ALBAY, Philippines – It was the first time for sisters Natalie, Michaela, and Antonette to set foot on their mother's home province but they were not there for a vacation, nor was it a happy occasion.
With their grandmother and their mother, the 3 children boarded a C-130 plane bound for Albay on Thursday, July 20, with a coffin bearing the remains of their father, Army Sergeant Antonio Pareja.
Pareja is one of the two soldiers killed on July 12, after an airstrike missed its target, hitting government troops instead of Maute terrorists inside Marawi City.
The Pareja family had lived in Mindanao, the home region of Sargeant Pareja who hailed from Bislig, Surigao del Sur. But the soldier's death forced them to leave the island and settle in Tiwi, Albay.
“It is better and safer for my grandchildren and daughter-in-law Michelle to live in her hometown than to stay in Mindanao. It may be painful to us but I will just visit them occasionally,” Pareja's mother, Erlinda, said.
Albay is now their new home, where they will begin life without a father.
The last time Natalie saw her father was 5 months ago, when her youngest sister Antonette was born. Natalie is 10 years old; Michaela, 4, and Antonette, 5 months old.
"I will never see him again laughing and playing with us whenever he was at home," Natalie said.
Pareja's wife, Michelle, was the one who decided to bury her husband in Tiwi, and migrate the whole family there.
“It’s painful that my husband was gone and my3 children are fatherless now because of the ongoing war in Marawi City. I wish that the Maute terrorist group were all dead too,” Michelle said.
Pareja's remains were flown to Legazpi City on Thursday to a hero's welcome. He had served the military for 15 years and was a member of the Scout Ranger Company of the Army's 4th Battalion in Lanao del Sur.
“He died protecting our country and fellowmen. As a soldier, the desires of the soldier are to give ultimate sacrifice and freedom for Filipino people from the bondage of lawless elements of the society. We in the military service look up to soldiers who offered their lives,” said Army Colonel Alden Juan Masagca, commanding officer of Army’s 901st Infantry Brigade. – Rappler.com