Dustin Listroque is currently serving on his second tour of the Spratly islands. The thirteen-year old has been stationed on Pag-asa for five months now, and has six more months to go before he’s sent back home to Pasig. In his wallet, he keeps a picture of his family, who he hasn’t spoken to since he got here. There is no internet or phone service here on Kalayaan, and the mail only comes in every four months, delivered together via LBC along with the soldier’s supplies.
To say that his deployment has been hard for him is an understatement. Like many of the the other members of the 13th Pasig Boy Scout Troop nicknamed “Santo ng Santolan,” Dustin suffers from depression and anxiety. These conditions are mostly caused by the harsh conditions created “by living on a god damn sandbar in the middle of the fucking ocean,” according to their troop leader Michael Meyers.
“My troop has not been trained properly for this assignment. I’ve been here for three years now, and I’ve seen dozens of kids just keel over and give up. Defection rate is high, and since there’s no place to go but the ocean, I guess you can say they like drowning better than being here.
After the government pushed for severe budget cuts to the AFP forces stationed, and the LGUs located in, the Kalayaan group of islands, the Military has had to get creative on how to achieve their objectives of keeping all the islands occupied. “If the Philippines is to have a firm claim on these islands, we need people living and operating on them. Thing is, no one wants to live here because the storms are strong, the islands are tiny, and there’s literally nothing to do but count grains of sand all day.”
“There’s at least 16,709,811,348 grains of sand on this island, sir!” Shouted one of the scouts, who had misheard the leader’s words. Motioning to the thin, lanky boy, the Meyers said: “He’s one of our newer arrivals. He’s still green, so he thinks he’s actually making a difference out here. God bless his soul when he finds out that there’s no such thing as a “Sand Counter” merit badge.”
When asked if the conditions on the Chinese-occupied islands were any better, Meyers remained mum, saying that while they’ve had orders from the brass to observe the other islands, none of their scouts ever return. “Just because we’re scouts doesn’t mean we’re necessarily good at scouting. We can light a fire, camp in the jungle, and make IEDs with nothing but bubblegum and car tires, but my boys just don’t have the equipment or the kit for long term recon.”
Pulling out his pocket knife, he says “This is the only weapon I have. I can show you at least fifteen ways to kill a man with this knife, but those Chinese soldiers with assault rifles? They can think of a hundred possibilities with their guns.”
Still, even with all the odds stacked against them, Meyers has nothing but praise for his troops. “My scouts are tough as nails. Real soldiers have been known to crack after a month here, our worst case saw one of our scouts breaking at five. Each one of my boys believes in this mission, and even though they stumble here or there, their patrol’s always there to help them back up.”
Pointing back to Dustin, who’s been fashioning sticks into spears, he says “Dustin has forgotten what his mom and dad is like, that’s why he needs the picture to remind him. But every night he goes to bed with a prayer, repeating the names of every darn chink who has raised their guns against his fellow scouts.”
Upon realizing that our reporter was half-Chinese, Meyers followed up with “No offense.”
“All I want is for my troops to be given the right tools to make an actual difference here. Maybe guns, or armor. Barring that, just give us blankets, food, or medicine, all of which we have to buy ourselves. The 13th has proven itself time and time again, we just need support from our government. Five years ago, it was the 13th who paradropped behind enemy lines in Mindanao and came back out of the Jungle with sixty terrorist scalps, and a year after that, thirty NPA ears after fighting in Luzon.”
“For the people of this country to love their scouts just as much as the scouts love them, is that too much to ask?”