A Philippine soldier's first Father's Day celebration
MANILA, Philippines – Last year, 2nd Lieutenant Salacoddin Mangidia led Philippine soldiers stationed in a dilapidated Philippine Navy vessel purposely marooned on Ayungin Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, to protect Philippine territory.
Mangidia, who began a 4-month stint at the BRP Sierra Madre on June 17, 2014, could not leave his post when his wife, Ensign Haidelyn L. Mangidia, gave birth to their first child in August last year.
He was not around to witness the difficult birth of their firstborn, Sharif, and only saw him months later.
This is why Haidelyn, a member of the Philippine Navy stationed in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, is eagerly anticipating her husband's first "real" Father's Day celebration on Sunday, June 21, the Armed Forces said in a news release.
Haidelyn, now 3 months pregnant with their second child, still gets angry when she recalls how Salacoddin told her a week before his deployment that he could not fulfill his promise to go on paternity leave.
“I can never refuse when duty calls. It is part of my sworn duty as a soldier,” he said.
Burdened, Salacoddin set off for Ayungin Shoal, where he and his fellow soldiers faced a different battle – almost 4 months of loneliness, isolation, and homesickness onboard the BRP Sierra Madre. (READ: Troops fear 'miscalculation' in next mission to Ayungin)
“I filled our calendars with things to do to fight off the effects of boredom and loneliness. We had TINEs (Troops Information and Education) where we deliver presentations of our respective specializations. We also had water games and days where we outdo each other in lifting weights,” he said.
He added that apart from keeping them occupied, the activities he organized for his group were also for the maintenance of their mental and physical health, and to boost morale. (READ: Fear for Philippine troops facing China 'enemy')
Salacoddin made sure that they ate meals together like a real family. Evenings were spent watching movies on DVDs and sometimes singing songs. He did all these as officer-in-charge despite having his own worries about his wife, who, up to that point, refused to contact him.
On the day his wife gave birth, Salacoddin handed a letter he wrote for her to dzRH anchorman Sherwin Alfaro. Alfaro had visited the BRP Sierra Madre to give radios, and to interview Salacoddin and his men. He also volunteered to be a “postman” to make sure that the group's letters reached their families.
Salacoddin said the only way to contact troops stationed in Ayungin Shoal is through a satellite phone.
While Salacoddin’s letter was traveling across the West Philippine Sea with Alfaro on a civilian fishing boat, Haidelyn was undergoing a difficult labor in the Manila Naval Hospital.
“I had hematoma. I lost a lot of blood. Four bags of blood were needed for transfusion,” Haidelyn said.
It took a week for Salacoddin's letter to reach Haidelyn. She finally sent a text message to the BRP Sierra Madre to notify her husband of their son' birth.
“I am sad about not being there with her to witness our son’s birth. I think every father in the world would want to see that special moment,” he said.
At the end of his BRP Sierra Madre stint in September 2014, Salacoddin finally met his newborn son. He said he had no ill feelings towards his profession, even after missing the momentous occasion. He said he had prepared for possible family conflicts that might arise regarding his job.
Advice to fellow soldier-fathers
“The only advice I would give to soldiers and other fathers like me is to always keep an open communication with your love ones. With the nature of our job, we cannot escape instances where we and our families have to suffer separation,” Salacoddin said.
On Haidelyn’s part, she said there should always be patience and understanding.
Salacoddin is currently stationed in Cavite to undergo schooling, giving him an opportunity to make up for lost time. – Rappler.com