Thursday, August 23, 2007


The following is a privilege speech I delivered during the Plenary Session of the House of Representatives on 22 AUgust 2007. I took photos of the event, one of which is shown here.

Yesterday morning, I attended the military honors given to the 15 gallant Marines who were brought to the Philippine Marine Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio. With their families solemnly walking behind the hearses, their brother Marines lined the avenue leading from the PMC HQ all the way to the gymnasium where funeral services were held. It was a stirring sight, all those Marines standing at attention on the sides of the road in their crisp uniforms holding snappy salutes to honor their fallen comrade with the Marine Drum and Bugle Team sounding out the funeral march.

None of the honored dead were related to me. Nor were any of them my constituents in my district. In fact, I did not even know them personally. But having grown up inside that very camp, having been used to the sight of the Marine dress blue, “malunggay” camouflage fatigues, or the chants that they chorus while doing their road run, and most of all, being a son of a red-blooded Marine, I cannot help but have a sense of affinity with the brotherhood of The Few, The Proud, The Philippine Marines.

My own father spent half of his 35-year military career in Mindanao. From time to time, he brought me along with him in his assignments, in the company of the gallant warriors from the sea, their discipline and bravery earning my admiration and hero-worship.

Many times I am asked, having grown up amongst Marines and having a father who served in that esteemed organization, why I did not join the military and follow my father’s footsteps. To that question, my answer is that I did not join because I do not want my family to experience the same fear and anxiety that my mother, my siblings and myself felt while my father was out on assignment, not knowing whether he will come home alive or in a casket.

As I observed the grieving families of the slain soldiers, I could only say a prayer of thanks to the Almighty for sparing our family from such sorrow, and an appeal for these families to be given the guidance and strength to bear their loss and accept their loved ones’ fates. Needless to say, I felt the grief of their loss, the anguish in the hearts and the pain of an unexpected death of a loved one. After all, we all belong to the Marine family.

But more than that, as a member of this House of Representatives, I grieved for the loss of our country’s fine young men, who joined the Armed Forces of the Philippines on their volition, knowing that one day, the supreme sacrifice will be asked of them. So early in their careers, they gave up what many of us will hold on to for self-centered reasons.

And such sacrifice was also given by their families, who lent their sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands to their country, accepting the reality that one day Death will take them away, and whatever the government can give back to them as an obligation and gesture of appreciation, they can only accept without asking for more.

As I viewed each of the fallen heroes now forever silent in their caskets, I noticed that except for two in their early 30’s, all of them were in their 20’s. Young as I still am, I am even old enough to be their “kuya”.

I heard and read commentaries that the loss of these 15 brave Marines was a waste of lives. Perhaps those who say that look at it in terms of the passing of these soldiers at such young ages. Indeed, with the long career ahead of them, they could have gone up the ladder of success if their lives were not snuffed out early.

Or perhaps they see it as a waste because someone may have been at fault in sending them into harm’s way, unwittingly sealing their fate in the hands of the enemy.

Indeed, as we mourn the deaths of these Marines and those who were killed several weeks ago, we must determine the command responsibility of those who may have committed lapses or errors and hold them accountable, if any. Without immediately assuming anyone’s fault or guilt, the government must provide answers to the questions their families are asking.

But allow me to raise an objection to the view that the lives lost were wasted. I do not want to demean the sacrifice of these young men by saying that it was all for nought. Whether their deaths were the result of a tragic mistake or it was an unavoidable tragedy, one thing is clear---these men stuck to their oaths and gave their lives for this country. The reasons for them being sent into the hinterlands of Basilan only to die there may or may not be righteous, but their personal conviction to uphold their oath to defend this country to the death is enough to earn honor; that they are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice so that democracy may flourish and the enemies of the state be defeated is an accomplishment in itself that sets them apart from the rest of the Filipinos.

They may have passed on to eternity in the sunrise of their lives, but they have proven without a doubt that they have lived relevant lives in such a short span of time. I would dare say that with their act of selflessness, they have fulfilled much more than anyone in this House of Representatives, myself included.

Let us not call their lives a waste. Their deaths may have been unnecessary, but it was also the crest of their relevance on this world. The sign at the entrance of the Libingan ng mga Bayani puts it more aptly--- “I do not know the dignity of his birth, but I do know the glory of his death.”

Ours is a volunteer Armed Forces. When Filipino men sign up for the privilege of wearing the uniform of the AFP, much more the Philippine Marines, they know that the danger of them perishing in the performance of their duty was clear and present. As they took their oaths, the unspoken portion of what they swore was the acceptance of the fact that part of their duty was to die for us and this country.

And for this, the nation owes them its gratitude. They deserve to be honored.

