Monday, August 29, 2016

The reminder of National Heroes Day

Today is National Heroes Day – a day of great significance especially for those of us who serve as soldiers of the Philippine Republic. These days, when my soldier life has become less of the dangerous combat missions, I have seen more of the heroism in the people I worked with and the many soldiers I have encountered. For one, I now interact more to people outside my organization. Conversations with them provide better insight and better appreciation. When I listen to people’s perception of the life of a soldier, I learn that the life that many of us live (or sacrificed) has so much to appreciate – so much to give so much to offer.

In occasions such as National Heroes Day, we are forced to look into ourselves and wonder how we are part of this commemoration. We come to ask what significant contributions we have really done for the nation.

Over the weekend, President Rodrigo Duterte was the guest of honor for the 10th year anniversary of the Eastern Mindanao Command. It was his third visit to military units within the Davao Region, two of which happened to condole with the family of our fallen comrades who died in combat. I hear in the news that he led today’s National Heroes Day Celebration at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig. A little later, he is at the wake of PO1 Gary Cabaguing in Samar. Cabaguing was killed during an anti drug operation as part of the team that served a warrant of arrest on a known drug suspect five days ago.

In the first two months of his Presidency, he mostly visited AFP and PNP camps and wakes of those who died in action. No president in my recent memory has done that. No national politician I can remember has done that. I have not seen any local politician visit the wake of my fallen comrades in my time in the field even if the wake was just across that politician’s house. None of those soldiers or policemen who died he personally knew. He was just there.

Just like what the President is doing, the heroes that we honor today made the harder choice and sacrificed their life for this country. We honor them because despite of whatever form of fear, confusion or hesitation they had, they still did what they did and died for it. I remember the sacrifice of one Sergeant Claudio Forrosuelo who, having realized that his whole battalion was encircled by attacking MILF rebels in August 2000, organized a group of soldiers who will hold the ground in order for the rest of his unit to extricate and fight another day. Accounts of soldiers who came back the next day would reveal the lifeless body of Sgt Forrosuelo surrounded by many dead rebels. He is now buried in nearby Tagum City and perhaps the only Medal of Valor awardee in this part of the country. Inspired by his heroism, his daughter, who at the time of his death was too young to comprehend what his father has done, later joined the Philippine Military Academy and is now a second lieutenant in the Army.

Many of us will not be placed in that situation but all of us can choose to sacrifice something for this country. All of us can forego of our fears, our confusion and whatever hesitation if in the end that decision will have some contribution for the good of this country. When we look at the many problems plaguing this country, it is not easy to understand why we are in the mess we are right now. We refuse to do what must be done and we refuse to offer ourselves for this country. Very few of us are willing to sacrifice for this country. The least that we can really do is to be there for this country. To be Filipinos that contributes positively for the Philippines.

Today’s commemoration is about honoring the selfless acts done for this country. We honor our National Heroes not for their feats of heroism but for the aspiration for which the heroism was made. We honor them because their action was in consideration for something greater than themselves; it was for the Filipino People as a whole.

Yesterday, I was asked during a guesting in a local radio program, what are my thoughts on the ongoing Peace Talks. My answer was short of saying that the President voted by 16 million Filipinos should be trusted that his decision is what is best for this country. At the back of my mind was the fear that the many NPAs we have fought hard to put behind bars will all be released. I fear that the CPP-NPA-NDF will take advantage of the truce and use the opportunity to regroup and rearm. I fear that the cabinet secretaries they fielded will take advantage of their positions for their own agenda. Actually, I fear many things but if this is what it takes to find peace for our country it must be done.

