Doubts won’t stop PMA topnotcher’s dreams
LIPA CITY—Rushing to pick up clutter in their unfinished house at Phase 5 St. Joseph Subdivision, Barangay Tambo here, Mario Puertollano, 53, a carpenter, is alone and busy trying to finish the house’s back door.
He says he doesn’t want to worry when the family leaves on Friday for the graduation of his son, Tom, on Sunday at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
Pictures of Tom, 21, the third of his four children, and of his siblings hang on the walls. Files from the PMA are neatly organized in one cabinet.
When told by the Inquirer that Tom is valedictorian of PMA’s Bagwis Class 2012, he refused to believe it at first. “I was expecting it but still I am not convinced,” says Mario.
He adds he won’t listen to news saying his son is valedictorian because he wants to be surprised when he and his children arrive in Baguio for the graduation rites.
He says when Tom, whom he calls Nonoy, was still in elementary and high school, he knew his son to be a bright student but doubted if he could make it to the top of his class because he came from a poor family.
“We cannot send him to contests in far places because we cannot afford his allowance,” says Mario.
He recalls allotting only P5 for Tom’s daily allowance when he was in elementary and high school at Fernando Air Base.
There were days, though, when there would be no money for allowance or food but Tom would insist on going to school.
Tom, his father says, is quiet by choice since he believed in “no talk, no error,” but Tom fixes problems “even before family members can speak about them.”
After high school, Tom took entrance tests in different schools and applied for scholarships to pursue a college degree.
Tom passed the tests, including one that earned him a scholarship from SM Foundation to take an engineering course in Batangas State University in Lipa City.
Mario says the family wasn’t aware that Tom took qualifying tests to enter the PMA until a letter from the academy was delivered to their house congratulating Tom for passing the PMA entrance test.
Tom, says Mario, was keen on entering the PMA because it meant the family wouldn’t have to spend so much for his schooling. “We didn’t stop him and we supported him,” says Mario.
Mario says the family could barely eke out a living and had to use the allowance that Tom gets from SM Foundation for transport fare to process the papers Tom needed for the PMA.
Mario quotes BSU as saying Tom could have graduated cum laude had he not left for the PMA. There were no regrets from the family, however, says Mario.
During visits to Tom at the PMA, Mario recalls worrying about his son’s weight loss and asking him: “Can you still handle it?” “I am happy here dad,” would be Tom’s reply.
In Tom’s first year at PMA, Mario recalls his son being in his class’ Top 4. In his second and third year, he was first. By the middle of his fourth year, he was No. 2.
Mario says if he would be the one to decide, he would want Tom to join the Air Force “as it is not dangerous there.” But his son, says Mario, “really wants to join the Army, which made his (late) mother cry as he would be sent to far and dangerous places.”
As Mario was being interviewed for this article, he kept expressing doubts over news that his son was this year’s PMA valedictorian. Mario’s mobile phone beeped. He picked it up to look at the message and let out a wide smile. He showed a text message from his son that says “Dad, I am the valedictorian.”
Mario admits, though, that he has forgotten Tom’s birthday. The day he won’t forget is Aug. 11, 2011, when Tom’s mother, Barbara, died of hepatitis just two days after Tom paid a visit to her.
“We went through so much hardship but Nonoy (Tom) persisted and he never thought of giving up,” says Mario.