A ‘Hero’ for kids of slain soldiers
Marian Cajara lost her father in a rebel attack two months before she was even born.
Twenty-two years later, she spoke as if she was a witness to how her father died: Mario Cajara was among the Army soldiers killed in an ambush by communist insurgents in Quezon province in February 1989.
“Is there really a solution? In my father’s case, the [communist New People’s Army] continues to operate in some areas,” Cajara told the Philippine Daily Inquirer minutes before going onstage on Wednesday night at a Makati City hotel for a song number with other military orphans.
It seemed that more and more children stand to lose their fathers in the same way and “grow up feeling incomplete just like me,” she said.
She was alluding to the fighting that broke out the day before between government troops and Moro rebels in Basilan province. The clash left 19 soldiers dead, one of the biggest casualty counts on a single day in the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.
But while tragedy brought them together that night, Cajara and the others sang an inspirational song, Michael Bolton’s “Go the Distance,” an anthem about overcoming great odds, before an audience of benefactors supporting the Help Educate and Rear Orphans (Hero) Foundation.
For it was an evening of tributes and remembrance, of saluting the fallen soldiers by lending a hand to the children they had left behind.
Dinner, art auction
Initiated in 1988 by the late former President Corazon Aquino, the nonprofit Hero Foundation raised funds that night through a four-course benefit dinner and an art auction.
The dinner alone raised P1.3 million, the foundation later said.
Among the art pieces sold was a Ramon Orlina sculpture from the personal collection of the Hero Foundation chair, Fernando Zobel de Ayala.
The money would reach the orphans in the form of stipends for their education.
“My father would have wanted me to finish my studies, and I am just about to do that,” said Armie Capellan, a Hero beneficiary and senior student majoring in psychology at Cavite State University.
Capellan said she owed it to her father, given his “sacrifice.” The foundation, she said, had made her feel “as if he’s still alive, providing for my needs.”
In her remarks before the gathering at InterContinental Manila hotel, Hero trustee Pinky Aquino-Abellada, a sister of President Aquino, recalled how their mother Cory got the foundation off the ground.
Cory and the widows
It began with her mother’s visits to the funeral wake of soldiers killed in action, Abellada said. From those close encounters with widows and orphans, the then Commander in Chief began to ask other officials how the grieving families could receive further assistance.
Cory Aquino went on to set up the Hero Foundation with the help of then Defense Secretary Renato de Villa and the business community represented by Jaime Zobel de Ayala. The two men served as its first chair and vice chair, respectively.
Over the past 23 years, the foundation has granted annual stipends to over 2,100 scholars. The amount varies for students in elementary, high school and college.
Of the 707 current scholars, 41 percent live in Mindanao.
Like the scholar Cajara, Laurence Narag Jr. got to know his late father only through a photograph. One such picture is posted on the Philippine Marines website, next to a citation honoring Laurence Sr., a Medal of Valor recipient.
There were times when Laurence Jr., the youngest of three siblings, would repeatedly ask why his father had to die, said the soldier’s widow, Leset.
Giving him an answer was always a struggle for her, said Leset. Still, she said, hearing how his father performed in combat always left her son with a great sense of pride.
Walking into danger
According to the citation, Laurence Narag Sr. served as his team’s radioman during a Marine operation on April 3, 2000. He decided to break away from the team in order to spy on a Moro rebel camp in Delabayan, Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte province.
He eventually drew enemy fire from snipers hiding in bunkers, which gave away the rebels’ position. He got shot and was bleeding as he radioed to his comrades where to unleash artillery and air support.
Narag later died from his wounds in a hospital.
An estimated 200 Moro fighters were then at the rebel camp. If not for Narag’s efforts, the 18 other Marines in his team would have just fallen into a trap, the citation said.
“He virtually walked into danger, offering his body as a target,” said a teary-eyed Leset.
The widow said she had since taken comfort in seeing Laurence Jr. taking his studies very seriously.
The military pension had helped the family get by, but the annual stipend from Hero Foundation had “gone a long way in helping him pursue his education.”
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