Comrades pay tribute to fallen Army hero


Posted at Apr 30 2008 04:49 PM | Updated as of May 01 2008 12:49 AM

The military on Tuesday night paid tribute to one of its fallen troops who decided to take his own life last week in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City after surviving suicide missions in conflict zones in Mindanao.

His fellow Scout Rangers recalled Col. Roberto Caldeo's bravery as commander of the First Scout Ranger Battalion, when his men took over a major Abu Sayyaf camp called "Punong Mohaji" in the tri-boundary of Isabela City, Maluso and Sumisip towns in Basilan in April 2000.

Capt. Samuel Yanque was part of that mission led by then-Major Caldeo.

"If we let the wounded stay there they'd die... I needed volunteers for a suicide commando. It was a high risk mission," Yanque recalled Caldeo's words to them.

They fought the Abu Sayyaf for three days.

On the third day, Caldeo formed a team that he said would take on a suicide mission.

"On the third day, I talked to my men and told them I needed volunteers for a suicide commando," he told Newsbreak magazine during an interview in June 2001.

Suicide mission

Caldeo defended the decision to stage the attack.

"This is allowed in the principles of war and largely dictated by common sense. It was a high-risk mission," he said.

Caldeo recalled in the interview how he told his men that if there were no volunteers, he would do the job himself.

"Otherwise, we're all going to die. But here were volunteers. Two young lieutenants led the teams," he said.

He desribed the mission as "driving them (his men) to their death."

"But they believed in me, and I’m grateful for that. They left their wallets behind so they could be traced if they died," he said.

After seizing the Abu Sayyaf camp, six of Caldeo's men died while 29 were wounded.

Eight-year burden

Caldeo's classmates from the Philippine Military Academy's Class of 1983 said he was tormented after the encounter. They, however, thought he had recovered almost eight years after the incident.

The class president said Caldeo's death is a painful lesson for the armed forces.

Army chief Lt. General Alexander Yano joined in the tribute and said Caldeo's death should not demoralize the troops.

The Army acknowledged the absence of a mental health program in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

There are no figures on the prevalence of battle fatigue among its soldiers.

The head of the Army hospital's neuropsychiatry section said only a few were confined for battle fatigue.

Symptoms included recurring flashbacks of battle, irritability and depression.

The Army would not confirm if battle fatigue was indeed the cause of Caldeo's suicide, or of two other cases reportedly from the same elite Scout Ranger battalion that took part in the mission in 2000.

And as Caldeo's comrades paid tribute to the bravery of the man who had first dreamt of being an engineer before entering the PMA, they can only hope his death will spur the AFP to look into this hidden cost of war. Ces Oreña-Drilon, ABS-CBN News