‘Ang mamatay nang dahil sa ‘yo’
A soldier’s story on defending Philippine independence
For the country’s soldiers, there is no better way to show patriotism than to risk their lives in order to preserve Philippine independence.
Trained for action, members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) respond to orders, almost without missing a beat, to perform their duty to protect and defend the country.
For Lt. Col. Christopher Tampus, current secretary of the Philippine Army General Office, memories are fresh of a war valiantly fought by his men.
It was the war that broke in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, last year against the Maute group, also known as the Islamic State of Lanao.
“For us soldiers, if the time comes that we are called to do our share then you have to do it. Even to the point on sacrificing your life. That is our pledge,” said Tampus, a native of Danao City, northern Cebu.
Tampus was one of more than six thousand soldiers sent to Marawi to combat the radical Islamic group and jihadist fighters during what came to be known as the biggest urban battle in Philippine modern history.
He was then commander of the Philippine Army’s 1st Battalion based in Luzon.
Tampus recalled that when they received the order to go to Marawi, they barely had time to say goodbye to their families.
But saying goodbye to his wife and children was not as difficult for Tampus as it was for his men.
According to the battle-tested military officer, his family had already gotten used to the nature of his job, and he had their full support.
“I’m used to moving to a lot of places so dili lisod (it was not difficult) for my family,” said Tampus.
But it was different for many of his 500 men who were mostly first timers in Mindanao.
After receiving the mission order to go to Marawi, Tampus said that they were only given less than a day to prepare for the big move.
“We did not have enough time to pack our things, not enough time to see our families or even just call or text them,” said Tampus.
“I had to talk to them, explained to them and to their families,” he added.
A few of the soldiers even asked to be discharged from the service, Tampus recounted.
“Naay mga gagmay lang niingon nga ‘dili nalang mi mouban, sir. Mogawas nalang mi sa serbisyo’ (There were a few who said, ‘Sir, we’re not going. We’d rather be discharged from service). But as their commander, I talked to them and everybody understood,” said Tampus.
Fear of death
Tampus told CEBU DAILY NEWS that as they fought the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Mindanao the soldiers were in constant fear of their lives.
“Naa kay fear sa imong life that you will die. Fear sa life sa imong mga tawo (You fear for your life that you will die. You fear for the lives of your men),” he said.
“But mopatigbabaw sa imoha ang love and responsibility to the country. Mo take over sa amoang sense nga we need to protect and serve the people (But the fears are overshadowed by our love and responsibility to the country. The sense that we need to protect and serve the people takes over),” Tampus added.
During the Marawi siege in which lasted five months fromMay 23 to October 23, 2017, Tampus lost one of his men in battle while at least 20 others were wounded.
“Despite the difficulties, we never lost hope because we had the right support and good leadership; support from the people, from our President and from our higher ups,” said Tampus in Cebuano.
Tampus explained that as battalion commander, he always had to put up a strong front before his men to show to them that the mission can be accomplished.
“We had to focus on our mission,” said Tampus, adding that when the 1st battalion was called to help government forces in Marawi, there had already been a lot of hostages that needed to be rescued.
“It was a difficult situation. We are used to jungle fighting like the one in the mountains of Basilan. This urban fighting was very rare,” Tampus said.
“It was one of the biggest urban war or fighting. So we had to adjust to the situation,” added Tampus.
Throughout the war, Tampus said that the soldiers were not able to go home to their families, one of the many sacrifices that they had to undergo.
“Mission first and family comes second for us,” declared Tampus.
While soldiers were relieved that the battle in Marawi has finally ended after several months of fighting, Tampus said they continued to be wary about the presence of terrorists’ sympathizers in other areas of the country.
Also, a lot of things still needed to be done in Marawi City to restore the war-torn city.
“It is very sad. A lot of people died on our side, civilians and the enemies. They were also Filipinos,” said Tampus.
As the country commemorated the 120th anniversary of Philippine Independence on Tuesday, Tampus spoke from the heart of one who had battled to defend it.
“We need the unity of our people to really stand for our independence. We have earned this one. We should remember our history that many people sacrificed a lot for this. When the time comes that we need to do our share, we should all do it,” he said.
When I entered PMA, I chose the army because deep in my heart I know I can serve the country more by joining the army.
Lt. Col. Christopher Tampus (second from left standing) of Danao City, northern Cebu, was commander of the Philippine Army 1st Battalion in Luzon when the war in Marawi City broke out last year.