by: Preciosa S. Soliven
a repost from The Philippine Star, 30 Nov 2017
Thank you, Precious, for this wonderful article honoring a young officer who died during the last quarter of the Marawi campaign, Captain Rommel Sandoval. Thanks too to Natashya Gutierrez of Rappler for her write-up. To you, Cavalier Rommel, my snappy salute!!! You embody what our alma mater song ever so gently inculcated in our hearts…
When bells for us are rung, And our last taps is sung
Let generations see, our country free!
Oh, Lead to righteous way, Those solid ranks of gray
Thy virtues to display, Academy, Oh hail to thee…
(Note: The late Capt Rommel Sandoval would later be awarded the Medal of Valor, the highest award bestowed to members of the AFP.)
September 10, Day 111 of the Marawi Siege
The Marawi siege lasted from May 23 to Oct 23, 2017. (Read: Marawi Will Rise Again) On the third month, the 11th Scout Ranger Company was the only company that had not lost a soldier in the siege. Capt Rommel Sandoval was determined that none of his 50-man company would be left behind. He kept pounding the motto “Walang iwanan” (No one left behind) to his men.
Sept 10, Day 111 of the Marawi Siege, Sandoval’s men were tasked to retake one of the few remaining strongholds of the enemy. As the military closed in on the terrorists and continued to push them back towards Lanao Lake, the 5-story Landbank building was crucial for the Army’s advance. They had tried to retake it previously, but it was deadly dangerous. On that day however, Sandoval’s men were ready and determined.
Under Sandoval’s watch, they cleared the 5th floor, the 4th, the 3rd and then the 2nd. The 1st floor was more difficult. After dropping grenades to scare off any remaining terrorists hiding below, 3 rangers descended to the 1st floor before realizing it was still risky. The enemy spotted the 3 rangers as they backed up to return to the 2nd floor. There was a heavy exchange of fire.
In the gunfire, one of the men, Cpl Jayson Mante, was hit on his hand. As the other 2 managed to make it back to the 2nd floor, Mante chose instead to drop to his stomach. He knew his injury would slow him down, and that he would expose himself if he tried to come back up. A concerned Sandoval sent 4 troopers to try to recover Mante, who at this point had suffered several injuries from enemy fire. He lay still on the 1st floor, waiting for death.
Knowing the military would not leave Mante behind, the enemies watched closely, aiming at any soldier who tried to come down from the 2nd floor to save him. Platoon leader 2Lt Arvie Ventura who constantly radioed updates to Sandoval from the 2nd floor, recalled that Sandoval came down to where he was to assess the situation himself after several failed attempts. “Suddenly, he disappeared. I didn’t notice he was gone,” Ventura said.
Sandoval had found a hole created by the enemy that led him to another building, another route to save Mante. When he saw that Mante was no longer moving, Sandoval made a decision. He instructed his men to give him cover fire, and ran towards Mante. “He didn’t hesitate,” Ventura recalled. “When he got there, he checked Cpl Mante’s pulse, and as he tried to pull him to safety, the enemy spotted him. His first hit was on his side. Sandoval let out a scream. but it wasn’t a scream of agony or pain,” said Ventura, “it was an angry scream, a frustrated scream. He was so angry, I could see it on his face.”
Even after he was hit, Sandoval turned towards the enemy, aimed and fired back. The enemy hit him on his neck, then fatally on his cheek. Ventura said Sandoval managed to radio in his final words: “I got hit.” As the bullets came flying in, Sandoval, in his last moments, was still thinking of his men. He crawled on top of Mante to shield him from getting hit further. When they recovered Sandoval’s body, bullets were lodged in his chest. “He chose to take all the bullets for his troops,” Ventura said.
He was soon to be promoted to major after years of excellent service. The war was coming to an end. He was so close to coming home.
Lt Col Jose Jesus Luntok, Sandoval’s immediate superior, and commander of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion said, “I had 6 companies under me. He was the ace of the Battalion. All hard objectives, I gave to him. He planned, he led, he was the most dependable.” Lt Gen Carlito Galvez III, Sandoval’s mentor at the Philippine Military Academy and Commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said “Rommel could have been one of the best leaders of his time.”
Sandoval was commended by the presence of no less than President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo during his necrological service last Sept 15 at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.
Ani Ello Sandoval, the love of his life
Ani Ello Sandoval, Rommel’s wife, comes from a family of Air Force men. She met Rommel through her brother, who was the squad leader at PMA in Baguio. It was Scout Ranger Col Dennis Eclarin who introduced me to this good-looking, very friendly mestiza lady during the 67th founding anniversary of the Scout Rangers at Camp Tecson, in San Miguel, Bulacan. The event was attended by President Duterte to honor the 51 Scout Rangers who gave their lives in the Marawi Siege.
Ani disclosed that she did not mind the contrast between Rommel’s humble beginnings in a farm in Bauan, Batangas and her growing up in Alabang, manila, attending the elite Woodrose School and its Opus Dei University of Asia and the Pacific, for she was very much in love and looked up to him.
Out of the 17 years of togetherness, 7 of which they were married, she patiently waited for him as he was assigned in various places in Jolo to Samar, Bohol, Negros, and back again to Jolo. She explained (she had been inculcated) that a soldier’s wife counts second to one’s duty to his country, and that she may never accompany him to any of his assignments. “Meantime, I became an event planner and arranged a holiday trip together as soon as the siege is over.”
Ani described her decade and a half with him as “the best years of my life.” On the morning he died, Ani said she received a text from him at 6:47am. “Good morning, B. Trabaho muna. (Off to work.) we will get the Landmark today.” That was it. That was all.
“I reminded myself, he was never mine to begin with. he reminded me it was always duty, honor, country. I’m giving him back to the Lord. I thank the Lord He gave me a very good man.” Ani said.
For a clearer view, please click on the picture.