The 53rd Infantry “Matapat” Battalion, headquartered at Camp Major David P. Sabido, Guipos, Zamboanga Del Sur carries a rich and glorious history of serving and securing the communities in its areas of responsibility. The unit has evolved from its provisional status and proven its worth to a full-fledged Infantry Battalion operating under the authority of 102nd Infantry “Igsoon” Brigade (102Bde) and 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division (1ID) of the Philippine Army.
The unit adopted the “Matapat” moniker to symbolize the Filipino Soldier’s sincerity and loyalty to the people, the constitution, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The “Matapat” tag embodies the Troopers’ faithfulness and devotion to their duty and responsibilities.
Activation in 1985
The 53rd Infantry “Matapat” Battalion was activated on January 1, 1985, and was placed as an organic Infantry Maneuver Battalion of the 4th Infantry “Diamond” Division. Lt. Col. Noel C. Agos, served as Officer-in-Charge from November to December 1984 during its transition from provisional status until its full-time activation.
The battalion was initially based in Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental. The unit was transferred to Jolo, Sulu on June 1, 1987, and given the task to subdue the secessionist movement of the Moro National Liberation Front in the area.
After a brief campaign in Sulu, the unit was redeployed to Agusan del Norte of the CARAGA Region in 1988 when it shifted its efforts to confronting the News People’s Army (NPA). The unit has since made notable contributions in Internal Security Operations in the said region.
Deactivation in 1992
With the force reduction scheme and streamlining of the Philippine Army in order to attain a “lean but mean” regular force to be equipped with modern arms during the Ramos administration, some infantry battalions had to be deactivated including the 53IB, on February 14, 1992.
Reactivation in 2002
In the early part of the new millennium, the security situation in the area of responsibility of the 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division covering the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan had dramatically changed. In Basilan, the Abu Sayaff Group (ASG) escalated their terrorist acts and became an overnight sensation as an Islamic extremist group engaged primarily in kidnap-for-ransom targeting foreign tourists.
In 2000, the Abu Sayyaf Group staged the Sipadan Island hostage when they kidnapped at least twenty-one victims, foreigners and Filipinos, from the dive resort island in Palawan. The victims were brought to Talipao, Sulu, and demanded millions of dollars in exchange. This triggered the Philippine Army to conduct major offensive operations against the ASG that necessitated the reactivation of several Infantry Battalions including the 53IB on May 1, 2002.
Guardian of the Peninsula
The battalion has since continuously proved its worth as a guardian of the peninsula.
In July 2002, the unit established its headquarters in Camp Bautista, Barangay Busbus, Jolo, Sulu. As the striker battalion Ready-Deployable Force of the 102nd Infantry “Igsoon” Brigade. The unit was tasked with the mission of recovering kidnapped victims who were still in the hands of ASG. Among these kidnapped victims was the Schillings couple who were kidnapped in Sipadan, and Indonesian nationals who were seized from the coast of Panamao, Sulu.
A total of twelve ASG members were killed, captured, or surrendered. Most notable was the neutralization of ASG leader, Mujib Susukan on February 18, 2003, by the operating troops of the battalion.
In May 2003, the battalion headquarters was transferred to Sitio Bato Haba, Brgy Matatal, Maimbung, Sulu to further intensify its operations against the ASG. On September 30, 2003, as the ASG reconstituted their forces at Brgy Saldang, Parang, Sulu, the battalion launched a surprise attack against the enemy and recovered several high-powered firearms without a single casualty from the “Matapat” Troopers. The period of September to October 2003 were the banner months of the unit wherein twenty-one assorted high-powered firearms were seized during the military operations, prompting then SOUTHCOM Commander Lt. Gen. Roy Kiamko to visit the unit on October 12, 2003, and personally pinned Gold Cross Medals and Military Merit Medals with Spearhead Devices to the deserving gallant officers and men of the battalion.
On February 10, 2005, the unit’s Commanding Officer, Lt. Col Dennis B. Villanueva was killed-in-action during the Panamao Offensive against the Misuari Breakaway Group led by Ustadz Habier Malik. During Lt. Col. Villanueva’s leadership, the unit successfully fought against the ASG under its leader Doctor Abu and Albader Parad at Karawan Complex where the “Matapat” Troopers recovered several M16 rifles with M203 grenade launchers.
Maj. Emmanuel C. Sison was inserted on the battlefield on February 11, 2005 as new Commanding Officer to continue the offensive against the forces of Ustadz Habier Malik until the enemy camp at Barangay Bitan-ag, Panamao, Sulu was overran and seized. Maj. Sison was also wounded-in-action during the military offensive and received the Gold Cross Medal for his gallantry in action.