Our country now is in trying times. We are in challenged by many things that will determine our future as a nation. Today’s celebration is perhaps a reminder how we are to act as a people, as Filipinos. Perhaps if we can do that, then maybe, just maybe the future ahead is bright and wonderful.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Celebrating the life of Mike Nollora

Today I choose to celebrate the life of a soldier. I do not know him well but I know him. He was that silent guy who salutes everytime he meets me. He calls me sir. That was several years ago, when we were both cadets at the Philippine Military Academy. I graduated a year ahead of him and have not seen him since. I even paused for some time trying to recall his face upon learning of his death. Later, my Facebook wall is filled with tributes of his heroism. In one post documenting the visit of Chief of Staff General Irriberi, familiar faces were on the background His classmates, my classmates and many others that belonged to our generation of cadets at the Academy. One would think that it was a reunion of some sort led by the incumbent Chief of Staff who, at the time when we were cadets, was also the Chief of Staff of the Philippine Military Academy under then Superintendent General Maligalig. But it was not. It was a sad occasion. It was better not seeing those familiar faces as long as everyone is safe and alive.

We meet again today. Well, it was a meeting of some sorts. I wake up in the morning being told that his body will be flown by a C-130 plane to Davao where he will then be transported to his hometown in Panabo City, just the City next to Davao. My Battalion, which is the CMO Battalion for the Division, was tasked to document his arrival. As the Operations Officer, I was to orchestrate this task. So it is just a meeting of some sort. It will be like that because he is in heaven now and I will never really get to meet him again.

His information is sent to me. He was 31, married and with two kids. Everything else are the same information I have already read from the news and feeds on my Facebook wall. What comes to mind though is this guy who I remember watching in one of the boxing matches in PMA. I do not remember if he won, it’s just that I remember him in his boxing outfit. Then I remember a post from one of his squadmates. The post said that there was a time that she (the squadmate is a girl) wanted to resign from being a cadet and just go home. She said that he talked to her and motivated her. She ended by saying that it was what kept her inside the Academy. That lady graduated and is now in active service. And then there’s another one, his underclass buddy. He said that they had good memories together. He thanked him for teaching him and guiding him during cadetship. The same guy is also in the active service.

The stories I tell now are just bits of pieces of a man who paid the ultimate sacrifice to this country. According to reports, he was hit on a major artery in his thigh. He was initially given first aid but expired an hour and a half after. From the report, he is the only casualty.

So today, I choose to celebrate the life of a soldier. A lot of reports have been released on his death, but then, he was an ordinary person. He chased his dreams and dedicated his life to this country. I believe that if more of those who really knew him will say their piece of what a fine person he is, perhaps we can celebrate his life and bring greater dignity to that life that was taken away by the enemies of this country.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Fighting Back

I contemplated in having to do these. I have always felt that resorting to shaming another in social media is just low. But with this situation I think social media can be a lot of help not just to gain some advantage but also to illustrate how ordinary consumers can just be pushed over by big companies. In this case, it's Smart Communications.

For several weeks now I have been hounded with text messages like this:

I initially ignored this, I have previously made some transaction with SMART with my overpayment but was told to present the receipts which was already lost. Their records show that I indeed overpayed P1400 pesos, even the website where accounts can be checked showed the overpayment, yet they insist that I present the receipt. I resigned myself to just let the matter go to spare me the hassle of following up the transaction just to be refunded with that amount.

Just this morning, I again received another of those text messages, this time my patience was just exhausted. I went to the computer and wrote this email

More than anything, I feel bad that these companies can harass their clients with legal action just because they can hire law firms to do the dirty job for them. And yet, because the consumers are ransomed with the need to communicate with one another, they can choose to ignore our constant clamor to assist us when we have problems with their services. Many consumers, like me, do not have the capacity to bring them to court or have the means to file a complaint with the National Telecommunications Commission. We make do with our shitty experience with their services and just accept our helplessness when they do not resolve our issues or much more, ignore us. We make do because its a choice between their service or being unable to communicate with the whole world. And as if it is not yet enough, they dare threaten us with legal action when they feel they have been robbed with a few pesos from their already large pockets.

