FOR LOVE OF OUR COUNTRY
For every SAF trooper, each anniversary brings to memory the good and bad times they went through during their stay in the unit: the trainings, field operations, adventures and camaraderie they shared with their fellow troopers. “There will never be one like this”, they say of their extraordinary experience, every reunion during the 16th of May gives them the chance to reminisce the past. I will always have mixed feelings, however. On one hand, I am glad to be still with the unit despite the hardships we endured right from the moment we arrived at the gates of the SAF Headquarters. On the other hand, I still remember the bitter-sweet memories I shared with a classmate whom I became very close with during the short time we spent together in the field.
The youngest of eight siblings, Harold Gaces was one of the most responsible officers I have worked with. His soft-spoken nature conceals a stern and unbending character which was shown in the way he strived to succeed. When he entered the Philippine National Police Academy in 2002, he was already a college degree holder. Still, he knew that public service was his calling and opted to cast his lot for four more years at the Academy. After our graduation on 2006, 33 of us joined the Special Action Force not quite sure of what awaits us inside the unit that is considered the PNP’s elite. Maybe except Harold.
On September 2006, we reported to the 1st Special Action Battalion and were promptly sent to Masbate for our Commando test mission. We were assigned to the same company and went to the same missions together. We had our field graduation there on December of that year and most of us were already expecting to be reassigned somewhere else. However, due to the upcoming May 2007 Elections, our tour of duty in the Island was extended. Harold didn’t mind it, though, and he immersed himself in other endeavors during his free time. At the “Pamaskong Handog sa mga Bata” program that the 11th Special Action Company sponsored, he showed a character far different from his serious side by facilitating the activity and playing with the children who visited our camp.
To make the most of our stay, we were allowed to go on pass once a month. On the morning of April 23, Harold availed of a rare day off and went with us to Masbate City where the annual Rodeo Festival was being held. I remember that it was the first time he seemed to enjoy his stay in the province. During lunch, he discussed with me his future plans and matters about his family. We became close during the course of our training but he never opened personal matters to me considering that he was a private person.
We returned to our camp in Mandaon town later that afternoon, expecting a night’s rest before we get back to work again the next day. At midnight, however, our Company Commander alerted us following reports of NPA harassment and extortion activities or what they call “Permit to Campaign and Permit to Win” in Barangay Bugtong. My team was one of those tapped to intercept the rebels.
Harold volunteered to join us because his team had previously conducted operations in that barangay. Our combined teams proceeded to the area of sighting to link-up with another team led by our Company Commander. During the long walk, Harold and I did not talk to each other except during halts when we discussed our courses of action.
Our section reached the outskirts of the village after a night-long walk. While I was rendering situation report to our Company Commander, a motorcycle with a backrider passed by the road just below our area. On suspicion that they were sweeping” the roads to clear the way for the enemy, we flagged them down to ascertain their identities. Our troops then heard unusual noise coming from nearby residences; and Harold called on his team to check the houses, telling me he would return soon.
A few minutes of silence later, I decided to call Harold and ask about his situation. But before I could contact him through radio, we heard successive gunshots coming from the houses below. His team mate answered my call and told me they encountered the enemy and that Harold had been hit. We hurriedly maneuvered to engage the fleeing enemy. The survivors escaped by jumping at the cliff and running towards the wharf below where they commandeered empty fishing boats.
When the firefight stopped, we hurriedly went down to the house where the encounter occurred and saw the medics administering first aid to Harold. As I called our Company Commander to give an update, I could not believe how things turned around in less than a day. I reported to our commander that Harold was wounded, hoping that it was not something serious. Some minutes later, I saw it in the faces of his team members. I didn’t have to ask.
For days, I could not answer my other classmates’ calls and text messages asking what happened. Recounting the incident was torturous, and was even made more painful by the fact that I was the one tasked to accompany his remains back to his hometown in Bangui, Ilocos Norte.
Years later, as I recall what happened in that fateful morning, I learned to accept the fact that it was part of the profession that we chose. The path we are trudging is full of uncertainties, so we have to be prepared for anything that may happen. And a lot of
times, we will have to do selfless service and live with our motto “For the Love of Country”.
My snappy salute also to all the valiant troopers who had gone ahead of us. May their valor be constantly remembered by all the generations of SAF troopers. Awoowah!
-PSINSP ROLLY B. LIEGEN