BALOI, Lanao del Norte – Three years after the five-month siege in Marawi City in 2017, the armored personnel carrier (APC) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was back running, not to carry soldiers in full-battle gear, but to carry six white-clad brides to marry soldiers who were part of the war against terrorists.
The "bridal tank" or "wedding tank," as they call it, was the PHP39-million worth M113A2 APC which helped significantly in the liberation of Marawi from the influence of Dawlah Islamiya (DI).
It was donated by the United States (US) government which came with a remote-controlled weapon system that killed Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and one of the Maute leaders, Omar Maute, on October 16, 2017.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, the tank became the center of attraction as it was pulled out from the location where it was parked, decorated with white flowers and ferns and brought six ladies in white bridal gowns to the hall inside the Army camp of the 4th Mechanized Infantry Battalion (4Mech) where their respective partners were waiting.
Six Army soldiers of the 4Mech were to marry their partners in a Catholic ceremony dubbed as “masked wedding” because of the need to wear facial masks in compliance with the health protocols. The couples have lived together for some months, some for several years.
Lt. Col. Domingo Dulay, Jr., 4Mech commander, said the unit decided to hold the wedding for the troops who had been living together with their partners and had not married despite having children.
Being legally united would make settlement of soldiers' benefits easier in case of accidents, and avoid misunderstanding and quarrel among family members.
"Many times that when a soldier was killed or met an accident in line of work, and he has a child but not legally married to the mother of the child, it would result to misunderstanding between the family of the child’s mother and the family of the soldier. They would usually cause conflict on who would receive big share of the benefits," Dulay said.
In his message, he wished the couples a strong marriage that would endure all kinds of temptations and challenges, like the APC which went through trying times during the Marawi siege.
Love and romance
Private First Class Monte Carlo Bueno and Geneveve Veloso are both from Luzon. They met in 2010 through a common friend when both of them were still students and officially became a couple months afterward.
Seven months into their relationship, they broke up because “we did not have enough time for us together”, according to the couple.
“But I kept on thinking of her and I was looking for her. In 2012, while I was working in our LGU (local government unit) I unexpectedly saw her in a mall. I did not waste my time, I asked for her contact number and we were back together,” Bueno said.
In 2012, Veloso got pregnant with their first child. They were planning for their wedding when Bueno’s two siblings also planned for theirs, which halted their plans.
“There is superstitious belief that it is not good to have two siblings get married in the same year. They called it 'sukob'”, Veloso said.
The wedding plan took a back seat from their priorities. Veloso then got pregnant with their second child in 2014.
Bueno was accepted in the Philippine Army in 2016 and was assigned in the operations section of the 4th Mechanized Battalion in Camp Pintoy in Barangay Suarez, Iligan City.
During the Marawi siege, he was assigned to receive reports from the battle area.
When they ran out of manpower, he had to join the team that would bring supply to troopers inside the main battle area.
"I was so worried and I could not sleep because of fear there might something bad that would happen. It was also a big challenge for us," Veloso said.
In October, when Bueno learned of the free wedding to be organized by the unit inside the headquarters, he went home to Tarlac to process the documents needed. He also had to bring Veloso to Mindanao for the wedding ceremony.
Their respective parents and their children were not present during the wedding due to some travel restrictions.
“It was a very difficult journey. That time it was enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in our province. There was no transportation from Tarlac to Manila. We survived it just to be here for our wedding,” Bueno said.
“We do not want this chance to pass. Even if this is ‘mass wedding’, this is still something for us to treasure because this is what I want: to marry her (Veloso),” he said.
With the sealing of their union vows on Saturday, Bueno and Veloso had only one promise: to always trust each other always despite the distance between them.
“I will always pray you are safe especially during your operations,” Veloso told Bueno.
Aside from giving the couples hassle and expenses-free wedding, they were also gifted with a three-night accommodation at a hotel in Iligan City “courtesy of 4Mech friends", according to Dulay. (PNA)