To his colleagues, my father was Cefy. To his friends, he was Fering. To his family, he was Liling. He was born Ceferino Bravo de la Cruz, on June 15, 1932 in the quiet town of Tuao, Cagayan, Philippines. He was the 3rd of 5 children of public school teachers, Agustin and Celestina de la Cruz. His father was a gentleman who was half-Chinese, while his mother was a tough lady from Ilocos Sur, who carried a stick to keep her children in line. Daddy spent many of his years growing up in the Mountain Province of Kalinga, Philippines, where he learned skills like hunting with a slingshot, gathering wild honey using a torch and smoke, preparing and cooking a whole lechon all by himself, and learning his favorite hobby, carpentry.
In his teenage years, Daddy had become an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of the Philippines. During World War II, he had learned to count and sing in Japanese. He also had witnessed as his older brother, Alfredo, volunteered into the army at the tender age of 16. His brother got captured in Bataan, walked the Death March, almost died of pneumonia in the Tarlac concentration camp, was set free to be with his family, and then joined the guerrillas to continue fighting for his country. In part, his brother inspired a strong sense of patriotism in Daddy.
Like all his brothers and sister, Daddy studied in the University of the Philippines. He had become a great athlete, a gymnast, a swimmer and a stage dancer. The girls loved him, not only because he was an expert boogie and tango dancer, but because he always treated them with decency and respect.
He graduated from the Advanced ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) in 1953, with the reserve army rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He was a lifelong member of the prestigious officers' fraternity, The UP Vanguard Incorporated. He wanted to be a civil engineer and a pilot, so much that he even left college to join the Air Force flying school at the Fernando Air Base in Lipa City, Batangas. However, he had returned to the University of the Philippines to fulfill the wishes of his parents that he complete his Bachelor’s Degree in Education. My father then proceeded to become a teacher.
Daddy did not achieve the professional dreams of his youth, yet he did not think that becoming a teacher was a failure. He lived by the words, “Victory lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall”. He decided for himself that he would become the best teacher that he could ever be.
Around 1957, Daddy packed his bags and got on a bus to take a new job at the Legazpi City College High School in Albay. He hired a “kariton boy” (boy with a push cart) to move his bags from the bus station to the school. He taught high school math, physical education, and yes, for the first time, he had become the commandant for Preparatory Military Training (PMT). It was where the tradition of the fancy drill began.
It was also the place where Daddy met his future wife, a young Bicolana named Corazon H. Pintor, a Physical Education teacher herself.
In year 1959, at the young age of 27, Daddy returned to Manila and became the commandant of the Cubao High School PMT, which is presently known as the Ramon Magsaysay Cubao High School. Daddy quickly gained a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian, literally chasing gang members and turning them into model PMT students. It was said that the principal would “sentence” troublemakers in school to 1 to 2 years as cadets in the Model Platoon! But this was only the beginning.
On May 31, 1961, Daddy and Mommy got married at the church of my mother's alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas. As they prepared for their first child, Ceferino Jr. to be born, Daddy began attending night classes at University of the Philippines to get his Masters Degree in Education. He also started a second job as a Physical Education instructor at the University of the East.
There is a story a month before my brother Bing was born. Mommy, who was 8 months pregnant that time, had sat in the front seat of a jeepney that was hired to transport the Model Platoon to a competition location. Daddy had gone ahead with the first group. Unfortunately, another vehicle crashed into the jeepney where Mommy was riding in. The cadets who were on the same ride got so worried about her that they ganged up and almost beat up the other driver! They were really only looking out for her. Mommy asked the boys to calm down and luckily, nobody got hurt.
The Model Platoon was fast becoming an unbeatable force in PMT competitions! In the 1960s alone, RMCHS took home several first-place awards, including two 3-legged trophies. One had to win it for three years each before they could keep it permanently.
In those early years, Daddy also had taken on a new hobby which is electronics, and getting tips and techniques from the vocational department at RMCHS. For several nights, he built a powerful vacuum tube amplifier that had served the Model Platoon for more than a decade. It also had been used to play American and European marching music for the 20-minute fancy drill that had become a great tradition for 35 years!
Around year 1969, the year I was born, the Model Platoon performed the fancy drill for an evening audience at the Araneta Coliseum. It was broadcasted on TV. The cadets carried rifles with life-like bayonets painted in bright silver, shining, twisting and spinning in precision under the different colors of the spotlights. It was a very proud moment for RMCHS!
In the summer of 1971, the Department of Military Science and Tactics (DMST) at Fort Bonifacio conducted an experiment called “Advanced PMT”. Selected Model Platoons from different schools, including RMCHS, boarded a convoy of army trucks that took them to Camp Mateo Capinpin in the cool mountains of Tanay, Rizal. From there, the contingent hiked 21 kilometers for 4 hours over rolling hills and creeks to Jungle Base 1 near Barrio Daraitan. My brother, Bing, joined the RMCHS group as their 9-year old “mascot”. The first day was fun and mostly uneventful, as the tired cadets pitched their tents in their camp by the side of a clear river.
