Bunye: Marawi siege aftermath

Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

FOR me, one of the memorable photographs to come out following the liberation of Marawi shows two soldiers holding up the flag at ground zero. It was the soldiers' effort to symbolize that once again the republic is supreme in the war-torn city.

It is a proud moment not just for government troops but all Filipinos.

The flag symbolizes our country and everything we hold dear. Our troops showed that they are ready, willing and able to make the sacrifice just to keep it flying.

In Marawi, 162 of our brave soldiers paid with their lives. Hundreds more were rendered permanently incapacitated.

The scene in Marawi should remind us never ever to take the flag for granted.

A flag-raising of sorts also occurred in 1945.

Filipino troops belonging to the United States Armed Force in the Philippines -- Northern Luzon or USAFIP-NL -- were fighting the last stages of the Battle of Bessang Pass.

The Battle of Bessang Pass consisted of a series of battles fought over almost six months. The initial battle was fought in Bitalac, Tagudin, on January 8, 1945, while the last was waged on June 14, 1945 at Nangyatan Hill.

In between, bloody see-saw battles were fought in Lower Cadsu Ridge, Upper Cadsu Ridge, Lamagan Ridge, Laguiatan Hill, Magun Hill and Baracbac Point.

The Filipinos were trying to dislodge the 4,000 strong Japanese shock troops directly under the command of General Yushiharu Ozaki. Ozaki was waging a bloody rear-guard action to protect Tomoyuki Yamashita who had fled to Bontoc from his Baguio headquarters.

The last bloody encounter took place on June 14, 1945. Capt. Emilio Narcise and his men charged Nangyatan Hill where the Japanese kept their munitions.

After an hour-long battle, Narciso and his men had control of the hill.

To signify Filipino victory, Narcise hoisted a make-shift flag. It consisted of a GI-issue olive green towel!

The Battle of Bessang Pass was over.

About 3,400 gallant Filipinos were either killed or wounded in this epic battle which forced the eventual surrender of Tomoyuki Yamashita.

Last Tuesday, President Rody Duterte declared Marawi liberated. The declaration coincided with the announcement that two, perhaps even three, of the leaders who staged the siege have been killed. The bodies of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute have been positively identified. As of this writing, that of Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian national suspected of financing the attack on Marawi, still has to be confirmed via DNA testing.

Some observers called the President's announcement "premature" since a pocket of twenty to thirty terrorists were still fighting. Nevertheless, the outcome is more or less clear. The end for the holdouts is near.

Flashback again to 1945.

General McArthur made a similar "premature" move which signaled the end of the Battle of Manila. The Battle of Manila lasted 29 days.

On Day 25, even while guns rumbled in the distance, McArthur turned over the reigns of government to President Sergio OsmeƱa in a simple, brief but impressive ceremony inside Malacanan Palace.

This took place four days before the actual end of hostilities.

On Day 26, allied troops pounded the agriculture building, headquarters of the Japanese troop commander, with artillery and tank fire. So heavy was the shelling that the building pancaked on its own first floor. The remains of the Japanese commander, said to have committed suicide earlier, was never recovered.

The fighting flared for three more days as the Allied troops tried to retake the last Japanese stronghold -- the Finance Building.

On Day 29, US troops cleared the last of the Japanese defenders.

As in most conflicts, the most battle-scarred are the children.

In Marawi, a soldier found the distressed cries of a rescued child heart-rending. The former child hostage was crying "Papa, Papa" trying to look for his father from whom he was separated during the rescue.

In his autobiography, the late Ambassador Antonio Cabangon Chua recalled his own traumatic experience during the Battle of Manila.

As the fighting raged, civilians who could still escape from the city tried to cross the Pasig River. Amba Cabangon Chua (then nine years old) and his mother, Dominga, joined a stream of refugees trying to make it to safety across the Pasig. Behind them was South Manila going up in flames.

"The bombs were bursting all over, but I was a child and it wasn't the explosions of war that scared me but the sights and smells of war. What especially horrified me was the smell of death. The dead lay everywhere, blocking our path. We had to make our way to the crossing over dead bodies, bloated bodies, rotting bodies. I was crying with terror and I told my mother I didn't want to pass that way -- but there was no other way. I didn't know rotting corpses had so strong a smell!"

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