Stories from the Marawi siege

Inside the battle of Marawi 12

MARAWI, Lanao del Sur - A loud round of cheers echoed among the ruins of what used to be a marketplace near a slaughterhouse after Philippine troops learned that they finally killed the 2 leaders of an Islamic-State-inspired local terrorist group.

But as soldiers celebrated at the break of dawn, Staff Sgt. Santor was in tears inside his tank, thinking of the Muslim woman and the child in her arms he failed to save in that dark Padian market area.

"Binuksan ko ‘yung hatch, 'ma’am, dito, lapit po kayo. Pasok po kayo dito sa tank namin, bukas ‘yung likod. Hinihintay po kayo,'" he said, recalling the moment he exposed his head to enemy snipers to assure the woman it was safe to come near.

(I opened the tank's hatch and told her, "Ma'am, come near. Go inside our tank, the back door's open, waiting for you.")

Santor said the woman and the child, just around 70 meters away from him, were hesitant, seemingly afraid that soldiers might mistake them for terrorists. She was about to walk forward when a stray tear gas canister exploded and got in the way.

"May tear gas 'tas may pumutok. Takbo sila palayo sa amin. Akala nila, patayin din namin sila. Imbes na ma-save ko sila, hindi sila lumapit, lumayo pa sila. Parang failure ako sa ginagawa ko kasi hindi ko sila na-save nung time na ‘yun," he said, lamenting that he had no idea if the mother and child survived.

(Tear gas came out of nowhere. Then the sound of a gunfire. They ran way from us. They thought we were going to kill them. Instead of saving them, they ran away. I thought I failed by job because I wasn't able to rescue them at that time.)

"Sana 'yung bala ko may isip na h'wag tamaan 'yung mga bata. 'Yun 'yung time na talagang napadasal ako," he said, adding that he saw more women and children exposed to crossfire a few days before the war ended.

(If only my bullets could think and spare the children. That was the time I really prayed.)

Unfortunately, smart bullets exist only in fantasy. Government data show at least 45 civilians died in the crossfire during the war. At least 165 soldiers also died in the line of duty, some from friendly fire, and 920 terrorists were killed.

Santor went home after the war and the family celebrated his safe return. He also had their 5-month-old baby baptized. He was supposed to be completely happy looking at his child, but he couldn't help but think about the children he failed to save.