MANILA, Philippines—When his name was called Friday for an award from President Benigno Aquino, Army Technical Sergeant Tranquilino Cabiling mustered all his strength to stand and walk up to the commander-in-chief.
But Mr. Aquino spared the 112-year-old from making the effort. He walked toward Cabiling, along with the military’s top generals and the defense secretary.
The President gave Cabiling, the Army’s oldest living war veteran, a plaque of recognition for his services to the country on the 116th anniversary of the Philippine Army.
The two men shook hands and the President was seen saying something to Cabiling, who still tried to be snappy even as he stooped.
While reporters were too far to hear what Aquino told Cabiling, it was evident that it made the old man happy. Cabiling’s face lit up and he smiled throughout.
Having lived for more than a century, Cabiling has a simple advise to his fellow soldiers: “Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t womanize. Do not forget to pray to God; He can give you a long life.”
Cabiling, who earlier spoke to reporters in Visayan, said he ate only healthy food, shunning meat in favor of vegetables, fish, and root crops.
He said he was still into farming, planting bananas and vegetables in his home in Misamis Oriental.
Born on July 6, 1900 in Albuera, Leyte, Cabiling joined the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) when he was 24 years old.
He saw action in World War II, assigned to Leyte as a gunner in the artillery division. Cabiling’s boss in the USAFFE was the legendary US General Douglas McArthur. Cabiling recalled being witness to McArthur’s Leyte landing.
Cabiling survived the Death March.
For sure, Cabiling has a treasure trove of stories to share. But he already has difficulty speaking, and could utter only fragmented sentences. A guardian acts as his interpreter.
Cabiling, who served 29 years and 11 months in the military, appears to be the only surviving member of his family. He said that he was a widower and lost his only daughter in 1995 in a road accident.
Army spokesperson Col. Randolph Cabangbang told the Inquirer that a group of Army reservists have taken Cabiling under their care after seeing him at the Philippine Veterans Office Affairs in Camp Aguinaldo following up his pension from the government.
Cabangbang said Cabiling lost his military ID after retiring in 1953 and found it only last year, which was why it was only then he was able to work on his pension anew.
“We are still waiting for the results of the processing of his paper. I think someone has asked help from the Defense chief,” Cabangbang said.
Cabangbang said that even at 112, Cabiling’s fondness for the military remained apparent.
“I gave him an Army keychain yesterday which he put on his belt loop right away. I also gave him a statue of an infantry soldier and he held it really tight,” Cabangbang said.
The Army spokesman said Cabiling told him he longed for a pair of Army boots. Right away, Cabangbang looked for a pair in the Army’s stockroom.
“Unfortunately, he is a size 10. We only had a 9-1/2. When I told him that, he said that he would just repair it,” Cabangbang said.
Cabangbang said he also noticed that Cabiling still wore the military issued green Army pants.
He was also proud of his good health, bragging to Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista and Army chief Lieutenant General Noel Coballes about his complete set of teeth.