MANILA - Freddie and Mercy Savellano burst into tears at the Philippine Marines Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City as they shook hands with a uniformed man who introduced himself as the executive officer of their late son, Marine 1st Lt. John Frederick Savellano.
Savellano, called Jeff by his family, was killed along with his group of 13 soldiers in Marawi City in June 2017, at the beginning of the 5-month long battle to retake the city from the pro-Islamic State Maute terror group.
The Savellanos were already emotional, having just offered white roses in Jeff's honor at the camp's heroes' monument -- part of the Marines' 69th "birthday" on Thursday.
It was the first time the senior officer had met them in person, since he was still fighting in Marawi when Jeff's remains were flown back to Manila.
The executive officer was enough a reminder for Freddie and Mercy of what they had lost.
"Kapag nakakakita kami ng mga sundalo, we remember him," Freddie said, his voice breaking.
"Kapag nakakausap namin ang mga kaibigan niya, mga kasamahan niya sa battalion, lalong masakit kapag nagkukuwento sila."
(Every time we see soldiers, we remember him. When we talk to his friends, his comrades in the battalion, it hurts more when they tell stories.)
It has been 2 years since the liberation of Marawi but for Freddie, Mercy, and relatives of the 37 Marines killed in battle there, the wounds still feel fresh.
And yet these family members continue coming to events like the Marines anniversary, hoping to keep alive the memory of a son, husband, or brother.
"The pain is still in our hearts, but we are trying our best [to live normally]," Freddie said.
Many of the soldiers, like Jeff Savellano, are buried at the nearby Libingan ng mga Bayani, which Freddie and Mercy visited the morning before the memorial.
They were hesitant at first to attend the wreath-laying ceremony-- their third since Jeff's death. But Mercy said they were thankful to be invited.
"Even if it hurts us, we still want to remember him, his memories, [and his] service to the country," she said.
"Hindi pa rin nila kami nakakalimutan." (They [the Marines] have not forgotten us.)
Widow Leah Dinglasan keeps part of her husband, Technical Sgt. Aldrin Dinglasan, close to her heart through a pendant containing a bit of his ashes.
Aldrin was also killed in Marawi at an earlier encounter. His urn is in their hometown Lipa, Batangas.
"Dumarating pa rin ang araw at oras na hinahanap namin siya lalo na 'yung mga anak namin. Hindi po ganoon kadaling tanggapin na wala na siya sa buhay namin," she said.
(There are days and times we still look for him, especially our children. It is not easy to accept he is gone from our lives.)
Leah traveled alone from Lipa to Taguig City to attend the flower-laying rites, her second.
"Makalimutan man ng ibang tao, pero sa sarili namin, hindi po namin kayang kalimutan."
(Other people may forget them, but for us, we cannot.)
A total of 168 soldiers died in the battle for Marawi. More than 900 militants and close to 50 civilians were also killed.
Freddie knows his and his wife's pain is similar to the residents who lost loved ones.
"Biktima rin sila. Ang pinagdarasal nga namin palagi, ang buhay ng mga taga-Marawi, 'yun na ang huling mababawas sa mga kasundaluhan dahil kawawa rin ang mga nangungulila. Hindi lang kami. Buti nga anak. Paano 'yung mga tatay? Mga nanay, mga anak, mga asawa naiwan."
(They are also victims. We always pray that those killed in Marawi will be the last ones gone, especially among the soldiers, since it is tragic for those who were left behind. Not just us. At least we lost a child. What about the fathers? Mothers, children, wives were left.)
Following the Marawi siege, the Marines listed 5 of their servicemen killed in encounters across the country in 2018. Two more died in Jolo, Sulu in early 2019.
Amid the rebuilding of Marawi, Mercy added their prayers for lasting peace in the region.
"We're praying for them. Sana hindi mawalan ng kabuluhan ang pagkamatay ng mga mahal namin sa buhay kabilang ang aming anak," she said.
(We hope the death of our loved ones, including our son, would not be in vain.)