Not all men of valor got a medal: We must honor those who did

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
This is a column I hesitated to write for the past few weeks. It concerns the unrest among the younger corps of officers over "problems," ranging from corruption to the way of playing favorites in the armed forces.

Two weeks ago, now it can be told, this writer accompanied a group of officers to a quiet meeting with President GMA and then incoming Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Generoso Senga, in the residence of her late father and mother in North Forbes Park.

In that frank discussion, the group, which included three of our most outstanding Medal of Valor awardees, the officers expressed their gripes and pointed out "ills" within the military which ought to be addressed. La Presidenta, whom nobody forgets has a pint-sized Napoleonic complex (the Grand Emperor of France wasn’t very much taller, but rode a tall horse), tasked General Senga to look further into the problems, including what to do with the "Oakwood" six who had led the July 27, 2003, Magdalo Mutiny.

Defense Secretary Avelino "Nonong" Cruz, who had been unable to attend that session, asked for his own meeting with the same bunch of officers so that he could be updated on the problems within the defense establishment. This was held in the Dasmariñas Village home of our partner, "STARGATE" (People Asia magazine) president and STAR columnist Babe Romualdez.

Before going to that dinner last Friday night, I got word from Jakarta that one of our most valiant former Army officers, who had retired in protest and disgust from the AFP, ending what should have been a brilliant military career, had died of "cardiac arrest" in Jakarta.

Captain Rene Jarque (who has turned only 41 on October 14) had been working in a kind of "exile" in Indonesia since last year. I had known Rene as a stand-up-and-fight crusader for reform, and, although a graduate of the US Military Academy (West Point 1986), was soft-spoken, humble, and courteous. He was outspoken, without temporizing, on what he raged about: corruption and unprofessionalism in the military. A gifted writer, Rene had put his views in writing in the Army journal and "Cavalier", which he edited, and was finally ordered to curb his aggressive pen.

When I told DND Secretary Cruz and the rest of the officers at that meeting that Jarque was dead, his fellow West Pointer, also one of the most intrepid Scout Rangers, who had led the 4th Scout Ranger Company in the Mindanao wars, Captain Dennis Eclarin (US Military Academy 1993) exclaimed in sorrow that Jarque had been a stand-up officer, respected for his honor and integrity.

Indeed, it had been Jarque who had written the Scout Ranger Handbook, co-authoring it with now Lt. Col. Glen Paje, former commander of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion. In turn, Captain Eclarin had written the Scout Ranger Combat Guide, 2001, published in updated second edition by us in the Philippine STAR after Eclarin came home from the Battle of Kauswagan and the bitterly fought campaign leading up to the fall of the once-impregnable Camp Abubakar of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Truth to tell, I am in awe of our warriors who can both fight and write with equal passion.
* * *
Rene Jarque was such a man, and I deeply regret I lost track of him after his . . . let’s face it, resignation.

It was his undoing, in part, that he was what they would call a chip off the old block. His father, Gen. Raymundo Jarque, incensed at the Ramos Government and harassed on all sides by politicians and vengeful military foes, shocked the nation in October 1995 by defecting – to the Communist New People’s Army rebels whom he had been fighting for years as head of the Negros Island Command! Imagine, one of our best generals joining the enemy! (Jarque’s most relentless foe was the man FVR had appointed Ombudsman, Aniano Desierto, so, perhaps, this showed the general he had no hope of redress within the fold).

Rene caught the fallout from his dad’s unexpected defection but he soldiered on. Finally, the ostracism, the frustration at not being able to make headway in getting reforms, even as he exposed the pernicious "conversion" ghost deliveries and other slimy practices within the military, Rene quit the service in 1998, calling the armed forces "a crumbling old house."

In an editorial mourning his death, The Manila Times quoted what Captain Jarque had written in a paper he had published in 2003 on the urgency of reforming the armed forces: "What is required is a total overhaul. No amount of repainting and replastering of walls or repairing . . . will make it stronger (because) the pillars and foundations are weak."

What Rene said is still all too true. Our warriors go into battle for our country. They lay their lives on the line, they sacrifice for all of us – often unappreciated and unsung. It’s time we tore down the crumbling, decrepit, and disgraceful house in which a few have enriched themselves, and gave our soldiers the kind of defense establishment they deserve, and the honorable leadership they must have.
* * *
In the past few months, a controversy has raged within the armed forces over how the Medal of Valor was awarded to the wrong men. In any event, what’s done is done. The deed cannot be reversed.

