A LETTER from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in May signaled an about-face in the life of an executive from a telephone communication industry.
Businessman Roberto Almario, 48, was summoned by the AFP to report for active duty as lieutenant colonel in Marawi on the night President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao.
Despite his family’s hesitations, Almario found himself assuming the position and hopping on a plane the day after he received the summon.
“This is the only time I can pay back the country. It’s a privilege to serve in the main battle area because not everyone is called,” he told the Varsitarian in an interview.
Almario, a graduate of Sociology in 1990, was one of three reservists mobilized in Marawi to facilitate the military’s communication signals. His companions were a senior vice president of a bank and an information technology expert.
Although their duties in the war zone deals with communications, the reservists, clad in full military fatigues, were also placed on the front line. They camped under roofless structures to dodge sniper bullets, were unable to bathe for weeks and had irregular meals of rice and sardines.
Lucky for Almario, he had already been acquainted to the life as an Army reserve.
Back in UST, Almario was an advanced Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadet officer, a position he pursued when he aspired to be a soldier like his father and uncle.
Even though he ended up in the business industry after graduation, he became actively involved in the Army Reserve Command, volunteering every Saturday for almost 20 years.
“I’m a weekend warrior. We are on active training for 60 days a year and we report on the weekends to train,” he said.
Upon arriving in Marawi, he was met with long lines of thousands of Maranaos exiting the conflict-stricken city. They carried the barest essentials, leaving most of their belongings behind thinking the conflict would only last for a few weeks.
“Every time I volunteer to go to the evacuees, ang hinihingi nila ay ‘wag bombahin ‘yung mga bahay nila,” Almario said.
During military operations, Almario had to duck from sniper bullets and shrapnel and fire back when the enemy engaged.
His experience in an actual battleship led him to find new respect for for regular troops who sacrifice for their country.
“Makikita mo ‘yung hardship na ginagawa ng mga sundalonatin araw-araw. They make do with what they have,” he said.
Unexpectedly, it was not a bullet that struck Almario down. It was dengue.
The unsanitary living conditions caused a dengue outbreak, which prompted the AFP to send Almario back to Manila by the end of September to recuperate.
Almario said it was unusual for a reservist to be called for duty during a conflict. He said reservists usually came into action in the rehabilitation after the conflict and in disaster situations like typhoons and floods.
“Kami ‘yung tinatawag para sa mga rehabilitation. Ngayon lang nangyari na-mobilize [kami] during the conflict,” he said.
But in the battlefield, Almario added, the line between a reservist and a regular soldier diminishes. “When you’re in the warzone, you are treated as a regular soldier.”
Almario said he will gladly render his services to the country for another time if needed.
“Those were the values we [inculcated] in UST: to serve our country in any little way,” he said. DAPHNE YANN P. GALVEZ