Late that night, while everyone were sleeping, a strong unexpected thunderstorm tore through the valley where the cadets were camped! Powerful winds blew down the trees and pulled tents off their poles and stakes. As the river began to swell, and with an impending flash flood, an emergency evacuation was ordered. Cadets grabbed as much equipment as they could find and quickly marched up the hill in ponchos and raincoats. They were all soaking wet. Flashlight batteries quickly ran out in the pouring rain. Squads pitched their tents in the dark, on the muddy roads on the mountain and huddled together as they waited for daybreak. The next morning, everyone was very happy to discover that no one got hurt. One cadet was missing, but the soldiers quickly found him in the forest by firing their rifles so that the missing cadet could follow the sounds of gunfire. The campers watched as the now mud-colored river had grown to three times its size. It had washed away dozens of tents, cooking pots and pans, and personal belongings. But their spirits were high and training proceeded as planned. The cadets camped in the nearby barrio schoolhouse and then went back into the forest for exercises in river crossing, mountain rappelling, rope sliding, escape and evasion, and rifle range shooting. The experiment was a great success! However, unknown to everyone, it would also be the last major PMT event for all time. In September of the following year, President Marcos declared martial law. PMT was soon abolished and repackaged as Citizen Army Training or CAT. The all-boys khaki uniforms were replaced by coed fatigues. The Ramon Magsaysay command under Daddy grew to nearly 2000 cadets and cadettes every year, including both daytime and night time students. He then needed a much larger corps of officers – close to 150 every year – to lead and manage the new and bigger RMCHS Corps of Cadets. And so was born the Spearhead Battalion, in snappy dark fatigues, combat boots and golden scarves, shoulder loops and sashes.
One could say that the Spearhead Battalion had become the model for equal rights among men and women. Daddy demanded the integrity, character, and excellence from the corps commander down to the platoon leader, both male and female. Careless mistakes would not go unpunished, and one would experience rifle slings to their buttocks to set them straight. People who could not take it were free to quit. Lying and cheating were never tolerated, and those who did it were quickly kicked out of the Spearhead. Daddy also required an academic average of 90% to remain qualified as a cadet officer. After all, as their shoulder patches read, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
When the school burned down a few years later, many of the competition trophies from nearly two decades went up in flames with the building. But the trophies were only symbols of victory and the fire could not destroy the spirit of the Spearhead. They continued to dominate in CAT competitions. The fancy drill took on a new surprise where the battalion fired their rifles up to the sky in the finale. When ammo was made available, they no longer carried dummy rifles, but real Springfields and M1-Garands. Daddy’s cadets and cadettes were the pride of RMCHS and the envy of all the other schools.
In the summer of 1975, Daddy was called to active duty by the army in Tanay, Rizal. It led to his promotion into the rank of Major. His World War II veteran brother, Col. Alfredo de la Cruz, had been the commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade in Camp Capinpin. They had just received a battalion of rebel returnees from Mindanao. Many of them were middle-aged men, and some were with their families and had laid down their weapons to rejoin society as regular army soldiers. However, they were undisciplined, didn't know how to follow orders, and would just walk away from the formation or just lie in bed in the barracks whenever they would feel lazy. It was more work that one man could handle. So one night, Daddy loaded a platoon of Spearhead cadet officers and took them to Camp Capinpin. The cadets quickly got comfortable with the situation, demonstrated standard drill and then began to teach. The soldiers were not treated gently by the Spearhead. The young teenage cadets nudged, encouraged and yelled at the grown men to shape up and march as a unit. Soon, the former rebels became the most disciplined unit throughout the camp, and they developed a camaraderie and admiration for their Spearhead drill instructors. The new soldiers were taught the famous fancy drill, and actually performed proudly with the Spearhead Battalion during their CAT graduation parade at Camp Emilio Aguinaldo. Due to their hard work and patriotism, the Class of 1976 Spearhead cadets were given special combat training and were awarded official orders as the only high school unit ever authorized to wear the Jungle Fighter patch on their uniforms.
For the next 18 years, all of us in my Daddy’s family had watched as the tradition of the Spearhead lived on. We would always look forward to the annual week-long bivouacs to Tanay and many other camping getaways. We had seen the Spearhead spend long evenings often at our home till 11 PM. Mommy would usually force them to go home because she worried so much about them, and to the parents who were waiting for them. Oftentimes, these cadets/cadettes were at our house working and planning. There were also times when they were there for personal reasons, as they knew that Daddy and Mommy were very good listeners. Sometimes, parents would come over to beg Daddy to reinstate their child into the Spearhead because they had broken the rules. Some alumni would also come to our house to ask Daddy to be their godfather on their weddings. My brother, Bing, who had joined the UP ROTC Advanced Course, remembered how Daddy sometimes asked him to assist in teaching the Spearhead about map reading or helping conduct field training exercises during bivouacs.
Because we lived so close to RMCHS, Daddy’s June 15th birthday had become an all-day Spearhead and Model Platoon reunion event for almost 20 years! Hundreds of cadets, both current and alumni, would fill the driveway and the street leading to our small apartment. Plenty of food where available as Mommy would cook, while some of the cadet/cadettes would bring a potluck dish. After our family moved to Laguna, a lot of daddy’s cadets/cadettes and alumni continued to visit us even if they had to travel two hours to reach our new home. It was always a big party, and it was always fun for us to see so many familiar faces!
Daddy was a devoted family man. He worked 7 days a week teaching at 2 or 3 schools at a time, so that he and Mommy could give us the best education we could get. But he was just as dedicated to his students, especially at RMCHS. He was always an optimistic man and he always had high hopes for all his cadets/cadettes. Daddy just came back from a bivouac with the Spearhead Class of 1995, less than 10 days before he passed away on December 30, 1994, my 25th birthday.
After 17 years, my father was given a magnification by his alumni cadets/cadettes from 1960-1995 as he had been an inspiration to most of them. His teachings and his memory will forever be remembered.