CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 01 July) — Inside the war zone in Marawi City, soldiers could hear the enemy in the buildings a few meters away, sometimes even see them running, the youngest “around 15 to 16.” They would taunt each other, the enemy shouting “sundalo pugot ulo” (behead soldiers) and they would respond with something the other would not want to hear.
The word war is fierce, the shooting war even more so.
On Thursday morning, June 22, Corporal Cliforduin “Wingwing” Bade of the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion and his team waited for the MG-520s to finish firing their rockets on the enemy position before they would fire their RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) at them.
The 28-year old RPG gunner from Tupi, South Cotabato recalls it was around 9 a.m. and between them and the enemy position in the other building was 15 meters.
The Special Forces unit, he added, was already positioned to attack and his team, which carried 15 RPG ammunition, was preparing to fire.
The enemy beat them to the draw. An RPG exploded a meter away from him.
“Pumutok sa harapan ang RPG ng kalaban, mga isang metro.” Seven of them were injured, including his childhood buddy, Cpl. Roldan Robas, who was hit by a shrapnel on his back.
Robas was moving around in Battle Casualty Room No. 2 at the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital (CESH) on Tuesday, June 27 while Bade was still in bed, his mother tending to him.
Bade said they are fortunate the explosion from the enemy’s RPG did not set off an explosion of the 15 RPG ammunition they carried “kay kung pumutok yun, carne norte talaga kami” (if they exploded, we would have become corned beef), referring to how they would have been blown to pieces.
But the shrapnels hit many parts of his body, just below his right knee, his arms and fingers, and his face.
“Wala ko’y makita. Abi nako tangtang na akong mata na isa tapos nagsuka kog dugo,” (I could not see anything. I thought one of my eyes had been gouged out and I vomited blood), Bade recalled.
Lt. Col. Jonna Dalaguit, chief of the 4th Infantry Division’s Medical Corps was at the emergency room when Bade was brought in. “Kung nakita mo lang ito noong inadmit siya, punong puno ito noon. Hindi yan siya makakita talaga kasi tingnan mo ang kanyang itsura, polka dots” (If you had seen him when he was admitted, his face had wounds all over. He could not see because he had polka dots all over his face).
“Polka dots” meant shrapnels were all over his face.
Five days later, Bade’s vision is still a bit blurred but both eyes are improving.
“Di ka na lang magkadto, Mang”
In Tupi, South Cotabato, Bade’s mother, Darlene, received a phone call at around noon, notifying her that her son was wounded in Marawi that morning but has been attended to in the CESH.
It was the first time she received a call that her son was wounded in action. “Grabe ang akong hilak. Di nako kabalo unsa akong himoon” (I cried and cried. I didn’t know what to do), she told MindaNews.
When she got to talk to her son in the afternoon via mobile phone, her son told her “di ka na lang magkadto Mang kay okay na ko diri” (Ma, you need not come. I’m okay).
Darlene arrived at the hospital the following evening, accompanied by Bade’s girlfriend.
She cried again upon seeing her son’s condition.
Bade, the eldest of two children, has served in the Army for eight years. Darlene says her son gave his father a tricycle for livelihood. He also gave her some amount to start a sari-sari store (convenience store). Bade also sent his sister to school. He disapproved her plan to work abroad.
Before Marawi, Bade was assigned in Basilan sincc 2012 and earned a Gold Cross medal in early 2016.
The battalion was deployed to Marawi on June 1, spent the night at the 103rd Infantry Brigade in Campo Ranaw “tapos pasok kaagad” (and were immediately deployed) the next day.
Inside the war zone
Every day since their deployment, they could hear and sometimes see the enemy, the youngest of whom Bade estimates to be “around 15 or 16.”
Sometimes, he said, they would see the young ones run across the street. “Naga dagan-dagan, tabok-tabok sa dalan.” He thinks they are under the influence of drugs.
“Isog gyud” (they’re so bold).
