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My father, my savior

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2021 - 12:00am

One day in late 1982, some high-ranking officers of the Philippine Constabulary (PC) got together to find ways to deal with a pesky journalist who had been criticizing the military without letup.

Although it was one year after President Marcos lifted martial law in 1981, the soldiers and police officers were still gods to civilians.

“He’s been hitting us left and right, and it hurts. He might have been planted by the underground. We should tuck him away for good,” said one of the conferees.

“But, sir, he is a frustrated military officer. He didn’t pass the PMA (Philippine Military Academy) entrance examinations. He’s probably hitting us out of envy, not because he’s a subversive,” said another, obviously a PMA graduate.

“Besides, he’s a son of a retired officer who was a maverick,” another conferee butted in.

“If we take him out, we’re neutralizing one of our own. Let’s just leave the sonnabitch alone,” the same officer said.

Those top-ranking military officers were talking about me.

I learned about that fateful meeting from one of the participants who became my close friend later.

“If we take him out, we’re neutralizing one of our own. Let’s just leave the sonnabitch alone.”

Those words saved the day for me.

The “maverick” retired officer referred to was my father, Col. Ramon S. Tulfo, who bowed out of the service 12 years earlier, in 1970. Without him knowing it, my father saved my life.

*      *      *

My father started his military career as a lowly private in the Philippine Scouts, an adjunct organization of the US Army, composed of Filipino soldiers but headed by American officers.

At night, he studied law after his duty at Fort McKinley, headquarters of the US Army. It’s now Fort Bonifacio.

My father was a second lieutenant in the fledgling Philippine Army when the Second World War broke out.

Lieutenant Tulfo fought in Bataan and survived the Death March and the hardships of being a prisoner of war in Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac.

He met my mom, then 19 years old, in late 1945 in Davao City, in a prison camp for Japanese soldiers and civilians and Filipinos of Japanese parentage. He was a war crimes investigator.

After their second son, Felix, was born in 1948, my dad took my mom to Sulu, his first assignment in the reconstituted Philippine Constabulary.

Because of his exploits in Bataan, Lieutenant Tulfo took like a duck to water in that troubled area. He made a name for himself fighting Moro outlaws.

A memorable scene I remember as a five-year-old was a severed head, with blood still oozing from its neck, brought before my father in the officers’ quarters in Seith Lake, Sulu.

My father was grinning from ear to ear while returning the snappy salute of his soldiers who brought the severed head before him.

Dad would recall to me years later that it was the head of a Moro outlaw who beheaded one of his soldiers who went to town while on his day off.

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. That’s the language the Tausugs (Muslims of Sulu) understand. You earn their respect if you play their game,” he told me.

My father always had a new assignment every year while we, his children, were growing up. We always looked forward to his new assignments since it meant a ride by ship to new places and meeting new friends and classmates.

We didn’t know it then, but my father was being thrown like a ball from one place to another as punishment for insubordination.

He didn’t obey superiors when their orders violated his principles.

“I can hardly feed my family, sir, why should I collect bribes for you,” he once told a superior officer.

My dad retired poor when he could have made a fortune because his last assignment was as provincial commander in Zamboanga del Sur, then a smugglers’ haven.

In the present day, that assignment was like an officer being assigned to a province where jueteng is rampant.

We, your children, are so proud of you and we miss you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

*      *      *

Tucked away in a corner of the Ayala complex of skyscrapers in Makati is an oasis in Metro Manila’s concrete jungle, a place called Makati Garden Club.

The place is owned by a non-profit group formed by the Ayalas and left to its own devices.

A members-only fine dining restaurant, the Makati Garden Club and an antique shop sit inside the lush greenery.

People who have been invited to the restaurant by its members swear by the delicious European cuisine prepared by its Swedish chef, Robert Lilja.

Prominent personalities and dignitaries have dined in the restaurant, either as members or guests.

I happen to be a member, and the guests I invited – Americans, Europeans, Japanese and Mainland Chinese – praised the exquisite cuisine, as well as the romantic ambiance of the place.

Sad to say, the restaurant is closing in August to give way to new management who will take over the current one, which is headed by Lilja.

The present board of directors handling the Makati Garden Club wants Lilja replaced.

Most members are protesting; they want the current restaurant management to continue.

They say replacing Lilja is whimsical and capricious, as he has brought fame and many customers to the restaurant.

If the present board of Makati Garden Club thinks that replacing Lilja will earn the restaurant more profit, it should think again.

Customers go to a restaurant because of the chef who sometimes shoots the breeze with them, as does Lilja.

As for Lilja, he is a valuable catch for any café or restaurant, and the owners will certainly accept him with alacrity.

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