Several weeks ago, we were informed of the pending motion to demolish one of the cadet barracks buildings in Fort del Pilar, and though the news was jolting, I thought nothing much of it until there were photos posted on the ongoing demolition.
The images were quite shattering.
I never got to stay in this building during my abbreviated time spent in the Academy, but I was quite familiar with it, as I had to visit quite a number of upperclassmen before and after taps, for some unfinished business elsewhere.
Regis Hall was also where the Headquarters, Tactics Group held office, at the lower floors and if you found yourself there during office hours, the reasons were grave, for sure. Otherwise, they were neat places to hide in at night, when you didn’t want to get found.
To be sure, quite a number of adventures transpired in the rooms and hallways of this building. And many a former cadet from the classes of the 70’s onward have either frightening tales or hilarious ones of this place – from rooms to the rooftop.
And this is why the destruction of Regis Hall means a lot to it’s former inhabitants and visitors.
While it may be true that nothing can erase the vividness of the memory of this edifice, future generations of cadets will have to content themselves with pictures and narratives of the adventures and misadventures that happened in the building that will now be replaced by another – sturdier, perhaps – with newer memories that have yet to be created.
Regis Hall will now continue to exist in the minds of those whose memories are beginning to fade, revitalized only during the small gatherings when stories are recounted and exchanged, lubricated by toxins of choice. Regis Hall will now be recalled along with the likes of other landmarks such as the Post Library, Lorenzo Hall, Central Barracks, the former quadrangle, which are forever etched into the memory banks of the Corps at that time when they were there.
Goodbye, Regis Hall. You were dreaded, longed for, a comfort, a bane and most of all, a home to a great many for at least a semester or trimester once upon a time.
You will live on in our hearts.
(Photo credits to Cavaliers Augusto “MarQ84” Marquez Jr. ’84 for the external views of the former Regis Hall, and two other Cavalier uppies and good friends for their images of what used to be a home for a great many cadets.)
Thank you, Precious, for this wonderful article honoring a young officer who died during the last quarter of the Marawi campaign, Captain Rommel Sandoval. Thanks too to Natashya Gutierrez of Rappler for her write-up. To you, Cavalier Rommel, my snappy salute!!! You embody what our alma mater song ever so gently inculcated in our hearts…
When bells for us are rung, And our last taps is sung
Let generations see, our country free!
Oh, Lead to righteous way, Those solid ranks of gray
Thy virtues to display, Academy, Oh hail to thee…
September 10, Day 111 of the Marawi Siege
The Marawi siege lasted from May 23 to Oct 23, 2017. On the third month, the 11th Scout Ranger Company was the only company that had not lost a soldier in the siege. Capt Rommel Sandoval was determined that none of his 50-man company would be left behind. He kept pounding the motto “Walang iwanan” (No one left behind) to his men.
Sept 10, Day 111 of the Marawi Siege, Sandoval’s men were tasked to retake one of the few remaining strongholds of the enemy. As the military closed in on the terrorists and continued to push them back towards Lanao Lake, the 5-story Landbank building was crucial for the Army’s advance. They had tried to retake it previously, but it was deadly dangerous. On that day however, Sandoval’s men were ready and determined.
Under Sandoval’s watch, they cleared the 5th floor, the 4th, the 3rd and then the 2nd. The 1st floor was more difficult. After dropping grenades to scare off any remaining terrorists hiding below, 3 rangers descended to the 1st floor before realizing it was still risky. The enemy spotted the 3 rangers as they backed up to return to the 2nd floor. There was a heavy exchange of fire.
In the gunfire, one of the men, Cpl Jayson Mante, was hit on his hand. As the other 2 managed to make it back to the 2nd floor, Mante chose instead to drop to his stomach. He knew his injury would slow him down, and that he would expose himself if he tried to come back up. A concerned Sandoval sent 4 troopers to try to recover Mante, who at this point had suffered several injuries from enemy fire. He lay still on the 1st floor, waiting for death.
