For a brave 9ID Spear Warrior, his basic soldiery skills and dedication to his sworn duty were put to test when he went to investigate the reported presence of NPA bandits in a village near his detachment in Banuang Gurang, Donsol, Sorsogon. It was around 1:30 pm on January 29, 2010.
Army Staff Sergeant Montano Escano, 41, was driving a motorcycle together with two militiamen from his detachment when he suddenly found themselves “engaging agents of death”.
“I was focusing my attention on the road when I heard staccatos of gunfire from the bushes near the roadside,” Escano said. He felt something hit his left arm that made it numb. He knew they were in the middle of an NPA ambush.
He lost control of the motorcycle but nonetheless tried his best to get out of the kill zone while telling his two unarmed companions, “Run for cover!”.
He realized that his left arm was severely wounded that he felt it was already useless. Moments later, he heard the bandits were already coming to assault his position. Looking behind, he saw CAA Sicad lay dead at the opposite side of the road. “He didn’t listen to me, he went towards the direction of the enemy positions so he became an easy target,” said Escano.
Reaching for his tucked M1911A1 Cal .45 pistol, he decided to give his attackers a good fight. “It is better to kill than be killed! I still have a family to feed.”, he said.
Beside him was CAA Dela Cerna who couldn’t help him because he has no firearm. “This is the result of this COMELEC gun ban!,” he grudgingly muttered to himself. He felt lucky that he gambled in bringing his pistol to defend himself in case of enemy attacks. He was aware that some soldiers and CAFGU personnel were killed by the bandit group while on off-duty and unarmed. Having this in mind, he brought his trusted defense weapon despite the probability that he might be caught by police personnel manning checkpoints.
Seeing that they looked like sitting ducks behind a small tree, 2-3 bandits courageously advanced towards Escano’s position. “Let’s finish them off!”, said one rebel.
“Let us fight to the last drop of our blood,” he told Dela Cerna who was already waiting for their fate to unfold. He pretended to be seriously injured, but he was ready to engage his target.
Lying in prone position while clutching his wounded left hand, he waited for his potential killer who was running towards him with his M16 pointed at the tree trunk that served as his head cover.
When the bandit was already about ten meters from him, he was sure of his target. “I can see through his eyes that he was determined to kill me,”, said Escano. He was a confident shooter. He is a rated IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) shooting competitor in 22IB’s quarterly Detachment Commander’s Cup. Shooting with either weak hand or strong hand is a scenario in IDPA. The main difference was that during that time, his wound was real and his opponents were real deadly armed bandits!
At around five meters, he wasted no time and raised his pistol to shoot, “Body, body, head!”, he uttered the usual mind-gaming technique that he used in actual competitions, as he squeezed the trigger. The bandit fell down instantly-----two hits in the breast area and a perfect hit in the forehead. “Grab his rifle,” he told Dela Cerna as he tried to hit the other bandit who retreated upon seeing his dead comrade.
Delighted that they had the chance to survive, CAA Dela Cerna rushed towards the fallen bandit while Escano provided covering fire. Some of the rebels were still firing from their positions about 75meters away.
He was happy that Dela Cerna was able to crawl back beside him with the M16 Rifle and bandolier from the fallen rebel. “Sarge, I am hit,” Dela Cerna said, trying to reach for his buttocks. He saw blood oozing from Dela Cerna’s butt.
Escano saw that an MK2 hand grenade was dangling in the recovered bandolier. He was aware that he was already short of his pistol’s ammo. He grabbed the grenade and removed the pin using his teeth. “This is my last defense,” said Escano. “I rather die fighting than surrendering to the enemy”, he said, referring to some soldiers who opted to raise their hands when outnumbered.
Trained in deception techniques, he shouted “Granada!” as he lobbed the grenade at the enemy positions. He heard a distinctive thud. In a sudden twist of events, he heard the rebels running for their lives. “Bata pa si Mamang!” (My wife is still young!), was the fearful remarks that he heard from one of the rebels. He then saw the rebels scampering to different directions.
He couldn’t help but laugh upon seeing the panicky rebels “running for their lives”, for this reason, he shouted, “Maneuver right!” to scare them off. Moments later, he heard that his buddies from the detachment led by Cpl Henry Balisbis were already approaching. “Come here buddy, bring us to the hospital quick!”, he said.
Lying in his hospital bed a day after, he couldn’t help but sigh. He wasn’t happy to kill a fellow Filipino; but, he is very happy to have survived his ordeal. After all, he can continue serving his country and be able to feed his growing family.
*(SSg Montano Escano survived to tell his story about his near-death experience. He is recommended to receive the Wounded Personnel Medal and the Gold Cross Medal for his conspicuous acts of courage under hostile enemy fire)