As I mingled among the Marines who viewed their fallen comrades, I could not help but try to read the thoughts that were hounding their minds. Some seemed to think, “will I end up this way?”. Some intently looked at the disfigured faces of their comrades in the caskets. Some whispered prayers for the dead. While some showed determined faces, seemingly wanting to go out into the field for retribution.

But whatever thoughts they had, one thing is definite, we must provide a reason for them to fight and possibly die for their country. We cannot order them into battle with the thought that their lives will just to go to waste. We must acknowledge that as soldiers, their lives are not a waste. We must let them know that when called upon to give the ultimate sacrifice, the country will be generous in heaping gratitude and acknowledgment for their selfless offering.

But lest I be misunderstood, allow me to say that while I call for the country to give premium to the lives and the sacrifice of these soldiers, let me be quick to add that the government should not drag its feet in determining if the loss of lives of these valiant soldiers could have been avoided. And if so, who are those responsible and what sanction or penalty they must be meted.

As we give our soldiers the reason to fight, so too, must we give them an assurance that we give value to their lives and will do everything to preserve it, just as they will do anything to preserve our way of life.

Soon we will be tackling the budget of the national government. Among those that will be presented will be the requirements of the Armed Forces in fulfilling their duty.

It need not be said that the AFP needs a boost in terms of the equipment and compensation. That is the usual concern.

But what we also need to give priority when we consider their budget is the amount of resources that we will appropriate for the support of our troops in the frontlines.

For their frontline operations, there is a need to provide for adequate medical support such as field hospitals, supplies for treatment of battlefield wounds, plasma expanders, pain killers, medevac facilities, training for combat paramedics, and other means of saving lives of soldiers who are wounded in combat.

If we believe that the life of one soldier is valuable, then we must make efforts to preserve it, considering the fact that we send him into harm’s way.

And if he is called upon to give the ultimate sacrifice, we must also ensure that those he leaves behind will benefit from the nation’s gratitude.

This afternoon, I was a guest in a television program where families of those recently killed in Basilan was interviewed. I had the privilege of chatting with a cousin of one of the 15 Marines. She revealed to me that she is a widow, that her husband also served in the AFP but was killed in action some ten years ago. What concerned her now is the livelihood of the family of the Marine killed in action.

She personally sought my help in addressing the difficulty that she, as a widow of a fallen AFP soldier, is experiencing. She said that as of the moment, she only receives half of the salary of her slain husband as a benefit. With the children that were left behind by her husband, she could not make both ends meet.

She also requested if such benefit could be made tax exempt or at least the amount of what the government takes could be lessened to help them cope.

To me, her request was not baseless, nor was it unreasonable. Granting it could be a way of expressing this nation’s gratitude for our soldiers who sacrifice everything for our way of life.

If we expect our soldiers to live a Spartan life and die for us, then let us do our part and make their sacrifice worth it for them.

Before I end, please allow me to give honor and dignity to these fallen Marines by letting their names resound in this august hall:


Allow me to close with a passage that was read during the military honors ceremony for the fallen Marines:

It is the SOLDIER, not the reporter, who gave us freedom of the press;

It is the SOLDIER, not the poet, who gave us freedom of speech;

It is the SOLDIER, not the politicians, who ensure that we live freely and peacefully;

It is the SOLDIER who salutes the Flag, who serves beneath the Flag and whose coffin is eventually draped by the Flag.

We salute our brother-Marines whose lives they risk to protect our right to live…

Let us pray for our fallen Marine Heroes who gave up their lives for our beloved country.


Anonymous said...

Danilo Vergara, we last seen on august 2006, during his vacation leave in dumaguete city, negros oriental. Actually he is my friend and nieghbor not only that he also my co-working student at foundation university, before, we work as a janitor to get only free education at the university. To be a marines is in here dream of. He also a cadet reserved officer.. S3...He taking-up Bachelor of Science in Computer Science in the said university but he stop because he want to be a soldier.
I know him very well. He is kind, hardworking and good person.. one time our conversation is about my girl friend..he used to advice me.. that the only reason y i did not forget him. he have a lot of experiences in the university before but all in all i forget the details.. sometimes mga kalokohan.. sometimes good thing naman.. ang alam ko lang before is, he was in manila to have a further study for promotion, when the 14 marines died in basilan last july, i was thingking that he was in manila, thingking that di pa niya natapos yung study. But suddenly I heard the news that he is died on august clashes which i can't believe that he is included of the 15 marines. For me, it is the big lost of the family that he died since he is a good person. hope clashes in mindanao will be stop so that wala ng madamay pa..

thank you..

Ruffy Biazon said...

The loss of a good person is one that is surely to cause grief to the world...

But that good person's life should serve as an example of how we should live. His life should not be grieved but celebrated.

You are blessed to have known a hero.