BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN
Twenty-one years after his death, Philippine Marine junior military officer, 1Lt. Lolinato To-ong Sr., of Brgy. Cabacungan in La Castellana, Negros Occidental, was honored yesterday in his hometown, with the unveiling of his shrine, led by no less than Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.
To-ong was a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Valor, the Philippines’ highest military award for courage, for sacrificing his life to save fellow Marines, during an encounter with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on April 30, 2000, in Matanog town of Maguindanao.
Sobejana, also a Medal of Valor recipient, who spent his early military career in Negros Occidental in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said, “We convene and honor a true modern-day hero, whose gallantry and sacrifice amidst the intense firefight against the MILF rebels prevented the enemies’ advance which saved the lives of his comrades.
“With his remarkable courage, it is with great honor that I join the people of La Castellana in the unveiling of this shrine that memorializes the heroic deeds of the late 1Lt. Lolinato To-ong Sr. There is nothing more heartwarming and inspiring than seeing our future generation look up to our Filipino soldiers as their heroes and models,” Sobejana said.
The creation of To-ong’s bust on a pedestal and marker in Brgy. Cabacungan, La Castellana, where his family resides, was a project of Mayor Rhumyla Mangilimutan and her administration, to honor his courage in offering the ultimate sacrifice – his life – so that other people may live.
“Notably, this shrine, most appropriately constructed within the grounds of this humble institution that nurtures the future generation, will be a constant reminder of the heroism of 1Lt. To-ong as exhibited in the line of duty,” Sobejana said.
Mangilimutan said the story of To-ong invokes patriotism, especially among the youth of La Castellana.
“It inspires us to be heroes in our own peculiar ways,” the mayor said, adding that To-ong was a source of pride, not only for the people of Barangay Cabacungan but the town as well.
Mangilimutan said the unveiling was planned in 2019 but was postponed three times because of the pandemic.
‘FREEDOM NOT FREE’
“There are many stories of combat, but the Medal of Valor is special. It is awarded only to the bravest. On behalf of the people of La Castellana, I am very proud that a La Castelleño is acknowledged on the wall of heroes,” she added.
Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said the sacrifice made by To-ong, along with the sacrifices of past and present heroes, is another proof that freedom is not free.
“A lot was paid for us to be in this free and democratic society. To the To-ong family, please know that 1Lt. To-ong’s fellow Negrenses will take inspiration and will always remember his valiant deed,” Lacson said.
“This is our way of immortalizing his valor and heroism both for the present and future generations. As a people, we need to have a constant reminder of things that are noble and honorable for us to look up to, to value, and to emulate,” he added.
Rev. Fr. Ludovico To-ong, the younger brother of 1Lt. To-ong, said their family not only takes honor and pride in the late soldier’s heroism, but also considers it a challenge and a responsibility as well.
“We need honorable and heroic people for the good of our land. To my dear nephews and nieces, this honor brings dignity to our family, but at the same time, we have that great responsibility to preserve the legacy,” he added.*with report from PNA