Memories of his sister's selfless role in his own survival from the farmlands of Tinambac, Camarines Sur inspired Army 1Lt. Abel Porto, 30, to pass on his own contribution to the life of a young boy whom he met in the hinterlands of Sultan Kudarat 4 years ago.
Porto was patrolling in an NPA-infested village of Sucob in Columbio town when he was approached by two villagers.
One of them was Arnold Batawan, a frail looking, 15 year-old boy. He was accompanied by his uncle who brought the sad news.
"Sir, I want you to take good care of my nephew whose father was killed by suspected NPA bandits. He was traumatized by the untimely death of his father and his mother could no longer afford to feed all four of his children," the nervous uncle said.
A poor farmer's son himself, Porto felt the urge to extend a helping hand upon learning the sad plight of the young man.
"I can mirror myself in his situation so I decided to extend a helping hand to give him an opportunity to face a bright future," said Porto.
"Ate Jael was single and 24 years old when she took responsibility of me and my other siblings. She knew our parents couldn't afford to send me to school so she devoted herself to support my education until I was admitted to PMA. I want to return the favor not only by supporting the education of my other siblings but also helping a poor kid this time," said Porto, the seventh of 10 children.
Volunteering as the foster Kuya, Porto brought young Arnold to his command post in Columbio town where he sought the permission of his Commanding Officer, then 1st Lt Richard Dinayugan, 31.
Knowing that Batawan had only finished primary education, Porto also recommended to Dinayugan that they send him to school.
Aware of the child recruitment efforts by the communist rebels, Dinayugan allowed Porto to take good care of Arnold inside the camp and encouraged his men to support Batawan's education by providing him anything he needed.
"Arnold was very diligent and good-mannered despite his lack of good education. My subordinates learned to love him as a brother so they provided him with clothes and even contributed an amount from their food allowance to support his high school education," said Dinayugan, a member of PMA Class 2006 and a native of Kiangan, Ifugao.
Hardwork and perseverance
Due to his educational deficiency, Arnold underwent special tutorial at Koronadal Comprehensive High School to improve his writing and reading skills.
Occasionally, the soldiers themselves, especially Porto and Dinayugan, served as his mentors. They gave him guidance and extra instruction to help him learn the lessons easily.
Later, they enrolled him at Tupi National High School for his secondary education.
Tsg Jerry Iranzo, the Company First Sergeant, said that all soldiers belonging to Bravo Company unanimously decided to give financial support for Batawan so that he will be motivated to finish secondary education.
He said that they were like a 'band of brothers' who look after a poor child.
"Every soldier contributed P10.00 from our allowance so that Arnold can have something to spend while attending school, " said Iranzo, a father of 7 children.
Motivated by the genuine care provided by his new family, Batawan burned candles to keep up with his school requirements.
He learned not only to read and write but also how to cook various Filipino dishes.
Through his hardwork and perseverance, Arnold, now 20, finally graduated on March 28, 2014.
He proudly marched with his fellow graduates to receive the much coveted diploma which is the product of four long years of hard work.
Because his mother was busy tending the farm in his far-away village, he requested his Kuya, Lt Abel Porto, now the CMO officer of the 27th Infantry Battalion, to witness the momentous event. Porto gladly obliged to accompany Batawan and share his glorious moments during the graduation ceremony.
"We know how poverty can mislead children to insurgency. We didn't want him to become like that so we ensured that he finish school and get more opportunities," he said.
Entering a new chapter in his life, Batawan has expressed his intention to become a soldier.
"I want to serve the people like my brothers in Bravo Company. I also want to help my family rise from poverty by sending my own siblings to school. I learned that there is hope through education," said Batawan who is currently taking a vocational course.