MANILA -- Protecting the country's vast maritime territory is a round-the-clock business such that holidays, even Christmas, is just another ordinary day.
There is no holiday for the Philippine Navy in performing its mandate of protecting the People and State, PN spokesperson, Capt. Lued Lincuna said.
"Yes, tuloy pa rin ang routine patrol (even during the Christmas holidays) for the crew who are aboard ship tasked to do patrol work," he added.
While others are in a festive mood for the season, Navy crew tasked for patrol duty remain on alert to ensure that no hostile forces are enroaching and intruding into the country's territorial waters.
Lincuna experienced this many times during his stint as commanding officer of three PN ships, the BRP Felix Apolinario (PG-395), BRP Salvador Abcede (PG-114) and BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS-36) – all of them deployed on Mindanao waters that are known to be infested with pirates and lawless elements.
"It is unforgettable to celebrate Christmas or New Year in the middle of the sea with our few good men (who are) our second family," Lincuna said.
Being on patrol duty means that the group literally experiences a floating "Noche Buena" and "Media Noche".
Simple as it may be, it highlights their celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth while on patrol.
Just like all other traditional holiday parties, the crew members sing their hearts out through "karaoke", depending on their area of patrol.
"Depende sa area of deployment but in my case no 'karaoke' (because) all of my Yuletide Seasons were spent in the area of Mindanao," Lincuna recalled.
While social media and communication lines all over the country are bombarded with season greetings, the Navy crew members consider the availability of mobile signal in their area of deployment as a huge present.
"Pag may signal, we greet our families. (Christmas at sea) is very simple but meaningful," the PN spokesperson said.
Lincuna's view on camaderie while on Christmas patrol is also shared by BRP Bonnie Serrano (PC-111) acting executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Jay T. Roxas.
"There is no Christmas (like) at home but celebrating it aboard ship with my men is like home away from home," Roxas said.
"(And despite the hardships) what is important is that we are able to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ while serving our maritime nation at the same time," the naval officer added.
Meanwhile Lt. Cmdr. Marineth Domingo, Military Assistant for Philippine Navy Affairs at the Office of the Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of National Defense, experienced the same thing while serving aboard on Navy transports BRP Bacolod (LC-550) and BRP Laguna (LT-501) from 2002 to 2006.
"Malungkot. Kaso kasi matagal (akong) nabarko. Kasi wala man kahit signal man lang. That was from 2002 to 2006. We have no other way but to wait for us to be in the city para naman magka-signal at maka-contact sa bahay," she added.
Instead of lamenting the lack of contact with their loved ones, Domingo and her crew members share food, laughter and memories.
"Naco-compensate naman un kasi kahit papano mas may people to people interaction nuon. Kasi wala ka naman choice but to talk to your shipmates. Totoong kwentuhan, tapos inuman," she added.
Patrolling during the Yuletide holidays, meanwhile, has two sides, according to BRP Lake Buhi (AF-78) engineering officer, Lt. Benet Christian Nuevarez.
"Patrolling our vast maritime borders is both a challenge and reward for us sailors. A challenge because we are among the weakest navies in Asia and of course a reward because we get to serve our people and country," he added.
Lt. James Reyes, who missed his Christmas holidays in 2012 as his ship – BRP Iloilo (PS-32), was engaged in providing support and relief aid to victims of Typhoon "Pablo".
For Reyes, his deployment in such mission is an honor as he served fellow Filipinos hardly hit by the above-mentioned typhoon.
Also, Reyes said he is no stranger to serving our beleaguered countrymen as he did the same missions on 2013 when he and other Navy personnel helped civilians affected by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that devastated Bohol on October 15 and those severely impacted by the monstrous typhoon "Yolanda" on November 8.
Aside from safeguarding more than 36,000 km of the archipelago, the country's maritime forces are battling homesickness as they are away from their families even during the much-awaited season of the year. It is, however, inspiring to note that despite this hardship, they strive hard to live up to their names as members of the Navy by making a stand and protecting the motherland. (PNA)