For a brave 9ID Spear Warrior, basic soldiery skills and dedication to sworn duty are put to test when investigating reported presence of NPA bandits in the area of assignment.
It was around 1:30 pm on January 29, 2010 when Staff Sergeant Montano Escano, 41, together with two militiamen, rode a motorcycle to verify the complaint from villagers regarding the presence of heavily-armed rebels in Banuang Gurang, Donsol town in Sorsogon..
He did not expect that he would be playing with the "agents of death”.
“I was focusing my attention on the road when I heard staccatos of gunfire from the bushes near the roadside,” Escano recalled.
He felt something that struck his left arm making it numb. Bullets kept flying around them. They were in the middle of an NPA ambush.
He lost control of the motorcycle but he tried his best to get out of the kill zone safely. He promptly barked orders to regain control of the situation.
“Run for cover!," he screamed at the top of his voice.
His left arm was severely wounded and rendered useless. Unmindful of the gnawing pain, he grabbed his tucked pistol using his uninjured right hand.
He didn't want to die without giving a fight.
Confident that the soldiers were outgunned, the bandits gradually advanced towards his (Escano's) position.
Looking around, he saw militiaman Enrique Sicad lying lifeless at the opposite side of the road.
Confused by the initial volley of enemy fires, Sicad wrongfully headed towards the enemy positions, making him an easy target.
Escano held tight the M1911A1 Cal .45 pistol in his 'weak' hand. “It is better to kill than be killed, I still have a family to feed,” he said.
Beside him was militiaman Dela Cerna who couldn’t do anything because he had no firearm. The poor militiamen couldn't bring their guns because of the imposed election gun ban.
Escano felt lucky that he gambled in bringing his pistol to defend himself in case of enemy attacks. He was aware that some soldiers and CAFGU personnel were killed by the bandit group while on off-duty during which they had no guns with them.
Having this in mind, he brought his trusted defense weapon to protect himself against potential attackers.
Time for reckoning
Seeing that they looked like sitting ducks behind a small tree, three bandits courageously advanced towards Escano’s position.
“Let’s finish them off!”, said one rebel.
“Let us fight to the last drop of our blood,” he told Dela Cerna who was already waiting for their fate to unfold. He pretended to be seriously injured, but, he was ready to engage his target.
Lying in prone position while clutching his wounded left hand, he waited for his potential killer to come near him. The rebel approached him with his M16 rifle pointed at the tree trunk that served as his head cover.
When the bandit was already about ten meters away, he was sure of his target.
“I can see through his eyes that he was determined to kill me,” said Escano.
He was a confident shooter. He was a rated IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) shooting competitor in 22IB’s quarterly Detachment Commander’s Cup.
Shooting with either weak hand or strong hand is a scenario in IDPA. The main difference was that his wound was real and his opponents were deadly armed bandits!
At around five meters, he wasted no time and raised his pistol to shoot.
“Body, body, head!”, he uttered the usual mind-gaming technique that he used in actual competitions, as he squeezed the trigger.
The bandit fell down instantly-----two hits in the chest and a perfect hit in the forehead.
“Grab his rifle,” he told Dela Cerna as he tried to hit the other bandit who promptly retreated upon seeing his dead comrade.
Moved by their improved chance to survive, Dela Cerna rushed towards the fallen bandit while Escano provided covering fire.
Some of the rebels kept firing from their positions about 75 meters away.
Dela Cerna was able to crawl back beside him with the M16 Rifle and bandolier from the fallen rebel but it came with a price.
“Sarge, I am hit,” Dela Cerna said, pointing to his buttocks. He saw blood oozing from Dela Cerna’s butt.
Escano saw an MK2 hand grenade dangling in the recovered bandolier. His pistol ammunition was running low after the initial exchange of gunfires.
He grabbed the grenade and removed the pin using his teeth. “This is my last defense,” said Escano.
“I rather die fighting than surrendering to the enemy”, he said, referring to some soldiers who opted to raise their hands when outnumbered.
Trained in deception techniques, he shouted “Granada!” as he lobbed the grenade at the enemy positions.
He heard a distinctive thud. The grenade was a dud!
In a sudden twist of events, he heard the rebels running for their lives.
“Bata pa si Mamang!” (My wife is still young!), was the fearful remarks that he heard from one of the rebels as they scampered to different directions.
He couldn’t help but laugh upon seeing the panicky rebels “running for their lives”. He shouted “Maneuver right!” to scare them off a little bit more.
Though he was already grimacing in pain, he smiled at Dela Cerna. "We will go home alive, buddy," he assured his wounded subordinate.
Moments later, he heard a familiar voice. Troop reinforcements arrived to rescue him and his two companions.
Cpl Henry Balisbis, his fellow soldier in the detachment, arrived with several other militiamen.
Escano sighed in relief when a police ambulance came to collect him and his two buddies.
He was only quite sure that he survived his ordeal when he was already treated in a hospital in Legaspi City.
His near-death experience became his motivation to appreciate life and become a better soldier in his unit.
Currently, he still serves as one of the reliable NCOs of the 9th Infantry Division.
(SSg Montano Escano was awarded the Wounded Personnel Medal and the Gold Cross Medal by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for his conspicuous acts of courage under hostile enemy fire)