A FLEET-MARINE contingent composed of more than 500 Philippine Navy personnel arrived in Manila on Monday after a five-month deployment to Marawi City to fight with the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute terrorists.
They were welcomed by Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, the Philippine Navy chief, at Pier 13 in Manila’s South Harbor, which was filled with families and friends of the returning troops.
In his opening remarks, Mercado paid tribute to his returning men for being “instrumental” in liberating Marawi City, and to the 36 men killed in action.
He noted that Naval Intelligence Operatives provided critical information on the whereabouts of the leaders of the terrorist group “from the very start up to the end of the Marawi siege.”
Mercado said the Marine Battalion Landing Teams, Marine Special Operations Group and the Naval Special Operations group “were among the first responders” in Marawi upon learning of the Maute group’s plan to establishing an IS province in Islamic city.
Monday’s contingent was composed of more than 500 personnel – Marines, sailors, seals, aviators, intelligence and civil-military operatives – who were given honors as they marched off BRP Tarlac.
Mercado also recognized the Marine Battalion Landing Team 7’s role in conquering three “critical entrances” to the main battle area of Marawi City, which were the bridges of Mapandi, Bangolo and Masui.
The bridges were occupied by the Maute members during the first days of the battle that began on May 23.
“The control of these three bridges here by our Marine troops allowed the swift movement of soldiers and combat vehicles to the main battle area,” Mercado said.
“On the other hand, our pilots aboard our Agusta Helicopters provided the aerial intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance operations and the air strikes, day and night to support the operating ground troops,” he added.
Mercado said the whole Armed Forces of the Philippines would reward all returning soldiers with a “short break” but emphasized that Marines and sailors would undergo retraining.
“After this heroes’ welcome, we will be giving them a short break to be with their families and enjoy their time.
When they come back, they will undergo, particularly our Marines, retraining and for the sailors,” Mercado said
Retraining will include replenishments of ammunition and equipment used in the Marawi siege, he explained.
The Navy chief said the Marines and sailors had undergone debriefing, with medical teams and the Navy’s chaplain service accompanying the returning Marines and sailors.
The siege in Marawi claimed the lives of 36 Marines from the 165 soldiers. More than 300 were wounded.
‘Bravery and dedication’
Mercado also recalled his visit to a hospital in Cagayan de Oro City to check on a wounded Marine personnel. He said he was struck at the dedication of the soldier, who argued with the medical officer because he wanted to return to the battleground.
“That’s the bravery and the dedication displayed by our sailors and Marines that really touched me as their Navy chief,” Mercado said.
He said assistance would be provided by the Philippine Navy for the families of the fallen marines and sailors in the battle to liberate Marawi City.
He cited the Philippine Navy Assistance System wherein Navy officers and personnel would set aside part of the monthly salary to provide for assistance funds.
The Philippine Navy has handed out P250,000 to each family of the fallen Marines and sailors. Malacañang has also handed out assistance to the families, but did not specify the amount given.
Nearly P500 million was spent by the Philippine Navy in Marawi City in fighting the IS-linked Maute terrorists for five months, Mercado said.
In a chance interview, Mercado said that the Philippine Navy had spent most of its budget for the reloading of ammunition and fuel for the ships utilized in transporting items and military personnel going to the main battle area of Marawi.
“Just imagine the number of trips this year [that we]undertook to bring all our military combat vehicles, artilleries, ammunition and people from all over the different islands down to Iligan island,” he told reporters.