Sometime in May 2017, a report reached the 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division based in Pagadian City about the presence of a high-value target hiding somewhere in nearby Marawi City. A plan was immediately hatched to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the most senior Abu Sayyaf leader who is said to have pledged allegiance to ISIS.
The mission to arrest one of the country’s most wanted terrorists turned out to be the beginning of the Philippines’ biggest urban battle between state forces and violent extremists in the only recognized Islamic City in the country. Sensing the magnitude of the threat, President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law. He cut short his official visit in Russia to oversee the situation in Marawi.
The soldiers knew that they were playing a game of life and death, but they were determined to fulfill their mission. As the battle raged on, various elite forces, infantry troops, and combat support units were sent in as reinforcements. Majority of the resources and capabilities of the Armed Forces were committed, as field commanders led their men to fight the enemy on various fronts.
The battle against the Maute Group dragged on for days, which turned into weeks and months. Aware of the enemy’s mastery of the city’s layout as well as their use of civilian hostages as human shields, the government forces remained deliberate in their operations so as not to cause further harm to the residents.
As the battle progressed, more people fled from their homes. The number of surrendering Maute members and reclaimed hostages from the terrorists are both increasing. Despite the mounting casualties from both warring sides, the soldiers knew that the end is still nowhere in sight.
Just when the government forces were gaining ground, the military lost its highest ranking official on the 111th day of the battle. Known as “Daredevil”, Army Captain Rommel Sandoval was hit several times as he tried to save one of his men. He used his body to shield an injured comrade as the enemy continued to fire on their location. He did not leave his men behind even in his final moments. Meanwhile, Private First Class Dhan Ryan Bayot displayed selflessness and courage when he insisted his comrades to fire at his location in order to neutralize the rebels in his area. For their sacrifices, Sandoval and Bayot were awarded the Medal for Valor and the Order of Lapu-Lapu, respectively.
On October 17, President Duterte announced the liberation of Marawi City. A few days later, the Secretary of National Defense declared the end of all combat operations in the city. After a 5-month battle which left 847 terrorists lifeless and 163 soldiers and policemen paying the ultimate sacrifice, the people’s confidence in the Armed Forces of the Philippines remained significant, which is evident in the high satisfaction rating of 75% at that time.
The Philippine Army continued to support the government in healing the wounds of the war by deploying troops during the rehabilitation of Marawi. To commemorate the third year of the city’s liberation, Task Force Bangon Marawi held multiple groundbreaking events and inauguration of infrastructures as part of the city’s rehabilitation program.
Today, Army Commanding GeneraL Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana along with Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay and other Service Commanders led the wreath-laying ceremony to honor the heroism of the Filipino soldiers who fought for the freedom and independence of Marawi.
The heroes of Marawi braved insurmountable challenges just to see the end of terror. They responded to the call of duty unmindful of their own safety. They did all these for the sake of the country's peace, security, and freedom.#