“What if he has a knife and stabs me? He still held his M14 rifle pressed between our bodies. What if he fires it?” As these thoughts raced through my mind, I heard the same voice earlier say, “May baril ka!” (You have a gun!).
LtCol. Ebarita, who was then an army lieutenant, found himself locked in with the rebel fighter on the ground as they rolled over and over. His left arm was severely wounded by one of the shots fired earlier, causing his ulnar bone to break. Both he and the rebel were engaged in a fight for their lives! As they struggled, the lieutenant remembered something from the second night of their mission.
It was the day before—our second day of combat operations in the area—when I remembered that an army officer, also a friend of mine, lost his .45 pistol when he maneuvered from one battle position to another during a firefight. This story prompted me to put my pistol inside my backpack. The following day, I decided to rig the pistol onto my right thigh, thinking that my right hand could easily pull the gun in case my rifle malfunctioned.
Little did I know how much that simple action would save my life!
As I continued rolling on the ground with the rebel fighter, I fought desperately to stop him from killing me. With my rifle gone and my left arm bleeding, my hands furiously engaged in hand-to-hand combat. I sunk my teeth deep into the rebel’s face and heard him moan in agony. Then the small voice spoke again: “May baril ka!” (You have a gun!) I was reminded of the cal.45 pistol rigged to my thigh. I quickly drew it and fired a shot at the enemy’s forehead.
I quickly crawled away from the body and sought refuge under a coconut tree. While in hiding, I heard whispers: “Barilin mo!” (Shoot him!) said one guy. “Wag! Baka comrade siya!” (No, he might be a comrade!) replied the other. They had spotted me!
“Lord, help me!” I prayed. “I am separated from my men and close to my enemies!”
My eyes chanced upon the big wound on my left arm. I realized only then that I had been shot. A lot of blood oozed from it. I prayed again, “Lord, I am wounded and alone. Is this my last day on earth? If the rebels see me run, they will shoot me. If I run back to my men, they might mistake me as an enemy charging toward them, and they could also shoot me.”
As these thoughts raced through my mind, I heard someone shout from a distance. “Ka-Noli!” It was my code name! I heard that small voice prompting me once more. “Run!” Like earlier, the voice was gentle and clear. The command came only once. It was as if my only option was to obey or die. Doubts left me. I ran toward the position of my troops.
I yelled, “ ‘Wag kayo bumaril! Ako ‘to!” (Don’t shoot! It is I!”) When I reached the position of my men, the team sergeant who served as my security element told me that he thought I was dead. He had seen the gun-yielding rebel (whom he initially thought was one of our soldiers) fire two shots at me. At this sight, he decided to run back to the troops.
I ordered my soldiers to get into a skirmisher position and directed them to fire at the enemy. The exchange of fire lasted for at least ten minutes. After some time, we secured and cleared the encounter site. We recovered the bodies of the dead enemies, as well their weapons and belongings.
We informed headquarters of the incident. That night, I was brought to a nearby hospital in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, where my wound was cleansed and dressed. The following day, I was transferred to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center in Quezon City. I woke up in the hospital’s battle casualty ward.
It was there that I was able to reflect on everything that had just transpired. I read Psalm 91, where it says, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ ” The Lord’s promises greatly enlightened my heart. I was in awe of His grace, unmerited favor, and mercy. Though I had rejected Him and was not doing well in my personal relationship with Him, He still looked out for me and protected me.
Grace, Amazing grace
I was confined in the hospital for several months. The shattered bone had to heal for quite some time, and the nerves in my hands had to heal and stretch. Finally, on the seventh month after the incident, I was discharged from the hospital. I returned to duty. The wound had closed and the bone had slowly healed.
The Lord ministered to me all throughout the period of my recovery. I asked His forgiveness for all of my wrongdoings. I determined to make things right before Him. My relationship with the Lord greatly improved and my faith in Him was restored. I put my trust in Him, knowing that He had gone ahead of me and would always go before me in every situation.
One day, while I was in therapy for my arm, my girlfriend called me up to tell me that our relationship was over. I yielded to her desire; I let her go. Then, I got a phone call from the Operations Officer of the Special Forces Regiment. He asked me if I was fine, and if my hand was ready for combat operations. I told him I felt good. He related to me that one of our Special Forces companies in Southern Philippines had suffered a number of casualties in a firefight against the rebels. I was to fill in the vacancy of leadership because the unit head was wounded and hospitalized. The company commander from a nearby area had been pulled out to lead that unit in a sustained pursuit of the enemy, leaving his own unit with a vacancy I was to occupy. I accepted the challenge. I did not ask for it, but due to the need of the unit and my availability, I took it.
I then thought of Suzette, whose heart I had broken. The base of the unit where I would be assigned to was a town away from Suzette’s place. Was this a coincidence? Or was it part of God’s plan? I remembered Jeremiah 29:11— “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ “
I assumed command of the unit and performed my tasks as Company Commander of the SF company. There, I learned that Suzette did not have a relationship with anyone else after our break-up. There was a man who had courted her, but she did not welcome him. She made good her word to pray for me.
Suzette and I reconnected with each other, and our relationship was restored. Seven months later, we decided to be together for life. We married each other in General Santos City with the blessings of our parents—Fernando (Sr) & Susan Bulaong, and Pedro Ebarita.
By the grace of the Lord, our union has been blessed with three kids— two girls, Angel Ronette and Angelica Rozette, and a boy, Ron David.
I have continued in military service, both as an officer and a family man. The journey hasn’t been smooth and perfect, with me falling several times along the way. Still, I am thankful to the Living God because He is faithful, lifting me up every time. He has never left me.
It is now 2020, twenty-five years since I joined the army. Currently, I am with the Training and Doctrine Command, Philippine Army. As a man in uniform, I am continually serving God by sharing His love to others. King David’s declaration in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” is indeed true to me!
All that I am and accomplished, I owe to the Lord my God, my Savior who has picked me up and turned me from nothing to something. He is the God who always goes ahead of me— even in the valley of the shadow of death.
 Footnote: The Skirmisher Position is a combat formation that conforms to the shape of the ground, usually linear and facing the enemy while making use of available cover like trees, stones, boulders, canals, etc.
*First published on Jan. 25, 2020