I wasn’t meant for soldiering. I knew that many years ago when I saw an episode of Tour of Duty and cried when a baby perished. If I couldn’t handle a TV show, how much more the real thing?
That said, I have always held our warriors in the highest regard. They do the things we don’t have the courage to do, they risk life and limb for a nation’s citizens, and they trust that the country will have their back.
When I heard that the bodies of the Gallant 44 had arrived at Camp Bagong Diwa, I went at the earliest opportunity to pay my respects. I knew none of these men, but it was something that had to be done. I love my country, and these men had paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Tears welled up in my eyes even before I stepped into the gym where the caskets lay, and I had to compose myself all throughout my visit as I said a short prayer and gave a few words of appreciation to each and every fallen trooper.
At least half of the caskets had only the uniform visible; the body lay underneath, too mutilated to be viewed. For those whose faces could be viewed, they bore the mark of bludgeoning and bullet holes hastily patched up. They were all somebody’s son, or somebody’s father. Someone’s husband, or boyfriend.
I shook hands and gave my condolences to several parents who were standing vigil beside the caskets. I read through their battle records, their various achievements, noted their hometowns and knew that they were just simple men who wanted to make an honest living while serving their country.
They fulfilled their duty to the end.
A few days after my visit, I asked a few of my friends if they felt the same way, and if they were willing to do something to show the PNP-SAF that we gave a damn. With all the politics, posturing, spin, and lies that had been spewing back and forth, it was as if the 44 were being used as tools for selfish ends.
My idea, “Remember the 44”, was a simple solidarity ride and run with the PNP-SAF. To be perfectly honest, I’d never pulled off such an event with zero funding and (very) limited time, but it felt like the right thing to do. After words of encouragement from friends, I decided to hold it on February 14, Valentine’s Day. Rather than going out for dinner, which was something we could always do any time we wished, my wife Sheryll and I made the event our date. Would enough people come to make a difference? Would we raise a decent amount of money? What if nobody came?
Thankfully, with God’s grace, everything went well. My friends at Dan’s/Specialized did the artwork for the poster and streamer, Gatorade gave us 25 cases, Ayala Land let us use Nuvali for free, and Seafood Island offered to host our program. I met Majors Jun Cunanan, Jack Angog, and Captain Jason Baldos of the PNP-SAF in the days leading up to the event and we made fast friends. I had the honor of meeting Police Superintendent Edwin Buenaventura Wagan during the turnover ceremony, too.
On the day of the event, we were in for a pleasant surprise. There were literally hundreds of athletes milling about, probably a battalion worth of PNP-SAF, runners, cyclists, and triathletes. They had only heard about the event from my Facebook page and wanted to be counted. We had a simple program of just the National Anthem and an honorary roll call for the 44, then we sent off the athletes to do their ride/run. Aside from the solidarity we had that day, we also raised P140,000 which we turned over to the PNP-SAF Tagaligtas Foundation.
I have to admit, organizing that fundraiser was a cathartic moment for me. I had been unable to work or train properly in the days after Mamasapano. My heart was just so saddened by the events, and in my search to do something meaningful to empathize with our warriors, we ended up doing something that was both scary and heartwarming at the same time.
I’m glad that I went ahead with this mission. For all the stress that it entailed, it was nothing compared to what the Gallant 44 had gone through. I also came to know real men and women of honor and sacrifice, the people I would want at my back if I ever found myself in a fight. They are humble, intelligent, honorable, hardworking people. They are patriots, family men and women, working silently and thanklessly every day.
May the Gallant 44’s ultimate sacrifice teach us to love our country as it should be loved, to stay strong in the face of adversity, and to stay faithful to what is good and just.
To paraphrase George Orwell, we sleep peacefully at night because rough men stand ready to endure violence on our behalf.
Love Our Warriors.