Last 'Marawi hero' finally identified, laid to rest

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) — Twenty-six-year-old Private Alejandro Balean was last seen struggling to stay afloat amid a hail of gunfire and strong currents at the Agus River in Marawi seven months ago.

Balean, from Sto. Domingo, Albay, was barely a year in the service.

His unit, the Marine Battalion Landing Team-7, along with several others, were deployed to Marawi City when it came under attack in late May last year.

On June 9, a fierce gunbattle with Maute fighters near Mapandi bridge, which dragged on for hours, left 13 of Balean's colleagues dead, including two junior officers.

Military reports declared Balean as missing in action after he was seen falling into the river at the height of the fighting. There were attempts to locate him but the heavy exchange during the clashes foiled rescue efforts.

"The troops tried to rescue him, however, inagos sya ng malalaking alon. We don't know kung may tama siya o wala," Major General Alvin Parreño, Philippine Marine Corps commandant, told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: We tried to rescue him, however, he was taken away by strong waves. We don't know if he was hit or not.]

"However, we tried our very best to find him," he added.

Balean is said to be a good swimmer so his superiors and his family were hoping he would survive.

But in early August, the police in Marawi recovered a decomposing cadaver in the Agus River, about three kilometers from where Balean was last seen. The police also found a soldier's uniform and a wood-beaded bracelet.

The Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) immediately submitted the remains for confirmatory tests on its identity.

"We want to make sure na siya talaga 'yon [that it was really him]," Parreño said.

DNA samples taken from Balean's family matched with that of the remains, with test results that came out in December, confirming that the cadaver was that of the missing soldier.

Parreño said they both "happy and sad" that Balean's remains have been identified.

He described the long wait of the testing process as "torture" for Balean's family, who were still somehow hoping the soldier would still be alive.

The confirmation of Balean's identity also served as a "closure" for the both the family and the PMC.

"He is our last hero who did not make it out alive of Marawi," Parreño pointed out. "That is why he is worthy of all the ceremonies given to him as a hero."

"This is also testament to our mantra that no Marine is left behind."

Aside from military honors, the PMC also facilitated the transfer of Balean's remains to Albay, where he was also accorded a hero's burial.

There have been 168 soldiers killed in Marawi, 36 are from the Marines.

In Marawi, around 30 to 40 percent of the former main battle area has so far been cleared of explosives.

Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra hopes the area can be secured completely by late March to early April.

Despite the end of fighting in Marawi last October, police and military are still on alert in case terror groups return to the city and continue their recruitment activities.

The mayor says, the one-year extension of Martial Law can help security forces snuff out this threat before it starts.

"Natapos na kaguluhan sa Marawi City pero nandiyan ang threat na maaaring mag-resurrect ang mga grupo sa Marawi City. That's the reason why the extension of martial law ay ating sinusuportahan," Gandamra said. "But of course, we cannot set aside yung karapatang pantao na hindi naman so far nava-violate as of this time."

[Translation: The conflict in Marawi has ended, but the threat of these groups being resurrected is there. That's the reason why we support the extension of martial law. But of course we cannot set aside human rights, which has not been violated as of this time.]

CNN Philippines Correspondent Claire Jiao contributed to this report.