[This is a homage to our men in uniform - the fallen, the wounded, the survivors and the unscathed - who played different roles during the entire Marawi siege, in remembrance of their heroism, a year after the outbreak of the armed conflict. To all the wives of officers and enlisted men whose beautiful and smiling faces effectively camouflage the raging storms within that God alone can calm, and only those amongst us can understand, this piece is also dedicated. (Written on the 29th day of May 2017, the eve of my husband’s voyage to Mindanao on board, and as the Commanding Officer of BRP Pampanga, to render Martial Law duties)].
By Atty. Ma. Pelita B. Dotado-Viliran
Cdr Angel Z. Viliran of the Philippine Coast Guard (right) receives an award from President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo supplied
MARRIAGE to a soldier-sailor, particularly a ship captain, is not for the faint hearted. It is a daily test of faith and fortitude. Specifically now, during Martial Law.
Last week, my husband’s ship docked in Manila harbor. Not for the captain
and his men to come home to their wives from their recent Bali, Indonesia mission - but to transport soldiers, relief goods, arms and ammunition to Marawi. Martial Law covers only Mindanao. However, for the families of the men in uniform deployed to the area, it is felt right in our hearts and homes; in the vessel which my husband considers home while it floated in Manila Bay.
I immediately sensed Martial Law upon seeing my husband and his men aboard. Ordinarily, they wear a navy blue coverall. This time, they were clad in a blue-gray “digital camouflage” – garment manufacturers modernized the look with its pixilated design. But no matter how trendy, a combat outfit still brings shivers down my spine, and does not provide a safer cover to my husband, nor lessen the terror the thought of armed conflict brings to me. Right there where I stood aboard, 506 miles away from the combat zone - I smelled war. I used this phrase many times in my legal writing, describing the brewing conflict between spouses. Now for the first time, I am using it in its literal sense.
Even in wartime, the wife in me primarily thinks of myself and my children. I did not want my husband to leave. I wished for all possible reasons for the voyage to at least be delayed, if not to get cancelled - for an engine trouble, perhaps, or whatever last minute orders that could derail the trip. I simply wanted a little more of my husband around, and still see my children like other kids, basking in the company of their father. Yet in Marawi, weeping widows and orphans are famished begging for government aid; and coastal areas need coastguardsmen to watch the ports and borders for escaping and incoming extremists; and the army soldiers running out of ammunition anytime, if he does not sail.
As my thoughts shifted to these wartime scenarios, I was reminded of my husband’s higher calling. With Marawi at war and Mindanao under Martial Law, his southward expedition is imperative.. He was not born to sail a cruise ship in the Carribean. He is destined to command a Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP), at this specific time.
While the loading was underway, the Captain managed to disembark for quick errands. He bought my belated Mother’s Day gifts and the kids’ shirts for Father’s Day - an event we celebrate even when he is away. He had a haircut, with short hair still a must among soldiers even in war season. We dined out, talked of light funny stuff, attended worship service as a family, then returned aboard. Not a single night was he allowed to spend at home, so we joined him instead aboard.
This docking flew swiftly like a breeze. Just five short days. Nonetheless, it was meaningful and resonant as lasting memories of love for family and country were built in this brief period. Even just a few hours can be magical. It can beat years of dull togetherness if one is intentional to make each passing minute a magic to be stored - both in thoughts and in writing, as I am doing now.
Time is a scarce commodity for soldiers and their wives. Our men in uniform are married first to their calling, and second only to their wives - a hard reality that every soldier’s bride soon wakes up to after her dreamlike military wedding – where the groom dashing in white duck or gala uniform waits for her at the altar, and together in wedded bliss they walk away in red carpet under the honorary arch of shining sabers by his comrades in arms. For some, this awakening comes just a few days after the wedding feast, when the groom leaves his new bride for a faraway deployment. To me, it happened when my husband, then an ensign, sailed away as a crew to Malaysia one Yuletide season – while I was six months pregnant with our second child, and our eldest, barely nine months old, spent his first Christmas and new year without his dad. It was followed by several Christmases, new years and many family occasions with him afar – either afloat or ashore on posting or schooling, locally and overseas. But the reality of this physical estrangement is more deeply felt in tonight’s voyage, with the awareness of the greater and real risks awaiting in Mindanao.
As time is elusive to military couples, most particularly at this challenging season, whatever is subtracted from us in time, we just try to make up in love. I defy the theory that love is spelled t-i-m-e. If I subscribe to such limiting view, then it would be impossible for love to thrive in military unions where the time element is always lacking, when in fact, soldiers can be the best lovers if only they are given time to spare and manifest.
In war season where death and gloom pervade, love thrives even more. It is a God given antidote to fear – a gift freely received, thus we can in turn freely share. It is in our hands whether to keep it stale and depleted, or make it fresh and grow in abundance. Love follows our orders anywhere we want it sent, wherever our husbands go, disregarding distance. We decide how much of its seeds we plant, nourish, or prune. Love is ours to make, add and multiply, ad infinitum. The love in our hearts could not be constrained by other people. No natural nor man-made calamities can make it stop, neither could it be dampened or suppressed. Not even by war. Nor by Martial Law.
(The writer writes poetry and essays in between writing legal briefs. She is an officer’s wife, being married to Cdr Angel Z. Viliran, PCG, who sailed the vessel around Mindanao many times for the duration of the siege).