Stories from the Frontline

Marawi City now sits in rubble and an eerie quietness lingers on. The city’s muddied streets and bullet-riddled houses and buildings are proof of the existence of the intense and exhausting battles that were fought by our valiant troops against members of the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group, who refused to surrender or release their hostages. We, the soldiers of the PA, along with the combined forces coming from the AFP, PNP, and PCG, exerted the best of our innate and acquired capabilities to fulfill our duties to God/Allah and country despite the difficulties that we encountered, and the hardships which we endured, with death oftentimes staring us in the face. 

Here are some of the countless narratives of our soldiers who demonstrated their steadfast conviction and willpower during the Battle of Marawi.

Fresh from the Jungle the 63rd Infantry (Innovator) Battalion was Transformed into Urban Warriors

The Marawi City Crisis came as a surprise to us. We made the timely deployment from Jolo to Marawi City and a transition from jungle to urban warfare, which was a major adjustment on our part. 

We were deployed to augment the forces of JTG Musang under the leadership of BGen Rene Glenn Paje in the MBA. The Marawi operations were significantly different and far more difficult from our encounters and experiences in Northern Samar and Sulu, which were limited purely to jungle warfare. We had to learn and discover the course of the kind of warfare that we would employ in our operations in Marawi City. Despite this handicap, we instantly adapted to the situation and created our operational plans for urban warfare in the City of Marawi. 

Keeping in mind the Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) that we knew, we made the necessary adjustments and improvisations based on the changes on the ground. Our unit had managed to counter the attacks of the enemies even during the height of the firefight when everything was in a state of chaos. Moreover, despite our doubts and fears, we marched into battle and penetrated the darkest corners and alleys of Marawi City, holding on to our faith and the belief that we would emerge victorious and our efforts would not have been in vain.

Lifesavers and Survivors: The 51st Mechanized Infantry Company

On the night of the 23rd of May 2017, while firefights were still ongoing in various parts of Marawi City, we were tasked both to reinforce and extricate the casualties of the units fighting the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group in Marawi City. One section of 20 soldiers with two armored vehicles was dispatched to cover Bgy Bangon, another in the vicinity of the Amai Pakpak Medical Center, and the last, in the Kilala Detachment at Bgy Gadongan Mapantao. 

I, 1Lt G.A., along with 19 dismount troops and two wheeled armored vehicles, Commando V150S Cabadbaran and Simba Fighting Vehicle Comas, were tasked to reinforce and extricate the casualties of the 49th Infantry (Good Samaritan) Battalion in the vicinity of the Kilala Detachment at Bgy Gadongan Mapantao, roughly four kilometers away from Kampo Ranao. The lack of information on enemy positions, their strength, and possible threats to armored vehicles proved fatal. 

Our first encounter with the enemy was in Mapandi Bridge, where we were met with a volume of fire from the enemies occupying different buildings surrounding the bridge. Upon crossing the bridge, we were again hit, this time with IED, which were detonated, but fortunately did not damage our armored vehicles. We did not stop, moving past the makeshift barricades placed along the road, and continued with our advance, despite the heavy gunfire, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), and rifle grenades fired at us. We were committed to fulfilling our mission to bypass obstacles and to proceed directly to the Kilala Detachment. But the resistance we met at the Mapandi Bridge was only the beginning of a long treacherous journey that lay ahead. 

We spotted a black truck a few hundred meters short of our objective, near a gasoline station in Bgy Gadongan. We were totally unaware of the enemies in an ambush position awaiting our approach. We were bombarded by RPG rounds, which signaled the start of the ambush. Two RPGs hit the Cabadbaran. Both penetrated the vehicle with one resulting in the immediate death of one of our soldiers on board while injuring several others. The other round damaged the propeller shaft of our vehicle. The Cabadbaran was then filled with smoke and the groans of injured soldiers on board could be heard. Our dismount team on board the Comas were engaged in an intense firefight with the enemies. The armored vehicles tried to ram the truck but it did not budge. Without any way around the truck, we had to disengage and find another way to reach our objective. 

We had to backtrack and navigate around the City of Marawi, via Moncada Colony – Dansalan – Marinaut – Calocan, to reach our objective. Along the way, we were met with sporadic gunfire, but not as intense as those that we had encountered around Mapandi Bridge and at the gasoline station. We passed by Dansalan College, which at that time, was already a raging inferno. Crossing into Perez Street in Marinaut, roughly about two kilometers from the gasoline station where we were ambushed, the damaged propeller shaft of Cabadbaran broke down, immobilizing the vehicle. 

Seeing that the damaged vehicle could not be repaired onsite and sporadic fires were directed at us, I ordered the dismount teams of both vehicles to secure the area around the Cabadbaran, and occupy defensive positions with both the Cabadbaran and Comas providing machine gun fire until reinforcements and a recovery vehicle arrived to tow the armored vehicle. 

This was the irony of our situation; we were supposed to rescue wounded soldiers, but we ended up as the ones who needed rescuing. Our section occupied four houses around the disabled armored vehicle, which for four days, served as our defensive position where we engaged wave after wave of attacks from the enemies who tried to overrun our position. Fortunately, fires provided by the field artillery units repulsed the enemies who were converging on our position. 

On the 27th of May 2017, the combined forces of the army led by the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion (1SRB), came to our rescue. The most forward element of the 1SRB came to as close as 50 meters from one of my troops’ location, but they could not take a step further as the volume of enemy fire hampered again their movement. The only recourse was for us to link up with 1SRB leaving behind the two armored vehicles, and also those killed in action to be recovered later. In the afternoon, the plan was executed. Under cover fire from 1SRB, my troops and I dashed towards the most forward elements of 1SRB. The link-up was successful, but upon accounting of my troops, only 14 of us made it through. Two were missing and were not able to abandon their defensive positions. The next day, the two missing troops were the subject of the conducted rescue operations; fortunately they were able to link-up with the 1SRB.

Of the 19 troops I had, 4 were Killed in Action (KIA), 3 of them as a result of an RPG hit on the Cabadbaran and another was the result of sniper fire. We had our losses, we had our gains. But more importantly, despite incurring varying degrees of injury, we survived. 

More details are explained in the book MARAWI AND BEYOND: The JTF Marawi Story. For inquiries, send email to info@marawiandbeyond.com.