IN PAIN over the loss of her son, Teofista Macapaz questioned her faith.
The 66-year-old mother said she had been always praying the rosary, asking for the safety of her six children, including her middle child—Staff Sergeant Jan Neil Macapaz of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
Then, a tragedy descended on Teofista’s life on Sunday morning, July 4, 2021—Jan Neil, 38, was among the 50 military personnel and three civilians who died after the Lockheed C-130 Hercules crashed in Sulu after missing the runway at Jolo airport.
The salt rubbed into Teofista’s wounds was the fact that Jan Neil, or Jan-Jan to his loved ones and close friends, was supposed to go home to his family in Lapu-Lapu City on the day when the crash happened.
“Nangayo kog pasaylo sa Ginoo. Nakapangutana ko ba, ‘Kada nako og rosaryo, akong gipangayo nimo nga ipalayo sa kadautan akong mga anak unya karon si Jan-Jan, unsa man ng nahitabo niya?’” Teofista said.
(“I asked forgiveness from God as I was able to ask, ‘Every time I pray the rosary, I always pray for my children’s safety, but then this happened to Jan-Jan?’”)
Being a mother of a soldier, Teofista knew very well the risk that her son was facing every day in his line of work. Despite this knowledge, just like any mother, she was never prepared for her son’s sudden passing.
As she runs her fingertips on her son’s image on her phone, Teofista recalled her son’s experiences with other military and rescue personnel in saving people’s lives during the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda in November 2013 and during the Marawi Siege in 2017.
She said Jan Neil was inspired to be part of the PAF by his late father, a military police officer at the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Lapu-Lapu City.
Before taking the exams and training for the PAF, she said, Jan Neil had studied electrical engineering for three years at the University of San Jose-Recoletos.
Idario, Jan Neil’s father, died in 2010 when he was already with the PAF and married to his wife, who is also a military officer.
Jan Neil had already been in his 12th year in the military before the July 4 tragedy. He had thought of retiring after eight more years in the service, Teofista said.
Teofista said Jan Neil’s surprises, and his jolly, generous and loving nature are just the few traits she would miss from her son.
Her face lit up upon sharing a video of her son dancing in front of a military aircraft in 2018.
The video not only made rounds on social media, but it also caught the attention of his superiors at work. Teofista said Jan Neil had told her that he thought his superiors would be displeased by his action, but they instead asked him to perform again as part of a tribute to a colleague who was about to be reassigned at the time.
Teofista, however, could not help but cry, when she recalled how Jan Neil made sure her birthday last year would be memorable even if he was away through a surprise he had planned with his wife and siblings at home. They threw a sumptuous party for her complete with decor and lechon (roasted pig), a staple in most special occasions of Filipinos.
Jan Neil, she said, often acted as the family’s Santa Claus during Christmas celebrations, and he also extended help to his family and relatives during the lockdown that was brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Teofista said Jan Neil and his wife had always made sure to spend quality time with their two children, ages 12 and eight years old, whenever they were not on duty.
Before the crash
Teofista said even though they already knew that the aircraft where Jan Neil was aboard had crashed, they were still hoping that he survived the incident. The family eventually received the news of his death on Monday afternoon, July 5.
The ill-fated C-130 took off from Colonel Jesus Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, Metro Manila and arrived at Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro City last July 4, then it ferried military personnel to Jolo.
“His children were waiting for his return so they could bond again. His wife could not also accept what happened as they were still texting to each other. He was saying he will be going home already, hours before the incident,” Teofista said in Cebuano.
Aside from Macapaz, three other Cebuanos died in the incident. They are Technical Staff Sergeant Donald Badoy, Staff Sergeant Michael Bulalaque, and Airman 1st Class Fortunate Regidor.
Jan Neil’s remains arrived from Zamboanga to Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Lapu-Lapu City on Wednesday night, July 7.
The PAF officer’s remains will be transferred from the air base chapel to his childhood home in Barangay Pusok on Friday, July 9.
Teofista said they have yet to finalize, with her daughter-in-law, on the rest of the details of Jan Neil’s wake and burial.
“Bisag sakit, wa koy mahimo. Bisan og mahurot pa akong luha og hinilak, di na kabalik pa iyang kinabuhi. Mao nga Jan, padayon na lang sa imong pagpanaw. Daghan nangaguol sa nahitabo nimo (Even if it is painful, I am powerless. Even if my tears run dry, I could not get him back to life. So Jan, just continue your journey. We mourn your passing),” she said.