I am a government employee and have the means to pay the 900 pesos that they claim I owe them. But they are a big company and they have all the means to pay me back the money that they owe me. The big difference is that they can hire a law firm to harass me to force me to pay them and I can not. That disparity illustrates the kind of consumer environment ordinary Filipinos experience.I hope that something could be done about this, consumers in this country do not have to be ransomed by these companies

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sundalong hindi Valentino

“Ang Valentine’s ay gawa gawa lamang ng mga kapitalistang gustong magkaroon ng dahilan para gumastos ang mga tao”

Yan ang sabi ng mistah ko sa akin matapos syang awayin ng misis nya nung Valentine’s last year. Nung mga panahong iyon kakakasal nya pa lang at yun sana ang pinaka unang Valentine’s nila bilang mag asawa. Pero dahil nga sundalo na naka destino sa Mindanao habang ang asawa nya naman ay nasa Baguio walang nangyari na kahit anong romantic. Pagsabi nya sa akin non para kaming dalawang mamang nakasakay sa iisang bangka, pareho kaming naaway ng asawa sa araw ng mga puso.

Iba naman ang sa akin. Mas matagal na akong may asawa at kahit noon hindi ako naniniwala na importante ang mga bagay na yan. Para sa akin mas mahalaga ang trabaho ko dito sa kampo at iniisip ko lagi na naiintindihan ng misis ko yun, at ng anak ko na nung mga panahong iyon ay apat na taon pa lang. Pero mali pala ako. Gaya ng nakakarami, gusto nya ring ma experience yung nangyayari sa iba. At siguro, mas dapat nga naman na masubukan nya yun, tutal hindi na naman masama na pagbigyan sya, sundalo nga kasi ang ang asawa nya, masama na ba talaga na masubukang maging normal na mag asawa – kahit sa araw lang na yun. Ang sagot ay hindi nga masama pero hindi rin pwede.

Nung mga panahon na iyon, kami ng mistah ko ay mga Company Commander. Malinaw ang patakaran pag ikaw ay isang Commander, five days lang ang pinakamatagal ka na pwedeng mawala sa iyong area. Tapos sa loob ng limang araw na yun pwede kang pabalikin ora mismo pag kinakailangan. Pag nag aaral ka para maging opisyal, o kaya opisyal ka na nangagarap maging isang kumander sinasabi mo sa sarili mo na okay lang yun. Sinasabi mo sa sarili mo na hindi mahirap yun pero pag nandun ka na, sabi nga it is easier said than done. Nakakaramdam ka ng pangungulila sa mga mahal mo sa buhay. Ang mas masakit dun eh pag nakita mo na yung mga pamilya ng mga tao na nakakahalubilo mo sa iyong panenerbisyo, nakakaramdam ka ng inggit. Katagalan yung inggit na yan magiging inis kasi nga habang ikaw ay tumutulong sa mga tao para maging maayos ang kanilang pamilya, ikaw itong sinasakripisyo ang sarili mong pamilya.

Dahil nga puro kami inaway ng mga misis nung gabing iyon, nauwi kami sa inuman dun sa J-Kob. As usual, kasi nga Valentine’s kanya kanyang partner—yung iba dun sa inuman. Syempre kami ang partner naming, yun malamig na San Mig light. Ang takbo ng usapan ay ganito:

“Dapat naiintindihan nila tayo, sundalo tayo eh pinakasalan nila tayong sundalo, alam nila yun tapos aawayin tayo”

Ang corny no. Dalawang magigiting na Commander ng isang Kumpanya ng mga Sundalo, mga PMA Graduates, matatapang sa digmaan, tapos ang pinag uusapan hinanakit kasi na away ng misis sa Valentine’s. San ka pa. Kahit anong gawin namin, balik ng balik ang usapan sa ganun, hindi maikakaila na gusto man naming paniwalaan ang aming mga pinagsasabi, alam naming sa aming mga sarili na tama ang mga misis namin sa pag away sa amin. Ang masaklap, ay alam din namin na hindi talaga kami ang inaaway nila. Ang inaaway nila at patuloy nilang magiging problema eh bakit kailangan nilang isakripisyo ang kanilang mga asawa para sa kapakanan ng ibang tao na madalas eh ni hindi naman marunong magpakita ng pasasalamat sa serbisyo na ginagawa ng kanilang mga mister.

