By ARTEMIO DUMLAO
The Philippine Star
FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City – Mindanaoans have at least seven reasons to be proud on graduation day of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) next Tuesday.
Ariel Rallos of Limon Drive in Canelar Triplett, Zamboanga City bested 219 other members of the PMA "Baghawi" Class of 2008, and joins six other Mindanaoans in the top 10 of this year’s graduating class. He will be conferred the highest honor given to graduating cadets by President Arroyo, the main speaker in this year’s ceremony.
Baghawi stands for Bagong Halaw ng Lahi or New Breed of Leaders.
Rallos, a former teacher and physics graduate of the Western Mindanao State University, said all of them did their best to achieve such a feat.
"We could not have been cheating, because we follow the honor code," Rallos firmly said. "It was all our efforts and we studied harder."
Rallos, who is going to the Philippine Navy, will receive the Presidential Saber, PGMA Achievement Award for Excellence, Philippine Navy Sword, JUSMAG Award, Aguinaldo Saber, Academic Group Award, Mathematics Plaque, Natural Sciences Plaque and Department of Tactical Officers Plaque on Tuesday.
Graduating second is Bernard Roderick Joaquin from Aguilar town in Pangasinan, who will receive the Vice Presidential Saber and the Philippine Air Force Saber for being the top graduate joining the PAF. Joaquin will also receive two other major awards, the Tactics Group Award for topping all courses offered by the Tactics group and the JUSMAG Award.
Third is Me-ann Sinson from Ligao City in Albay, the only female cadet in the top ten this year. She will receive the Secretary of National Defense saber and the Air Force Professional Courses Plaque for topping the Air Force Service core courses.
Fourth placer is Dennis Legaspi of Palid, Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay, who will receive the Philippine Army Saber for being the top graduate joining the Philippine Army.
Number five is another Mindanaoan, Vergel Lacambra from Pagadian City, who will receive the Humanities Plaque, Management Plaque, Social Science Plaque, Army Professional Courses Plaque and Journalism Award.
He is followed by Carlo Catalan of Dumaguete City.
Another Mindanaoan, Francisco Pondoyo Jr. from Ramon Magsaysay, Zamboanga del Sur, came in 7th and will receive the Association of Generals Flag Officers Award. He was followed by Marc Louis Parade from Baliuag, Bulacan in 8th place.
South Cotabato native Dennis Moreno from Banga town placed 9th while Vay Caballero from Lapazan, Cagayan de Oro City followed at 10th spot.
The other awardees are Cadet Freddiemyr Villamayor (Comp & Info Sciences Plaque); Cadet Aldous Christopher DG Tamayo (Leadership Award); Cadet Randolf Ramiro (Navy Prof Courses Plaque); Cadet Jeremy Esilen (Sports & Physical Dev Plaque); and Cadet Elizabeth Rosete (Athletic Saber).
Completing the list of academic excellence awardees are Cadet Louie Ponce, magna cum laude; Cadets Me-Ann Sinson, Carlo Catalan, Gracella Tecson, Norman Dionela, Joval Ginez, Gilbert Ticman, Karl Jace Pagtananan, John Dave Aguilar, Danilo Vidad Jr., Antonio Guitering, Harry Lyndon Sersena, Roosevelt Cadiz, Arthur Nasayao, Freddie Navarro, Marvin Batay-an, Jim Donaire, John Martin Samarita, Ruel Gutierrez, Michael Tabali, Michelle Cabalonga, Noel Alekhine Carampel, June Mark Matugas and Jeazzine Ingret Actub, cum laude.
Baghawi class of 2008 is composed of 197 male and 23 female cadets. Most of them, 119 in all, are going to the Philippine Air Force, 51 will be assigned at the Philippine Army and 50 in the Philippine Navy.
Rallos was orphaned while he was still in grade six by his father Felicisimo, who died of leukemia, and by his mother Ofelia in 2005 when he was already at the academy. Both his parents had worked at a chemical factory back home.
He said hard work, perseverance and faith in God did the trick.
He said he had an edge over the rest of his classmates because he was more mature when he entered the academy in 2004, as he was already a graduate of physics.
"The subjects I took in the university were the same at the PMA," he said.
Rallos, who failed in his first try, taught for one year before taking the PMA entrance examinations again and finally made it.
"It was really my dream to become a soldier," he said. "I think I can better serve the country as a soldier."
He also admitted that his father and their family were great admirers of "men in uniform." In fact, on Thursday, while all eyes are on him at the PMA, his older sister, 28-year-old Hazel, is graduating from the Naval Officers Candidate Course in Zambales as an ensign.
"This is the happiest day of my life," Rallos said, but at the same time lamenting that his parents will not be around to see his feat.
"When they raise their hand and swear as men in uniform Tuesday next week before President Arroyo and the nation, they will veer away from politics," PMA Superintendent Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Maligalig said.
"We were trained for war. If we are challenged to move into political conflict, we should not play any role," the PMA superintendent said.
Although he admitted that PMA graduates ahead of Baghawi class of 2008 have liberally and literally took the meaning of the constitutional mandate of the military as "protectors of the people," these 220 new breed of leaders will live by the morals that "men in uniform have no right or duty to interfere in politics." James Mananghaya