Marine Private Bernie John Lunas, 21, from Barangay Hindi, Bacacay town in Albay, one of the youngest of 13 Marines killed in action on June 9 in battle-scarred Marawi City has come home.
Bernie, who turned 21 last April 5, was the second son of Barangay Captain Juan and Jocelyn Lunas. The couple has three other children.
Cut down in his prime by a cruel war, Bernie was like any other young man from a family of modest means. An artist, he had dreamed of being an architect one day.
He took the entrance exams at Bicol University in Legazpi but did not make the cut because there was a quota for architecture. Instead, he enrolled in industrial design so he could shift to architecture later. Taking advantage of all opportunities available to him, Bernie also attended a Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) program in San Francisco, Malilipot town but was encouraged by a kababayan (townmate) to enlist in the military service.
Last Christmas Day, he went to Metro Manila to report to Fort Bonifacio and from there he was sent to Ternate, Cavite for military training.
His aunt, Evangeline Lunas-Baseloña, told The Manila Times that Bernie would have graduated in August from the rigid training at the Marine Corps.
She added that Bernie went home three times from the time he started military training. “His last visit to his family was last April during Holy Week break just before going through another schooling to be promoted.”
Private Bernie was first assigned to Marine Battalion Landing Team 7 in Sultan Kudarat but two weeks before completing his schooling he was pulled out on June 4 and sent to Marawi.
Six months before his death, Bernie posted a photo on his FB wall with signage 37th Marine Company, Marine Battalion Landing Team-7, Kalamansig Sultan Kudarat. Its caption – “die to be a hero.”
On Monday, Independence Day, Bernie’s father and his three younger siblings proceeded to Tactical Operations Group 5-Philippine Air Force headquarters along with other relatives and friends including Mayor Dinky Romano of Bacacay town to bring Bernie back home.
Like the other 12 Marines who fell in Marawi City, Bernie is home, a hero. But to his family and friends, it was not the homecoming they would have expected for this young man in uniform.
On Tuesday, Bernie’s father made the last journey home from Manila with his son as well as Bernie’s brother-in-arms Marine Cpl. Roland Sumagpang of Ocampo, Camarines Sur.
Their remains were flown home to Legazpi City on a C-295 flown by Philippine Air Force first woman pilot-in-command Maj. Geraldine Abigail Matienzo and co-pilot Maj. Floraine Reyes.
The fallen heroes were given arrival honors by members of the Southern Luzon Naval Forces led by Navforsol deputy commander Capt. Toribio Adaci Jr.
At home, Bernie’s mother Jocelyn and elder brother Aron John, 22, who recently passed the certified public accountancy board, silently waited for him.
Jocelyn could not come to terms with Bernie’s fate. She said the last time she talked to her son was on the night of June 8. “I was praying so hard for his safety and that the conflict in Mindanao will be resolved soon. That like the other young soldiers, he would be home soon,” she told The Manila Times.
On June 9, a Marine officer called her up saying that something happened to Bernie. Just like any mother, she held on, kept praying, hoping that her son was only wounded in the firefight. But the Marine officer gently broke the news – Bernie was one of 13 soldiers killed in action against the Maute group.
“My son was part of the clearing team in Marawi City when killed by the terrorists. I prayed hard that he will make it home to us,” she said in between sobs.
Private First Class Gener Tinangag never said anything about the hardship of his work as one of the Marines who risked his life in war-torn Marawi City at the height of the fighting between the government troops and the Maute Group last week.
“It’s okay now. At least my younger sister finished college” were the last words of the young Marine, according to his comrades, who then relayed them to his eldest sister Novelyn.
Novelyn described her brother as a sturdy young man, well focused in his responsibilities to his family, but he would not be dissuaded from his wanting to join the Marines.
“It’s a job and I am going to take it. Don’t worry. If it’s God’s will for me to die as a Marine, so be it. Everybody has to face death in their lifetime,” Pfc Tinangag told Novelyn and their mother when he learned that he was going to be stationed in Cotabato after his finishing his Marine basic training in Taguig.
