantry, dedication, and commitment during the battle with more or less 1,000 terrorists belonging to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, which had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“It is to those who fought valiantly, including those who perished, that we offer The Manila Times ‘Man of the Year’ award for 2018,” Ang said.
“Had our soldiers failed, we would not be here today. ISIS would have gained a toehold in the Philippines, and perhaps all of Mindanao would have been off limits for security reasons to many of you in attendance here today. Worse, this country would have been the springboard to larger, more destructive movements in the Asean region,” he added.
Ang also said the award was the people’s modest way of saying, “Thank you” to all government troops who fulfilled their mandate in serving and protecting the people and the country.
“We cannot let our guard down yet. As the government and other experts have said, the fundamentalist threat remains. We have validated this in our own investigative reports published earlier this year. The terrorists may have retreated from Marawi, but as we have seen time and again in many places around the would, such terrorists elements are opportunistic and nearly impossible to eradicate,” Ang said.
“For now, we sleep well at night thanks again to the men and women whom we are honoring today. They not only shed blood and witnessed many of their brothers fall, but they remain ever vigilant and professional,” he added.
Guerrero thanked The Manila Times, saying “the sacrifice of life for country and people is given greater meaning with this recognition.”
“The men and women of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are humbled and deeply grateful to The Manila Times for the recognition that is being given to the brave soldiers who fought to liberate Marawi from the ISIS terrorists,” Guerrero said in his acceptance speech.
“For our soldiers to be conferred with ‘The Man of the Year’ award and following the footsteps of the first awardee, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, makes this honor doubly significant. This award is shared by every soldier, airman, sailor and marine who continue to selflessly serve the nation and our people be it in times of armed conflict or disaster for peace and progress,” he added.
The AFP chief said the victory over the terrorists in Marawi “showed not only the uncommon valor of our troops but also the binding commitment of every Filipino to the flag and to freedom.”
“The decisiveness of the victory is testament to the undaunted spirit of the Filipino soldier who will put everything on the line in the name of service. Rest assured that the AFP will remain faithful to our sworn mandate of serving and protecting our country and our people,” Guerrero said.
“Ours is a tradition of gallantry, discipline and determination, the long history of the AFP enriched by the bravery and patriotism of those who came before us…Your trust and your support strengthen us for all the challenges that are yet to come. We fight for peace, for progress, [and]for our future,” he added.
‘A new kind of war’
The five-month standoff killed more than 900 terrorists. More than 800 high-powered firearms and almost 2,000 unexploded ordnances, improvised explosive devices and booby traps were seized. About 1,780 hostages were rescued.
In his keynote speech, Duterte said he was confident government forces would win in their fight against Islamic State-inspired extremists in Marawi City.
“Our ‘Man of the Year,’ he (Guerrero) heads the organization (military). I had no doubt in my mind that we would prevail,” he said.
But the President admitted he was the reason why the war in Marawi took five months.
He said he stopped the bombing of a mosque where the terrorists were holding hostages as this would create more animosity and outright hostility toward the government.
“And I told the military in a command conference together with General Guerrero: Remember, it is to our national interest that we face this problem with sanity and not anger. Of course we have our different individual sentiments already…but the larger interest, the bigger view is that, remember we have two million-plus Filipinos working in the Middle East,” he said.
The President also said the state forces were fighting “a new kind of war, a new environment.”
“Aside from the hostages with them inside the building, they were able to capture so many buildings in the downtown area and were really also able to preposition themselves in critical points of the city,” he said.
“And so it was not a fighting in open space. Our soldiers are fundamentally trained or at least the most basic is really in a free range, in the mountains where the NPAs (New People’s Army) are or even in urban areas, but not so many buildings and houses, not so many civilians to worry about,” he added.
Duterte said he had ordered state forces to “reconfigure” and to “reinvent” their military doctrines.
“Because in Marawi, we were facing a cover of the enemies, cement and metal. Buildings. And they kept on sniping at us. And so I lost 167 soldiers and policemen,” the President said.
“So when the policemen went there to arrest them, they were met with heavy gunfire. And the police was no match for any high-powered interdiction. So they had to call on the Marines and the Marines are battle-weary, maybe, but they are always ready and hardened soldiers, adept and ready to die. And indeed, they died,” he added.
On May 23, Duterte was compelled to declare martial law in Mindanao, after the Maute group stormed Marawi City, burning public and private establishments and abducting non-Muslim civilians.
The siege laid by Maute fighters occurred while Duterte was in Moscow, Russia, for an official visit. The President cut short his trip to deal with the crisis in Marawi City.
The five-month long war, which ended on October 24, left the business district of the Islamic City in shambles.
Duterte earlier said rebuilding Marawi could cost more than P50 billion.