The wife of a Marine sergeant deployed to the disputed Ayungin Shoal off Palawan thought the Marine officers who had pulled up in front of her home over the holidays had come to bring the news every soldier’s wife and family dread.
Verginia Galvan, married to Marine Sgt. Edwin Galvan Sr., prayed she would not be handed a Philippine flag, a military gesture of final respects to the family of a soldier killed in action.
But a flag was the last thing Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, commander of the Philippine Navy’s Civil Military Operations Group, and his team had in store for Galvan’s family when they visited them in their home in Signal Village, Taguig City, on Christmas.
Instead, the military men had brought with them a surprise—baskets of food and Christmas gifts for the family that had to spend the holidays without Galvan, who is stationed on Ayungin Shoal, one of the Philippine territories in the West Philippine Sea that China also claims.
In a press statement, Arevalo said Christmas gift packs were also handed over to the families of the other soldiers assigned to Ayungin.
Arevalo said the money to buy the presents for the Galvans came from the savings of the civil military operations group from its “toned down” Christmas party.
Arevalo said the Philippine Navy visited “fatherless” or “brotherless” families this Christmas and New Year’s in a show of solidarity to those “manning our isolated and distant posts.”
Galvan spent Christmas and New Year’s with a handful of colleagues on board the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusty Navy hospital ship intentionally run aground on the shoal.
It is their job to guard the country’s territorial waters, undermanned and underequipped as they may be.
Last May, the Marines posted on Ayungin Shoal reported the encroachment of Chinese sailors on Philippine territory. The Philippines has filed an international protest against China’s territorial claims before a United Nations arbitral committee.
Arevalo said Verginia told him she was “in near tears thinking something bad happened” to her husband. It didn’t help that she had to wait for Arevalo and his team for hours after they were held up in heavy traffic. It was a “long and agonizing wait,” she said.
“What proceeded during the visit was an exchange of pleasantries and cordial conversation where (Verginia)… confided, among other things, the difficulties of being a soldier’s wife,” Arevalo said.
Particularly heartbreaking was when the Galvans’ youngest son, Junior, asked Verginia why they had not picked up his dad from the airport for Christmas.
The visit of the Navy’s civil military operations group to the Galvan family was one of the several organized by the military, as well as private individuals, to bring cheer to soldiers and their families after a challenging 2013 that saw massive military mobilization.
These included guarding territorial waters amid growing tensions with China; responding to a daring revival of the Sulu sultanate’s claim to a portion of Sabah; responding to the siege of Zamboanga City by Moro rebels; and relief and rescue operations in provinces hit by calamities.
Arevalo noted that Twitter user @PinkOliveDrab used social media to collect gifts for the soldiers and their families assigned in Ayungin Shoal and also those guarding Philippine territory within the West Philippine Sea.