Mom of Marine killed in Marawi tears up at memorial rites

MANILA, Philippines – Silence fell over the room full of Filipino Marines when Mercy Savellano teared up as Armed Forces chief of staff General Carlito Galvez Jr held her hands and spoke to her for several minutes onstage as she and other families of Marines killed in Marawi last year were recognized at a commemoration ceremony on Friday, August 17. 

Savellano's son, the late 1st Lieutenant John Frederick Savellano, and 12 other Marines were killed on June 19, 2017, as they attempted to push back enemies from the treacherous Mapandi Bridge, a fortified enemy base that saw the bloodiest battles with local terrorist groups linked with the Islamic State.

The late John Frederick Savellano was 29.

"I was just thanking him about the support that they are giving to us. They are very appreciative. Ma-ano sila sa emotions namin (They are very considerate of our emotions)," Savellano told Rappler after the ceremony.

The Philippine Marine Corps marked the first year of the liberation of the now legendary bridge that took its men two months to take, an operational success that turned the tide for the military during the siege. The bridge was a key supply route that allowed the military direct access to the battle zone that before that could only be reached through a circuitous and hilly route.

"Actually, ayoko ng mga ganitong event sana (I don't look forward to events like this). It only refreshes [the memory of] what happened to my son – the anguish, and the agony. Nandito pa rin. Napakahirap mawalan ng anak (We still suffer. It’s not easy to lose a child)," Savellano told Rappler after the commemoration ceremony.

Her son's death has triggered mixed emotions in her. The pain is assuaged by the recognition of her son's heroism. Before his death, Savellano made headlines as he led his platoon in recovering millions in cash after they overran an enemy base.

"I'm so proud of him until now. All the people we meet, they really appreciate what he did for our country. They recovered P80 million. He was identified for his integrity. We are so proud of him. The whole family and the whole clan are,” Savellano said.

“And then then he died. Nakakapanghinayang (It is a loss), but there is no regret. He fulfilled his life,” said Savellano.

THE FEW, THE PROUD. AFP chief General Carlito Galvez Jr leads a wreath-laying ceremony to remember the heroism of 36 Marines killed in the 2017 Marawi siege. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

THE FEW, THE PROUD. AFP chief General Carlito Galvez Jr leads a wreath-laying ceremony to remember the heroism of 36 Marines killed in the 2017 Marawi siege.

Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

Galvez, who led military operations in Marawi as chief of the Western Mindanao Command, remembered how the Marines carried on and succeeded despite the losses and the deaths.

"The liberation of Mapandi Bridge should be known to all soldiers, more so the Marines," Galvez said in his speech after leading a wreath-laying ceremony at the Marine Heroes Monument in Taguig City on Friday.

Major General Melquiades Ordiales, commander of Joint Task Group Tiger that composed of the Navy Fleet and the Marines, recalled the "fiesta-like" mood after the Marines took Mapandi Bridge. "The moment we got the bridge, everything became easier. Napadali ang pagpasok, maneuver ng armor, at assets (It was easier to go in, maneuver armored vehicles, and other assets). It delivered a demoralizing blow to the enemies," Ordiales said.

Galvez said the heroism soldiers have shown in Marawi should not be tarnished by the corruption controversies now hounding the military. Officers at the AFP Medical Center and the Philippine Military Academy were relieved over alleged corruption and irregularities.

"Hindi natin pahintulutan na masayang ang sakripisyo ng ating bayaning kasamahan dahil lamang sa maling gawain ng iilan (We will not allow the wrongdoings of a few negate the sacrifices of our heroic forces)," said Galvez. 

The siege of Marawi erupted on May 23, 2017, after a botched raid to capture ISIS emir Isnilon Hapilon. Recovered videos would show how Hapilon was actually planning to lay siege to Marawi City, which was triggered prematurely after the raid.

Marawi residents and other followers recruited by Hapilon and the home-grown Maute Group took to the streets to burn structures, release prisoners, and wreak havoc to the Islamic City.

It took 5 months to end the siege that killed over a thousand people including 165 government forces. Hapilon was killed. –