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'Horror vacui'

AFTER 38 years and three months of military service, I am finally retired. I am forever grateful to the government and the Filipino people for allowing me to serve my country the best way I can. I have been to almost every part of the archipelago, to almost all corners of the globe, except Africa; I have shaken hands with powerful leaders of the world, heads of state, including a pope; I have lived offshore in at least two countries, in America and Down Under; I have earned postgraduate degrees from top universities abroad - all courtesy of our people's taxes and my host countries. Not many of us are given that rare privilege.

In between, I fought all kinds of battles in the marshes of central Mindanao to the peaks of the Zamboanga Peninsula, the mountain ranges of Caraballo and the Sierra Madres as well as the islands of Mindoro. As a tactical commander of infantry and special units, I am proud to say I never lost a single man in any combat mission I personally led. The Army trained me well, not only in conventional war fighting but more importantly in unconventional warfare similar to the Green Beret.

While the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) honed my values of courage, integrity and loyalty, it was my folks from both my paternal and maternal sides who trained me about life's values of honor, dignity and patriotism. They taught me to treasure life and our freedom. Lt. Eutiquio Gumba, or Lolo Tiquio, was a Bataan Death March survivor, while Jose Parlade, or Lolo Ping, was a former mayor-guerrilla leader of Ligao, Albay, during World War 2.

As I navigated through my career as an officer, I met all kinds of enemies from within and without. Yes, I was equipped with those lenses taught at home so I may have had a different perspective of what patriotism is. I quietly fought the government's excesses and shortcomings. From the PMA's ideal grounds, we were introduced to a ragtag Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with decrepit capabilities and many corrupt commanders while fighting secessionist rebels. From illegal logging to smuggling, I was a witness to crimes being committed by generals. So, as a young lieutenant, I began to question the moral ascendancy of authorities and my organization. I became a rebel of the Young Officers Union (YOU)-Soldiers of the Filipino People (SFP)-Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), and I have never regretted this.

All of these life experiences helped in transforming the Army and AFP into what it is now: highly professional and trusted organizations, thanks to the Army and AFP transformation road maps. Perfect? Far from it. This will be part of my succeeding articles so AFP, brace yourself, as Citizen Parlade is about to roast you.

Overall, it was a great journey, too colorful for me to even find the right words to describe. It was all worth the risk. It is possibly deserving to be written into another book (though I still don't have a title in mind), even as I just finished publishing my first one - on the power of narrative warfare to destroy the communist terrorist gambit.

As I hang my uniform and wonder what is next in store for me, a friend of mine sent me a message and asked me the question I am most uneasy about: How do you feel? Horror vacui?

Ah, yes. As I searched for what it means, I realized this is what I was most anxious about - the fear or feeling of emptiness. Aristotle was first to come up with this concept of vacuum or for the artistically inclined, that of leaving an empty space in your canvas of life. After a roller-coaster ride in the government service, I wouldn't know how to handle an empty space should I encounter it now. It is for this reason that I was excited to hear Sen. Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go as he called to ask me if I still wanted to serve the government. Without blinking, I said yes right away. I have never been so inspired to serve under an administration, so determined to serve our people well. I could not let this golden opportunity pass.

Going back to the question of emptiness, now I am convinced I left the service with a sense of fulfillment. Truly, government service can be so fulfilling but it will depend on your personal perspective. If you desire personal enrichment, then you will walk away disappointed. Forget it, because the government is known for notoriously paying its workers the least. Still, if you just want the basics in life, it will pay you enough.

But if you love your country, be part of a good government. And if you want to stand proud, join the armed services. Nothing beats that feeling as you hang up your uniform.


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