RP-US Balikatan in Sulu
Recognizing the need of revitalizing the military operations in Sulu Province through reform initiatives, the national government provided programs in cooperation with the United States (US) government. As a result, the first-ever RP-US Balikatan outside Luzon Island was conducted in January 2006 at Sulu Province.
The unit provided security operations for the US military forces who were based at the battalion’s headquarters in Maimbung, Sulu. Security operations for American engineers, doctors, and visiting dignitaries became the top priority of the unit because the success of all medical civic action programs, dental civic action programs, and engineering civic action programs are dependent on the atmosphere of peace and stability within the war-torn province.
From Sulu to Zamboanga Del Sur
On March 26, 2006, the unit was moved from Sulu to mainland Zamboanga, Peninsula where it established its new and permanent home at Camp Major David P. Sabido, Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur.
Campaign Against NPA and Other Lawless Groups
Again, the battalion performed superbly, notably of which was the neutralization of Kamil Lao who was Zamboanga del Sur’s most wanted criminal, and the surrender of Erwin Moli who was the acting Secretary of Front Committee (KARA of the Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMPRC) and Marcelino Marata who was the staff for education of the WMPRC.
In 2007, under the leadership of Maj. Samuel B. Gayonggorsa, the battalion made another remarkable accomplishment during the encounters in the municipalities of Tigbao and Lakewood, in Zamboanga del Sur, which led to the neutralization of leaders as members of FC KARA and recovery of several high-powered firearms. The unit also captured the Deputy Secretary of FC KARA.
The battalion launched continued military operations against FC KARA with numerous encounters and recovery of thirty assorted firearms, and capturing of nine NPA rebels in 2010.
In May 2011, the unit stood out during its joint law enforcement operations against the notorious leader of the lawless group Waning Andulssalam in Barangay Labatan, Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay Province, and resulted in the capture of his camp and recovery of several high-powered firearms.
In 2012, the unit conducted area clearing operations through Bayanihan Team Activities (BTA) as part of the Philippine Army’s Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) implementation. Bayanihan Teams were deployed contiguously in the barangays of every municipality. The battalion intensified its operations against the Communist NPA and established Advanced Command Post in Barangay Nazareth, Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay Province.
The Battalion continued to eliminate the remnants of CPP-NPA WMRPC in Zamboanga del Sur through combat operations and intensified conduct of Bayanihan Team Activities supported by Philippine National Police (PNP) counterparts and other law enforcement agencies. With the conduct of Community Support Program (CSP) of the Bayanihan approach, the unit gained ground by winning the people’s support in the NPA-influenced barangays.
Marawi Crisis and Martial Law in Mindanao
On May 24, 2017, during the height of the Marawi Siege, troops of this unit were deployed in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, to help fight with other military units against the ISIS-Inspired Maute Group led by Isnilon Hapilon. The unit provided additional forces in liberating the city as declared by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on October 17, 2017. The unit judiciously implemented Martial Law in its area of operation in Zamboanga del Sur without any reported complaint of abuse and misconduct from the people.
The Marawi Liberation Streamer was awarded to the Philippine Army’s 53rd Infantry “Matapat” Battalion (53IB) during its 36th Founding Anniversary on January 22, 2021, by Former Commanding General of the Philippine Army and now the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Rolando Joselito Bautista, together with Army’s 1st Infantry (TABAK) Division Commander Maj. Gen. Gene Ponio and 102nd Infantry (IGSOON) Brigade Commander Brig. Gen. Leonel Nicolas.
By Command of then Lieutenant General Bautista, the said Streamer was awarded to the 53IB pursuant to General Orders Number 1159 dated October 4, 2018, for eminently meritorious and invaluable contribution to the accomplishment of the overall mission during the Marawi Campaign, which resulted to the rescue of the hostages, neutralization of the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group, and the physical liberation of Marawi City.
The streamer was received by 53IB Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera together with 53IB Sergeant Major MSgt. Vicente Mayo.
“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”Sun Tzu
With the leadership of its current Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Jo-ar A. Herrera and guidance of 1st Infantry (TABAK) Divison Commander Maj. Gen. Gene Ponio and 102nd Infantry (IGSOON) Brigade Commander Brig. Gen. Leonel Nicolas, the Officers and men of the 53rd Infantry “Matapat” Battalion (53IB) vow to continue the glorious history of the unit’s stint in serving the people and securing the land while exemplifying the finest tradition of Filipino soldiery towards the Philippine Army’s Vision of becoming a world-class Army that is a source of national pride.
