Theirs was a love that blossomed from a reluctant meeting at the country’s premier military school.
Janine Paola Cubillan was 22 when she met her knight in shining armor in Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in August 2012. She was a young Registered Nurse who recently passed her board exams. She was not really looking for love when her sister dragged her all the way from her home to Baguio City as a chaperone so she could meet her own boyfriend who was a cadet.
Raphael Vicente Cubillan, 23, was a third year cadet when he first laid eyes on Janine at PMA.
At first, she was not interested in him. But with text messages, and a whole lot of patience on Cubillan’s part, they became closer than friends five months later.
He would always find time to call her to share his experiences and his life as a cadet officer amidst sweet messages that captured her heart. His stories and perseverance made her interested in the life of a military man.
On February 8, 2013, they were deeply in love with each other. He called her “Opao,” a derivative of her first name. In return, she called him “Kubi-kubs,” the name that Cubillan used on his Facebook account during his cadetship.
Paola said that she fell in love with him because of his sweetness.
"Kubi-kubs was very sweet and thoughtful. I was swept off my feet when one day, he expressed his love for me," she said.
Distance could not hinder their budding relationship. From time to time, she would fly to Manila and travel all the way to Baguio to meet him.
On February 11, 2014 she delivered their lovely daughter. It was not really expected but he promised to marry her right after graduation.
2nd Lt. Raphael Vicente Cubillan of Surigao City was a young and dashing cadet of the Philippine Military Academy when he met Paola in 2012.
They were a young couple but they tried their best to fulfill their responsibilities as parents and lovers. They rented a house in Cagayan de Oro City where Opao worked as a nurse in a hospital.
She said that Kubi-kubs entrusted her the family finances by leaving behind his payroll ATM card. They would discuss about saving for their future and sustain their family needs.
"We thought about saving an amount for Sophia's future so we dutifully set aside money for AFPSLAI. I tried my best to manage our finances by monitoring our monthly expenses based on our agreed budget," she revealed.
When he was deployed to the Army's 8th Infantry Division in Samar in June 2014, he invited his Opao to join him there. He was part of the training committee of the Candidate Soldier Course that was held inside the headquarters.
For two months, they lived as a true military couple inside the Army camp. She gained more insights about the lives of soldiers and their families who stayed there.
"For two months, we stayed in a military barracks together with our daughter. We took turns washing the dishes and our laundry during his spare time."
She also said that she experienced eating the usual delicacy that is prepared by the soldiers in the mess hall.
"We ate sardines and vegetables which were cooked by soldiers. I got to know them one by one because he would often feed them after seeing them tired during training," she said.
In October 2014, Kubi-kubs was deployed to Northern Samar to serve as a platoon leader. By that time, joining him was not advisable due to the risks of travelling through bandit-infested areas.
"He was sent to a remote place where you need to travel by bus and then by motorized banca. He did not allow us to visit there," she recalled.
Paola said that there were times cellphone signal was quite weak, but he called her almost every day. Hearing each other's voice and talking about their daily lives was what kept them going.
"He would tell me the exotic food that he ate and shared with me the challenges that he experienced as a combat leader. He would always check on us back home and ensured that we didn't have any problems," she said.
She said that there were times that she could not help but worry about him every time he asked permission to go on a mission.
"We would remind each other to pray and ask for God's protection. I knew that his life was always on the line every time he leaves for combat patrol."
She said that she kept praying for him when he was out on a delicate mission to hunt down the enemies of the state.
In the last week of January 2015, they planned to celebrate Sophia's first birthday. He applied for a five-day leave so that he can join the celebration that they set on February 13.
They planned many activities during his short leave to maximize their precious time together, including a memorable date during Valentine's Day.
"We wanted to spend sweet moments together like we’ve always done since we fell in love. We were inseparable every time we were together," she said.
Paola said that Kubi-kubs wanted to celebrate their daughter's birthday in a hotel in Cagayan de Oro City.
"He really wanted to make it a very memorable day for our daughter. He was willing to spend part of our savings just for Sophia," she said.
One day, Kubi-kubs became unsure about his availability to leave for Sophia's birthday. He told Paola that his unit had an impending mission deep in the jungles.
"He was worried that he might not be able to come on time for the birthday celebration. He told me to push through with the plan despite his absence."
She said that he had ensured that she got all the funds needed for the party. From time to time, he would ask if all requirements for the party had been completed.
"One day, I joked that he was the only one lacking in the birthday preparation. I told him not be absent that day," she said in between sobs.
Her cellphone became silent when he left for combat patrol on February 1.
After two days of walking through thorny grounds and sleeping on cold surfaces, Cubillan found a spot where there was a phone signal.
Paola let out a whoop of joy when her phone finally rang. Her happiness was magnified seeing the caller's name in the night on February 2, 2015. She heard his faint voice amidst the nocturnal sounds in the forest.