Ang totoo, hindi naman kasi talaga yung pag away ng mga misis pag Valentine’s day ang pinaka issue. Mas gumugulantang lang sa mga asawa namin ang katotohanan ng araw araw nilang pagsasakripisyo ng kanilang sariling kaligayahan na makapiling ang kanilang mga mahal sa buhay pag Valentine’s. Kung tutuusin nga eh mas grabe ang kanilang sakripisyo kaysa sa amin na sundalo. Kami kasi, kahit pa anong sabihin namin pinili namin ang maging isang sundalo, yung mga misis namin pinili kami bilang mga tao na minahal nila, tinanggap na lang nila ang aming pagiging sundalo. Kailan man ay hindi magiging makatarungan na isakripisyo nila ang kanilang sariling kaligayahan kasi nga sundalo ang asawa nila. Pero ganun eh, kaya tanggapin na lang, lalabas na lang yung mga issue pag may mga okasyon gaya ng ginawa ng mga kapitalistang gustong bigyan ng dahilan ang mga tao para gumastos.

Bukas, Valentine’s uli. Ako ngayon, ito, kakabalik lang sa isang napakahabang conference. Hindi na ako inaway ng misis ko. Ang kagandahan ngayon eh medyo napag usapan na ng maaga na walang mangyayaring romantic sa Valentine’s. Yung mistah ko, sana hindi sya awayin. Hindi ko alam kasi nandun sya sa malayo nakikibaka.

Sinusulat ko ito para hindi naman masayang ang mga nararamdaman ko. Pinipilit ko man na hindi magpa apekto sa Valentine’s na yan, talagang magaling ang mga burgis eh, naloko nila ang buong mundo. Talagang ganyan ang buhay kailangan may magsakrpisyo. Sana lang hindi masayang yung mga sakripisyong ito, malaki man o maliit. Sana maalala ng bawat isa sa atin na gaya ng lahat may mga mahal din kami sa buhay. Oo, pinili naming ito, pero hindi naman dapat maging parusa para sa amin ang serbisyong ginagawa naming para kayoy maging maligaya. At sana mas lalong hindi parusa sa mga nagmamahal sa amin. Lintik na imbensyon ng mga burgis yan.

Happy Valentine’s sa mga kasama kong sundalo at sa kanilang mga mahal na hindi nila makakapiling dahil sa tawag ng katungkulan.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ordinary Heroes

Victory pose. Taken after the encounter. The man in front is the surrendered NPA
I am not feeling that well just barely recovering from a 28-day combat operation. I just realized that yesterday was National Heroes Day after scanning through my Facebook account. Although late, I feel that I should write my own account of heroism I recently saw during the long combat operation I went through

I have been a Commander of an Infantry Company for almost two years in Davao Oriental. My unit was mostly tasked to initiate developmental projects in cleared areas in our area of operation. By cleared, I mean areas that have been declared as insurgency free. With such task, some would comment that my unit is the most “un-warrior” among the other units in my battalion. Nonetheless, the very nature of our tasking provided opportunities that our counterparts did not have. Aside from being the one located in the most civilized part of our battalion’s domain, I had more opportunities to improve my organization in all aspects of what I feel a snappy infantry company should be. Also, having been deeply immersed with communities and helping them out somehow softened the warrior spirit of my troops. I feel that our efforts paved the way to humanize the members of my unit to a point that they have become more caring, more emphatic and more committed to serve the people. This I saw in the most recent test of courage we had during the previous combat operation.

Surprise attack.

