My six siblings and I grew up in a farming family, in the humble town of Pamplona, Negros Oriental. My parents were ordinary individuals in the community, but they were well-respected because of their character and integrity—virtues they wanted us to inherit. My father was a supervising employee at a sugarcane plantation, and my mother was a housewife who took care of four boys and three girls. Though we knew hardship, we had fun tending goats and riding and bathing carabaos in the river.
My siblings and I had a hunger for education, and our parents encouraged us to learn despite the challenges of distance and funding. College days were difficult because tuition fees were high. We often made promissory notes so we could take our exams. Eventually, we finished our degrees one after the other. I finished my Reserve Officer Training Course (ROTC) and Advance Summer Training or Military Science 43, which opened a door for me to the Philippine Army.
My Mother’s Predicament
Ronie Ebarita with his mother
Tragedy struck us one day in 1991, while my mother was tending cattle. She accidentally fell to the ground and injured her pelvic bone. Months later, she complained of pain and was brought to a hospital in Dumaguete City, where a blood clot was found in her pelvic bone. This clot caused a tumor to grow.
Mama’s doctor referred her to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila for medication. My father sold some of our farm animals for their fare and for Mama’s medication. After several months, they finally came home.
Life in Manila
In 1993, I decided to go to Manila to process my papers in the Philippine Army. I wanted to fulfill my childhood dream of being a soldier. I arrived in Manila in April.
I submitted my application to the army and took the tests for the Army Officer Preparatory Course (OPC) at Fort Bonifacio, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines General Classification Test (AFPGCT) for Officer Candidate Course in Camp Aguinaldo. On the 1st of January1995, along with 34 other selected applicants, I took an oath before the National Flag at the Headquarters of the Philippine Army as a newly called to-active-duty Second Lieutenant.
After graduating from the Army Officer Preparatory Course, we were placed on detached service in Headquarters & Headquarters Support Group, Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio. It was there that I got a call from my youngest sister, Liezel. She told me that Mama could no longer walk. The strength of both her legs was gone, forcing her in bed for days. She was brought to the Silliman University Medical Center (SUMC) where the doctor explained that the tumor in her pelvic area grew, and that Mama only had months left to live.
I was devastated. Now that I could provide for Mama, I was losing her. I decided to make a deal with the Lord. I told Him that if He would heal my mother, I would surrender my life to Him.
My Growing Faith
I was introduced to Col. Vic Tigas, an active Army officer and anointed pastor of the Friends of Jesus Christ Ministries in Makati. On October 15, 1995, both Liezel and I received Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord. This meant that we surrendered our lives to Him. Then came the desire in my heart for my whole family to receive Christ.
Pastor Tigas visited Mama in the hospital. He prayed for her healing and shared the message of the Lord to her. She received Christ, and I believed she would also receive her healing.
While my mother was still in the hospital, I continued with the Special Forces Operations Course in Fort Magsaysay. About three weeks into training, I received word from Mama’s doctor that she needed to be sent home, as her case was “hopeless” and her body too weak to handle chemotherapy. The doctor added that she might only live for another year.
With faith growing in my heart for her healing, I told them to bring Mama home to Pamplona. The Lord extended the life of Mama from mere months to 4 years.
Even while being away from home, I learned from the Bible that I had to share the message of salvation to those who did not know God yet, so I shared Christ to my Commanding Officer, the members of my unit, the hundreds of the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGUs) under my company, and the civilian communities.
The Lord’s Chosen One for Me
Ronie Ebarita with Suzette Bulaong
During this time, I came to know of a young lady who passionately served the Lord. Her name was Suzette Bulaong. She was the eldest and only girl of three siblings. She was a senior college student at the Mindanao State University in General Santos City. One night, while I was praying, the Lord showed me a picture of a lady. Then I remembered that long ago, I prayed to Him regarding a checklist for my future wife: a Christian; familiar with hardships in life; comfortable with my parents and my siblings; that I was to be her first boyfriend, and that she was pure. The image of the lady the Lord showed me was Suzette’s!
Obeying the Lord, I told Suzette about what God revealed to me. In response, she told me to ask permission from her dad and her grandfather. I talked to her parents and Lolo, laying down my intentions. By God’s grace, they all gave their consent. Suzette then accepted me as her sweetheart and became my partner in every endeavor for the Lord. She finished her studies and worked at General Santos City while continuing to serve the Lord.
