MANILA - A 21-year-old soldier who was killed in action while fighting Moro rebels in Zamboanga City received the highest award given by the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the military's 78th anniversary on Friday.
Ian Paquit of the Army's Scout Rangers first sustained an injury during a gunbattle between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front rebels in Zamboanga City last September 13.
Paquit was serving as Automatic Rifleman of the Command Group, 3rd Scout Ranger Company, First Scout Ranger Regiment under the Special Operations Command of the Philippine Army.
Despite the injury, Paquit still went back to the frontline in Barangay Santa Barbara.
On September 24, four days before the siege ended, heavy exchange of fire trapped soldiers of the 3rd Scout Ranger Company in their position.
Paquit decided to adjust his position to provide cover fire for the repositioning troops whose cover was deteriorating because of heavy enemy fire from an estimated 100 MNLF fighters.
With better line of sight, the troops were able to reposition at a point where there was minimal enemy resistance. Paquit, however, was shot in the neck, killing him.
Paquit's sacrifice saved the lives of soldiers and resulted to the deaths of 15 MNLF fighters and capture of 41 others.
For his heroism, PFC Ian Paquit was given the Medal of Valor, the highest military award.
President Benigno Aquino III personally handed the award to the soldier's dependent, his father Mr. Eduardo Paquit of Pagadian City.
In his speech, the President expressed his gratitude to the soldier who served the people through war and peace time.
"Sa patong-patong na pagsubok na dinaanan ng bansa ngayong taon, taas-noo ninyong maipagmamalaki sa ating mga ninuno at sa mga kababayan natin ang ipinakita ninyong tapang, sigasig at pananagutan sa serbisyo. Ang ambag ninyo, lalo na ng mga pinarangalan natin ngayong araw, ay habambuhay nang babantayog sa kasaysayan ng Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas," the President said.
Irene Paquit, the soldier's elder sister, said she had already told Ian not to return to the frontline after he was injured on September 13. She said her brother, the second of three siblings, insisted on returning to combat duty and join other soldiers in defending Zamboanga City.
"Nakakalungkot lang kasi ang dami pa naman nyang mga panarap, tapos ngayon wal na sya," said Irene, while wiping her tears as she recalled her brother's dream to help their family.
They have a 16-year-old brother who also wanted to become a soldier, dreaming of joining the Philippine Military Academy. Their father spoke softly in Visayan and told reporters that his son's death was not in vain.
But the award was not given only to those who served in Zamboanga.
Air Force Lt. Col. Fermin Carangan was also awarded the Bronze Cross Medal for risking his life by bravely saving 7-year-old Miguel while they were being swept by wild and swelling sea waves. Carangan survived by holding on to a log and was eventually found floating beneath San Juanico Bridge when super typhoon Yolanda ravaged the Visayas.
A total of 49 soldiers, two civilian employees and two ROTC cadets who performed their roles in successful defense of Zamboanga City, humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations during the Bohol earthquake and super typhoon Yolanda were also given recognition at Friday's event.
The President assured soldiers that government is doing everything it can to help the military perform their duties by vigorously pushing for the AFP Modernization Program.
The President inspected some of the new equipment acquired by the AFP including 3 Agusta Westland helicopters that were commissioned to the Philippine Navy. The helicopters, bought from Italy, cost P1.33 billion.