Knowing the military would not leave Mante behind, the enemies watched closely, aiming at any soldier who tried to come down from the 2nd floor to save him. Platoon leader 2Lt Arvie Ventura who constantly radioed updates to Sandoval from the 2nd floor, recalled that Sandoval came down to where he was to assess the situation himself after several failed attempts. “Suddenly, he disappeared. I didn’t notice he was gone,” Ventura said.
Sandoval had found a hole created by the enemy that led him to another building, another route to save Mante. When he saw that Mante was no longer moving, Sandoval made a decision. He instructed his men to give him cover fire, and ran towards Mante. “He didn’t hesitate,” Ventura recalled. “When he got there, he checked Cpl Mante’s pulse, and as he tried to pull him to safety, the enemy spotted him. His first hit was on his side. Sandoval let out a scream. but it wasn’t a scream of agony or pain,” said Ventura, “it was an angry scream, a frustrated scream. He was so angry, I could see it on his face.”
Even after he was hit, Sandoval turned towards the enemy, aimed and fired back. The enemy hit him on his neck, then fatally on his cheek. Ventura said Sandoval managed to radio in his final words: “I got hit.” As the bullets came flying in, Sandoval, in his last moments, was still thinking of his men. He crawled on top of Mante to shield him from getting hit further. When they recovered Sandoval’s body, bullets were lodged in his chest. “He chose to take all the bullets for his troops,” Ventura said.
He was soon to be promoted to major after years of excellent service. The war was coming to an end. He was so close to coming home.
Lt Col Jose Jesus Luntok, Sandoval’s immediate superior, and commander of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion said, “I had 6 companies under me. He was the ace of the Battalion. All hard objectives, I gave to him. He planned, he led, he was the most dependable.” Lt Gen Carlito Galvez III, Sandoval’s mentor at the Philippine Military Academy and Commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said “Rommel could have been one of the best leaders of his time.”
Sandoval was commended by the presence of no less than President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo during his necrological service last Sept 15 at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.
Ani Ello Sandoval, the love of his life
Ani Ello Sandoval, Rommel’s wife, comes from a family of Air Force men. She met Rommel through her brother, who was the squad leader at PMA in Baguio. It was Scout Ranger Col Dennis Eclarin who introduced me to this good-looking, very friendly mestiza lady during the 67th founding anniversary of the Scout Rangers at Camp Tecson, in San Miguel, Bulacan. The event was attended by President Duterte to honor the 51 Scout Rangers who gave their lives in the Marawi Siege.
Ani disclosed that she did not mind the contrast between Rommel’s humble beginnings in a farm in Bauan, Batangas and her growing up in Alabang, manila, attending the elite Woodrose School and its Opus Dei University of Asia and the Pacific, for she was very much in love and looked up to him.
Out of the 17 years of togetherness, 7 of which they were married, she patiently waited for him as he was assigned in various places in Jolo to Samar, Bohol, Negros, and back again to Jolo. She explained (she had been inculcated) that a soldier’s wife counts second to one’s duty to his country, and that she may never accompany him to any of his assignments. “Meantime, I became an event planner and arranged a holiday trip together as soon as the siege is over.”
Ani described her decade and a half with him as “the best years of my life.” On the morning he died, Ani said she received a text from him at 6:47am. “Good morning, B. Trabaho muna. (Off to work.) we will get the Landmark today.” That was it. That was all.
“I reminded myself, he was never mine to begin with. he reminded me it was always duty, honor, country. I’m giving him back to the Lord. I thank the Lord He gave me a very good man.” Ani said.
After 5 months of blood, sweat and tears, Marawi City is finally free. Marawi’s sons and daughters can now sleep in peace, finally delivered from the terrifying bomb blasts and sniper fire. The skies are blue once again, as though signaling the return of peace and tranquility in the area. The sound of chirping birds have returned. They are back where there used to be just the billowing smoke from crumbling buildings, and the constant stacatto of deadly machine-gun and mortar fire.
