‘We’re willing to go back to Marawi’
At least 69 soldiers and policemen have so far died while hundreds have been injured in the month-long siege of Marawi City by the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute group. Wounded troops said the terror group seemed to be familiar with the terrain and had “planned” where they would be positioned in the city.
Cpl. Jordan Osillo, 32, of the 1st Infantry Battalion’s 2nd Division, was transferred to the AFP Health Service Command at the V. Luna Medical Center from Camp Edilberto Evangelista Station Hospital in Cagayan de Oro on Wednesday after sustaining injuries from an explosion while securing a village in Marawi City on Tuesday. He was the only one injured among the nine soldiers assigned to block the area.
“Sobrang sakit, hindi ko na alam ang gagawin ko. Parang gusto ko nang tumalon ng ilog [It was too painful. I did not know what to do. I felt like I wanted to jump into a river into the river],” Osillo said, describing what he felt after the blast.
Osillo witnessed the month-long conflict in the war-ravaged city. He was among the first group of soldiers assigned to perform clearing operations in Marawi City.
“Hindi na namin alam kung saan nanggaling ang putok… bomba. Kabisado nila ang lugar [We do not know where the gunshots and bombs were coming from. They were familiar with the city],” he said.
As the military advanced, he recounted, terrorists belonging to the Maute group holed up in mosques.
“Ang advantage nila nasa mosque sila nakapuwesto, hindi pwedeng pasabugin [Their advantage is that they position themselves in mosques, which cannot be bombed],” Osillo said.
Meanwhile, 1st Lt. Niño Paad, 28, of the 51st 1nfantry Battalion’s 1st Infantry Division, who served as an operation officer, was also recovering at the V. Luna Medical Center. He is suffering from a leg injury after a bomb was lobbed towards his troops while he was deploying them.
Paad had fought the IS-linked Maute group before. He said his troops encountered the terrorist group several times last year as they tried to occupy Butig town in Lanao del Sur, their “bailiwick.”
In Marawi City, Paad said the Maute Group had the “advantage positions” as they placed themselves in “high-rise and fortified” structures.
“Iba kasi ang terrain. Kino-consider din namin ang civilians. Bundok lang dati ang giyera, ngayon bahay-bahayan, urban area [The terrain is different. We also consider civilians. The sites of the encounters before were in the mountains, now it is around residences in an urban area],” he explained.
Paad also said militants used civilians as human shields, hampering military operations.
Running for cover
Pfc. Romeo Esperida Jr., 28, of the 63rd company of the Marine Special Operations Group, meanwhile, suffered severe injuries in a 14-hour “intense fight” in Marawi City with Maute Group militants on June 9 where 13 marines were killed.
Esperida, the most injured among the 40 troops wounded in the clash, suffered injuries from a mortar shrapnel which tore through his leg, arm, groin, and eye.
He recounted that as government troopers advanced to clear a barangay, a dog barked, which served as a signal to the Maute group to fire upon the soldiers. They then retreated towards one of the buildings in the area and exchanged fire with militants who were already positioned in a building across them.
“Ang ingay ingay nila. Tumatawag ng reinforcement. Nu’ng sobrang dami na nila, ang sabi sa command bobombahin na lang `yung area, umalis na kami duon [They were loud. They were calling for reinforcements.
When the number of militants swelled, we were instructed by command that the area would just be bombed and that we should leave],” Esperida related.
The soldier and his companions left the building. On their way to their vehicle, a bomb flew toward them.
“Malapit na kami nun. Tatawid na lang kami. Tapos biglang may sumabog. Kinaladkad na lang ako ng mga kasama ko para makaalis [We were close to our transport. We just needed to cross a bridge. A bomb suddenly exploded. I was just dragged by my companions in order to vacate the area],” Esperida said.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, earlier said the military would no longer impose a deadline to what he called a “complicated engagement” after failing to meet the June 12 ultimatum to end clashes in Marawi City.
“People are very impatient but they don’t know the sacrifices of their soldiers. It’s easy to say, ‘Why are we not finished yet, why are we not done with this yet,’” Padilla said.
Mum on injuries
Osillo and Esperida initially chose not to inform their families that they were injured in the fighting in Marawi City.
Osillo’s wife, Marjeth, only got to know that he was wounded after a fellow soldier called her.
Meanwhile, Esperida’s aunt, Fedelita, received a call from his Marine officer.
“Ganyan. ‘Di pa niya sasabihin. Ayaw daw niya akong mag-alala. ‘Yung panganay namin, gustong sumama nang makita akong nag-eempake. Kahit hindi ko sinasabi sa kanya, alam kong alam niya, umiiyak siya [He had no intention to inform me. He said he did not want me to worry. Our eldest child wanted to go with me when she saw me packing. Even though I did not inform her that her father was injured, she knew it, she was crying],” a tearful Marjeth said.
Osillo also did not inform his parents that he was fighting in Marawi City due to their advanced aged and medical conditions. He said his 6- and 2-year old children served as his strength in the warzone.
Esperida’s family, meanwhile, said they are still grateful that he made it through the incident.
The marine hopes to go back to military service. If not assigned to battlegrounds, he is willing to serve as an instructor.
The three military men, Osillo, Paad, and Esperida, said they are overwhelmed by the support of the government and the Filipinos.
The recovering troopers each received a wounded soldier medal, smartphones, guns, and P100,000 in cash assistance.
They said the simple letters that they have been receiving meant a lot to them.
“Nu’ng Father’s Day, nakatanggap ako ng letter. Naiyak ako talaga. Nagkakaroon kami ng high morale. [On Father’s Day, I received a letter. I really cried. It boosted our morale],” Osillo said.
They all said they were willing to go back to fight in Marawi City, as it is their sworn duty.