"Opao, your husband is pitiful now. I am very tired walking in rough terrain for two consecutive days to reach our objective. Can you please massage me, my love?"
Paola sensed that he was very exhausted but was very sweet to her during their conversation. She joined him in thoughts about their meeting.
"Let me hug and massage you my love Kubi-kubs. Don't worry. Let's make up for the lost time when I come home during Sophia's birthday party."
Knowing that her husband was still on a mission, she didn't hold him long. It never crossed her mind that it might be their last conversation.
At about 9 a.m. on February 3, Cubillan and 15 of his men were stealthily moving in a mountainous terrain of Las Navas town.
They were unaware that their patrol was already inside the bandits' lair during that time. They were deep into the enemy’s lair and safe sanctuary hidden by the thick forests.
Sgt Dante Labro, 38, the Platoon Sergeant, said that they spotted unarmed men in an adjacent hill. He said that Cubillan radioed the tactical command post about his observation.
"Lt Cubillan alerted all units who were also deployed near the vicinity. He suspected that they have spotted the members of the bandit group," said Labro, a native of Catbalogan, Samar.
All of a sudden, they spotted another three men heading towards their surveillance position. Since their position was already compromised, Cubillan decided to apprehend them.
"He wanted to ensure their identities by talking to the apprehended people who were unarmed. The only problem was that one of them suddenly ran away towards the hill to alert their comrades," said Labro.
When the staccatos of gunfire started, Cubillan and his men found themselves in a disadvantage position. He wanted to seize a vantage point to prevent his patrol from being annihilated.
Private First Class Michael Adao, 27, was positioned beside Cubillan as they inched their way towards the enemy positions using fire and maneuver.
"Seeing him beside us, we were motivated to press the fight against more or less 50 NPA bandits who were on top of that hill. Lt Cubillan did not want us to be killed one by one so he led the assault on the enemy positions," said Adao.
They were about 50 meters from the crest of the hill when Cubillan was fatally hit on his left chest. Adao pulled him towards a covered position to give first aid as the rest of their teammates led by Cpl Joselito Baraobadao, 28, continuously advanced to grab the commanding terrain.
After 30 minutes of heavy fighting, Cubillan's men victoriously seized the hill, sending the NPA bandits running towards the position of the blocking force led by Lt. Hans Sinay.
Labro promptly called for air MEDEVAC to bring Cubillan to the nearest hospital. A few hundred meters away, the troops of Lt Sinay engaged the fleeing bandits in a firefight.
Adao was comforting Cubillan who was gasping for breath while uttering his last words. He told his platoon leader to keep awake and pray.
Cubillan asked for a rosary because he wanted to pray. Teary-eyed, Adao handed over a rosary to his officer and let him sip water.
"Papa...Mama. Lord Jesus. Please let me live."
Adao was already sobbing when Cubillan called the names of his loved ones. He gripped his hands which were holding the rosary beads, assuring him that the UH1H Huey chopper was on the way.
"Paola...my wife. Sophia...my beloved daughter Sophia," Adao recalled Cubillan calling out to his family as his heartbeats started to slow down.
Cubillan rolled his eyes upon hearing familiar chopping sounds of the military helicopter as it buzzed above the forest cover, a few meters from the helicopter landing zone that they had secured.
Adao saw the final moments Cubillan took his last breaths before he passed away, the rosary that he gave him still clutched in his hands. He was in tears as he and Pfc Moreno carried Cubillan's lifeless body towards the chopper.
"I couldn't believe that I lost our beloved leader that day. I felt the pain of losing a dear brother," said Adao.
The members of Cubillan's patrol saw him off as the Huey took off with an enormous whoosh as it soared away, giant rotors slapping the air as it carried a fallen warrior away from the encounter site.
Paola was determined to grant the last wish of Cubillan a week before he died: To push through with the birthday party for Sophia even if he could not make it.
"I am grieving that Kubi-kubs is not with us anymore and the pain is unbearable. However, I felt that he will be very happy to see his daughter celebrating her first natal day," she said.
On February 11 (Wednesday), families and friends gathered as Cubillan's beloved daughter smiled at her well-wishers during the fun-filled party.
In her statement issued after the event, Paola expressed her sincerest thanks to all who provided their support.
"I am very grateful that you helped me ease the pain by making this day a happy one for me and my beloved husband."
She said that she felt sorry for her daughter who is unaware about the death of her father.
"My heart bleeds entertaining the thought that Sophia can no longer see her loving father. She will not experience having a doting father to teach her how to walk and to guide her as she grows," she added.
Despite her loss, Paola remains optimistic that peace will finally reign in the country. She said that she is hoping that there will be no more fighting among fellow Filipinos so that there will be no more senseless deaths.
During the eulogy for Cubillan that was witnessed by Army personnel, Paola reminded the soldiers about the other wish of her husband.
"To my husband’s fellow soldiers, do not lose hope. Strengthen your resolve to work to achieve peace for the Country, as I know that’s what my husband wished to achieve.”