By Martin Sadongdong
Army Scout Rangers who survived the months-long hostilities in Marawi City paid tribute to their fallen comrades at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City yesterday, All Saints’ Day.
Instead of high-powered firearms, one section leader, accompanied by his three other subordinates, carried baskets of flowers as they visited the graves of Army Scout Ranger Captain Rommel Sandoval and Private First Class Edmond Tibayan.
“Not everyone is given the opportunity to fight for our country. These men, they sacrificed their lives and paid the ultimate price just to defeat the enemies in Marawi City,” the section leader , who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity, told the Manila Bulletin.
Captain Sandoval, company commander of the 11th Scout Ranger Company, was the highest ranking Army officer who was killed in Marawi City.
Nicknamed “Daredevil,” the 38-year-old captain perished on September 10, 2017.
He recalled that one of the team leaders of Sandoval got trapped on the ground floor of “Building 63,” a stronghold of the ISIS-inspired Maute terrorists in the main battle area, when they made a clearing operation on September 10.
Trapped with hundreds of terrorists, Sandoval’s team leader was hit by a sniper and couldn’t walk.
“We don’t know how he (Sandoval) did it, but he managed to get near his wounded soldier. And then it happened so fast, he was also hit in the hips by a sniper.”
Captain Sandoval was critical but he did not back down.
He was again hit, this time, fatally. Armed with a vest, Sandoval reached out for his wounded soldier and laid on top of him to protect from bullets.
Sandoval was the first casualty in his company since the siege erupted on May 23.
“He took pride that nobody in his company had been killed. It was four months into the battle and almost all companies had KIA (killed in action). He was the first.”
Eventually, the troops managed to take the Building 63 and found the wounded soldiers embraced.
Although Captain Sandoval died, the wounded soldier survived.
“He (Sandoval) was still alive when he was found but he lost a lot of blood. He sacrificed his life to take that building, which enabled the troops to move forward. That moment was a vital point in the battle,” Sandoval’s colleague recalled.
PFC Tibayan, on the other hand, was under Adam’s section as a radioman. He died on July 25, 2017. He would have turned 30 on November 18.
“That was his dream (being a soldier) because we are a family of soldiers and policemen,” said the fallen soldier’s 57-year-old father Emil.
“He was always smiling. He would say in the battle, ‘Sir, let’s always be positibs’ with the emphasis on the shortened term of his surname,” Tibayan’s comrade recalled.
PFC Tibayan’s primary role was to coordinate the ground on the troops with the orders from the higher officials.
His section was conducting an assault on July 25 when the situation got out of control.
“We were outnumbered. We don’t know what to do. Being the radioman, he (Tibayan) played a critical role for us to survive because he received information from the top officials and then relayed it to me in front of the firefight. He was supposed to go back, but he didn’t. Instead, he picked up his gun and fought with us,” the anonymous radioman’s comrade said.
Unfortunately, PFC Tibayan got hit by a sniper in the right hip with a bullet the size of a 50 millimeter.
“He was the type of soldier who will never leave you. That man. His determination and being positive is infectious. It kept us going.”
Captain Sandoval and PFC Tibayan are just two of the many soldiers who gave up their lives to bring back the freedom to Marawi City.
The scout rangers who survived in the siege had only one wish, that what happened in Marawi City will never happen again.
“Even though Hapilon and the Maute brothers were killed, we couldn’t say that we won. Lots of lives have been lost, they were our brothers, our comrades. They were sons and fathers and leaders. We hope this will never happen again,” Sandoval and Tibayan’s comrade said.
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