BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – It was a dream that started when he was only 3 years old, a tiny toddler who was amazed by military vehicles and equipment on display at Fort Gregorio Del Pilar in Bagiuo City.
More than two decades later, Kristian Dave Abiqui stood before the Borromeo Field inside the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), a grown man of 23, the top graduate of the "Gabay-Laya" Class of 2016.
His father, Efren Abiqui, remembers that moment like it was yesterday.
"Nakita niya 'yung mga armored cars na naka display, mga arms. Sabi niya, 'Dad, picture picture!' So pinaupo namin doon habang nagpapicture siya. Then nung pumasok kami sa loob, nakakita siya ng kadete. That time, sabi niya, 'Daddy, picture picture,'" the older Abiqui told Rappler on the sidelines of his son's graduation on Sunday, March 13.
(He saw the armored cars on display, the arms too. He said: Dad, take a picture! So we sat him down to take a picture. When we entered the camp, he saw a cadet. Again, he asked me to take a picture.)
"Habang lumalaki siya, kapag nagscascan siya ng pictures, parang may interest siya sa pagiging uniformed man," added the class topnotcher's father.
(As he grew up and looked at those photos again, it seemed like he had an interest in being a uniformed man.)
It wasn't always an easy decision to make, for Kristian Dave, his father, or his mother. The younger Abiqui was already a junior at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, taking up civil engineering, when he finally decided to take a leap in 2011 and join the military.
"It's a crossroads when I was in college. I was ideal back then and I also wanted to instill change in our country and I think the armed forces is one of the most stable institutions to have my own circle of influence as a junior officer," Abiqui, surrounded by family and friends, told media after the graduation rights.
What pushed him to finally enter the military? "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity so hindi ko ma let go yung opportunity na yun, baka next time wala na," he said.
(I couldn't let go of this opportunity because it might not be there the next time.)
Abiqui is set to join the Navy as a second lieutenant at a crucial time – tensions between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) are rising, even in the midst of an arbitration try by government officials.
"The Navy is the service of the future. Makikita natin (It's clear) that we're an archipelagic country so we will need a strong Navy," said Abiqui.
As in all graduations, Sunday was a bittersweet moment for Abiqui and his classmates, members of the smallest class the military has seen in decades. As he spoke during his valedictory address, Abiqui waxed nostalgic, leaving messages of thanks to officials in the academy and words of encouragement for his underclassmen.
It was a bittersweet moment too for his parents, who will have to bid goodbye to their only son, as he begins a career in the armed forces. Abiqui would later admit his chosen career in the military remains a bitter pill to swallow for both his parents.
But his father, a technician at the Department of Public Works and Highways in Tuguegarao City, sees it differently. "Kapag kontrahin mo yung interest nila, mag-iiba yung way nila. So this time, moral support ang i-aano namin sa kanya," said the older Abiqui.
(If you go against their interests, they'll stray. So this time, we offer all our moral support.) – Rappler.com