I underwent the infantry officer basic course at Nueva Ecija. On the night of October 2, 1999, I received a phone call informing me of sad news: my mother had passed away. I was able to accept the news— at first. I remembered Job’s words: “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be His Name” (Job 1:21). After a while, Mama’s death started to sink in. I went to the basketball court and cried my heart out. The following day, I requested for an emergency pass from my course director. Suzette went home with me to comfort me and my family. After Mama’s burial, I accompanied Suzette to Tupi, and then, I went back to Fort Magsaysay.
My relationship with the Lord wasn’t the same anymore when I reported back to school. My heart grew cold. I was far from the Lord. I felt that faith was no longer essential with the passing away of my mother. I finished my military schooling in December of 1999, and by January 2000, was reassigned to the 4th Special Forces Battalion in Laguna.
I decided to turn my back on the Lord. I also rejected the woman He had chosen for me. Without a clear reason to give, I broke off my relationship with Suzette. She was saddened by our break-up, but she assured me , “I’ll be praying for you… .” Soon after, I entered into a relationship with another woman. This woman eventually brought up the topic of marriage. I remembered my checklist. I knew I was in rebellion with the Lord.
A Life and Death Encounter
Ebarita is fifth from left, last row
That same year, my Battalion received an order to transfer to Batangas. However, there was an ongoing combat operation in the area of responsibility that we had yet to complete. I volunteered to clear several targets in Pagsanjan. With me were 10 soldiers, 2 CAFGUs, and a civilian guide. We began the mission with a habitual prayer, as I did each time just before jump off. We hit our objectives on the first and second day.
The rebels were aware of our presence. On the third day, while we were resting, I received information that a rebel group was sighted on a certain location. Our guide knew the place. We planned to clear out the said place. By nightfall, we went on our way.
The full moon made it easy for us to move. After hours of walking, we halted, spotting a light that flickered inside a hut. It was already 10 o’clock in the evening. The hut was surrounded by coconut trees and oranges, approximately 100 meters from where we were. I moved forward to check it out, bringing along three soldiers and the guide. I ordered one soldier to close-in on the hut and peek inside. He informed us that there were four men sleeping inside with an air gun. Sensing no danger since the men appeared to be orchard workers, I asked them to come outside.
“Who are you?” asked one of the men inside the hut.
“We are comrades,” I replied.
When they came out, I took the oldest-looking of the four men away from the hut and asked him some questions. Unknowingly, one of the four men snuck away. I made sure that as we talked, I had my back covered by a security element. Little did I know that two guys armed with M14 rifles had gone past my security and had their rifles aimed at my chest. My security thought that these were our own. He was wrong.
I was stunned. I had cold sweats. I sensed that these men were rebels; enemies who stood before me, eyeball to eyeball.
“Who are you?” the two asked.
“I’m a comrade!” I answered.
“I’ll raise my hands!” I said this in hopes of gaining their trust.
“Yes, do it!” they replied.
As I lifted my hands up, I heard a still, small voice telling me, “Fight back!” I realized that it was the Lord speaking. The moment I heard the voice, fear left me, and I came back to my senses!
The muzzles of the M-14 rifle pointed to my chest were so close. I parried them and grabbed the armed rebel on my right, using him as my shield! The rebel I “hostaged” shouted at his comrade not to fire. However, the other fighter started to move to the side. He fired at us twice, point blank. I saw the blaze of fire from the gun-yielding rebel as the firearm discharged. Sporadic fire popped from all around. The companions of the rebels began firing at the direction of my troops, and my troops were returning fire. We could hear the sound of the bullets flying above our heads, while the two of us— the rebel whom I held hostage and myself— fell to the ground, rolling over and over.
My mind was hazy. Only one of us could live! I held the man tight underneath me, pressing him to the ground. I grabbed his neck with my right hand to choke him. My left arm was under his shoulders on the ground. I didn’t realize my arm was severely wounded. It was broken by one of the shots fired at us, though I didn’t feel the pain due to the adrenalin rush.
What if he has a knife and stabs me? What if he fires his M14 rifle; a weapon still in his hands and in-between us? These were the thoughts racing through my mind! All I could think of was how I could defeat this foe before he had the chance to fight me back.
END OF PART 1
Read PART 2 next week in One Voice Magazine!
*First published on Jan.18, 2020