CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines (UPDATED) – For the last 7 years, Darwin Dormitorio prepared himself physically and mentally for a lifelong dream of becoming a military changemaker.
His father, Colonel William Dormitorio of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1974, made sure that his son would be prepared for the rigors of cadet life inside the premier military school.
But it was inside the PMA that the younger Dormitorio met his untimely death. Cadet 4th Class Dormitorio died on September 18 due to injuries caused by hazing. The PMA admitted it was “blunt force trauma” that caused the 20-year-old plebe's death.
According to Dormitorio's girlfriend, Ashley Ravidas, Dormitorio was a patriot who dreamed of contributing to the change that the country badly needs.
"He was an optimist [who believed] that we could change this country, that we could contribute to that change," Ravidas said.
Ravidas and Dormitorio met when they entered Xavier University as Grade 11 senior high school students.
She shared that Dormitorio believed that change would come once the people see the goodness in everyone.
Glymer Hibaya, a longtime classmate of Dormitorio, said that since they first met in Grade 8, all Dormitorio wanted was to become a soldier.
There are 10 boys and 8 girls that make up their core circle of friends.
"Ever since we [were] in high school, all he ever wanted was to be in the PMA, and he pursued that with passion," Hibaya said.
"There was one time in our class, we did a History of Living Museum, he showed up dressed as General Douglas MacArthur," Hibaya said.
Ravidas shared that Dormitorio spent hours doing physical fitness activities to get lean and build up his endurance.
"He would spend hours playing basketball with his best friends," Ravidas said.
"They would play basketball all the time because it provided them physical strength," Hibaya said.
'Captain Philippines and Super Soldier'
Because of Dormitorio's desire to join the PMA, his closest friends nicknamed him "Captain Philippines and Super Soldier."
"Because that's all that he thought about. It's all his passion, his aspirations in life," Hibaya said.
In many instances in school activities and role-plays, Dormitorio always played the soldier roles. His classmates and friends also called him "Yoo Shi-jin" – the South Korean Special Forces captain played by Song Joong-ki in the hit Korean drama Descendants of the Sun.
Dormitorio's fascination with the PMA started with his father, Colonel Dormitorio. The older Dormitorio served in the 4th Infantry Division until he retired in the 1990s and quietly settled on their farm in Kalilangan, Bukidnon.
Dormitorio could have joined PMA after graduating from senior high school, but his dad did not want him to be deprived of learning, so he enrolled in Xavier University first.
"He took up agriculture engineering in Xavier University because it was his backup plan in case he couldn't enter the PMA," Ravidas said.
"He was someone who would want to help his family, he didn't want to be a burden," Hibaya said.
Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler
In Dormitorio's last handwritten letter to his family, he told them not to worry.
"I am okay here at the PMA, I have adjusted for the times that we have to go without sleep," Dormitorio said in the letter that has since circulated on Facebook.
Dormitorio sent the letter from the PMA Station Hospital in August, during his first confinement for the physical abuse that he got from his upperclassmen.
During the confinement, Dormitorio was also able to send messages to his girlfriend through the Facebook Messenger of his Squad leader.
"He told me he was okay, that [there's] nothing to worry about," Ravidas said.
She added, "We both knew how hard the training in the PMA was. I had supported him, he was briefed by his dad on how hard it would be, but we didn't know it would be this hard."
Justice for Darwin
Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno said that he is saddened by the tragic death of Dormitorio.
"We mourn with the bereaved family and relatives, and we fervently implore on the Almighty to grant his soul eternal rest and peace. We urge the authorities to thoroughly investigate the death and to leave no stone unturned. We also demand that justice be served regardless of any circumstance. Mr Dormitorio's death should not pass unsolved," Moreno said.
Misamis Oriental Governor Yevgeny Emano also lamented Dormitorio's death and vowed to help his family in any way possible.
"I believe what Darwin was up to in joining the academy was to be molded and trained in the proper way and military discipline and not to die a tragic death. He could have achieved a better future for him and his family, and could be one of those who would offer their lives for our country," Emano said.
Emano also called on the PMA administration to strictly impose its policies to avoid a repeat of the incident inside or outside the institution. He said authorities should exhaust all efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The PMA Alumni Association-Northern Mindanao Chapter also extended their sympathies to the Dormitorio family.
"May you find comfort and solace with the thought that God is with you always," Clementino Villagantol, president of the PMA Cadet and Alumni Parents Association-Northern Mindanao, said.
Major General Franco Nemesio Gacal, commander of the 4th Infantry "Diamond" Division, said they "also lost a son who will forever be in our thoughts and prayers."
"Our deepest sympathy goes to the bereaved family, relatives and friends as we continue to provide all the necessary assistance to the family of late Cadet Dormitorio," Gacal said. – Rappler.com