The story begins with one man down. It’s not the way most stories start but then this isn’t a typical story we often hear about Sinulog. This, here, is the unpopular story of people clad in military camouflage that we happen to glimpse at the sides as we busy ourselves parading down crowded streets.
Later that day, the rest would come to know one of us fell behind but, thank heavens, he is already in good hands. Nothing can capture what this kind of people are made of–they are the ones you see soaked under the vomiting sky only to be dried again under scourging heat while keeping their cool in front of an unruly crowd. Nothing, and I mean nothing, until you experience it yourself.
The Naval Reserve Command, officially known as NAVRESCOM, is one of the Philippine Navy’s Major Support Commands. The primary objective? To expand the forces of the Philippine Navy in the event of invasion, rebellion, or—in the absence of war—provides aide during calamities and assists in the socio-economic development of the country. Enlisted volunteers are trained whether to be in Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) or the Basic Citizen’s Military Training (BCMT). Graduates and professionals are trained to take roles as regulars of the Philippine Navy. This was the closest I could get to following the footsteps of my father, First Lt. Albert Quiñanola, tall and proud soldier of the Armed Forces of Philippines. My one and only brother, Serg Albert Quiñanola II followed suit, became a scout ranger, airborne, and rose to the ranks as captain in the AFP.
When we were kids, Papa used to carry us–one after the other–on his shoulders every Sinulog. What better view than when you’re standing 6-feet tall in a sea of people.
Born and raised in our beloved Cebu, I’ve come to witness common scenes every Sinulog. The erratic weather patterns will test the devotees and fun-seekers alike. Selfies will flood before the contingents. The party will roll when bottles roll. Ayala Center Cebu will fill in the sweaty evening, fireworks will screen the night sky, and all is well in the land of more fun and coconut sun.
But the day starts differently on the other side of the fence. My colleague, Edd Buenaviaje, and I grabbed coffee along the way and made it to the Naval Reserve Center Eastern Visayas Headquarters at 03:25 a.m. A few of the reservists, some on the floor, others sprawled on the benches, were taking the night off from yesterday’s grueling duty so we stayed outside and awkwardly tried to blend in with the rest of the reservists preparing for the long day ahead. As daylight crept in, we joined the platoon in position of attention.
Whenever someone dear to you fills in the ranks, whether it’s an inner calling or not, you can’t help but give a silent call to the heavens to keep them safe come what may. A part of me dubbed it reckless courage to bravely challenge death at any given day should duty calls for it. It is the same sacrifice I’ve seen in my father and my brother and every man in uniform.
“Animapu’t-isa ang huling bilang, Ginoo!”, shouted the last reservist at our back, cutting my thoughts. Sixty-one. Would that be enough to hold the long stretch of P. Del Rosario Street? My thoughts went on but were again cut by the cheers of the pack as our commander officer announced the free lunch with our corresponding numbers on it. Edd numbered at 31 and I at 32.
“Tandaan! Maximum tolerance!”, shouted our commanding officer.
At 4:45 a.m., we were out of the headquarters and jogged our way to our posts in a single line formation, passing through the narrow alleys of downtown Cebu, Edd trailing behind me. It was here when the person ahead of us fell to his knees. Edd and a few others stopped to his aide.
Meanwhile, a rowdy swarm of buzzing Sinulog attendees in face paint and celebratory glee is a natural occurrence in the annual religious festival of the Child Jesus or Sto. Niño; a longstanding tradition that drew the attention of the adventurers and the curious from around the world. Upon arriving at our spot, we were ordered to take 10 steps away from each other but, as we were short numbered, we had to stretch out even further. Rain was a tease. It showered for a time, then came a bit of sun, drying up our soaked uniforms, only to shower again. This went on the entire day. The situation remained the same for grueling hours and we were not even half through the day yet.
Midday came and we were advised to take our packed lunch one at a time. Soaking wet and hungry, we found a spot under a storefront, stood there and quickly finished our lunch in five minutes as the crowd got thicker from afar, narrowing the road to a fraction of its original size. We had to pace back and forth in our respective posts to clear the road.
Squad leader Nathaniel Jacaban hopped from one post to another, and stepped in to help hold the line where the crowd turned unruly. I got a lot of head-to-toe stares with questioning looks, somewhat wondering what I was doing there, then, reading what’s on my shirt, immediately followed the direction to where I lead them to.
At the back of my head, I know I had to be somewhere. Truth be told, I had plans for the Sinulog afternoon and I had this script running in my head. It went something like, “Permission to leave sir. I am expected somewhere.” No, perhaps, “Sir, kung okay lang po, pwede po ba mag half day?” That was worse. Regardless, the present circumstance dictates I should remain in my post. How do soldiers say it? Leave no man behind. It’s a phrase that began on the field of combat but now carries meaning for all of us.
I owe it very much to a father that taught me the dangers of sloppiness and tyrant-leaders, one that made room for others and is the first to lift a hand in defense of the helpless.
I learned a lot of lessons from my father and my brother in the military. Some didn’t surprise me, like developing a deeper understanding of patriotism and sacrifice. Others, such as “leave no man behind,” can be overwhelming.
In the military, the wider meaning of no one gets left behind doesn’t end in the battlefield. It permeates every aspect of military life, and witnessing this value in action has been one of the most beautiful examples of scripture I’ve ever seen lived out. It’s the same value that saved my brother’s life in combat. I think it should be incorporated to life in general. No matter the circumstance, the Child Jesus wants us to look after each other, that no one is left out or left behind under any circumstances.The world can be cruel, torn by conflict, wrecked by natural disasters, but it can also be a good place when we learn to look past our opposing views and political biases to the truth of bone and muscle and a beating heart.