TACLOBAN CITY, PHILIPPINES (THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Soldiers have started to return to their mother units in the Visayas as the fighting in Marawi City winds down.
And President Rodrigo Duterte has one request: treat them well.
He told a crowd of 5,000 gathered at the Bacolod public plaza on Sunday (Oct 22) night for the culmination of the MassKara Festival that returning soldiers must be welcomed or even invited to a party.
"They really went to hell. Others did not make it," he added.
Members of the 82nd Reconnaissance Company returned to their camp in Santa Rita town in Samar last Sunday after their deployment in Marawi City.
Hundreds of soldiers, led by their commander, Colonel Alberto Desoyo, arrived at the Daniel Z. Romualdez (DZR) Airport in Tacloban City, Leyte, around 2.30pm on board a C-130 aircraft from Villamor Air Base and immediately proceeded to their headquarters on board four military tracks.
"It was a very emotional scene. Our soldiers were deployed to Marawi in July and their respective families and loved ones surely missed them," Captain Cherry Junia, an information officer of the 8th Infantry Division (ID) based in Catbalogan City, Samar.
Some of their children didn't recognise their fathers since most of the soldiers had beards and long hair when they arrived.
Danicelle Molino, 12, said she was happy that her father, Sergeant Dennis Molino, returned home safe - an answered prayer and an early Christmas gift."I am thankful to God for bringing my father back safe," she said.
Danicelle said she was proud of her father and the rest of the soldiers for what they had done for Marawi, which had been liberated from the terror groups Maute and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Capt Junia said the soldiers would have to undergo some stress debriefing and retraining before they resume their operations against members of the New People's Army.
While she didn't know if the soldiers would be allowed to spend some time with their families, Capt Junia said their return would be considered the best Christmas gift by their loved ones.
In Negros Occidental, the 3rd ID was also waiting for the arrival of their soldiers belonging to the 11th, 15th and 82nd Infantry Battalions, who were deployed in Zamboanga, Lanao del Norte, and Marawi City.
Three soldiers from the 15th IB and three Negrenses from the elite Scout Ranger unit of the Philippine Army were killed during the gun battle in Marawi, according to military records.
During his speech in Bacolod on Sunday, President Rodrigo Duterte warned the public to be prepared for possible retaliation from the Maute-ISIS terror group following their defeat in Marawi.
"Please take care that nothing of the sort will happen again, especially here in the Visayas," he said.
While he said he was not trying to scare the public, Mr Duterte said he just wanted everyone to be prepared for any eventuality.
"Terrorism is everywhere and no nation has escaped from the clutches of the evil of the ISIS. It's an ideology that is dedicated to just killing human beings and destroying places."
The President, who said he is a Maranaw by blood, said he is worried "that this might become something that we will have to worry about".
"The terrorism that happened in Marawi City, it was an awful thing to just see what was evolving before our eyes," he said, stressing the need for caution.
"It would help that everybody would also watch everybody," the President said. "Not really a profiling, I hate it; I do not do it, like I said my grandmother is a Maranaw. Sometimes we have to know things within your control or environment."
"The Super Ferry 14 was one of the most brutal terror attacks perpetuated by Al-Qaeda," he said."It is still there, it is existing and it has pledged to the world that they just want to kill those who are not with them," Mr Duterte added.
The President was referring to the February 2004 bombing of Super Ferry 14 that killed more than 100 people while heading to Bacolod City. Six members of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group were believed to be behind the bombing.