Marawi has suffered much from the war. The death and destruction is still evident in many of the streets of Marawi’s central business district. Truly, it was distressing to witness the ravages of war as the government’s elite assault forces stormed in to flush out the dreaded ISIS elements from the city.
And the job isn’t over yet. We must look ahead at the gargantuan task of rebuilding this once-bustling city.
Looking back, there are hidden gems of goodwill that must be surfaced from the rubble of hatred and devastation. For in the midst of all the misery were many poignant episodes of heroism and humanity that the Marawi incident gifted us with.
When the war erupted, many people were caught by surprise. Muslims and Christians alike did not know who to trust, what to do, where to go. In many cases, when the ISIS force suddenly surfaced, Muslims hid Christians in their homes so that they would not be taken hostage by the ISIS fighters. Such acts of kindness and bravery were repeated countless times, saving many Christians left isolated in the predominantly Muslim community.
A group of young Muslims braved the danger of the ISIS threat, walking the seemingly-abandoned streets, exposing themselves unnecessarily, looking for civilians left behind. Armed only with megaphones to call out stragglers inside the deserted homes, this group of steel-hearted men fancied themselves as a ‘suicide squad’. Nonetheless, they were able to bring out many innocent civilians, reuniting them with families worried sick over their welfare.
Soldiers took great risks and made personal sacrifices to rescue and save Muslim and Christian hostages alike. Some were injured, some have taken the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives in the process. A Scout Ranger commander would sacrifice his own life for his wounded sergeant who was wounded and pinned down in close-quarter battle. Another Scout Ranger lieutenant braved an ongoing firefight, to negotiate a ceasefire that would eventually lead to the release of some hostages. He laid down his rifle, called his people to stand down, removed his helmet and body armor, exposed himself, if only to show sincerity to the hostile militants.
The assaulting troops made sure that cultural sensitivities were observed. Strict instructions were given to the troops to make sure that this was followed. Bodies of dead fighters were treated with respect. The Air Force were under strict instructions not to bomb the mosques, even if they knew that the mosques were being used to manufacture more bombs, and house observers and snipers. Only small arms fire was used to deter fighters firing from these religious establishments. Even before the firing stopped, plans were being readied to repair damages in these mosques.
In the dawn encounter that brought down top leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the soldiers elected not to shoot while the terrorists were moving with the hostages. Both were taken out with clean shots, as the soldiers made sure that no hostages would be imperiled.
While the fighting raged, soldiers and other government agencies raced to provide comfort to both the Muslim and Christian refugees. The conditions in the evacuation centers were certainly not the best, but they strove to make it better, particularly for the impressionable kids who had been traumatized by the war. As the PNP SAF troopers prepared to leave for Luzon after the campaign, scores of children crowded the buses crying, acknowledging the strong bond the troopers had developed with the kids.
And as the fighting ended, our military forces were withdrawn as quietly as possible from the frontlines. There was no gloating over an enemy’s downfall, no loud victorious display in Marawi. Just respect for the fallen – be they comrade or adversary, care for the wounded, sympathy and support for the evacuees. The government immediately led talks on rebuilding the city, on strengthening the ties between the Muslim and Christian communities, on reconciliation and the need for more collaboration.
The fight in Marawi was contained solely by Philippine soldiers. ISIS tried desperately to make it an international war. They poured in fighters and support from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries in the Middle East. They called for more support from all over the world. But the fact that they were quelled decisively in a short span of time, and by a purely local force, has made them lose face and will dampen their recruitment efforts at the global level. It is something that we, as a nation, can be proud of.