The Battalion employed a combination of soft-power and hard-power strategies in dealing with the insurgency in its area of responsibility. The unit has converged and collaborated with various national government agencies, non-government organizations, and other external stakeholders to achieve the mandate of Executive Order 70 (EO 70) signed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte which institutionalizes the Whole-of-Nation approach to totally end the local communist armed conflict (ELCAC). The Battalion successfully optimized various lines of efforts that complemented the unit’s conduct of Intelligence Operations, Civil-Military Operations, and Focused Military Operations that resulted in a total of fourteen (14) armed encounters with the Communist-Terrorist Groups (CTGs); twenty-seven (27) CTG hideouts seized and discovered; fifty (50) Communist-NPA Terrorists (CNTs) neutralized composed of forty-two (42) surrendered, four (4) killed, and four (4) captured; and twenty-five (25) firearms seized from CNTs composed of fourteen (14) firearms surrendered and eleven (11) recovered from armed encounters.
The influence of the defunct Guerilla Front (GF) ‘Kara’ started to decline when troops of 53IB under Lt. Col. Marlowe Patria, the Commanding Officer of 53IB from 2018-2020, implemented the Community Support Program (CSP) for a period of two years to deradicalize Communist-Terrorist Groups (CTG)-affected communities. A total of 26 barangays were occupied by the CSP teams: they unearthed the politico-military structure of CPP-NPA in the barangays, properly educated the communities on the government’s good governance efforts, and raised awareness on the lies, deceptions, and propaganda used by the CPP-NPA. This caused GF-KARA to lose their mass bases, resulting to four (4) Communist-NPA Terrorists (CNTs) captured, forty-nine (49) CNTs surrendered, and one (1) armed encounter between the terrorist group and 53IB.
Only seven members of GF-KARA remained, only to be subsumed to the ranks of Main Regional Guerilla Unit (MRGU) of Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMRPC), causing the deactivation of the guerilla front. Finally, on September 2019, Guerilla Front ‘KARA’ was formally declared as “DISMANTLED.”
The Main Regional Guerilla Unit (MRGU) was a regular and vertical unit of the Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMRPC) tasked primarily to plan out and implement the party’s tactical offensives (TO). The group is responsible for the various raids, ambuscades, liquidations, and disarming activities of the WMRPC over the years. The seasoned guerilla fighters of the region composed the group and conducts 80% military works and 20% on Ideological, Political, and Organizing (IPO) works.
The downfall of MRGU started when they encountered the 53IB in Barangay Pange, Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte. This encounter resulted to the recovery of the group’s high-powered firearms such as .50-Caliber Barrett, one (1) M16 Assault Rifle, one (1) Improvised Shotgun, one (1) Rocket-propelled Grenade (RPG), and one (1) Improvised Explosive Device (IED, anti-personnel). Then, on September 21, 2020, the final nail to the group’s coffin was hammered when they encountered the troops of the Battalion in Barangay Marangan, Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur. This decisive encounter resulted to the death of Bernie Nuñez @GOGO, the group’s Political Guide, and recovery of several war materiel and medical supplies. Two days later, on September 23, MRGU’s commander codenamed @JOTHAM was captured by government security forces.
The unit was also able to neutralize ranking members of MRGU such as @LYCA, @JOREM, @DENNIS, @NATHAN, @NANANG, and @PRAPRA during the course of its campaign against the group. The loss of its leaders and food sources, the seizure and capture of 71% of its firearms, and the neutralization of 87% of its manpower—a total of 25 neutralized composed of 19 surrendered, 3 captured, and 3 MRGU members killed in during encounters— diminished the morale of the group’s remaining members. This predicament prompted most of its members to surrender to the government and guided the troops to its remaining hideouts.
In the 1st Quarter of 2021, MRGU was finally declared “Dismantled” by the Joint AFP and PNP Intelligence Committee (JAPIC) after it was reduced to an inconsequential level. As WMRPC’s Regional Operational Command’s (ROC’s) last standing unit, the dismantling of MRGU also caused the dismantling of ROC, WMRPC.
DISMANTLING HQ “KALAW”
HQ “KALAW” was a regular CPP-NPA unit under the Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMRPC) primarily tasked to secure the party’s leadership and the personalities of the white area immersing with the red, armed fighters.
The HQ KALAW started to crumble when their Platoon Finance, Suray Manlapang codenamed @LINDY, surrendered to government troops last July 21, 2020, along with several other members. Being the party wife of the group’s vice commander, her escape greatly affected the decisions and morale of its leaders and members while their resources became scarce. The group then separated from the Main Regional Guerilla Unit (MRGU) as it was pursued diligently by troops.
