By Manny Villar
Last October 17, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi City from “terrorist influence.” It was a welcome end to the bloody siege which broke out on May 23. The official proclamation followed the news that the Armed Forces has neutralized the top two leaders of the Maute Group—a local terror band which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
Much focus has been placed on the terrorists who sowed fear in the city of Marawi and the entire nation. I would like to focus instead on the heroes of the Marawi siege. The American general Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” The men and women of our armed forces and the police force should be recognized for their bravery as they defended the republic from its enemies.
For is it not bravery to plunge into battle against enemies whose penchant for violence knows no bounds? Is it not courage to leave say goodbye to your family thinking that that would be the last time you would see your children and wife? Is it not heroism to fight for the freedom of people you haven’t even met and some of whom have criticized the very mission you set out to accomplish?
According to the latest count I read, a total of 155 died from the ranks of our soldiers. These 155 brave souls deserve to be elevated in the pantheon of Filipino heroes for their sacrifice to the nation. Equally heroic are our soldiers who were wounded but survived as well as those who were unscathed physically but bear the scars of a horrific war.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, perfectly expressed this sentiment when he said: “We would like to pay tribute to our soldiers who perished and made the ultimate sacrifice while delivering their duty to the nation.” We are forever grateful.
Let us not forget the families of our soldiers. Fathers and mothers have sworn to protect their children but what if their oath to protect the republic forces them to leave their loved ones? Who will protect them?
We need to recognize the sacrifices of our soldiers’ family. Imagine the pain of seeing your father leave for war knowing that he may never attend your prom or your graduation. Imagine the pain of realizing that your mother or brother will be in the battlefield fighting enemies determined to kill them. Imagine the sorrow of seeing the casket of your husband being offloaded from the airplane as you hold tightly the hands of your two young children.
It is for this reason that we need to put our resources together in order to ensure that the families of our soldiers are cared for. Let us give them a future that was denied of them when terrorists killed their loved ones.
President Duterte has promised to double the salaries of soldiers by January, 2018. This is a welcome development. While we cannot place a price tag on the bravery of our soldiers, it is important to provide them with salaries commensurate to the dangers they place themselves into. This is in addition to the housing and education benefits for the families of our soldiers.
The administration has also promised to provide our troops with better and more modern equipment. This is also an imperative. The Marawi siege may be over but we know that the threat of terrorism will continue in the foreseeable future. We need to make sure that our armed forces are equipped to defeat the enemies of the state.
If I may add, I think we should also provide more training to our state forces in terms of facing and countering the different tactics of the terrorists. Our soldiers are primarily trained for counter-insurgency operations but the terrorists today are capable of launching urban terror attacks that require a different kind of response.
The heroes of Marawi deserve better from the people they sacrificed their lives for. Let us make sure they are treated well. The heroes of Marawi are the heroes of the republic.
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