Marawi has gone through a lot of pain. Her pain is the country’s pain as well. And as the fighting has subsided, it is time to rehabilitate and rebuild. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the Marawi siege. From the root causes of the siege, the need to improve the conditions prevailing in our Muslim communities, the need for more attention for our Southern frontiers, the need for more government presence, the need for more goodwill and collaboration, etc. On the other hand, we also learned much about our government agencies’ capabilities in major disaster events such as this. And we learned about the needs of our Armed Forces as well. We must not let the Marawi incident pass without learning from it. We must not allow the Marawi siege to happen elsewhere. Never again.
Today, Marawi may look battered and punch-drunk. But she will survive. She will recover, she will be better from the experience. From the ruins of the old Marawi shall rise a better, stronger, more resilient Marawi. With God’s will, with the sympathy and goodwill coming from across the globe, and with the lessons in humanity etched in blood and tears, Marawi shall rise again.
May God bless the people who have worked together – and continue to work together – to help rebuild Marawi. May God bless the Philippines. Let us all join hands in this noble endeavor to rebuild this paradise. Inshallah.
The die is cast. Last Thursday, simultaneous rallies were conducted in Manila and Cebu in order to highlight the growing awareness for the ‘Peping Resign’ campaign. Led by sports figures Mon Fernandez and Doc Perry Mequi, the rallies were a great jumpstart to the move to finally wrest control of the reins of power from the mediocrity, the incompetence, and the lack of vigor that defined Peping and his hapless sports mafia. As more and more people become aware of the sad plight of our athletes, and the bleak future for our youth in general, leaders from different sectors of our society are slowly banding together to show Peping the door ever so painlessly.
The revered Doc Perry Mequi makes his voice heard.
Peping has been at the helm of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) since 2005. He is by far the longest reigning POC President since its creation in 1975. His reign has also proved to be the least productive, the most embarrassing. Here are the results of the SEA Games during his incumbency:
2005 (1st place) – 113 G, 84 S, 94 B
2007 (6th place) – 41 G, 91 S, 96 B
2009 (5th place) – 38 G, 35 S, 51 B
2011 (6th place) – 36 G, 56 S, 77 B
2013 (7th place) – 29 G, 34 S, 37 B
2015 (6th place) – 29 G, 36 S, 66 B
2017 (6th place) – 24 G, 33 S, 64 B
From the hallowed heights of the top spot in 2005, Peping has managed to drag us down to the depths at 6th place. At 6th, we are the lowest among the original members, which is also composed of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. We have even been surpassed by Vietnam, a new member which had just experienced the painful ravages caused by decades of war. At one time, we have even gone as low as 7th behind a financially-crippled Myanmar!
We are second only to Indonesia in population, which provides us a clear advantage in talent base. We are third in terms of GDP, which clearly tells us that financial resources should not be a problem to support our athletes. Where lies the problem? How do you explain those years when we sunk lower and lower until we became the butt of jokes among our Asean neighbors?
Peping’s team once again talked of a lofty 50-gold haul for the recently-concluded SEA Games. What did we get? We slid even lower, with only a 24-gold harvest. What happened? Cynthia Carreon, Peping’s Chief of Mission (COM) could only give a simple answer: “The athletes tried hard, but it happened that they couldn’t beat the others.” After the disaster, Peping simply shrugged it off and talked about preparing for the next one; as though it didn’t really matter to him that we didn’t hit our goal.
Peping and his sports mafia
Peping and his sports mafia are all too old, too callous, and too blind to know the harsh impacts of these oft-repeated debacles. He fails miserably to understand that the regular acceptance of defeat and mediocrity is eating up on our people’s dignity and pride. It makes lackluster performance acceptable, and it portrays the Filipinos as a weak and corrupt people. Peping is so focused on saving his own image as POC head that he fails to realize that there is a bigger stake out there; and that is: the need to protect the country’s image.
What an irony! For a man who has fought Marcos for overstaying in Malacanang, and for allegedly abusing his position as President, here he is practically modeling himself after Marcos. People wonder how the Yellow Army now feel about Peping’s insistence on staying. There is clearly no more nobility in this fight, just plain and simple hypocrisy.
