The Marawi Siege—from a Commander’s Viewpoint

By: Nicole Gusto

OneVoiceMagazine.com – 30 July 2019

(As a former commander of the 9th Scout Ranger (‘Angat sa Iba’) Company, I’m so glad to know of the Company’s participation in the heroic offensive to flush out the terrorist elements in the now-celebrated Battle of Marawi. I am re-blogging Nicole’s work to honor the efforts of our soldiers – not only of the 9th SR – in this deadly endeavor. In all, a total of 168 soldiers and police troopers perished in the 5-month plus campaign, while 1,400 plus others were wounded. These soldiers offered their lives and limbs, that others may live peacefully and freely. To our soldiers, mabuhay kayo!)

WAR IN THE CITY

Marawi City was in ruins. Bright buildings and busy streets turned into a labyrinth of burned roofs and bullet-riddled walls. Hellfire erupted in the streets, assaulting the town with black smoke, panicked screams, and the gunfire of the Maute-ISIS group.

Armed terrorists surprised Marawi last May 2017.

The Seige of Marawi in May 2017 spanned five grueling months, the longest urban battle modern Philippine history had ever witnessed.

In the midst of the bloody siege, Captain Aris Guerero, Commander of the 9th Scout Ranger Company, made his way into the urban war zone along with 118 brave men. They had a mission in which other units had failed—re-take Dansalan College and establish a foothold.

HEEDING THE CALL TO MARAWI

Two weeks earlier, Captain Guerero and his men held their station in Basilan. Serving there since 2010, the commander had earned various awards such as the Gold Cross Medal, the Military Merit Medal with Spearhead Device, Wounded Personnel Medals, Gawad sa Kaunlaran Medal, and the Silver Wing Medal among many others. He was involved in crucial missions such as securing the construction of the Basilan Circumferential Road, neutralizing foreign terrorists and bombers, and leading victorious campaigns against the Abu Sayyaf.

But all these awards came with experiences of trauma and grief. In one frontal assault against enemies, Captain Guerero witnessed a bullet spear into the lungs of his friend and classmate, Captain Cordero. He personally retrieved his friend’s bloodied wedding ring to return to a grieving wife. In another firefight, the captain administered first aid to a bleeding soldier, only to witness that hero’s life ebb away completely. These were only a few of his face-to-face encounters with casualties.

Death was always the most formidable risk a soldier confronted, but despite the bloody realities of war, Captain Guerero acknowledged that serving as a soldier was still a choice, a duty one volunteers for.

Once the order to fight in Marawi arrived, he and his men volunteered to face death once more. Gathering his troops, he encouraged them. ”Mahirap kasi na maiiwan tayo dito na hindi tayo makakasama dun. We should be part of history na isa tayo sa magiging liberators ng Marawi.” (It will be difficult if we are left here, and not be part of the campaign. We should be part of history as one of the liberators of Marawi.)

All of his men were willing to go. “Ayaw nila magpaiwan,” (No one wanted to be left behind.) Captain Aris Guerero recalled.

They arrived two weeks after Marawi fell. From plane to bus and then straight to the war zone, the 9th Scout Ranger Company went to work. Their mission was to reclaim Dansalan college, the strategic choke point that the enemy had claimed as their fortress.

 “Get this stronghold by hook or by crook!” the captain’s superiors ordered him.

As commander of his company, it was Captain Guerero’s responsibility to ensure that his men were trained and mentally prepared. They drafted their plans, made calculated risks. But more than just focusing on war tactics, the captain recalled how being a leader was also about boosting their morale. “Wala na tayong atrasan.” He told his men, just before entering the fight. “Ito na yung hinihintay natin…Panindigan na natin para sa bayan.” (There is no turning back. This is what we have been waiting for. Let us stand together in this, for the country.)

The company commander spoke of how leadership entailed planting your feet right in harshest of frontlines with the men. “Kailangan nilang makita na kasama mo sila sa laban,” he said. “Kailangan mo ipakita na consistent ka sa ginagawa mo. Otherwise, hindi ka nila paniniwalaan.” (They need to see that you are with them in the fight. You need to show consistency in your actions. Otherwise, they will not believe in you.)

