MANILA, Philippines—When his name was called Friday for an award from President Aquino, retired Army T/Sgt. Tranquilino Cabiling mustered all his strength to stand up and walk to the commander-in-chief.
But Aquino spared the 112-year-old man from any effort. Instead, he walked toward Cabiling, along with the military’s top generals and the defense secretary.
On the 116th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army, the President handed the Army’s oldest living veteran soldier a plaque of recognition for his service to the country.
The two men shook hands and the younger of the two—aged 53—was seen saying something to the older man, who still tried to be snappy even as he stooped.
While reporters were too far to hear what Aquino told Cabiling, it was evident that it made the old man happy. Cabiling’s face lit up and he smiled throughout.
No drinks, no women
Having lived for more than a century, Cabiling has a simple advice to his fellow soldiers: “Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t womanize. Do not forget to pray to God. He can give you a long life.”
Cabiling, who earlier spoke to reporters in Visayan, said he also ate healthy food, shunning meat in favor of vegetables, fish and root crops.
He said he was still into farming, planting bananas and vegetables in his home in Misamis Oriental.
Born on July 6, 1900, in Albuera, Leyte, Cabiling joined the United States Army Forces in the Far East (Usaffe) when he was 24.
He saw action in World War II, assigned as a gunner in an artillery division in Leyte. His boss in the Usaffe was the legendary US Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Cabiling recalled being a witness to MacArthur’s Leyte landing in 1944.
Cabiling survived the Death March. He also received a certificate of gratitude from then US President Harry S. Truman for his service. It read:
“TSg Tranquilino Olarte Cabiling … To you who answered the call of your country and served in its Armed Forces to bring about the total defeat of the enemy, I extend the heartfelt thanks of a grateful Nation.
“As one of the Nation’s finest, you undertook the most severe task one can be called upon to perform. Because you demonstrated the fortitude, resourcefulness and calm judgment necessary to carry out that task, we now look to you for leadership and example in further exalting our country in peace.”
The citation was given on Dec. 31, 1944, in Washington.
For sure, Cabiling has a treasure trove of stories to share. But he already has difficulty speaking and can only utter fragmented sentences. A guardian acts as his interpreter.
Cabiling, who served 29 years and 11 months in the military, appears to be the only surviving member of his family. He said he was a widower and lost his only daughter in 1995 in a road accident.
Army spokesman Col. Randolph Cabangbang told the Inquirer that a group of Army reservists had taken Cabiling under their care. They saw him at the Philippine Veterans Office Affairs in Camp Aguinaldo following up his pension from the government.
Cabangbang said Cabiling lost his military ID after retiring in 1953. He found it only last year, and it was only now he was able to work on his pension again.
“We are still waiting for the results of the processing of his papers. I think someone had asked help from the defense chief,” Cabangbang said.
Cabangbang said that even at 112, Cabiling’s fondness for the military remained apparent.
“I gave him an Army key chain yesterday which he put on his belt loop right away. I also gave him a statue of an infantry soldier, and he held it really tight,” Cabangbang said.
He also said Cabiling told him he longed for a pair of Army boots. Right away, Cabangbang looked for a pair in the Army’s stockroom.
“Unfortunately, he is a size 10. We only had a 9 1/2. When I told him that, he said he would just repair it,” Cabangbang said.
He said he also noticed that Cabiling still wore the military-issued green Army pants.
He was also proud of his good health, bragging to Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes about his complete set of teeth.
In his speech at Fort Bonifacio, Aquino asked the nation to help him accelerate the pace of reform and development in the country in his remaining three years in office. He said real stability would only come from a government fully trusted by the people.
Speaking in Filipino, Aquino said he wanted the “straight path” of his administration to lead to parts of the country that have yet to experience the benefits of a reform-oriented governance. He acknowledged the changes instituted through the AFP modernization program.
From mere reliance on foreign support, the Army is now beginning to realize its dream of facing up to the challenges of the modern era.
Aquino cited the new “mobility equipment” of the Army, such as troop-carrier trucks, 12 dozen 5-ton trucks to carry howitzers, night fighting system/gear, four light support watercraft and 60 field ambulances. He also cited the housing program for all uniformed personnel and their families.
“Your courage, sacrifice and preparedness to put yourselves in harm’s way should be matched with adequate support and recognition by the state,” the President told the troops.
He referred to military adventurism, which was “brought about by shortcomings in national government,” and added: “Now we can see the importance accorded to the Armed Forces by a united Philippines.”
Aquino said he was happy the Armed Forces was not just responding to myriad security threats but also helping the nation enjoy “freedom from hunger, poverty and doubts.” From warriors, he said, soldiers had become vanguards of disaster response operations and workers in development projects and medical missions.
“Real stability, the one that triggers development, emanates from people’s trust,” he said. “If they personally witness your service, they will look up to the soldiery.”
Aquino said he was “anxious” to continue with the reforms he had initiated, and declared: “I am in the mood because I know that you’re all behind me.”