Thursday, November 28, 2013

The heroes of Zamboanga: The next generation warrior-leaders

When I visited the home of the First Scout Ranger Regiment in San Miguel town, Bulacan on Tuesday (November 26),  I had the privilege of hearing action-packed, tear-dropping stories about our soldier’s triumphs during the battle for Zamboanga City.

Like the hundreds of Scout Rangers (both active and retired), I came there to attend the 63rd anniversary celebration of the 'fightingest' unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

During the traditional awarding ceremony, the hall was filled by a thundering applause every time a heroic soldier was pinned a medal or granted a plaque of citation.

The presence of Defense chief Sec. Voltaire Gazmin, AFP Chief General Emmanuel Bautista and Army commander Lt General Noel Coballes added to the excitement and pride felt by this year's roster of awardees.

Staff Sergeant Rehum Magno, 37, was among those who were given citations for their exemplary deeds in the unit. 

He was adjudged as the Best Enlisted Personnel, a prestigious award given to non-commissioned officers who made a mark in combat operations.

A native of Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat, Magno was among the heroes of the Zamboanga City siege.

A veteran of several battles with Abu Sayyaf bandits in the hinterlands of Sulu and Basilan, Magno found himself fighting with rogue MNLF elements under Nur Misuari in an unfamiliar terrain in the heart of a highly-urbanized area.

His unit, the 3rd Scout Ranger Company, was busy flushing out NPA bandits in the jungles of Negros Island when it received an order to participate in the combat-rescue mission together with the other companies of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion.

‘Unfamiliar terrain’

As a Platoon Sergeant, Magno expected that he will be in the spearhead during the exciting battle. He had led countless combat patrols that yielded results for the unit's combat scoreboard.

Though his unit was well-trained in combat, he had some doubts about their ability fighting in the middle of concrete buildings and even in ‘disorganized’ shanties.

Their ability to innovate and use their guts was put to test the very first day that they arrived in Zamboanga City.

Reaching the vicinity of their ‘objective’, they were greeted with staccatos of gun fire from armed men who were positioned in concrete buildings. They hurriedly disembarked from the trucks which carried them to return fire.

He had confirmed his thoughts about the possible scenario.

“I saw houses which I knew were owned by peace-loving people but were forcefully occupied by heavily-armed gunmen. I was saddened that these homes became a battleground,” he said.

Unprepared to fight in built-up areas and without bullet-proof vests and Kevlar helmets, three of his men were critically hit by mortar rounds.

They were all bleeding and asked for MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) but he couldn’t reach the radio man who was behind his Company Commander, Captain Paul Ramos. 

During that time Ramos was with another group which was also heavily engaged in another sector less than a hundred meter away from him.

“I did my best to save my wounded comrades so I continuously made radio contact until one armored vehicle responded to pick my wounded men. Amidst the horrifying scene of soldiers bleeding profusely of their wounds, I was able to flash a smile, even my wounded subordinates who were trying to hide the pain,” he said.

Acts of valor

In the succeeding days, the Scout Rangers found themselves risking their lives in order to accomplish the given mission using the cherished fighting tradition "walang iwanan".

One by one, some of these fighting men were either wounded or killed while fighting with Misuari’s followers who were using human shields.

Magno vividly recalled the moment that he and his men had to use selective fires upon seeing that hostages were positioned between them and some armed fighters who sprayed bullets at their (Scout Rangers) positions.

“We were in the disadvantage but we have to protect the hostages. We didn’t want to hit them with our bullets so we killed the enemies using well-aimed shots.”

Captain Paul Ramos is all praises for Magno whom he said was ‘instrumental’ to the successes of his unit.

Ramos said that in many occasions, Magno displayed exemplary leadership under intense pressure especially during their last attempt to seize an enemy stronghold in Sta Barbara village.

“Magno helped me implement the create ‘rat holes’ on the walls separating us and the enemies in order to observe their movements. 
He also inspired his direct subordinates to continue fighting when it seemed impossible to succeed due to the obstacles that hindered us,” he said.

Ramos also credited Magno for facilitating the surrender of 40 enemies whom he spotted from the 'rat hole' that we made. 

"He is fierce in battle but is also considerate to those who did not want to fight. He risked his life by talking to them in his little knowledge of the Tausug dialect, leading to the peaceful surrender of all those armed rebels," he said.