Peping can still salvage a measure of respect by resigning. But should he insist on staying, people will only see through the greed and lust for power. Hence, there will be great condemnation and shame should he opt to remain. Peping should save himself from the ignominy of being booted out. Resign now, and the sports world will still applaud him for his glorious sacrifice.
At 83 years old, he still wants to lead the POC.
After 13 years in power, Peping’s evil empire is finally showing signs of cracking up. With calls for Peping to resign growing louder and louder, even the members of his inner circle are already trying to find their individual exit strategies to make themselves acceptable, once a new order comes in. Many NSA Presidents are keeping their cards close to their chests now, as a realignment of forces in the POC General Assembly is being discussed in whispers. Everyone is trying to find the right insurance ticket in order to survive the incoming storm. It is time to ‘call a friend’.
PSC Commisioner Mon Fernandez leads the Cebu rally.
Peping and his evil empire will fall in infamy. It is just a matter of time. Who sinks with him and who stays remains to be seen. Who will remain to pick up the pieces? Who will take up the cudgels for the new order? Who will chart the new course for the new POC? We hope that the sharks are unmasked for who they truly are. We hope that the new group will have nothing but the best of intentions for the country and its athletes, and is ready to take on this noble undertaking.
Boredom, stupidity, vanity, even search for a meaning came with my youth. Too much time did not come with it, though. I had to work for my keep.
I was a student leader during the days of unrest. I threw bottles on buses during transport strikes, attended a few teach-ins, led a demonstration to skip class(and got severely punished for such), sympathized with the radicals and thought Mao’s little Red book and Amado Ma. Guerrero’s Philippine society and Revolution were cool and Amado K. Hernandez’s Isang Dipang Langit was my generation’s Huling Paalam.
It was in one of those teach-ins when doubts started unraveling the romanticism of a Communist revolution. I asked how all the rosy things that they promised could be achieved and how the proletariat could rule. How the dictum “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” would be a reality. All the answer I got was “makibaka, huwag matakot”.
Then Marcos declared Martial Law. There was media silence that day yet life at the “palengke” moved just like before. I called several former classmates in high school wondering if they knew anything. Nobody did. Strangely, I felt calm. I was never part of KM, SDK, NUSP and other radical student groups. I had nothing to worry about.
A few days later, the Metrocom descended in Galas and bulldozed the whole squatters area to the ground. The tattooed panty-wearing gang bangers of my neighborhood who used to binge drink alcohol right on the streets, harass passers by and stage mortal combat with knives, bolos and home made “panas” were gone. Suddenly, the “palengke” was peaceful, even quiet when curfew came. Perhaps, more than anything else, discipline was what the Filipinos needed.
School resumed soon after with visible order on the streets. People lined up at jeepney and bus stops, in banks, in restaurants. People waited for their turn. Civility and respect were imposed. If only the people inculcated such into their being.
Personal handicap and God’s gifts made me take the PMA entrance test on December of 1972. Passing that started the trek I would always be thankful for, one I would do all over again.
During the NP screening interview, Dr. Dayan asked why do I want to enter the Academy. Without batting an eyelash, I said, to serve my country, sir.
There are more to this than sports competitions and boodling to the max. It goes beyond the cheering, the kayahizing, the laughter. It goes beyond the passing of time and the obvious tolls of age, beyond what we can recall collectively and perhaps re-experience. It is what youth and idealism are all about.
It goes all the way back to Loakan. Fort del Pilar. Philippine Military Academy. That is where we all came from regardless of birth and circumstance. We are all son’s and daughters of PMA.
For two nights and three days, the former plebes of The Cadet Corps, Armed Forces of the Philippines, savored he camaraderie and fellowship reserved but for them. No rank is considered, no class is a barrier, no status is paid attention to. We are the Corps. Even blood mutes its significance.
