EDITOR’s NOTE: On November 19, 2020, Former Director of Communications and Marketing at Group of Eight, Gina Dela Vega Cruz posted a story in her social media page with details on the sacrifices and heroics of the Armed and Police Forces of the Philippines. The story has reached over two thousand shares and it sends a strong message that reminds us to honor our hardworking soldiers.
The Filipino soldiers, their presence is ubiquitous, inescapable, and manifest. They are all around the nation! Their ranks may be seen in capital cities, remote islands, and in all nooks and crannies of the archipelago. The soldiers are, after all, the protectors of the nation. And in order to protect, they need to be present. In our lands, seas, and skies.
And maybe because they are all of the above, that is, omnipresent, they have become much too familiar to our sights. We have become too accustomed to their presence, perhaps. To people’s minds, when soldiers’ uniforms parade before their eyes, there is nothing different, nothing new. In the fight against the pandemic, soldiers have been at the forefront.
For many months, they manned checkpoints and borders to catch and limit community transmission of the covid-19 virus. Many others are in community hospitals, quarantine centers, and relief distribution bases, providing medical assistance and extra hands to tend to the sick. They are transporting medicines, supplies, and warm bodies to wage a different war against an invisible enemy. From the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, all hands are on deck!
A LITTLE KNOWN FACT
Are you even aware that the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), from the highest-ranking officer (the Chief of Staff) to the lowest-ranking enlisted personnel (Private), donated a percentage of their monthly wages to national efforts to combat the effects of covid-19? This was the soldiers’ response to an announcement that government funds have already dwindled to be able to sufficiently address the needs of fighting the pandemic.
Our soldiers stepped up to the challenge and, last May, the AFP handed over close to 17 million pesos (P17,000,000.00) as part of this initiative to help those whom they have sworn to serve – you, our people. To those who received financial help from the government, it is not too much to surmise that a partial cost of that, even if it just came down to mere cents or a few pesos when ultimately divided, came from the sweat and hard work of our soldiers.
In the aftermath of both typhoons Rolly and Ulysses, our soldiers have been relentlessly undertaking search, rescue, and retrieval operations and, now, relief and rehabilitation efforts to save the hardest hit among our countrymen. At the risk to their own lives, our soldiers have gone to the most inundated areas to help rescue families torn away from their homes, and to deliver food and supplies to those rendered unreachable by flooded or destroyed infrastructure.
Many of the Filipino Soldiers have gone without water and food for many hours, if not days. Many of them had their bodies submerged in neck-deep waters, their skins wrinkled beyond recognition when they finally emerged from the murky deluge. Many have gone without sleep for three days in a row.
All have left their own families and loved ones to fend for themselves so that they – the soldiers – can help those in need.
AND THIS IS WHAT WE SOMETIMES FORGET
Let us momentarily set aside the attendant dangers of fighting the communist and terrorist groups who, by the way, have not stopped their heinous and divisive acts even amidst the country being in crisis. I have no kind words for them. On top of their sworn primary duties to fight these criminal leftist and terrorist groups, our soldiers since March have had to contend with the added demands of the pandemic as well as the concurrent responsibility of coming to the aid of Filipinos during natural calamities. And the calamities, as we are all aware, have been coming one after the other.
The Filipino Soldiers are the first to arrive on any “ground zero,” they are the last to leave as well. They are the first to rush to any call for help, they are the last to depart to ensure all is taken care of. And let us not forget, when we are running away and trying to escape danger, they are moving forward in the opposite direction, to check that everyone is safe and make sure no one is left behind.
A NATION PUMMELED BY DISASTER
I am writing this in Australia but I have kept myself abreast of the news from our country regarding the successive onslaught of Rolly and Ulysses. I know and I am aware of the many houses that are underwater, and the terrible damage to property and lives, not only in Metro Manila but in the provinces overcome not only by rainwater but by water simultaneously discharged by the dams.
I have my own family, relatives, and friends in Bulacan whose helplessness against this devastation made me worry and cry without tears. They are among those most severely affected by Ulysses. The extent of havoc is unfathomable. And yet as the images emerged of the search, rescue, retrieval and, subsequently, relief and rebuilding efforts soon after, I could not help but notice the pervasiveness of the uniform in the most precarious and high-risk areas.
A hand stretched here, a hand stretched there to pull out a kababayan from under the water; to carry the elderly, the pregnant or the sick to safer areas; to search and rescue, and retrieve bodies, as necessary; to push fallen trees and clear debris.
The Filipino Soliders are strong Army arms that can be relied upon, as always, not only to protect men, women, and children but to help in any way they can. Meanwhile, our Navy and Air Force personnel were deployed to deliver tons of relief goods and medicines and also to transport personnel.
Braving wild waters and savage winds, our navy and air force men and women did not sleep so that hundreds of families may eat and get some comfort from the pummeling of Rolly and Ulysses.
A SHOUT-OUT FOR THESE PERENNIAL FRONTLINERS
The Filipino soldiers, too, are getting tired, getting hungry, getting hurt. Just like any other Juan or Juana dela Cruz drenched in the downpour and maelstrom of the twin behemoth typhoons that were Rolly and Ulysses.
On top of the physical challenges, emotional stress, and mental anguish of not knowing whether their own loved ones are safe, it is heartbreaking to note that some of them are even at the receiving end of negative backlash from some know-it-all commenters and pretend pundits on social media who, unlike our soldiers, do not have their skin in the game.
And yet they carry on with their supreme duties – unmindful of the dangers to their own lives, resolute in giving the best of themselves to our countrymen, and knowingly sacrificing their strength and energy so that others may live. I am reminded of what Theodore Roosevelt said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…”
And so, this is what I would like to say to misinformed critics and naysayers:
“Keep off! Hands off our beloved soldiers! Please know your facts first. Ask about the constraints and limitations. Ask the experts on the whys and hows of operations.”
LEST WE FORGET…
They are our soldiers. And we sometimes fail to bring to mind that long before the word “FRONTLINERS” became a buzzword during this pandemic crisis, the Filipino soldiers have been frontliners all their lives. They are frontliners not only during the pandemic but frontliners against any calamity or typhoon, any siege or war, any bombing or attack, any threat, danger or imperilment to our country and our people. Day in, day out. No true vacation from duty, no honest-to-goodness vacation leave from their jobs. Any time and anywhere they may be, when duty beckons, they serve.
It is about time we said THANK YOU. Thanks to the Filipino soldiers, including you and your families, for not only for risking your lives in the high-stakes war against terror but, in the present situation amidst the pandemic and natural disasters, for gambling with your own safety and well-being so that others may be safe and well. Salamat, Salamat!
Sa sundalong Pilipino, muli at muli ay Salamat! #AFPyoucanTRUST