MANILA– When their loved ones decided to dedicate their lives to defending the country, they had come to accept that they could lose them any day. But this did not make the loss easier to accept.
The long-drawn siege in Marawi City has left at least 111 state forces dead, with as many families grieving for their loved ones. Even more soldiers and policemen in the battlefield are putting their lives at risk in a bid to liberate the besieged city from extremists.
For parents, wives, and children of the slain troops, figuring out how to move on is proving to be a challenge.
Saida Ali and PO1 Junaid Mama were just starting with their lives as a married couple, but the Marawi siege cut their dreams short.
“Lahat ng gamit namin nung kasal, kami hindi pa namin nagagamit. Sabi ko ‘bakit ito nangyari sa amin na bagong kasal at wala pang anak?’” Saida told ABS-CBN News Tuesday.
“Siya iyung kumbaga ma-plano sa buhay kasi ako, kung ano lang ang gusto niya, go ako. Ngayong wala na siya, parang lutang pa rin ako. Hindi ko alam kung anong gagawin ko," she said in an interview on the sidelines of rites for the turnover of financial assistance to families of slain Marawi soldiers in Malacañang Tuesday evening.
Married to Saida just on March 5 this year, Mama had to go to Marawi 4 days later to serve his assignment.
Nearly two months later, on May 23, Islamist extremists attacked the police station where Mama was assigned. The terrorists set the police station on fire, forcing the officer to jump off the station’s second floor.
Saida said she managed to call her husband in the middle of the attack, but the conversation was cut short.
“Tinawagan ko agad siya. Matagal bago niya sinagot 'yung tawag ko. Nung sinagot niya, sabi niya ‘huwag ka munang tumawag kasi maraming ISIS sa labas inaatake kami,’” Saida said.
According to her husband’s fellow policemen who survived the attack and managed to escape the battle zone, Mama sustained burn injuries and was unable to walk after the jump, Saida said.
Trapped in the battle zone, the injured Mama had no access to decent medical care. Civilians tried to help him, Saida said, but his injuries proved too much.
“Apat sila, so 'yung dalawa o tatlo, nakalabas din sa war zone, siya iniwan nila kasi nanigas na,” Saida said.
Mama was supposed to turn 26 last July 22. His body has yet to be recovered from the conflict zone.
“'Yun ang pinakamasakit,” Saida said of her husband’s missing remains.
“Kapag umuuwi siya from Marawi, hindi siya nagte-text. Bigla bigla na lang mag-open ang kwarto at papasok siya. Surprise! Bigla na lang siyang dumarating,” Saida said, when asked what she will miss the most from her late husband.
SIEGE LEAVES ONE-MONTH OLD BABY FATHERLESS
Another fallen soldier, Apayao native Corporal Benito Serrano of the Philippine Army’s 4th Light Reaction Company, was just starting a family when the Marawi siege happened.
Benito’s wife, Ligaya, told ABS-CBN News her husband was also among the first soldiers killed by Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists on May 23.
“Nung pumasok sila sa isang kwarto, hindi nila akalain may nakaabang na po palang Maute sa taas. Pag-akyat nila, there was a volley of fire po talaga. Dead on the spot po ang asawa ko,” Ligaya said.
At the time, Ligaya was just a month away from giving birth to her second child. Her eldest child with Benito is just 4 years old.
“Hindi ko ma-explain. Nagsisigaw ako ng time na iyon. Tinatawag ko ang pangalan niya,” Ligaya said when asked about the moment she heard the news of her husband’s death.
“Iniisip ko I have to be strong kasi buntis ako. Maliit ang baby ko. Hindi pa totally siya nagsi-sink in sa akin,” she added.
Her last phone conversation with him was brief and ordinary.
“’Kumusta na? Punta ako ospital.’ Nagmamadali siya,” Ligaya recalled.
“Iyung huling text niya sa akin 5 pm [ng May 23], kinamusta niya ang mama ko. Iyun na 'yung huling I love you niya sa akin.”
Ligaya said Benito loved and missed them so much while he was in the field that a day would not pass without them doing a video call or having a lengthy phone conversation.
“The night before, May 22…nag-usap kami, nagtatawanan pa kami. Nung matutulog na, sabi niya, ‘huwag mo muna patayin ang phone’… Kasi gusto niya naririnig ang nangyayari sa bahay,” she said.
“Sobrang nami-miss ko po siya. Every day. Iyung text, 'yung boses niya.”
DEATH FROM AIRSTRIKE
A soldier being killed by a terrorist is already too painful for most of the fallen troops’ families to deal with.
But a soldier’s death in the hands of his comrades, though unintentional, is an indescribable loss for some of the families.
Corporal Christian Dela Cruz was one of 11 soldiers killed when they were accidentally hit by a military airstrike on May 31.
Dela Cruz’s mother Joanne admitted to ABS-CBN News that while she has learned to accept what happened to her son, she still harbors resentment over the military's fatal mistake.
“Meron pero nandyan na naman 'yan. Sabi nila hindi na maulit ang air strike eh bakit naulit?” Joanne said.
She was referring to the July 12 botched military airstrike that left 2 soldiers dead and 11 others injured.
Joanne said her son is survived by his two children and his wife, a radiology technician who now has to work doubly hard to support her children.
“Sobra talaga [na mami-miss ko siya]. Minsan may ginagawa ako, mai-imagine ko ang mukha niya,” Joanne said of her son.
“Sobrang bait niya. Mula nang maliit pa 'yun, pinalaki ko silang may takot sa Diyos, may galang sa matatanda.”
The three widows were among relatives of fallen Marawi troops who were flown from their respective provinces to Manila to personally meet with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang on Tuesday.
In his speech at the Palace, the President vowed to prioritize the needs of the soldiers’ families, saying he would put up a P50 billion fund for the education of soldiers’ children before he steps down as President.
“Our troops knew of the danger that they will face upon the venture into the war zone. Still, they bravely took up the challenge so that they can bring peace and liberation to the besieged city,” Duterte said.
“The Philippines will forever be grateful for their heroism," he added.
Firefights in Marawi City entered its third month this week, with government seeing an end to the conflict soon.