He could not estimate how many they are because “kanya-kanya din silang sector” (they have their own sectors).
But almost all the buildings, he said, “merong laman” (they are there).
Bade’s battalion has been fighting it out with the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, sometimes also for a month. But the war zone in Basilan is a jungle while Marawi is a city with so many buildings, most of them built like fortresses.
He noted that while they have subjects on urban warfare, their training is basically on jungle warfare. Marawi was his first urban warfare assignment.
Before Marawi, the only urban warfare in recent years was the three-week standoff between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction under Nur Misuari in September 2013 in some villages in Zamboanga City.
Their unit was preparing in Lamitan, Bade said, as the siege was supposedly to be launched there but the MNLF forces, they learned, diverted to Zamboanga City.
In his eight years in the Scout Rangers, Bade describes the Marawi mission as “pinakakuyaw” (the most dreadful) because “ang mga kalaban handa gyud sila mamatay” (the enemy is really willing to die).
“Hindi naman sila makahawa … mosugot nga mamatay sila, makapatay sila. Matirang matibay” (They cannot leave anymore … so they are willing to die, to kill, too. Let the fittest survive), he said.
Saturday, July 1 is Day 40 of the war.
Quick medical evac
Evacuation of the wounded was quick from the battleground to the field hospital to where they were fetched by helicopter. He was on board by 9:30 a.m.
“Meron naka-reserve na wounded na evac ng 9:30 tapos ngayon na wounded man ako ng alas nueve, na evac ako, na priority kaagad ako sa chopper kasi grabe ang dugo ng mukha ko” (There was a scheduled trip at 9:30 for evacuation of wounded personnel. I was wounded around 9, I was given priority in the chopper because my face was bleeding profusely).
When MindaNews interviewed Bade on June 27, he said he was feeling better although “hindi ako makapagbasa ng maliliit na letra pero di lang daw i-force” (I cannot read small letters but I was told not to force it).
As of June 27, Dalaguit said a total of 414 soldiers had been brought to the CESH from Marawi, around 20 of them major cases.
For the month of June alone, President Duterte had visited CESH four times to award medals to wounded soldiers. Aside from the medals, each wounded soldier gets a mobile phone, a handgun, P100,000 in cheque and P10,000 cash.
As of 6 p.m. on June 30, 82 soldiers have been killed in Marawi, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in the Mindanao Hour press briefing aired over Radyo ng Bayan on July 1.
Back to the battlefield
Dalaguit said support from individuals and companies for the troops in Marawi has been overwhelming. In the hospital, they have had to schedule those donating meals. The troops still in Marawi also receive their share of donated food and goods. When the helicopters land to deliver the wounded, food (including doughnuts) and goods (including socks and underwear) are loaded for the troops still in Marawi.
Bade acknowledged that food was not a problem in the war zone. “Tubig lang ang problema” (water was a probem) although recently, he said, they had been receiving bottled mineral water.
But Bade said troops had to contend with another problem: “Iba na ang amoy ng hangin doon. Amoy patay. Daghan langaw” (The stench. The place smelled death. There were so many flies).
Where they where was where nine laborers were captured by the terrorists and killed.
He said they could see the dead bodies some 15 meters away “tapos kinakain ng aso, manok, pato” (and they were eaten by dogs, chickens and ducks).
But there was no time — and it was too risky — to go near them and bury them.
“Lipay ko nga naka-survive ko kay gitagaan kog second life sa Ginoo” (I am happy I survived because God gave me a second life), said Bade, a member of the Seventh Day Adventists.
“God is good all the time,” he added.
Bade wants to return to Marawi as soon as he recuperates.
“Mubalik gihapon ko pag maayo para tulungan ko din yung mga kasama namin doon. Hindi rin tayo papayag na manalo sila sa atin. Mga masama man sila,” (I will go back to help our comrades there. We will not also allow the enemy to win. They are evil), he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)