President Rodrigo Duterte awarding the presidential saber award to Jaywardene Galilea Hontoria during the graduation rites at the Borromeo Field PMA 18 March 2018. Photo by Mau Victa/Rappler

“I WAS a farm boy,” shared 25-year-old Cadet First Class Jaywardene Galilea Hontoria during his valedictory speech, after achieving top honors in this year’s “Alab-Tala” (Alagad ng Lahing Binigkis ng Tapang at Lakas) Class 2018 of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

“I first learned to tie bundles of green leafy vegetables together, before I learned to tie my own shoelaces. I first learned to shoot cabbages into a native basket, before I learned to play basketball,” Hontoria related, growing up in Barangay Balabag, Pavia, Iloilo.

Hontoria is one of three children coming from an underprivileged family. He spent his childhood helping his father and mother – Oscar, 53, and Nancy, 51 – tend to their modest farm. With the aid of his aunt, Corazon Demaala, he was able to go to school and eventually enter college at West Visayas State University.

Hontoria says that as a naïve child he imagined he would be happy growing up to be the “most skillful farm boy in the world” – even asking his father to teach him how to plough a field at such an early age. But his father offered him some somber advice.

“One day while we were resting in our nipa hut, I asked Tatay to teach me how [plough the field],” Hontoria narrated. “However, instead of teaching me, he gave me a very striking statement that changed my life forever: Toto, mas mag-an magkapot sing ballpen kay sa mag-arado. Magtuon gid ikaw ti mayad.’”

“It translates to: Son, it is much easier and lighter to carry a pen than to hold a plough. You should study hard instead,” he shared. “Even though I was frustrated [at first], I realized that Tatay was right. I have felt how it feels to have [nothing] and that drives me to work for something that I do not have.”

“Life taught me this simple lesson, inspired by my Tatay’s words, I told myself to study hard so that someday and we have a more comfortable life,” he explained.

The Ilonggo Hontoria had already completed his bachelor’s degree and was already a registered nurse when he decided to enter the country’s premier military school.

“When I graduated from college and eventually acquired my professional license as a nurse, I was not able to feel that certain contentment in life. It was as if something was lacking,” the valedictorian explained.

“Then one day the opportunity of taking the PMA entrance  exam came knocking at my door the next thing I know I passed the exam. I was both hesitant and excited,” he beamed. “I left home with the thought that life would never be the same again.”

Hontoria admits that life in the Philippine Military Academy was not easy, but he persevered and pushed through nonetheless.

“We were pushed beyond our physical, mental, and psychological limits,” he related. “It is a life of orders and followership. A life of endless limitations and restrictions. A life of discipline.”

“But [in the PMA] we learned to face failures, frustrations and disappointments that crushed us down. We eventually learned to stand up with the lessons learned held in our hands. [We stand up proudly] because we [know we] have surrendered our freedom, our rights, our privileges, and the comforts of our care-free civilian lives in exchange for serving God, the country, and our people.”

During the graduation rites held on March 18, Hontoria received eleven awards, including the Presidential Saber, Chief of Staff Saber, Philippine Navy Saber, Academic Group Award, Australian Defense Best Overall Performance Award, Spanish Armed Forces Awards, Humanities Plaque, Natural Sciences Plaque, Social Sciences Palque, Jusmag Award, and Department of Leadership Plaque.

“To my batch mates in Balabag Elementary School in Pavia, Colegio de San Jose, West Visayas State University, and all Ilonggos, I share my success with all of you,” Hontoria said during the graduation ceremony led by President Rodrigo Duterte at Fort del Pilar in Baguio City.

But most of all Hontoria offers his success to his family, especially his beloved mother and father who have sacrificed so much for him.

“To my family, thank you for the ending support. You have always been my source of encouragement,” he said. “Parati ko pinapanalangin na dumating ang araw na kaya ko nang agawin ang mabigat ninyong buhat na responsibilidad sa pagpapalaki nyu sa amin. Ma, Pa, tama na po, kami naman po, ako naman po.”

Capping off his Valedictory speech, Hontoria offered a challenge and some encouragement to his fellow “Alab-Tala” Class of 2018: “It was indeed a long and difficult journey. We have made many sacrifices for us to reach this point, but things are yet to start as the whole Philippine nation awaits our selfless service. 282 strong members of the Alab-Tala Class of 2018, we can now all together say to the challenges that await us: Bring it on!”

Despite all his success and all the accolades he has received, Hontoria hopes to remain humble and continue to remember his roots.

“I hope that someday I could go back to our farm – the place where everything started – knowing that I have given my best for my country and the people,” he concluded./PN

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