I WAS browsing my newsfeed when I got the shock of my life—this pretty girl who once sat in my classroom had chopped of all her hair, donned the PMA cadet uniform, and looked every inch like a man. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Mariposa Abales has always been easy to remember because she’s smart, articulate, and beautiful. She has striking, expressive eyes, high cheekbones, and long ebony locks. Known for having several beauty titles under her belt, no one would think that she’d trade in her stilettos for combat boots.
She said: “I wanted to be the first soldier in our clan to prove that I can make it and I’m not weak. I was my father’s “junior.” Since he didn’t have a son, he would always ask for my assistance to do manly stuff like carpentry works. He also influenced me to watch action movies, basketball games, and wrestling. From there, I learned to appreciate the “man’s world”. One day, I saw a PMA poster recruiting students to become cadets; citing all the benefits – free education, salary, leadership training, and opportunity to serve the country. Since I was only 13 then, I told myself, I will one day be a PMA-er.”
Mariposa became a CAT officer in high school. When she graduated valedictorian, one of her father’s friends in the army reminded her about PMA admissions. But, by then, she was hooked on all things girlie. She said: “I became Ms Sangguniang Kabataan Bugo 2009, Miss Del Monte Philippines 2010, Miss Teen CDO 2011 1st Runner-Up, and Miss Rodeo 2012. I was also a model and a host then for Cagayan De Oro Talent Center (CDOTC). I pursued Development Communication in Xavier University, instead. While studying as a scholar, I became a radio DJ; and during my time, I became the youngest (19 yrs old) accredited broadcaster of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.”
Stilettos to boots
In 2012, her program director shared with her that he once dreamed of becoming a PMA cadet. She narrated: “He was surprised to know it was also my dream, and he reminded me I only have one chance to apply. At that time, I was about to reach the maximum age, 21. I knew it was time. I didn’t inform my strict parents about applying. I only did when I passed the exam and needed to go to Manila for physical/medical exam and interview. To make the long story short, hours after my college graduation, I received a call from PMA informing me that I’ve been chosen as one of the cadets of PMA “Salaknib” Class of 2017.”
Mariposa admitted that a lot of people doubted her decision, even her parents. But she stood her ground and by April 2013, her journey as a cadet began. She recalled: “They say a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, so I struggled with cutting mine. When the barber chopped it off with a razor, my tears fell. Feeling ko ang pangit ko nun. When it was all gone, that’s when I knew there’s really no turning back.”
Unfortunately, Mariposa later on learned that life inside the academy was hell. She recounted: “Parang impyerno talaga. Our seniors were always shouting at us. In PMA, everything has to be done to perfection. If you make a mistake, you pay the price. We couldn’t sleep, eat, bathe (for weeks), brush our teeth, poop, or pee when we wanted too. We couldn’t relax. We weren’t even allowed to use condiments. We had to speak English at all times, but we could only say yes or no. We couldn’t reason out. We weren’t allowed to use pronouns. Instead of saying, “I will go to the sink,” we say, “Cadet Second Class Jocson, Ma’am, may Cadet Fourth Class Abales go to the sink, Maam?” We also can’t talk to anyone in the outside world nor make eye-to-eye contact.”
She explained that plebe hood or first year was tough. And they really make it extra difficult because as a soldier, you can’t waver. If you’re captured by the enemy, you have to be ready for all forms of torture. Mariposa admitted that she was unable to anticipate this level of hardship. She shared: “It’s so hard to cope with physical activities and academics. I was very weak because I am not really into sports. On top of that, my self-esteem took a nose dive because of all the outdoor trainings and lack of grooming. Dun ko na experience kumain ng sili para lang magising ako sa klase.”
Unfortunately, during training she had a major accident that fractured her pelvic bone. The pain was debilitating and she was hospitalized for a month. After that, she had to undergo long, arduous months of rehabilitation. She said, “Since I couldn’t recuperate right away, I had to temporarily leave the academy and was advised to be on “turnback” status meaning—I can return to the academy after a year, but I have to repeat everything and join the newly appointed cadets.”
However, she wasn’t able to recover quickly. Aside from that, she felt other aches and pains from minor injuries received during training. She said: “I was forced to give up my dream of becoming a soldier. Actually, that left me depressed and ashamed. Was I too ambitious? I felt like a failure and even doubted God’s existence. I felt like life was so unfair. Ironically, it was during those down times of introspection when I realized na hindi pala ako weak. Everything really has a purpose. God’s plans are indeed better than my dreams.”
When she was about to leave PMA, an upperclassman shared an opportunity for her to work in the Air Force as a civilian employee. She stated: “Since I was unable to finish my cadetship, I still can’t hide from myself that I want to work in a military environment. There are traditions in a military organization, and a discipline among its public servants, that cannot be found in other government or private institutions. I guess you can say, sobrang napamahal na din ako sa military life.”
Finding her wings in PAF
She started working for the Philippine Air Force. She said: “My first job as research analyst for the intelligence unit was challenging. Having no background on intelligence operations, nagsunog ako ng kilay to secretly study its concept kasi ayokong mapahiya. I want to prove to them that I deserve to be there. As a research analyst, I collate, research, and analyze intelligence data particularly on local and foreign threat groups, as well as, China and other claimant countries’ militarization in the West Philippine Sea. After a year, I became civilian intelligence agent, where I had to perform field assignments and participated in counterintelligence operations. And part of my job is to do undercover. Yes, parang CIA series or pang James Bond movies.”
After two years of working in the intel, Mariposa felt depressed and unhappy. She said: “Working for intel was very limiting. We always have to be discreet. We weren’t just allowed to make friends with anyone. And that’s really not my personality. Thankfully, the opportunity to apply for the Broadcast Program-Producer Announcer position came under the Public Affairs Office. It was like a dream come true because it merged two of the things I loved the most—broadcasting and the military. Funny enough, I won another beauty title as Ms Armed Forces of the Philippines 2018. Indeed, may purpose talaga lahat ng nangyari saking kabiguan.”
To date, she lives by the words of her mentor, Mr. Lito Monico Lorenzana, President and Chairman of the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI). She said: “This writer and Harvard educated political technocrat is my former boss when I had my internship sa CDPI in Davao City. During my internship, I learned so many things from him, which I would like to share: 1) Excellence is a way of life. He used to tell me before to ALWAYS aim for the best. Aim for number one, so in case you can’t make there, at least you get number two or three. If you just aim for average, you might be too complacent and end up failing. 2) Dream big. As he said, “Why settle for less if you can achieve greater things?” 3) Do not limit yourself because we exist in a world of unlimited possibilities. 4) Giving up is the lousiest option.”
There’s nothing more rewarding as a teacher than seeing one of your students making her mark in the adult world. Mariposa Abales was one of the first college student’s I was privilege to teach when I first started as a part-time lecturer for the Development Communication Department in Xavier University many years ago. Her journey certainly proves that everything happens in God’s perfect time. He is the driver and we are mere passengers in this journey of life.