While most Filipinos were celebrating Valentine’s Day on 14 February 2015, Scout Platoon of 73rd Infantry (Neutralizer) Battalion (73IB) were alternately crawling and walking towards their military objective until the night of 15 February 2015 until they had a decisive encounter against members of Guerilla Front 75 (GF75), Far South Mindanao Region in Alabel, Sarangani Province on 16 February 2015.
The successful encounter is the result of a collective effort of the officers and men of 73IB under LTC Felix Ronnie B Babac INF (GSC) PA, 73IB Commanding Officer. The effort to have that decisive encounter all started when LTC Babac met two stakeholders who were complaining of the frequent sightings of rebels in their locality and they believed that putting up a detachment is the solution to drive away the rebels. Further, the two stakeholders revealed that the food supplies of the rebels are being sourced out from their locality.
Based on the acquired information, LTC Babac conferred with his officers and staffs specially the intelligence and operations officers and directed them to develop the situation based on the provided information and design an operation that would hit the rebels’ position undetected considering that the area is dotted by the rebels’ mass supporters. Crucial in the plan is that the troops should not be compromised once they enter the area.
On 16 February 2015, a section of 73IB scout platoon led by 2LT Jerson F Sanchez finally encountered more or less forty 40 lawless armed elements under GF75, headed by Manuel Garduque @ Lucas, at Brgy. Datal Anggas, Alabel, Sarangani Province. A running gun battle ensued and lasted for hours.
Thereafter, a platoon led by 2LT Franz Arwin R Balmaceda of the same battalion conducted pursuit operations and encountered remnants of said group. The firefight lasted eight hours, but the troops still pushed on going beyond the limit of one’s natural capacity. They struggled and remained determined all throughout the battle.
The efforts of 73IB officers and men yielded seven body counts including Tolentino Bariquit, also known as Commander Brigol, an infamous NPA leader in Sarangani Province and South Cotabato. Nine high-powered firearms, improvised explosive devices, personal belongings and subversive documents were also recovered. However, the surrenderers revealed that three more of their comrades were killed and buried by their mass supporters.
The post-operation activities further led to the surrender of 11 rebels, with one of them surrendering a firearm. It also yielded another M16 rifle left by the retreating rebels from one of their supporters. The surrenderors availed of the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) offered by the government to former rebels. While waiting for the release of their benefits under the program, the surrenderors received initial financial and material support from the provincial government of Sarangani Province and Davao del Sur.
Meanwhile, to ensure that the NPAs killed would be given decent burial, the 73IB provided transportation assistance during the transport of caskets to their families. The battalion CMO personnel exerted effort to locate the families and relatives of these rebels in coordination with the concerned LGU and barangay officials. As one S7 (CMO) personnel of 73IB said: “Instruction gyud saamo ni CO nga tabangan ang pamilya mahata ganug disenteng alubong ang mga namatay.” (The instruction of our Commanding Officer is to help the bereaved families and give the dead a decent burial.)
In a separate interview, 73IB Scout Platoon Leader 2LT Sanchez said, “High morale ang tropa ko bago kami nag jump-off dahil binisita kami ni CO kahit kritikal ang lugar noong re-supply namin. Kahit may tropang nilalagnat at pagod, pinilit namin na marating ang vicinity ng objective. Dinalhan niya kami ng donuts at mainit na bibingka. First time na nangyari sa amin at talagang naramdaman namin ang concern niya sa aming morale lalo na sa tropa.”
On 27 February 2015, LTGEN HERNANDO DCA IRIBERRI, AFP, Commanding General of the Philippine Army, went to 73IB Headquarters to award the Military Merit Medal (interim) and to Gold Cross Medal to 28 members of the 73IB Scout Platoon. The award of the enlisted personnel will also fast-track their promotion to the next higher rank.
On 15 March 2015, during the graduation of the Philippine Military Academy class of 2015, President Benigno S Aquino III himself awarded 2LT Jerson Sanchez with the Distinguished Conduct Star for his bravery in action as the Platoon Leader who led said encounter.
LTC Babac was also privileged to speak with His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III on 14 March 2015 via the mobile phone when the President called up and asked about the inside stories of said encounter.
The gallantry in action displayed by the platoon leaders of Scout Platoon, 73IB, is a remarkable accomplishment of the whole unit. Their success distinguished themselves as a model of the 10th Infantry Division for determination and decisiveness in accomplishing their mission. The selfless devotion of the troops is more than enough to prove that patriotism can be given life even beyond one’s limit.
Unexpected morale boost
2Lt Balmaceda, the other 73IB Scout Platoon Leader involved in the operation, said in an interview, “Our CO assured us that whatever is due to us that would uplift our morale, he will give it at the first opportunity. He talked to us before our jump off.”
True to his word, LTC Babac ordered the purchase of live pig and goat and sent their meat to the troops on 3 February 2015 during their re-supply. Three days later, he personally delivered boxes of donuts and warm rice cakes (bibingka) to the SWG and Scout Platoon in the area.
In addition to what he described as “simpleng bagay” to let the troops know that their efforts are appreciated and have not gone unnoticed, LTC Babac gave pang-load for the mobile phones of the squad leaders of the Scout Platoon to ensure that they would be able to contact their families to boost their morale.
Ltc Babac, who is also credited for neutralizing top rebel leader in Northern Luzon during his junior officers days and in Eastern Visayas when he headed a combat support unit in the area, said:
“I extend my gratitude to my men who were involved in the operation to bring peace in the community. I also commend the collective effort of my staff behind the decisive encounter. Moreover, I sincerely offer peace to our NPA brothers and sisters and I also encourage them to lay down their arms and peacefully return to their families. Likewise, I express the sympathy of the battalion to the families of the dead NPA members.”
Asked what he thinks is the main factor that led to the successful conduct of the operation, just 28 days of being the battalion commander LTC Babac said, “Maybe for a short period of time I was able to provide inspiration and motivation to my troops especially to the young officers who without any hesitation are determined to accomplish tactical victories against the rebels. My visit to their re-supply points bringing some goodies symbolizes my concern for their morale since I believe that morale and mission accomplishment should be promoted at the same time and with the same importance.”
He added, “I believe that once you boost the morale of the troops, they will surely accomplish their mission.”
The outcome of the 16 February 2015 encounter between 73IB and GF75 is a mute testimony to how right LTC Babac is in his credo.
(Atty Prima Jesusa Quinsayas is a Professional Lecturer of MSU College of Law-Extension, General Santos City. 2Lt China Celina P Castro is the Assistant S7 of 73IB and a nurse by profession.)
By: ATTY PRIMA JESUSA QUINSAYAS AND
2LT CHINA CELINA P CASTRO (FS) PA