What impresses me about DND Secretary Nonong Cruz is that he is now going to resolutely tackle the issue, and has vowed to promote the creation of a permanent Committee including Medal of Valor awardees themselves devoted to selecting any future officers and military personnel for that most revered of all military decorations, the Medal of Valor.

Most people don’t understand the high accolade bestowed on the bearers of this award for their courage and effort far beyond the call of duty. Many of the Medal of Valor Awardees got it posthumously – a fact which speaks for itself. The Medal is so prestigious that even the President must salute the medal and its wearer. This is what President GMA herself did, when she arrived and met the three Medal of Valor holders at our meeting. Declared "heroes" officially by our government, all Medal of Valor awardees receive a monthly gratuity. Their recipients and heirs are entitled to any scholarship in any educational institution and for any level of education.

When Medal of Valor recipients die, their "remains" are buried in a specially reserved area in the Libingan ng mga Bayani with most of our country’s Presidents. (Not with Apo Marcos, of course).

When the three Medal of Valor awardees got off their vans in the North Forbes driveway in which they were to await the President, the officers of the Presidential Security Guard who had served under them at one time or another, snapped respectfully and enthusiastically to attention.

It was a proud moment for us to be reminded of their gallantry. We had Colonel Ariel O. Querubin, whose family originally hailed from Caoayan, Ilocos Sur (notice that most families whose surname begins with "Q" come from this town adjacent to Vigan, the hometown of President Elpidio Quirino), but he grew up in Bangar, La Union. Marine Col. Querubin distinguished himself in the battle of Kauswagan, spearheading the campaign against the MILF, the Abu Sayyaf, and other rebels. He fought the NPA. I hope to write more of his brave accomplishments later.

What I’d like to quote, though, was his motto expressed when he received his sword of honor on graduating from the Philippine Military Academy in 1979: "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and, loving fervor than silver and gold."

The other Medal of Valor awardee present was Major Cirilito E. Sobejana, PMA 1987, from Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental.

Sobejana was the officer who led the operation which tracked down and killed the founder of the Abu Sayyaf, Abdulrajik Abubakar Janjalani, in a pitched battle in Basilan on December 18, 1998. In that hand-to-hand encounter, Lito Sobejana’s right arm was shattered with bullets from an AK-47.

Refusing to have the arm amputated and determined to remain on active service, Sobejana underwent 9 surgical operations in Hawaii and the mainland USA. He recovered the use of arm and hand, and has just passed his latest physical tests, remaining very much in active service. In fact, Secretary Cruz is now going to tap his talents in organization. I hope that a series of planned television shows now being contemplated by Ms. Charo Santos of ABS-CBN gets underway, so that the nation may get to know the intimate and inspiring stories of brave men like Sobejana, Querubin – and, not the least, the next man I’m mentioning, the redoubtable, charismatic Col. Arturo "Art" Ortiz, whose popular nickname among younger officers and the rank and file is, would you believe, "Valor".

The most senior among the surviving Medal of Valor awardees, he earned the military’s highest honor in 1990, in Murcia, Negros Occidental.

Under cover of darkness, he led his troops through a grueling 11-hour cross country foot march, traversing through steep forested slopes, wide sugarcane fields and finally scaling a 1,000 foot ravine to strike a surprise against 300 enemies. In his two-hour gunbattle, his 606th Company killed 84 NPAs, captured eight, wounded 105 and recovered 33 firearms. This feat remains unsurpassed in the AFP’s long counterinsurgency campaign against the CPP/NPA.

But beyond his personal courage is an authenticity that is universally admired in the Armed Forces. He carries himself in his trademark simple and soldierly demeanor – always polite, respectful and gentlemanly. Though a recipient of the military’s highest honor, he does not bring along with him any swagger that may give you a hint about his accomplishments. He is known to put the welfare of his men first.

He always used the cash rewards from their firearms recoveries to buy much needed personal equipment for his men, when the Army could not provide the needed items.

Ortiz was taught a simple set of values at a very early age. The son of a miner, he was raised in miners’ bunkers where the communal living atmosphere strengthened his appreciation of the plight of poor people like him. He learned the value of independence by serving coffee and pandesal (bread) for miners coming off their night shift. Most importantly, I heard from him, he learned the concept of "following the harder right than the easier wrong," no matter what the personal consequences, from his father.

Time and space permit me to say no more. I have just retailed these stories to remind us in these despairing times of the worth, the capacity for gallantry and honor, of the Filipino. Our feeling of self-worth has been battered in recent months. Remembering our men of valor can only serve to rekindle our spirit.











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