Tall order. Jess is a worrier. Serving as Tambara editorial assistant in his last year in college, Jess displayed the kind of conscientiousness to self-flagellate on seemingly trivial lapses. In the week before his wedding, I found several occasions to remind him of his breathing exercises, most especially when he found out too late that what he took to be old rose for the bridal motif was actually burgundy.
It was probably cruel to tell Jess not to worry about his footloose ninang wandering the plains of Central Luzon on the eve of his wedding and just as he was in the throes of pre-wedding jitters. But school is about to start and I'm running out of time to indulge my itchy feet. His wedding seemed like the perfect opportunity to squeeze in the sights and sounds.
For some months now, I had been mulling about writing a paper on the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) standing on the edge of a new age where the traditional military solution is giving way to the exercise of unconventional warfare paradigms in winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the people. I can't write much about that if I'm trapped in the classroom. It's probably a little late in the academic year to start on that paper, but I could at least get some groundwork done.
Leaving Davao just as the sun was coming out on Friday, by midmorning I was having coffee with senior officers from the Army's Service Support Unit and Civil Military Operations at Ft. Bonifacio. I even did an unscheduled pop in on Jun Padilla – recently of the TOG-11, now the Secretary for Air Staff of the PAF (Philippine Air Force) in Villamor – before I had to take the bus to what was once the rice granary of the Philippines.
Thirteen hours before midnight. Where the highway forks, close your eyes, turn around, stop before you get dizzy. Where you're facing when you open your eyes is where you're headed. That road got me to Camp Tecson of the Philippine Army's First Scout Ranger Regiment in San Miguel, Bulacan. The 50-hectare training camp sits at the foot of the Sierra Madre. It was a long way from Davao.
The gallant men of the FSRR (First Scout Ranger Regiment) were celebrating coming back alive from a 40-km fun bike ride across rough roads that morning. It was a fine day to visit, with the regimental staff around to answer my sometimes audacious questions on the state of the AFP, the FSRR, and Philippine military geography. We talked about family and media, unconventional wisdom, Pacquiao, Burgos, and Duterte. Talk kept coming back to Compostela Valley, as the soldiers remembered details from my recent commentaries on this column and the news articles they read from the papers.
They made me sing for my supper, but I figured that was okay. Those battle-hardened men had taken worse assaults on their senses before I came along. Texting BGen. Reynaldo T. Mapagu a thank you for the warm reception, he texted back: "The rangers are privileged to have you as a friend and, if need be, as a critic." Hmm…mmm.
Yes, there are still some sectors in the military who don't find it a privilege to be viewed with a critical eye by the media or the academe. I changed hats quite a number of times in the few hours I was at Camp Tecson, but either way I found the FSRR not to be one of those insular, paranoid units.
I did get to Capas with ten minutes to spare before midnight that night. With a sigh of relief, Jess directed me to the 111 th kilometer marker of the Death March to find my bed for the night. (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 Universitywhere she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to[email protected]. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)