WAYWARD & FANCIFUL. They are soldiers. By Gail Ilagan

And so, when the division was pulled into the eye of the storm following what appears to be a contract hit on a 20-year-old substitute teacher just weeks after the turnover, I just had to bite my tongue. Yes, it was – still is – a very hard thing to do.

The self-imposed inhibition holds. I won’t comment on the embattled 10ID. I leave it to my favorite soldiers to fight their battles and win the war. At the end of the day, such is their job, not mine.

I’d like to comment on 10ID’s current commander though. For some time now, this column has been taking note of Gen. Mapagu’s accomplishments at work. I don’t see why I should stop marking the milestones in this exemplary soldier’s career just because it wouldn’t serve public interest for this column to scrutinize the decisions he takes in his current command.  

On the 112th anniversary of the Philippine Army last March 23, Gen. Mapagu received the Philippine Legion of Honor award. This column takes note of the prestigious honor in recognition of the impact of Gen. Mapagu’s work in enhancing the capability of the Philippine Army to respond to the call of the times. Congratulations, sir.

Some of my readers in the AFP call me to task for my criticisms of botched operations and unseemly soldier conduct. A few call me to task for my criticisms, period. That’s because they only get to read me when I criticize soldiers and AFP units. My loyal readers could tell them that I do write – like I’m doing now – to acknowledge outstanding soldiers and exemplary soldier conduct.

In fact, I probably write so much on those lines that some of my readers who don’t like soldiers have criticized this column for what they perceive to be its pro-military tone. That’s because the AFP and the man in uniform would never earn their approval no matter what. 

Some would rather I didn’t write about the military at all. They suggest I stick to – among other things – parenting articles! Sorry, my kids just absolutely refuse to have their family life discussed so often and so openly these days. The other kids I work with have issues that are not open to discussion outside of the therapy environment.

I’m digressing.  

Anyway, we just can’t ignore the military and the influence it plays on our communal life, can we? I won’t write about the 10ID while Papa Rey is at its helm. And no, absolutely not – that wasn’t me who wrote all those verdugo postings now bannered everywhere downtown.

I said I won’t write about the 10ID, but I’ll still criticize the AFP when the criticism would hold up to reason and rules of ethical conduct. Similarly, I’ll still write about the military and exemplary soldiers when I find them.

When I wrote about the February 10 turnover ceremonies in Camp Panacan, I started the article by quoting a portion of my phone conversation with the birthday boy in Lipa. That birthday boy is another soldier who gets featured in my column ever so often. Suffice that to say that he is among my favorite soldiers, too. 

In this column, I sometimes call him Paddy Bear. Other times I call him the gallant flyer. Once, I referred to him as a father who mothers. On the phone, I call him Kuya Jun. His real name is Restituto F. Padilla, Jr. He is a full colonel in the Philippine Air Force, and currently the commandant of the PAF Flying School in Lipa. Just days after Gen. Mapagu got his Legion of Honor decoration, it was also announced that Kuya Jun was among the 2009 Ten Outstanding Philippine Soldiers (TOPS). 

Two hits. Gee. Do I know my soldiers or do I know my soldiers?

ree years back, Col. Padilla’s boyish good looks regularly showed up on local television newscasts and on the front pages of the local dailies. He was then assigned here in command of the Tactical Operations Group-11 (TOG-11) at the Davao Air Base. In fact, it was his direction of hundreds of zero accident air combat missions in Mindanao that was highlighted in his qualification for the TOPS.

But, of course, that isn’t all that there is to Jun Padilla’s record as a soldier. This column had taken note of the peacetime missions he authorized, as well as the community work among the Lumads in the hinterlands that he personally took part in. I have also documented his leadership in exposing the soldiers under his command to the Mindanao discourse on intercultural dialogue.

Jun Padilla sets the mold for the PAF spokesperson, a post he once filled. His serene smile hints at a very complex sense of the sublime. He is unfailingly polite, highly intelligent and very articulate. He never abbreviates his grammatically correct text messages. He reads anything and everything and is quick to grasp the bottomline. 

He delights in waking up before the sun and holding his infant daughter in his arms.

Deeply spiritual, he is the most adult person I know, and one who has no need for the professional services of a psychologist. In fact, like a father confessor, he’s been known to psychologize me. Good enough. That frees me to delight in being his friend.

The respective honors Gen. Mapagu and Col. Padilla reaped this week are not exactly a surprise to this writer. And while I celebrate their achievements by saying “Well done, my soldiers”, like the good soldiers that they are, these two denizens of my columns would most likely flash a serene smile my way and just soldier on as they have always done.

So what’s a soldier? Let’s take a leaf from the legendary Charles de Gaulle:

“Men who adopt the profession of arms submit on their free will to a law of perpetual constraint. Of their own accord they reject the right to live where they choose, to say what they think, to dress as they like. From the moment they become soldiers it needs but an order to settle them in place, to move them to that, to separate them from their families and dislocate their normal lives. On the word of command they must rise, march, run, endure bad weather, go without sleep or food, be isolated in some distant post, work till they drop. They have ceased to be the masters of their fate. If they drop in their tracks, if their ashes are scattered to the four winds, that is all part and parcel of their job.” (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says).