They encountered government security forces several times, significantly draining their resources and greatly diminishing the group’s firearms and manpower by 97% — a total of 30 neutralized composed of 26 personalities surrendered, 1 captured, and 3 killed. This plight caused the group’s supporters to dwindle. Ranking members of HQ “KALAW” such as @ALLAN, @MATEO, and @METOT all perished during armed encounters with government troops. Most of the their members then returned to the folds of the law and even guided the troops toward the group’s remaining hideouts.
In August 2020, the group suffered two (2) continuous armed encounters with the military that wounded several of its remaining members. This prompted its leader, @PEEWEE, to yield toward the government troops, bringing along with him most of his comrades. The group’s remnants then transferred to Guerilla Front ‘BBC,’ totally deactivating the functions of HQ KALAW. Finally, on the 1st Quarter of 2021, the HQ KALAW was formally declared as “Dismantled.”
By virtue of Sangguniang Panlalawigan Resolution No. 1357-2021, the Province of Zamboanga del Sur has been declared as “Insurgency Free and Ready for Further Development” as a result of concerted efforts of the Army’s 1st Infantry (TABAK) Division and Zamboanga del Sur Police Office’s enforcement of security measures in dealing with the insurgency. This further resulted in the dismantling of CPP-NPA units operating in the Province and consequently allowed LGUs, agencies, and stakeholders to smoothly deliver basic services through the implementation o development programs, projects, and activities in the community.
Prior this, the Provincial Government of Zamboanga del Sur already commended 53rd Infantry “Matapat” Battalion (53IB) for being an active member of TF-ELCAC (Resolution No. 1105-2021) and for its continuous conduct of Army operations to finally end local communist armed conflict in the Province (Resolution No. 1106-2021).
The Battalion exemplified excellence through passion and commitment and received the Certificate of Excellence for garnering a percentage rating of 98.67% for the Annual General Inspection (AGI) CY 2021 conducted by the Office of the Inspector General, 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division, Philippine Army.
The AGI inspected 53IB’s Operational Readiness Evaluation (OPREVAL), Mission Accomplishment, Resource Management, and the unit’s Leadership, Morale and Welfare, and Discipline, Law, and Order.
The Certificate was presented by 1ID’s Inspector General, Col. Billy Dela Rosa, and was received by Lt. Col. Herrera at 53IB Headquarters, Camp Major David P Sabido, Poblacion, Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur on August 10, 2021.
RECOGNIZING PHILIPPINE ARMY’S BEST EP OF THE YEAR 2020
Corporal Fritz Floyd Prejoles of the 53rd Infantry “MATAPAT” Battalion (53IB) was recognized as the Philippine Army’s Best Enlisted Personnel of the Year 2020 during the 124th Philippine Army Founding Anniversary celebration.
Cpl. Prejoles is a member of Class Candidate Soldier Course (CSC) “SIKLAB” 2009 and hails from Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte. He also received the following awards: Gawad sa Kaunlaran, PERS Readiness Badge (Silver Category), CS AFP Commendation Medal and Ribbon, Martial Law Citation Badge, and Military Merit Medal.
For their commitment to help and maintain a lasting peace and order leading to the declaration of the Province as “insurgency free and ready for further development,” four Matapat Troopers — 2 Officers, 1 Enlisted Personnel, and 1 CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA) — of the Philippine Army’s 53rd Infantry “Matapat” Battalion (53IB) were awarded as Most Outstanding Zambosurians by Zamboanga del Sur Governor Victor J. Yu as part of the 69th Araw ng Zamboanga del Sur celebration with the theme “Sa paglipad ng Zamboanga del Sur, bida ang bakunadong Zambosurians.”
2021 Most Outstanding Company Grade Officer – 1Lt. Jonathan Cernitchez, former Charlie Company Commander, 53IB
2021 Most Outstanding Field Officer – 2Lt. George Yu Jr., Civil-Military Operations Officer, 53IB
2021 Most Outstanding Enlisted Personnel – Sgt. Jesel Laniohan, Civil-Military Operations Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) of Bravo Company, 53IB
2021 CAA of the Year – CAA Narson Tulay for his contributions to the Intelligence Platoon of 53IB
“Matapat” Troopers’ Vision and Motto
Vision: “Professional and Competent MATAPAT Troopers respected and supported by the people.”
Motto: Hindi Pwede ang “PWEDE NA”; EXCELLENCE is not our Standard, it’s Our Way of Life; #MATAPATSaPaglingkod; #ServantSoldier