(Photo by Divina M. Suson/PNA)
BUTIG, Lanao del Sur – The town, after three years of intensive military operations against the Dawlah Islamiya-Maute-Islamic State have celebrated the 121st Independence Day celebration on Wednesday, June 12.
Townsfolk, and local government officials, and personnel of the Army's 49th Infantry Battalion and Philippine National Police (PNP) participated in the flag-raising ceremony at the town's public secondary school.
Faisal Ronda, principal of Butig National High School, said the event was memorable as it was the only second Independence Day flag-raising since the towns endured a series of bloody armed encounters between government forces and Islamic extremists four years ago.
In February 2016, Ronda recalled that first military operation aimed at rescuing six sawmill workers abducted by terrorists resulted in intense gun battles.
Four of the six victims were freed but the two others were beheaded. Their headless bodies were retrieved by the military troops during the operation while their heads were recovered at the terrorists' training area in Barangay Poctan.
Ronda said the old municipal building was heavily damaged when the extremists tried to occupy the town hall where they successfully hoisted their black Islamic State flag.
"Bihira lang tayo magdiwang ng Independence Day dahil sa security. Kung hindi dahil sa 49IB, hindi tayo nakapagdiwang ng ganito (We rarely have the chance to celebrate Independence Day for security reasons. If not for the 49IB we won’t be celebrating like now)," Ronda said in his message.
After the flag-raising, 10 soldiers were given awards for successfully neutralizing terrorist leader Owayda Benito Marohomsar or Abu Dar during a combat operation in March this year.
Abu Dar was reported to have replaced Abu Sayaff leader Isnilon Hapilon, the appointed emir (leader) of the ISIS in South East Asia, who led the Marawi siege.
"Ang pagiging hero ng isang tao ay hindi lang yan porke sundalo ka porke teacher ka, taga gobyerno ka, lahat po tayo ay hero sa ating pang araw-araw na buhay (Being a hero doesn't mean you have to be a soldier or teacher or a government worker because all of us are heroes in our everyday lives)," said Lit. Col. Edgar Allan Villanueva, 49IB commander.
Villanueva urged the residents to continue cooperating with the local government unit to maintain peace and order in the town.