His anxiety keeping him awake and alert, 29-year-old Corporal Romualdo Rubi clutched his M16 close to himself as he watched the bus make its way through the road ravaged by Typhoon “Auring” in the boundary between Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte that fateful day of March 18, 1991.
He was on his way back to his detachment, the scout rangers of 29 Infantry Battalion in Surigao del Sur, after visiting his family in Surigao City to deliver his salary. He was already days late for his promised return to his commander Major Taping because he was stranded for a week by the storm which rendered roads and bridges impassable.
But he was not worried about being considered AWOL. He was worried about something else. Something he could not yet figure out.
“I knew something was going to happen. I get that feeling just before getting into an encounter,” said Rubi, now a First Lieutenant of Philippine Army’s 3rdInfantry Division at 53.
Missing a buddy except for another soldier in civilian clothes armed with a pistol and two grenades, Rubi was watchful as the bus made its way through the road, littered with felled trees. The bus driver was complaining for having to stop three times due to blockages on the road but Rubi told him to push on.
Rubi, who was in his black scout ranger uniform, said he went down from the bus three times to remove logs and debris to keep the trip going. Little did he know that he just skirted danger. Later investigations revealed that he and his fellow passengers just went through at least nine anti-tank landmines planted there by members of local New People’s Army (NPA) unharmed
At around 2 p.m., they stopped at the foot of a hill in a barangay in Hayanggabon town where a Philippine Constabulary (PC) detachment was perched.
Taking his last P30, he invited the soldier he did not name to eat with him at a “karenderiya” where they were given more than they paid for after the owner took pity of the lone ranger in uniform.
“I knew something was up when the owner gave us their most delicious foods and all the rice we wanted. Apparently, she felt pity for me because she knew there were NPAs lurking around the detachment, destroying the huts and looking for policemen. She knew that if they saw me, they would kill me mercilessly and she was giving me what she thought would be my last meal,” he said.
While Rubi was eating, the NPAs were venting out their frustrations at the huts in the detachment after finding out that the 40 PCs there have already left the place. They reported to their main station in the city center as precaution against threats they were receiving from the armed group.
After eating their late lunch, Rubi and his companion decided to take a boat to his unit instead after the bus driver gave up and turned back. As they were walking towards the end of the 800 meter port, Rubi heard a cry behind them from the NPAs in the detachment.
“I heard someone coming for me. I told my fellow soldier to leave because I knew he wouldn’t stand a chance with just his pistol and grenades,” he said.
Taking his stand at the end of the port, Rubi said his prayers that he had been uttering all throughout the bus trip. He gripped his M16 and the two grenades he took from the soldier. He only had seven long magazines with him.
“I asked Jesus Christ again for guidance and strength. I decided to fight rather than be captured because that would be dishonor to me and my children. If I am going to die, I’d rather die fighting. I was ready to die,” he said.
He counted at least 100 rebels coming for him, the lone ranger at the port. Their high-powered firearms bursting bullets at him, Rubi aimed and shot. He saw seven fall down to the ground.
Despite his disadvantaged position, Rubi stood and exposed himself to the bullets. He kept fighting, feeling the enemy bullets bouncing off his ranger’s uniform.
“I alternated from standing at the port to standing in the boat. We started fighting at around 3:30 p.m. It all ended at around 6:30 p.m. They just kept coming,” he added.
Succeeding investigations revealed that Rubi was able to single-handedly kill 26 of the rebels who scuttled away after seeing that they cannot take down the lone ranger at the port despite their numerical advantage. Half a sack of spent bullets was found around the area with the nine landmines Rubi survived through.
Singular act of courage
Rubi was conferred by the AFP with the Medal For Valor Award in 1992. Affidavits given by the barangay captain in Hayanggabon, the PC Chief of Claver, Surigao del Norte and others who witnessed his act of courage at the port were all gathered to corroborate his statement.
The Medal For Valor Award is the highest award given by the Philippine President to military personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and recognized guerilla forces. To earn this award, the AFP personnel or recognized guerilla forces must have been involved in actual conflict with armed enemies, distinguishing himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. One must perform in action a deed of personal bravery or self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty as conspicuous as to distinguish him above his comrades.
The Philippine National Police also has an equivalent award called the Medalya ng Kagitingan which is given “for action of the recipient involving conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life and limb above and beyond the call of duty. In order to justify this award, a member of the PNP must perform in action a deed of personal bravery and self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty so conspicuous as to distinguish himself clearly above his comrades in the performance of more than ordinary hazardous service. In case of actual combat with armed enemies, this award may be given only if the enemy force is so overwhelming as compared to the government troops.”
Risk of life
Sgt. Claudio Forrosuelo, the hero of Matanog, Maguindanao, was also conferred with the same award in 2001. He volunteered as delaying force and inspired five others to do the same in an act of self-sacrifice to allow his fellow members of the 8th Scout Ranger Company, Second Scout Ranger Battalion, to reposition away from more or less 500 to 600 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in May 3, 2000.
Lt. Col. Michael Banua, his former commander, said Forrosuelo gave his life up to save his fellow soldiers in the 80-man company who were swarmed by the enemy in a four-hour firefight.
Banua, who is now the commander of 67th Infantry Battalion in Compostela Valley, said Forrosuelo showed the true essence of valor by sacrificing himself without thinking twice for his fellow scout rangers.
Forrosuelo’s daughter Precious Jewel was so inspired by her father’s journey that she joined the Philippine Army in 2014. She graduated from the Philippine Military Academy as a member of Siklab-Diwa Class of 2014, landing the 21st spot among 222 class members.
She is now a Second Lieutenant in the Army.
Following in her father’s footsteps, she also volunteered to join the same team of Scout Rangers that the elder Forrosuelo served in.
Rubi said among the benefits of being a Medal For Valor awardee was receiving educational benefits for his five children. All of his three sons and two daughters were able to avail of the free education in their schools. He was also given free tuition for his own schoolings while working for his promotion.
He and his family also receives P25,000 monthly as part of the benefits of the award which will be passed on to his wife and children when he passes away.
But, he felt that the most important and worth cherishing benefit was the fact that he is now seen as a hero even by the President of the Philippines and officers of the AFP.
He said the salutes he receives when wearing his medal in special occasions were enough to compensate for the sacrifice he made and the ultimate price he is willing to pay for his country.