His mother Marcia said she pleaded with him to finish his studies as a fourth year criminology student at the University of Baguio. She said her son only needed to finish one semester, a few months of on-the-job training (OJT), and then he would graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Criminology degree. But when he passed the exam at the Marine recruitment unit, he focused on joining the corps.
“He was so eager to work and help his siblings to finish their education, and he was also about to become a father to his now two-year-old son,” Marcia recalled.
“‘Ma, I do not like hunting for a job later after graduation,’ was his answer to me,” said his mother.
“I never thought he would be gone so soon, but now it is real,” she said. She added that she and her husband are still devastated over the death of their only son.
His father, Aram Tinangag, went ahead to their hometown in Kadaclan, Barlig, Mountain Province, to arrange for the burial site for their son, Marcia said. Pfc. Tinangag, 24, left his wife Jasmin Joy and two-year-old son Clark Mayner.
His comrades lauded him for his bravery in saving several wounded fellow Marines in the battlefield before he was shot by a sniper bullet during the Marine operation in Marawi. He was among the 13 Marines who lost their lives that day.
Sister Novelyn said his death pains their family so much. He was the only male in a brood of five “He was the third child. I never had any problems with him. He was always obedient, and focused on helping his family,” she added.
“We shared financial responsibilities in our younger siblings’ education; that is why maybe his last words were about our sister Jet, who recently graduated from college with a BS in Political Science,” Novelyn said.
Novelyn added that before the Marawi incident, Pfc. Tinangag was eager to have his few days vacation to see his family and son, whom he missed so much.
“I do not know how little Mayner can handle this,” Novelyn said. “Before we learned of his death, his son was heard saying, ‘Papa Boom,’”
“His comrades who rescued him said that he was still breathing when they carried him to the ambulance, after which he said to his comrades his last words before expiring at the hospital,” Novelyn. Said.
BEFORE IT STARTED
If Batman will fade into the dark, if Man of Steel himself debilitates of kryptonite and Wonder Woman is afraid of being in love then, Private First Class Eddie Carodona Jr. a fearless Marine who died in Marawi siege, somehow knew that he was going to die and yet, he’s ready for it.
Fourth in brood of seven, when he was young he wanted to be a law enforcer, known as a good brother, friendly and generous.
Eddie pursued his dream to protect his country. He studied at the Philippine College of Criminology in Manila. But in year 2012 he decided to join the Marines.
But behind every great man, stands a brave woman. Before he was assigned to Mindanao, Eddie visited the father of his girlfriend, who was working abroad, to ask for her hand in marriage. Because Eddie felt that they are destined to each other and he was so excited to give his “apelyido” surname to the woman he loves.
It’s a gloomy day of 29th of May in Manila, Eddie was unusually happy when he met his 28-year-old brother, Ronel.
That day, he showered a variety of jokes. The jokes sounded as if Eddie was leaving for good. Or as Ronel puts it together, “something that he had not done in the past.”
Eddie said to his brother that they should take advantage of his short break to take a selfie together. Saying it might be their last time together.
Before leaving for Marawi, Eddie washed all his clothes kept in his barracks in Fort Bonifacio and left his ATM card with his friend for his relatives. Showing that he really knew that he was going to die giving his ATM card for financial aspects for his beloved family.
During the fighting, Eddie texted his brother Ronel and their relatives telling them that they should call him now because they might not be able to call him again.
Ronel remembered sending Eddie a message asking him about his situation in the morning of June 09 but his brother failed to reply.
Eddie had also told him in earlier message that gunfire would not stop and that they had no chance to sleep.
Who would’ve thought that after that day, his brother will be sleeping forever?
THE DAY IT HAPPENED
Ronel revealed that he learned about his brother’s death on June 10 when the wife of another killed Marine soldier posted the photographs of those killed in Marawi siege on social media.
At first, they thought it was not Eddie. In denial. But when reality hit them, they finally realized that it was really Eddie.