While waiting for Sgt Pulalun, a Tausug-speaking soldier, Magno took the initiative of talking to the enemies who were still holding their firearms. 

He saw some of them were already injured but were still carrying their guns. He said that he overcome his fear and decided to talk to them from the hole that they made. 

"Mataud pa kamu dain di? Mag-surender na kamu!" 

He directed the armed men to raise their firearms and drop them on the ground before coming out their defensive positions. 

His initial effort paid-off when the armed men raised a white cloth and came out carrying their wounded companions. 

Magno said that he and his fellow Rangers welcomed the surrender of the armed men who had decided to lay down their arms because 'they are our Filipino brothers'. 

Ramos also revealed that Magno was not short of bright ideas and freely shared it to him like during the time when they had a hard time capturing a fortified and heavily-concreted compound controlled by the enemy.

“I was studying my other options on how to take the objective which we tried to seize for three days when Magno came up with a proposal to hurl as many grenades to the enemies who were hiding behind a thick concrete wall. It means that one has to risk his life by exposing himself to the enemy snipers and machine gunners,” said Ramos.

Realizing that none of his subordinates volunteered to do the job (hurling of the grenades), he made a difficult, risky but calculated decision.

“I removed my bandoleer and rifle so that I can carry all the 50 hand-grenades that we collected from all our personnel. I knew that it was like a suicide but I dared to face the danger to fulfill our mission,” said Magno.

Backed by snipers and M60 Gunners who delivered covering fires, Magno fearlessly dodged the enemy’s hail of bullets like playing 'patintero' as a kid.

"Home!", he said, as he reached his precious destination, the thick wall that served as cover and concealment for Misuari's men who were holed out inside the compound.

On the other side of the wall, he could hear the voices who frantically barked orders  to shoot him. 

"Timbakun!" "Hi siyu yan?" (Kill him! Who is that?)

He removed the safety pins and hurled the grenades one by one to various direction inside the compound.

In the middle of the continuous gun fires, he heard shouts of excruciating pain and sounds of panic and commotion. Somehow, it motivated him to continuously hurl grenades as far and as high as he can to pepper the enemies with grenade shrapnel.

“It was like playing basketball and I was excited every time a grenade made it to a window and a corner of the compound where I believe they were hiding. Suddenly, I heard a thunderous explosion and saw that the house was in flames,” Magno said, adding that they later found out that his grenades sparked the explosion of a storage area for explosive rounds and armaments that were used by the enemies.

The 3rd Scout Ranger Company successfully overran the said compound due to Magno's combat actions and that made him an instant hero among his company mates.

Another war-hero who emerged during that battle was

Corporal Michael ‘Mike’ Binauhan, 30, of Batangas.

A trained sniper, Binauhan, had experienced at least 10 battles in his 9 years of military service as a member of the 1st Scout Ranger Company. 

Prior to his deployment to Zamboanga, he approached his Commander, Cpt Rolly Joaquin to request the issuance of his M14 Sniper Rifle that was kept in the unit’s supply room.

Like Magno, close quarters battle was new to him. He was trained to fight in the jungle but the sudden call to duty brought him to a maze of concrete houses and ‘barong-barong’ (shanties) in the slums of Sta Catalina and Sta Barbara villages.

His unit incurred some casualties during the early days of the battle prompting him to volunteer as the sniper/spotter for the troops as they continuously advanced towards a designated ‘objectives’.

He fully knew that staying in a rooftop would also expose him to enemy fire but he insisted, believing that he could do more to protect his comrades.

In one occasion, he saw the enemies mingling with the hostages in an adjacent compound while the others were hiding at covered positions to ambush the approaching soldiers.

“Seeing that an enemy was carrying a sniper rifle and was aiming his gun at the direction of my fellow Rangers, I took him down with one shot. As the hostages started to panic, armed men pointed their guns at them, forcing me to use my shooting skill to hit them,” said Binauhan whose downed targets were among the 43 confirmed kills accounted by the Scout Snipers who were deployed in the area.

Binauhan’s tough jobs continued day after day until the time they were issued a ‘tear gas launcher’ which nobody was trained to use before.

Daring as he is, Binauhan volunteered to use the weapon which was needed to neutralize the enemies who were believed to be holding some hostages.