The final tally showed the East Coast Renegades reclaiming the JC Cup from the Midwest Spartans. But to say some are going home as losers is not only wrong, it is an absolute denial of what transpired. There are no losers in the games we love. There are only winners when the pursuit goes beyond victory. Between “more than brothers”, the score is just a number. For how can one rejoice in a brother’s defeat?
Three days can not be enough but we will take what we are offered and look forward to JC 2018 and those that will come after. Our stint in PMA has been over a long time ago. But “where ever we maybe, o’er land or deep blue sea” or in far away foreign lands we now call home, we will surely “raise a song for Thee, Academy, Oh Hail to Thee”.
Yes, by trying our best and by enjoying each other’s company, we paid tribute to our Alma Mater. In the same way a mother’s children do. Without masks nor misgivings. Just pure and honest camaraderie.
The Koreans did it again. Yup, Korea once again proved to be the country’s bane as they unceremoniously dismantled the Gilas Team 118-86. Not only did it put a sudden end to the Philippine campaign in the FIBA Asia Cup 2017; it totally embarrassed us with the huge margin we never imagined possible.
Courtesy of Fibaasia.com)
Gilas had earlier scored impressive wins over China, Iraq and Qatar; topping Group B of the qualifying round, and briefly raising expectations for another podium finish. The win over the defending champs and perennial championship contender China was particularly ecstatic as it got everyone dreaming of the possibility of another championship.
We were down to the last 8. (courtesy of fibaasia.com)
And then came the Koreans.
We have had a long running history with South Korea for cage supremacy in Asia. Long before China and the West Asian countries asserted their height and heft on the hardcourt, it was almost always South Korea which would give us our biggest challenge in this game we so love.
The curse of Korea? (courtesy of fibaasia.com)
Korea had given Philippine fans many heartaches in basketball. So that when reports of a possible early face-off with our arch-rivals loomed, there was more than the customary expression of anxiety seen in the faces of diehard Filipino fans. Will the curse of Korea manifest itself once again?
Indeed, that concern was justified.
The Koreans came in superbly prepared. Their offense hummed perfectly like a well-oiled machine, breaking down our man-defense with precision pick-and-rolls and fluid movement without the ball. The South Koreans have learned their basketball fundamentals well, and they move as a team, unlike Filipino cagers who may be more gifted and thus, rely more on individual talent.
Defense was the key. The lack of it was the big lesson to be learned in this episode. While our offense worked well as evidenced by the 86-point offensive output, we failed miserably to adjust on defense; giving up a horrendous 118 points, the largest scoring output by far registered in the tournament! Chalk it perhaps to the lack of preparation time due to the PBA schedule. But our defensive options were simply too limited. We didn’t have any defensive focus, relying entirely on the offense to try to outscore our perennial nemesis.
The Korean coach found an answer to shut down Terence Romeo after his torrid 2nd quarter scoring spree. Terence was blanked the rest of the way in the second half. Korea did it by employing a 3-2 zone to meet Terence way up early. This also stymied Jason Castro’s dribble-drive option as the wingmen found ways to shut down the driving lanes.
Korea had an answer for Terence and Jason come the 3rd quarter. (courtesy of fibaasia.com)
On the other end, we failed to take the Korean offense out of their rhythm. They had an answer for every option our man-defense dealt them. They executed the pick-and-roll countless times, and no adjustments were made at all. They found the open shooter countless times, again no adjustments. And when they found their groove, there was no more stopping the barrage of three-point bombs coming from all angles.
Defense, defense, defense! We cannot attribute the 118-point Korean output to good luck. We cannot call out their atrociously-high 77% shooting percentage to pure luck. Let’s call a spade a spade. We failed miserably in defense! Korea never had their scoring percentage reach above 60% in all their previous outings. Only against us.
This is not to put down anybody. This is simply to highlight the big lesson we must learn from this debacle. It is said that a good offense will win games. But a good, steady defense will win tournaments.