Training and planning before the actual operation. (One Voice)

INTO THE BATTLEFIELD OF MARAWI

The battle ensued. Gunfire rocked the streets. The jarring noise of bombs and sniper gunshots echoed in the city. Military tanks rolled in, granting them cover. That was their cue. Captain Guerero and his men ran 50 meters of dangerous open space, infiltrating Dansalan College. Inside, they weaved past dilapidated classrooms and hallways. Patches of skies peeked from gaping ceiling holes. Most walls lay broken in rubble. And they kept moving. “Go lang nang go,” the captain recalled. Scorched, broken walls and rubble filled entire sections of the college, serving as makeshift hiding places for both sides. The soldiers avoided gunfire and launched their own artillery at the enemy in determined strikes.

In the heat of the firefight, Captain Guerero admitted that thoughts of family vanished from his mind. The only thing that mattered was the present moment. The only one who mattered was the comrade who fought beside him. “You fight for each other. Walang maiiwan. Walang malalagas,” he said. (No one must be left behind. No one must fall.)

Miraculously, they reclaimed the college in merely two days! Once they cleared the enemy fortress, the rest of the strongholds eventually fell, yielding to the military in succession like dominoes.  Two months later, Captain Aris’ company cleared a block in only three days, even though most blocks entailed 1-2 weeks of fighting. The five-month war ended in a decisive victory when they finally neutralized Maute leaders Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon. Captain Guerero and his men were part of the group who took them down.

Capt Aris Guerero, CO 9th SR Company. ‘Angat sa Iba’ (One Voice)

But the captain acknowledged that whatever “glory” in victory shouldn’t be attributed to him nor to any man. It wasn’t about how much they killed nor the recognition they brought home. “Di ko pwedeng sabihin na ako yung best na sundalo [na lumaban sa] Marawi  kasi di mo alam kung ano yung pinagdaanan ng iba, “he said. “Di mo rin kayang panindigan yan nang mag-isa. Team effort ito.” (I can never say that I am the best soldier to have fought in Marawi. Because you do not know what the others went through as well. And you cannot say your effort alone stands out. It was always a team effort.)

THE END OF THE WAR

In October 2017, the Philippine flag rose over the battle-worn city of Marawi, its vibrant blues, reds, and yellows heralding the end of the war. Mixed emotions tugged within Captain Guerero as he watched the nation’s colors soar above the wreckage. Read: Marawi Will Rise Again.

Masaya na malungkot…” he recalled. “Maraming kaibigan [ang] nawala. [Maraming] kabuhayan ng mga tao [ang] na displace. [Pero] masaya dahil tapos na yung away at nauwi ko yung mga tropa [ko] nang buhay.” (Happy but sad as well. Many friends were lost. Many lives were displaced. But happy too, because the fighting is now over, and I am bringing all my troops home alive.) Read: Scout Ranger Captain Rommel Sandoval’s Promise: Walang Iwanan.

According to the captain, his real reward was never the glory, nor the fame. His true prize was being able to bring home all 118 men of the 9th Scout Ranger Company alive.

A lucky survivor goes home to a happy wife and child. (Yahoo news!)

Pride and honor ko yun na…lahat dun sa [dinala ko], nauwi ko nang buhay. Sa amin lang yung unit sa frontline na pag-uwi, buhay lahat.” He said, remembering how other companies lost soldiers. “Pride and honor ko yung….pagbalik namin, kumpleto kami. Although may tama yung iba, buhay silang lahat.” (It is my pride and honor to be able to say that I brought everyone home safely. It is my pride and honor that we go home complete, without a single death. We may have had some wounded in battle, but everyone goes home alive.)

In the same breath, the commander acknowledged that he was privileged and thankful to have worked with history’s finest men. Camaraderie was one of the greatest treasures forged in the hellish pits of war.“Bond forged [in] battle is an unbreakable bond,” he said. “Unbreakable yan, kasi habang buhay mo, dadalhin [mo] yan…The Marawi experience is a bond [amongst us soldiers] that will never be broken.” (That bond is unbreakable. For as long as you live, you will always remember, you will always bring with you… that singular honor of having been part of the Marawi experience.)

At the present, Captain Aris Guerero is recommended to get the Distinguished Conduct Star for his services in Marawi.

Nicole is part-nerd and part-artist. She’s a passionate speech pathologist, writer, dreamer, occasional ventriloquist, and a total geek for stories. She dances through words and writes to speak life to readers. She also regularly blogs at https://nicolegusto.com

Credits: Cover photo- Funker 530; Other photos – Benar News, MindaNation, France24, wikipedia, DZRH News, New York times, The Diplomat, OneVoice.com, Pinterest, WorldWar42, Silsilah Dialogue Movement, Funker 530, GMA Network, and Sunstar.

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