“It was like a toy for me that I can use to shoot through windows. I was always smiling every time I successfully shot a tear-gas round inside a room occupied by the rebels who later ran to various  directions in chaos and confusion,” he said.

In one instance, he became the butt of jokes among his peers when he ended up coughing and shedding tears when he forgot to wear the gas mask while firing several rounds at the enemy stronghold.

“We were bloodied and tired during that time but we still managed to laugh at our situation. However, our determination to succeed was still there because we were trained as Di bale nang mamamatay wag lang mapahiya’,” he revealed.

They were inching their way to finally accomplish the clearing operations when a little misfortune struck him. An M203 explosive shrapnel made a mark on his calf as he and his men assaulted an enemy position.

He felt bad when his officer ordered him to be admitted to the hospital despite the ‘minor wound’ that he got.

“I followed my officer out of respect but deep inside me, I had my plans on how to get out of that cozy hospital room immediately,” he said smiling.

It just took him a day of rest and a lengthy ‘influencing’ session with the doctors that he was finally allowed to be sent back to the frontline to fight side by side with his buddies again.

He was again fighting with his fellow Rangers in the next two days to seize their final objective which was a thickly-walled compound.
Everyone was already hungry and tired after almost three weeks of fighting and they had a hard time taking their unit’s own ‘target’.

Learning that some of the units had already taken theirs, they all felt the pressure to show them they also can.

Captain Joaquin was left with one option: cross an enemy kill zone and lob grenades inside the compound.

“When my commander asked me to do it, I did not hesitate. I knew that if it was my time to die, then only God knows how He would take back my life. I just need to accomplish my unit’s mission,” he said.

So, daring the enemy’s bullets that rained on him, he ran forward, carrying 10 hand grenades with him. He luckily made it to the side of the wall, bullets missing him by inches.

“Sensing that I was not hit, I started hurling grenades at them. I heard them crying in pain as I tossed all of the grenades around the compound, sending them in disarray.”

His heroic actions emboldened the remaining members of the 1st SRC to follow him and forced open the gates to seize the compound.

Like Magno, Binauhan became the talk of the town among the members of the Scout Ranger Battalion due to his outstanding leadership and unparalleled heroism in the battle for Zamboanga City.

Both of them were nominated to receive the highest military honor in the Philippines, the Medal for Valor award. 

Seeing that the finest traditions of 'Walang iwanan' (Leave no one behind!) and 'Di bale nang mamatay, wag lang mapahiya' (To die than to live in shame) have been successfully handed down to our next generation of warriors, I am so proud.

We still have a band of warriors who are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice when needed.

As we pledge in our Oath of a Filipino Soldier:  




Photo credits: SSg Cesar Cuenca
                      Cpl Marlon San Esteban
                      FSRR photos


  1. salamat sa serbisyo mga sir!!!

  2. "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" - Winston Churchill

    Mabuhay kayo mga Sir!!!

  3. Long Live Scout Ranger,i salute u all.God bless

  4. Battle for Zamboanga City is a testament of the courage and determination of the military men and women in combat to kill and be killed in order to suppress the thugs and criminals.
    Perhaps many lessons were learned from the carnage of the past. The enemy's will can be broken down to near paralysis by inserting psychological warfare methods and execution. What i mean is that probably the majority of the military's casualties were resulted NOT from direct hit from the enemy but rather through a SNIPER'S SCOPE. Our military should put emphasis on these. Night is the best friend of the good side and the worst for the bad guys. Night vision is one of the best invention ever. In the field of battle, you want the advantage of fire power...position ...and leverage. The point is... let the enemy beg for mercy. Power for Peace! Long live brothers in arms...

  5. I want my son to be one of the best scout rangers in the country too. he's currently in Zamboanga going to Basilan for their test mission. He belongs to SR-CL-193, i'm a proud scout ranger mom. mahal ko ang anak ko but gusto n'ya pong mag silbi sa bayan kaya sinosupportahan ko po s'ya ng buong buo and with that goes my prayers for all the men and women in service sa bansang ito. death is inevitable naman and for me mas ok yung mamatay ka para sa bayan kesa mamatay ng walang saysay ang buhay mo. Volunteer nurse din po ako ng Operation Blessing and palagi naming kasama ang army pag sa bukid ng Davao Oriental kami mag me-medical mission. ipagpatuloy lang po natin ang pag mamahal natin sa ating bayan.