BALOI, LANAO DEL NORTE —– An armored vehicle of the Armed Forces of the Philippines which was a veteran of the Marawi Siege of 2017 was back in action for a very special mission: to carry six white-dressed brides to their wedding with soldiers who fought during the Marawi siege.
The ‘bridal/wedding tank’ was a P39-million M113A2 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) which played a significant role in the liberation of Marawi from the Dawlah Islamiya (DI).
Donated by the United States (US) government, it comes equipped with a remote-controlled weapon system that killed Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute leaders Omar Maute in October 16, 2017.
On Saturday, December 12, the tank became the center of attraction as it was decorated with white flowers and ferns and brought six ladies in white bridal gowns to the hall inside the Army camp where their respective partners were waiting to get married.
Six Army soldiers of the 4th Mechanized Infantry Battalion decided to marry their respective partners in a Catholic wedding ceremony, dubbed “masked wedding”, after years of cohabitation as common law partners.
LtCol. Domingo Dulay, Jr., 4Mech commander, said the unit decided to conduct the wedding for the couples who have been living together with their partners and already had children without the benefit of marriage.
The weddings were deemed imperative to avoid problems between the unit and their families over the settlement of the soldiers’ benefits should they become casualties of war.
“Marami na kasing beses na namatay ang tropa or na-aksidente ang tropa dahil sa trabaho. May anak pero hindi kasal sa ina ng bata. Nag-aaway away na sila nung pamilya ng ina ng bata at pamilya ng tropa kasi nag-aagawan kung sino ang tatanggap ng mga benepisyo at kung sino ang mas may malaking share,” Dulay explained.
From siege to wedding
In his message to the couples, Dulay wished them a strong marriage that endures all kinds of temptations and challenges like the APC which successfully went through trying times during the Marawi siege.
“Naway ang pag-iibigan n’yo at pagsasamahan ay kasing tibay ng tangke de giyera na inyong sinakyan na galing sa Marawi siege. Nalampasan niya ang Marawi crisis. Sana malampasan n’yo rin ang lahat ng krisis at pagsubok na darating sa buhay n’yo bilang mag-asawa,” Dulay said.
Couple Private First Class (PFC) 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 became a couple months later.
Seven months into their relationship, they broke up because “we did not have enough time for us together” according to them.
“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 their wedding when Bueno’s two siblings derailed their plans by also getting married.
“There is superstitious belief that it is not good to have two siblings get married in the same year. They call it “sukob”, Veloso said.
The wedding was shelved but Veloso got pregnant with their second child in 2014.
Bueno was accepted into the Philippine Army in 2016 and was assigned to 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 were short of manpower, Bueno joined a team that brought supplies to troops inside the main battle area.
“Sobrang alala at halos hindi makatulog sa gabi dahil sa pangamba na baka may hindi magandang mangyari. Isa rin yung malaking pagsubok sa amin,” Veloso said.
In October, when Bueno learned of the free wedding to be organized by the unit inside the headquarters, he went home in 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 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 let this chance to pass us by. Even if this is a‘mass wedding’, we still treasure it because this is what I want: to marry her (Veloso),” Bueno added.
With the sealing of their marriage on Saturday, Bueno and Veloso have only one promise: to trust each other always despite the distance.
“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.