On the 23rd of May 2017, our forces moved in to raid the safehouse of Isnilon Hapilon, the so-called Emir of ISIS in Southeast Asia. Involved in this operation were members of the Joint Special Operations Unit 3 (JSOU3) supported by the 4th Scout Ranger Company (4SRC), the 14th Division Reconnaissance Company (14DRC), and the 51st Mechanized Infantry Company (51MIC). Early in the morning, we became aware that Isnilon Hapilon, together with Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, was located in a safe house in Bgy Basak Malutlot, Marawi City. Upon receiving this information, we decided to move in to capture Hapilon. Thus, BGen Rolly Bautista gave the green light for our forces to move in and capture Hapilon. Our first plan was to raid the safehouse at about 8 o’clock in the morning, but our operating units requested a delay in its execution to make way for a clearer picture of the target area.
It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when our operating forces jumped off from Camp Ranao, Marawi City, and proceeded to Barangay Basak Malutlot. It was a short ride covering a distance of nearly two kilometers. Upon arriving at the target area, armored vehicles positioned themselves in predesignated areas along the main road. Meanwhile, a team from JSOU3 onboard a civilian vehicle proceeded to close in on the target area. We were able to achieve the element of surprise, but our forces were also surprised by the number of enemies in the area – more or less 100 heavily armed enemy fighters. The firefight erupted at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and lasted until the next day. In the course of this operation, several of our soldiers were wounded, and three were killed in action (KIA). Our target, Hapilon, and the Maute brothers escaped through a hole in the wall of the safe house.
As we were watching the events unfold in Barangay Basak Malutlot, some of our units were encountering armed men in other parts of Marawi City. At that time, we were not yet fully aware of the gravity of the threat to the City of Marawi. At the same time, we were receiving reports of skirmishes occurring in different parts of the city, from as close as the Amai Pakpak Medical Center to as far as the Kilala Detachment in the northeastern part of Marawi City. As time passed by, we slowly got a clearer picture of what was really happening in the entire City of Marawi. The ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group was on a rampage. They attacked the Marawi City Police Station, torched the Dansalan College, desecrated the St. Mary’s Cathedral, ransacked the Landbank Marawi City Branch, and caused the escape of 68 inmates from the Marawi City Jail. Social media was flooded with images of the ISIS flag being raised in different parts of Marawi City. An armored car from the Landbank Marawi City Branch and a police patrol vehicle paraded through the streets with black flags. These served as the early iconic images of the perceived success of the enemy in Marawi City.
It was only upon rummaging through what was left in the safehouse that we became aware of the extent of the enemy’s plan for Marawi City. Apparently, the ongoing atrocities in various parts of the city were all inextricably interconnected. From all of these, we learned that the enemy planned to lay siege on Marawi City and declare it as a wilayat or province of ISIS in Southeast Asia. Our move to capture Hapilon on the 23rd, however, preempted their plan and forced them to implement it three days ahead of the supposed implementation. The original date of implementation was to coincide with the start of the holy month of Ramadan. It was then that we realized that the fight for Marawi City was just beginning.
(This entry is part of Chapter 2: Marawi Crisis.)