The Military I Know
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
I wrote this article for a magazine back in May 2014. Unfortunately, the magazine folded and this article was never published. I am putting it here as a way to honor our men and women in uniform.
I am a military brat. My father was an officer in the Philippine Army and my mother was part of the intelligence division of the Philippine Constabulary, now known as the Philippine National Police. My uncles and aunts also worked for different branches of the government. I spent my childhood in and around military camps.
Men and women in uniform were a normal thing for me to see. I’ve always known our soldiers to be the defenders of our country. They are the first ones to face the enemy and battle it out to the end.
No one really gave me a talk about how gallant and loyal they are to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and to the nation. It was something that I saw and felt growing up. The men and women of the Armed Forces were a power to be respected and reckoned with.
In the past few decades, the Armed Forces has come under heavy criticism and scrutiny for the wrongdoings of some of its rank and file. The credibility of the entire Armed Forces is being questioned. The trust and confidence levels of the people toward the military have hit rock bottom. Is the military still committed to serve and protect? Is its leadership and organization stable and reliable?
In the recent Typhoon Yolanda, the city of Tacloban became the center of the world’s attention as news and images of devastation filled the media. What the world saw was a city in chaos. The police and military who were supposed to enforce law and order were nowhere to be seen as they were also affected by the disastrous storm. What the media failed to show was that despite being victims themselves, they were doing their best to help in any way they can.
On our recent trip to Tacloban in April I was privileged to meet some of the men of the Philippine Army. Col. Arnulfo Matanguihan, Deputy Brigade Commander of the 802nd Brigade and the OIC of the DRTF (Disaster Relief Task Force) 8, 8th Infantry Division in Samar and Leyte, SSgt Virgel Plazo, CMO NCO, 78th Inf. Bat (IB), and SSgt. Leopoldo Fernandez, Jr., CO 1st SGT, 82nd CMO Company, reminded me of the dedicated officers and enlisted men of my childhood.
Col. Matanguihan arrived in Tacloban in February as the OIC of the DRTF. He narrates that in the aftermath of the storm communication lines were non-existent, thus communication had to be relayed on foot. Some soldiers were missing while some were found dead. Units in Samar that were not affected were sent to reinforce the devastated troops in Tacloban.
SSgt Plazo remembers the first few days of the typhoon. “We had to secure ourselves first because our bunkers were gone. On the second day while bringing relief goods, we saw people walking around. There were also dead people all over.” On the second day, relief goods came pouring in from different parts of Visayas and Mindanao. The military was tasked to provide support as the goods were brought to Ormoc, Tacloban, and Guiuan, Samar, where Typhoon Yolanda made its first landfall.
“Task groups in Ormoc, Tacloban to Tanuan, Toloda, and Guiuan were formed,” states Col. Matanguihan. They were to secure the main supply route of relief goods. Protection from insurgent groups and looters was vital.
No sacrifice too great
Sgt. Plazo recalls, “Because of hunger people started looting. People were out of control because they were hungry.” Army personnel worked round-the-clock to ensure that relief goods were brought in to the already starving people of the different towns of Leyte and Samar. Sgts. Plazo and Fernandez sadly remember that a member of one of the army troops died during the relief operations. “He just collapsed from sheer exhaustion. He did not want to stop helping in the operations,” says Sgt. Plazo in a somber tone.
Having arrived a few months after the storm, Col. Matanguihan saw the continuation of relief efforts. “More than 40 trucks were made available to anyone who wanted to distribute relief goods,” said Col. Matanguihan. He also saw opportunities in rebuilding and reconstructing Tacloban. There is a need to plant coconut trees to replace the ones destroyed by the storm. Businesses are also needed to prop the weakened economy of the once highly-urbanized Tacloban.
The road to recovery and healing is long and hard but as Col. Matanguihan remarks, “People are already smiling.” If that is an indication of the people’s outlook for the future, then there is hope.
In the middle of it all, the military is making its presence felt. Members of the Armed Forces like Col. Matanguihan, Sgt. Plazo, and Sgt. Fernandez will continue to provide support, security, and personnel as groups from different parts of the country and the world help rebuild Tacloban. I see them committed, loyal, and steadfast. This is the Armed Forces I know.