Pursuing an enemy formation that was engaged two days earlier by another unit, I found myself in the advantage position. I was moving from the opposite direction from where most of the troops have begun are and have crossed a very high mountain range for the past two days. Luck favored me as my troops were able to tactically occupy our designated position deceiving the enemy that all troops were on their rear. My Battalion Operations Officer instructed me never to compromise my position which we did by staying at the vegetated part of the mountain side.

In the morning of August 7, a text message arrived from a concerned civilian asset in the area about the location of the enemy encamped just beyond a cornfield. The location, luckily again, was just around two kilometres away from us. We planned our attack dividing my platoon into two with one doing the attack whiles the other conducting blocking at the enemy withdrawal. During the briefing, I explicitly said that I did not want to have dead rebels. I want them captured or surrendered.

An impossible dream.

For some reason, I have always imagined a scenario where instead of a fierce firefight with the enemy, I was able to arrange my troops in such a way that when we finally engage, they will all just surrender. I did not share that idea with others since even I knew that it was ridiculous. But to my mind, that would be the perfect illustration of the IPSP Bayanihan (our present campaign plan) in practice. In my stint as the Company Commander, I have always believed in the greatness of such plan and made it a point that my troops understood its greatness. Somehow, I feel that in the almost two years I have been talking to my men about the idea had some effect.

The actual encounter

Following a dry riverbed from an enemy encampment, we could hear the faint sound of a transistor radio. My lead scout and guide, all Scout Rangers, signalled halt after noticing a trail to the right of the riverbed and conducted reconnaissance towards its direction. The two would later tell me that from their vantage position, they saw one person about five meters away that was unarmed. The lead scout, already aimed at the person, asked the guide,

“Sergeant pusilon na nato,”(Sergeant, let us fire at him) to which the reply was,
“Unya ra dab, tan-awa usa kung nay pusil” (Not yet, let us see if he has a gun).

The fires started when another person stood up with a slinged AK-47 facing them and was in the act of unslinging his weapon.

The exchange of fires lasted for about 45 minutes while the clearing of the encounter site took more than an hour. The initial result were six landmines, 20 backpacks , an AK-47 and one rebel who surrenedered. Later during the night another one who escaped from the encounter site surrendered and the next day when we returned to further scour the area, we discovered additional backpacks and additional three landmines. All in all there were around 47 of those backpacks that were left.

The stories after.

Talking amongst each other, my troops felt some sense of frustration. During the encounter a handful raised their hands as if to surrender only to disappear in another moment. They were frustrated at the fact that they could have just fired at them which meant that we would have piled up more body count and perhaps more firearm recovery. I asked them why they did not fire, their answer would be my crowning glory as commander of this company.

“Ingon man ka sir nga dili pusilon ang mosurrender” (You said not to fire at those who will surrender)

In jest, I would sing to them the popular theme song of the animated movie Frozen “Let it go” just to break conversations on this topic. I would also ask another soldier what is our goal in life, to which they will reply “World Peace.” But when we become serious and really talk about the incident, I explain to them that ours is not a matter of more body counts and more recovered firearms. It is being true to why we are soldiers in the first place. I would later hear comments about why I did not ordered the shooting of all those who raised their hands when we it could all be justified as we were in an encounter. I believe many of my soldiers got the point of my instructions but somehow wanted some validation among our peers who believe that accomplishment is still synonymous to more body counts and more recoveries. I also hope that those rebels that they did not kill will come to their senses and eventually surrender. I pray that they realize that the generation of killing each other is coming to an end.

To my mind, those brave men I fought with in the morning of August 7 are the bravest and honorable soldiers I had the great opportunity to serve with. They are ordinary men who served this country and at the face of danger and adversity, chose to be gentle while it is easier to be harsh. They chose to follow orders even if their mind says otherwise. They are soldiers of the highest form of courage. The courage to do what is right even when it is unpopular.

It will take a while before all the stories will fade down. A few days ago, I sent all of them home for some relaxation with their loved ones. They will come back here after two days, and we will continue doing what we do best, being soldiers for our people. Belated National Heroes Day to all the men and women in uniform out there.