NAGA CITY – Bicolano Cadet First Class John Paul Bacsain said he never saw himself ending up as top three on the honors list when he entered the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) as a nerdy and skinny boy of 17.
Speaking from his barracks in Baguio City, Bacsain radiated with humility through the telephone while he and his batchmates were preparing for their graduation rites come March 15 in PMA.
Bacsain gained the third spot among the Sundalong Isinilang na may Angking Galing at Lakas na Handang Ipaglaban ang Bayan (Sinag Lahi) Class 2015 PMA. Cadet First Class Arwi Chiday Martinez, 21, from Buguias, Benguet emerged as this year’s topnotcher followed by Cadet First Class Genesis Salvador Dizon of Sta. Maria, Zamboanga City. They lead the 171-member graduating class.
He said he has decided to join the Philippine Army soon, choosing the branch of service over Navy and Air Force.
As the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and its breakaway group Justice Islamic Movement (JIM) continued, Bacsain said he would be ready to take on an assignment in Mindanao should the government decides to deploy him there.
He said being an Army soldier means being ready to fight for the country whatever the cost.
He said he believes the training he had in PMA was enough to toughen him against the challenges in Mindanao.
“I’m not exactly afraid of death because it comes to all of us. If given the power to choose the manner with which I would die, I would rather die for a noble cause. Let’s say, if someone dies in a bus accident at the same time that I die in the fighting in Mindanao, we end up with the same destiny – we both died. But, I think my death would be more meaningful,” he said.
He said that the learnings he had in PMA med him realize that death should not be feared but be seen as a part of life.
He said he is more afraid for those he might leave behind and the effect of his death on others.
PUJ driver’s son
The 21-year-old native of Pili, Camarines Sur said he had already conditioned his mind for entering the Army even before he enrolled at the PMA in 2011.
“I enrolled here because I know I can continue my studies with PMA up until I graduate unlike if I take up any one of the scholarships I won in other universities,” he said. “If I had enrolled in other universities, I would be expected by my parents to stop at some point to allow my other siblings to study because my parents cannot afford to send us all to school at the same time.”
Bacsain explained that his father’s income from driving public utility jeepneys in Pili town was never enough to keep them all six kids in school. “Jep,” as he is fondly called by his family and friends, was the third child.
His father Jonathan, 52, would ask jeepney owners to hire him for a day to drive for a small sum of money which he takes home to his wife Averita, 51, who stays home to raise their children.
“Jep” said he saw enrolling at PMA as an effective way to help his parents send his younger siblings and himself to school.
He said he always sent some of his monthly allowance from PMA to his family in order to add to their income.
Due to his nerdy reputation and skinny physique, “Jep” said he often heard people tell him he would never be able to survive the hard training at PMA.
“When I entered PMA, my weight was a mere 45 kilos. I gained some here. Now I am 55 kilos,” he said.
“Jep” graduated from Pili National High School as class valedictorian in 2009. He also finished at the top of his class from Pili West Central Elementary School in 2005.
“You see, I studied all the time. My social life was limited to playing basketball and other sports with my friends,” he said.
He said he used his detractors as inspiration, alongside his family, in finishing the PMA program.
“Jep,” as the third honor of Sinag Lahi, received the Secretary of National Defense Saber during their graduation day at PMA.
Martinez, who also graduated as cum laude of his class, received the Presidential Saber from President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III while Dizon, who placed second, received the Vice Presidential Saber from Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, Sr.