Soldiers’ heroism and sacrifices cited in the liberation of Marawi

MANILA – The men and women of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) again showed to the whole world their heroism and sacrifices beyond the call of duty that ended the five-month siege of Marawi City, foiling Islamic terrorists from establishing a caliphate in the country.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who is also the commander-in-chief of the AFP/PNP, lauded the bravery of the soldiers and policemen in ending the Marawi crisis that preserved the republic.

It was their gallantry during the fierce fighting that crushed the combined forces of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists, who were holed up in concrete buildings with underground tunnels in the city’s business district where they held over 1,800 civilian hostages that slowed down the military’s counter offensive.

Another strategy used by the terrorists during the Marawi siege was that they planted thousands of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in tall buildings where they also posted snipers that resulted in the killings of over 160 soldiers and policemen.

But despite the risks to their lives, Special Forces and Scout Rangers of the Philippine Army (PA) and supported by troopers from the Special Action Force (SAF) of the PNP, their assaults day in and day out 24/7 the past five months, killing close to 900 Maute-Abu Sayyaf terrorists, including their two top leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.

Hapilon and Maute were given the same douse of their own medicines when army snipers gunned them down as they tried to escape from the building where the two terrorist leaders were hiding.

But with great patience and caution, government forces stealthily moved towards their targets, killing over 850 terrorists hiding inside concrete buildings.

File Photo by Gil Nartea/Malacanang Photo Bureau

Pilots from the Philippine Air Force (PAF) did a splendid job in their bombing and strafing sorties that blasted many of the terrorists from their enclaves.

During the initial stage of the fighting, however, several soldiers were killed when a wayward bombed unleashed by a PAF plane inadvertently hit advancing army troopers.

However, this did not happen again as the pilots exercised more diligence and caution.

During the siege, more than 160 soldiers and policemen killed in action were victims of sniping.

Despite the imminent and present danger, the troops risked their lives as they continued their offensive to wipe out the close to 1,000 Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists holed out inside concrete buildings with underground tunnels right in the business district of Marawi.

In the war on terror waged by the military, it was the first time in the Marawi siege that the terrorists shifted their fighting technique to urban warfare, making it more difficult for government troops to quell immediately the extremist group because of the presence of civilians, who were held hostage and as human shields.

Despite the difficulty, government forces took the pains of being patient in their assault to spare civilians from being hit in the crossfire.

Their patience paid off with the killing of over 850 terrorists, including their top two leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, and the rescue of more than 1,770 hostages.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Aπo announced the killing of Hapilon and Maute last week, leaving the Maute-Abu Sayyaf terror group depleted and in quandary because of a leadership vacuum.

The killing of Hapilon, the most wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia, demoralized the terror group that nine more Islamic militants were killed in gun battles with government forces.

The Marawi siege was the most challenging task the AFP/PNP police had to contain with since the military launched the war on terror more than two decades ago.

Many battles had erupted between government forces and Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan, but not in the scale of the Marawi siege in terms of urban warfare.

During the past 45 years, the Mindanao conflict continued to rage. First by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) from 1972-96; second the all-out war with the breakaway Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); the Zamboanga siege in 2013, and lately the Marawi siege.

All these fighting, the AFP prevailed to preserve the republic from disintegration because of the fighting spirit of the Filipino soldier and heroic deeds to defend the country at all cost.

It may be recalled that Duterte was visiting Moscow when the Marawi siege broke out on May 23 this year.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte confers with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea (right) and Special Assistant to the President, Christopher Bong Go (middle), as he declared martial law in Mindanao amidst attacks perpetrated by the ISIS-backed Maute Group. (Photo courtesy of PCOO)

Knowing the severity of the situation that endangered national security, the President declared martial law in the whole of Mindanao when fighting erupted between government forces and the Maute-Abu Sayyaf terror group when military and police operatives tried to serve a warrant of arrest on Hapilon.

The fighting escalated into a full-blown battle.

Apparently, the terrorists had long prepared to attack Marawi that they had clandestinely stored weapons, ammunition and explosives in the city for months or even years without being detected by the intelligence units of the AFP and PNP.

Obviously, there was a lack of coordination with the civilians, particularly local leaders with military about the nefarious activities of the Maute-Abu Sayyaf terror group in Marawi City.

The Marawi siege was a great lesson for the AFP and PNP to adopt new strategies in the war on terror.

While the Marawi siege was unfortunate, the terrorist attack came at a time when the AFP has in its arsenal the 12 F50 jets bought by the Department of National Defense (DND) from South Korea.

In addition, the PAF has recently acquired new helicopter gunships and the Philippine Navy (PN) also got new warships as part of the AFP’s modernization program.

For Maj. Gen. Resty Padilla Jr., AFP spokesman, he sincerely believed that God’s protection was evident during the Marawi siege “because God loves the Philippines” being the only Catholic country in Asia.  Ben Cal/