We know that our soldiers work round the clock. Each of them have their own story of their agonies and sacrifices so Filipinos can sleep soundly at night. Protecting the people and defending the Philippine territory are part of their job description and it is not unusual that they miss out on the important milestones of their loved ones - whether it's a wife giving birth, a child's graduation, celebrating birthdays, among other things. But they get their holidays too.
At the Armed Forces of the Philippines anniversary last Friday (Dec. 20), AFP chief General Emmanuel Bautista described 2013 as a "particularly eventful year for the organization" -- with the challenges of Sabah crisis, abduction of Filipino peacekeepers, Zamboanga crisis, 7.2 earthquake in Bohol, several typhoons and the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda, and not to mention battling the internal security threats.
But these challenges "were all met with courage and strength of spirit" by every Filipino soldier. It is only apt that these soldiers will have a chance to spend quality time with their loved ones during the holidays and make up for the lost time.
Most soldiers are assigned far from home and sometimes they don't get to spend weekends with their families in order to save money and because of the call of duty.
As part of the unit's morale and welfare program, military personnel take turns to get their well-deserved holiday break during the Yuletide season.
"We take shifts because we cannot take our break altogether in order to keep our office/field unit in function," Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc, commander of the 7th Civil Relations Group explained.
"It is important that the manpower of an office/field unit is maintained at a working function as to not disrupt its operations especially in the field where soldiers are continuously deployed to protect communities and vital installations from armed threats," he added.
As part of the tradition in the predominantly Catholic country, military units normally spend Christmas party 2-3 days before the commencement of the yuletide season break.
The AFP usually starts the holiday break after the AFP Anniversary that falls on December 21.
Called the 'First Breakers', the first batch of soldiers were released to spend a Christmas vacation right after the 78th AFP founding anniversary yesterday. They are expected to be back after seven days so that the '2nd Breakers' can leave to spend the New Year celebration.
Those who were neither on the first and second batch, however, will take the "third break" in January. They will take a respite from duty usually with a longer period to compensate for their inability to spend both Christmas and New Year at home.
This holiday break granted to soldiers is outside of their leave credits every year.
Soldiers who reside in Mindanao and the Visayas are also granted to avail C-130 flights.
"Our soldiers are very happy when granted free flights during their vacation. Instead of spending money for their air fare, they can save the amount for other needs back home," Cabunoc said.
Last September, the country's flag carrier Philippine Airlines also started granting a 20 percent special discount off the base fare to all active military personnel.
Covered by the markdown are base fares for Regular Economy, Premium Economy and Business Class on all PAL and PAL Express tickets sold in the Philippines for domestic destinations.
“This is our own simple way of extending assistance to, and honoring our soldiers, sailors and airmen for their service, hard work and sacrifice,” PAL said in a statement.