Then a military officer called them that afternoon to confirm that Eddie was one of the 13 Marine Soldiers who were killed in the battle to retake Marawi City from the Islamic State- allied Maute terror group.
It may have burned down a deep hole in their hearts. In reality, losing a love one was never easy. A ton of pain and agony pushes you down that they just can’t find the way to move forward or forget. But Eddie’s family know for a fact that he died because he fought for his country.
Everyone looks up for a hero, everyone needs a hero. And a hero does not need to have extraordinary superpowers or capes… But those heroes who are just always there, these are people who are just as normal as we look like, but we always don’t have the time to take notice.
These kind of people needs to remember not just because they offered their time to protect our country but because their love, patriotism and loyalty are worth to remember.
“Just bomb my location, Sir!”
These were the last words of 24-year old Private First Class Dhan Ryan Bayot when he called his commanding officer before he succumbed to death in the hands of the Maute-ISIS terrorists.
Bayot’s team–consisting of 9 soldiers from the 51st Infantry Batallion—was stationed in a detachment in Barangay Lilod, Marawi City on the 2nd day of the Marawi siege, May 24. They were dispatched to the said post upon the request of a town mayor for added security as his residence was just above the detachment.
Moments later, they were attacked. A survivor said that aside from the shots from both sides of the road, gunfire also came from above. Apparently, the official’s house was already overtaken by the terrorists. The soldiers were too surprised that the volley of fire came from all directions.
Not long enough, five of his companions were dead. For some reason, three soldiers managed to escape and abandoned the post. (It was only learned later that the three were shot just the same, killing one and wounding the two).
Now alone and with nary a scratch, he radioed his commanding officer for reinforcement but no one came. A few hours later, he called again. The commanding officer told him that reinforcements attempted twice, but they couldn’t get through as the only passage to him was heavily entrenched by the enemies.
This time, sensing that death was more imminent than being rescued, he then gave his coordinates, and requested his commander to bomb his location so the enemies surrounding him will get hit too. “Bombahin nalang ninyo ang location ko Sir!,”(Just bomb my location Sir!) he told his commanding officer.
His dead body and of six of his comrades were retrieved on May 28—four days after they were killed.
One of those who retrieved his dead body was his father, Sgt. Larry Bayot of the Division Reconnaissance Company of the 1st Infantry Division. His father said that it took four units from different battalions of the Philippine Army to retrieve their bodies given the difficult terrain. He understands now why it was really hard to rescue his son.
Surprisingly, the father saw no bullet wounds on his son’s body that might have caused his death. Instead, he saw his son’s heavily deformed face and a deep bolo cut around his neck. Presumably, when he ran out of bullets the terrorists might have taken turns of bashing his face before slashing his neck in an attempt to behead him.
Although pained so much for the dastardly manner of his son’s death, the father never showed it. To a soldier, it’s always a ‘do-or-die-but never-question-why’ attitude.
The next day, the father brought his son’s body to bury him in the family’s hometown in Barangay Upper Pangi, Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay. On June 2, a day after the burial, President Rodrigo Duterte went to his barangay to personally console him on his loss.
The president gave him the posthumous medal for his son, P250 thousand cash, and a pledge to fund for any young surviving family member’s education.
“Unsa pa man akong matabang nimo?” (What else do you need that I can be of help?) the President asked Sergeant Bayot. Bayot replied that his 18 year-old youngest son, who is the late PFC Ryan’s younger brother, wants to join the Army too. Maybe you can help him enlist in the army, Bayot told the president.
“No, not yet, he has to finish his college first, then after that maybe we can let him enter the army or even the police,” said Duterte.
The sergeant relented to his commander-in-chief.
Now, he is busy preparing the documents of his dead son while waiting to be called anytime for duty to the 1st Infantry Division whose jurisdiction includes Marawi City. His younger children will be off to college.
Ironically, the word bayot in Visayan means gay or coward. But for this particular family and for the neighbors who know them in Upper Pangi, Ipil, the word simply means ‘valor and patriotism’.