ILIGAN CITY - Wearing their fatigues for the first time, 18-year-olds Karlo and Roy took selfies before they joined hundreds of military reserves called to help secure Marawi City, where days of fighting between government troops and Maute extremists prompted the declaration of martial law in the south.
The two, who hail from neighboring Lala town, said they would help man checkpoints and secure evacuation centers. Their names were withheld to protect their families.
"May pride, sir. Papunta kami dito, suot-suot na namin 'to. Galing pa sa bahay namin, sir, suot-suot na namin ito," said Roy, a graduating criminology student.
(There's a sense of pride. We come here wearing our uniforms. We have been wearing our uniforms since we left our house.)
Karlo admitted that he feared getting close to a war zone.
"Siyempre kinabahan na rin lalo pag may baril ang kalaban. Ang sa amin lang, makatulong lang sa military, sa army na para naman 'to sa kabutihan ng lahat," he said.
(Of course I am nervous, especially since our enemies are armed. We just want to help the military. It's for the good of everyone.)
Roy agreed, saying, "Merong kaba, sir, lalo na noong nakita namin 'yung helicopter kanina na may ano... may [dalang] patay saka wounded. Naisip ko na baka mag-back out ako. Pero hindi, tuloy ko pa rin 'yung nasimulan ko,."
(There's nervousness, especially when I saw the helicopter carrying the dead and the wounded. I thought I might black out. But no. I have to finish what I started.)
Roy said it helped that his parents were supportive and even helped him pack his bags for his deployment.
Karlo said his grandmother was initially against his joining the reserve force.
"Talagang papayag ka?" he recalled his grandmother asking him, "Sabi niya mas delikado doon dahil sa gulo."
(You agreed to go? It's dangerous there.)
Karlo said his grandmother calmed down only when he insisted that he was doing it to serve the people.
After their duty, which could last to up to 2 month, Karlo and Roy will go back to school to finish college.
Karlo said he wants to become a social worker either for the Department of Social Welfare and Development or any humanitarian aid organizations.
Roy said he wants to become a soldier because of his father, a retired scout ranger.
"Idol ko papa ko.. Gusto kong pumasok sa Army, mag-schooling sa EOD, 'yung mga expert sa explosives, tapos maging scout ranger din," he said.
(My papa is my idol. I want to join the Army, go on schooling on EOD, to be an explosives expert, then become a scout ranger.)
Hailing from the same region as the fighting will be an advantage for the reserves, said Colonel Bernie Langub, chief of the Army Reserve Command.
"Very effective ang mga tao na ito kasi sila, lokal. Alam nila 'yung terrain. Alam nila 'yung weather. Higit sa lahat, respetado nila 'yung kultura," he said.
(They are very effective because they are locals. They know the terrain. They know the weather. Most of all, they know the culture.)
Langub said the Marawi crisis would serve as a "test run" fort he reserve force system.