In the company of mentors
MANILA, Philippines – Memories of his own sister's sacrifices inspired Army 1Lt. Abel D. Porto to pay it forward to help the life of a young boy whom he met in the hinterlands of Sultan Kudarat 4 years ago.
Porto was a patrolling an NPA-infested village of Sucob in Columbio town when he was approached by two villagers. One of them was Arnold Batawan, a frail looking 15 year-old boy whose father was killed by suspected NPA bandits.
"Sir, I want you to take good care of my nephew because he was traumatized by the untimely death of his father. His mother could no longer afford to feed all four of his children," the nervous uncle pleaded.
A poor farmer's son himself, Porto felt the urge to extend a helping hand upon learning the sad plight of the young man in front of him.
"I can mirror myself in his situation so I decided to extend a helping hand to give him an opportunity to face a bright future," said Porto who was sent to school by his elder sister, Jael, until he was admitted to the Philippine Military Academy in 2004. Porto and his family grew up in the farmlands of Tinambac, Camarines Sur in Bicol.
"Ate Jael was single and 24 years old when she took responsibility of me and my other siblings. She knew our parents couldn't afford to send me to school so she devoted herself to support my education leading to my admission to PMA. I want to return the favor not only by supporting the education of my other siblings but also to a poor kid this time," said Porto, the seventh of 10 children.
Volunteering as the foster kuya (older brother), Porto brought young Arnold to his command post at the Columbio town where he sought the permission of his Commanding Officer, then 1st Lt Richard Dinayugan of Kiangan, Ifugao.
Knowing that Arnold had only finished primary education, Porto also recommended to Dinayugan that they send him to school.
Aware of the child recruitment efforts by the communist rebels, Dinayugan allowed Porto to take good care of Arnold inside the camp and encouraged his men to support Batawan's education by providing him anything he needed.
"Arnold was very diligent and good-mannered despite his lack of good education. My subordinates learned to love him as a brother so they provided him with clothes and even contributed an amount from their food allowance to support his high school education," said Dinayugan, a member of PMA Class 2006.
Hardwork and perseverance
Due to his educational deficiency, Arnold underwent special tutorial at Koronadal Comprehensive High School to improve his writing and reading skills.
Occasionally, the soldiers themselves, especially Porto and Dinayugan, served as his mentors. They gave him guidance and extra instruction to help him learn the lessons easily.
Tsg Jerry Iranzo, the Company First Sergeant, said that all soldiers belonging to Bravo Company unanimously decided to give financial support for Batawan so that he will be motivated to finish secondary education.
"Every soldier contributed P10.00 out of our food allowance so that Arnold can have something to spend while attending school," said Iranzo, a father of 7 children.
Motivated by the genuine care provided by his new family, Batawan burned candles to keep up with his school requirements. He learned to read and write, and, he also learned how to cook various Filipino dishes.
Through his hardwork and perseverance, Arnold finally graduated from Tupi National High School in South Cotabato on March 28, 2014. He was 20 years old.
He proudly marched with his fellow graduates to receive the much coveted diploma that he worked on for 4 straight years.
Because his mother was busy tending the farm in his far-away village, he requested his kuya, Lt Abel Porto, now the CMO officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion, to witness the momentous event. Porto gladly obliged to accompany Batawan and share his glorious moments during the graduation ceremonies.
"We know how poverty can mislead children to insurgency. We didn't want him to become like that so we ensured that he finish school and get more opportunities in life," he said.
Entering this new chapter in his life, Batawan expressed his intention to serve in the military as a soldier.
"I want to serve the people like my brothers in Bravo Company. I also want to help my family rise from poverty by sending my own siblings to school. I learned that there is hope through education," said Batawan. - Rappler.com
The author is commander of the 7th Civil Relations Group of the Armed Forces of the Philippines