Palmes-Dennis: Salute to our Filipino soldiers

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina -- I cry for the families of the Philippine soldiers that died or were injured in the campaign to retake Marawi City from the terrorist Maute group.

Every time I read updates of the martial law in Mindanao what comes to mind is of course the fight between the military and the Maute group, its sympathizers and the soldiers.

Yes I am also sad about the casualties among the dissidents. But I'm a lot sadder about the soldiers whose lives and dreams were cut short because of their job in protecting the country and its people.

Online reports would tell us that there are nearly 200 casualties in the Marawi City siege but it's unclear how many soldiers, civilians or terrorists died so far.

It depends on how we look at it and the source of news whether authentic or fake. I only believe reports when the source's reputation is established or the news organization is familiar to me.

Others I would just shrug off or verify later. Most of the time I read with interest photos and accounts of Froilan Gallardo of MindaNews on the Marawi City siege.

Gallardo had been covering Midnanao for years and his news accounts are within the context of what responsible, credible journalism is all about.

What I am trying to discuss here is about the soldiers in the Philippines. Some of them entered the service because they have no choice since there is no job available except for the army. “Sundalo na lang (Be a soldier).”

It's very rare that we find anyone in the service who became a soldier because he wanted to be one. I don’t know now. I remembered before I asked my classmate about her son and she told me “Oh he could not find work, he became a soldier instead.”

Before I find the answer I changed my perception of what a soldier is by being married to an army veteran.

A government soldier is a noble occupation or profession because a soldier is called on to protect the country and its people from anyone who pose a threat to their safety and the state's sovereignty.

These enemies of the state take many forms. It is not easy to defend the country if your soldiers fall and end up in the cemetery. A soldier's pay and benefits are waning that I'm sure and leaves much to be desired.

The Philippine Army is the oldest branch of the Philippine Armed Forces. Its history can be traced back to the Katipunan of Andres Bonifacio to Emilio Aguinaldo who declared independence from Spain.

The history of the Philippine Army is rich and worthy of reading among those who take interest in it. An online search revealed that the lowest ranked soldier in the Philippine army receives a sum equivalent to US$500 or P19,000, quite small given a soldier's role in protecting our democracy.

Everytime they set food outside, one foot is towards the cemetery and the other foot to the hospital. Many would not come home to their families or if they do, they end up in coffins draped with their dog tags and the Philippine flag.

I don’t know if things have changed for the better already but I still see in my mind's eye retired soldiers who somehow survived the wars and walk the streets of Cagayan de Oro City wearing their faded uniforms and nobody would even glance at them.

In the United States, young and old Americans would thank their veterans for their invaluable service to the country. During Veterans Day or even on ordinary days, army veterans would receive discounts from stores and restaurants called veterans discounts in addition to their senior citizens or disability discounts.

These veterans are pampered in the veterans’ hospitals for their medical care. Do we have that in the Philippines?

Is there a difference on the salary scale of those in the combat zones or is the pay scale uniform among all? I don’t have the answers to these questions.

It is high time that the Philippine government pay closer attention to the plight of these soldiers. It is no joke that these soldiers risk their lives everyday at the combat zone and not knowing if the civilians they meet in the ground are Maute terrorists or kamote (cassava) troops.

How would they know friend from foe or innocent civilian to combatants? How would they know if most of them come from other camps?

I pity the soldiers who were killed by friendly fire due to an errant airstrike. I am reminded of the plight of these soldiers after living with my husband Ronnie Dennis, a retired army veteran.

When I accompany him at the veterans’ hospitals, you might say there is really no point of comparison between the conditions of retired US army veterans and the Philippine veterans. I can only sigh in disappointment for the soldiers back home.

My salute and respect for the soldiers. At this time what we can do is to trust in the wisdom and judgment of our defense officials and support President Rodrigo Duterte. Whether you like him or not, he has a job to preserve the Philippines and its people.

*****

Which brings me to congratulate Private Elro Egama Gamones from Camaman-an Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines.

Elro or Kuykuy is the son of Allan Altizo Gamones and Elma Egama based in Chicago. He just graduated and is now in the US Army based in Fort Lee in Virginia where he is scheduled to undergo further training.

They passed by North Carolina after the graduation ceremony in Columbia, South Carolina last Tuesday and I saw in Elro the making of a US soldier. Once again I salute all soldiers.

Whether one is for or against President Duterte, we should all be united against terrorism and all its permutations.

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