"What this Country needs is not a change OF men but a change IN men" March 1980

Sunday, August 31, 2008

TRIBUTE: Capt. De Dios, Maj. Zambrano & the valiant crew of C-130 Tail 4593

Senator Gordon with Major Manuel Zambrano after a successful transport of fruits from Cotabato to Manila for the Fruits for Hope peace initiative.

Today we give tribute to nine officers of our Philippine air force—all good men, all committed to the service of our country and our people right through to the end.

On Monday, Philippine Air Force officers Captain Adrian de Dios and Major Manuel Zambrano, along with their crew composed of Sergeants Constantino Lobregat; John Arriola; Gerry Delioso; Felix Pedro Patriarga; Petronilo Fernandez; Patricio Claur, Jr.; and Sergeant Aldrin Ilustrisimo, gave their lives in the service of our nation.

They perished when their C-130 aircraft crashed in the Davao Gulf. They died not in the middle of the theater of war but no less, and I emphasize, no less in the service of peace.

They were not geared for battle but were on a humanitarian mission to deliver life-saving aid to those caught in calamity, and to rescue fellow Filipinos from the wreckage of disaster.

While our stereotyped image of the soldier is one that involves the use of weapons to kill an enemy, Captain de Dios and his men showed us another side of the soldier’s life mission: to become a lifeline to those in need, to be the bearers of hope and the chance to start over. They showed us not the face of war but instead, a vision of our greatest aspirations: peace, harmony, dignity and progress for every Filipino.

Senator Gordon and Red Cross Team with pick-up truck and supplies on board C-130 #4593 bound for Marinduque and Catanduanes Relief Operations January 26, 2007

I have had the honor of flying on the C-130 with Major Zambrano and the others on several humanitarian missions as the Chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross. In my conversations with Zambrano, his co-pilot, and crewmen, I had a sense that they were happier to be flying on missions of peace rather than delivering the implements of war.

It was on a flight for the PNRC's Fruits of Hope program, I believe that Zambrano and the others felt the fulfillment of their role as keepers of peace.

The Fruits of Hope Program of the Philippine National Red Cross seeks to alleviate poverty among our brother Filipino Muslim farmers. This is done by helping link the farmers in Sulu and Cotabato to fruit buyers in Metro Manila. In that way, we can assure them of a better livelihood, a sense of equal dignity and brotherhood with the rest of the Philippines.

On a higher level, what Major Zambrano and his colleagues were doing was not simply a livelihood project: in a very real way, it was taking away the sense of desperation and alienation among our Filipino Muslim brothers that has become fertile soil in which extremists sow their ideas of violence and destruction: the fruits of those extremist ideals are now upon us, unfortunately.

Still, the efforts of Captain de Dios, Major Zambrano and their fellow officers are not and will never be in vain: it is through their heroic efforts and sacrifices that many Filipino Muslims today grow strong in their sense of being peaceful and productive partners in their community’s and our nation’s progress.

More importantly, these Air Force officers showed us that through acts of caring and compassion, we can all work for peace—such acts are far more effective, in the long-term, in securing peace than any successful battle . Indeed, they proved that an open hand offered in peace holds more courage than a hand gripping a gun.

These words are just the beginning of the real tribute that these air force officers deserve. The real tribute we can give them would be to live out our lives guided by the love, passion and commitment they offered to their fellow countrymen.

In reflecting on the tragedy of their deaths, in remembering their heroism in life, let us extend to Captain de Dios and his men the ultimate honor, the greatest tribute: to allow ourselves to be inspired by their example, and to work even harder for peace, progress and unity between all Filipinos.

Let us make that pledge in their memory and for the sake of all the Filipinos they served with valor, commitment and unwavering duty, until the end.

30 August 2008
Jesus Villamor Airbase
Pasay City


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