A Question of Valor: The Story of the most bemedaled Filipino military hero

33 years ago, then Marine Captain Ariel Querubin lay clinically dead in the Quirino Labor Hospital’s morgue. He had been hit by a Sikorsky helicopter gunship rocket, and he had no vital signs. By some stroke of luck, as he lay on the table, a doctor saw the PMA bullring on his finger twitch.
He was immediately transferred to the AFP Medical Center. 13 hours later, the doctors had removed a part of his liver, 6 feet of his small intestines, and repaired his ruptured pancreas. He was alive.
“During mass evacuation, they tend to those who have better chances of survival. And so, they put me together with the other lifeless bodies,” Querubin explains.

Querubin in Villamor Airbase, December 1, 1989 | courtesy of Ariel Querubin

The retired colonel is no stranger to brushes with death. In the course of his 30+ years in the Philippine marines, he has sustained 67 battle wounds. In a particularly brutal exchange, he and his battalion fought for 24 hours straight. While they were able to capture the MILF’s 3rd Brigade as a result, the casualties were grave.
“I had never felt so exhausted; I had not had a meal for a full day, but did not feel hungry, only relieved, a bit euphoric, at any rate definitely thankful to have emerged victorious and alive from one of the bitterest and most desperate battles I had fought,” he recalls.

A son, a husband, and a father

Querubin at his son’s PMA Graduation, 2011 | courtesy of Ariel Querubin

Querubin’s life was not always so action-packed. Growing up, he was a typical teenager who got into his fair share of youthful exploits. In fact, misdemeanors almost prevented him from graduating from the Philippine Military Academy. This was enough to temper his youthful exuberance. By the time he graduated, he had marks so high he was allowed to choose which branch of service he would serve.
He met the love of his life during his service at the Marines. Pong Azcarraga Querubin had two very young sons when she met Querubin: Now, Cocolife CEO Martin Loon, an almunus of the Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines College of Law and the Georgetown University, and Marine Captain John Michael Loon, 19th of his class in the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2011 and the U.S. Basic Marine School in Quantico, Virginia, a bemedaled marine officer who was wounded in combat during the battle of Marawi in May 2017 and also served in the jungles of Sulu.
The rest of their children are Alfred, Dr. Faye, Jaq and John Querubin, a management engineering student, all from the Ateneo de Manila University and AJ Querubin, an electronics communications engineering student from the University of the Philippines Diliman.

Courage, Integrity and loyalty

Querubin’s Retirement Ceremony at the HMPC, Marine Barracks Rudiardo Brown, Fort Bonifacio, December 23, 2021 | courtesy of Ariel Querubin

Querubin’s military career was far from a bed of roses. Rife with dangerous battles, a failed coup and imprisonment, the retired colonel has always relied on three values: courage, integrity and loyalty.
“God had to take away my freedom to make me realize that career is not everything in life, and that I have a family to take care (of). I am sure a lot of you (soldiers) have the same experience, sacrificing family time, for the love of the country,” said Querubin in his retirement ceremony.
His children, in particular, played a major role in shaping his philosophies.
“I always remind my children that the only legacy I can leave them is my good name,” he shares.
As a father, Querubin wanted to impart the love for country and family to his children. In this purpose, he was a success. His stepson Martin Loon’s leadership style as a very young CEO of Cocolife is highly influenced by his philosophy of serving the Filipino people.
“I fought for what I believed was right,” shares Querubin. “I did not have an easy life. My life story has been replete with vivid encounters with injustice, poverty, neglect, corruption, and war. But I never succumbed to the lure of material wealth. The physical, mental, and emotional hardships had been painful, but I never sold my soul.”

The man who helped shaped the Philippines’ military history

In early August of 1988, Querubin and his battalion, dressed in civilian garb, enlisted a Tagbanua guide to find a suitable camp near Aborlan, Palawan. After a nightlong trek, he saw the target: a group of NPA forces encamped near NIA’s dam. He had gotten intel on a plot to set back the project. A firefight ensued soon after.
“When we came down to mop up, the enemy had fled, leaving behind guns and party documents, but taking along it’s wounded, and possibly dead, as evidenced by the considerable trail of blood. We suffered no casualty ourselves,” recounts Querubin.
This was how he got his Gold Cross Medal. A momentous occasion for the young marine, this would not be the first time his mettle would be tested against enemies of the state. In the 80’s, Querubin neutralized CPP-NPA provincial chairman Jessie Rafael, five MNLF commanders, one NPA commander, and rescued an MNLF kidnap victim, a Swiss national, Hans Kunzli.
In the 90’s, he successfully neutralized the infamous Barahama Sali, which resulted in the release of their hostage, Fr. Cirilio Nacorda. He also led the operations that killed Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya. President George W. Bush personally called President Macapagal-Arroyo to congratulate her and the team for the neutralization of Sabaya.
“During his career in the military service, Colonel Querubin played a significant role in several legendary exploits, as well as political movements, which have helped shape the history of the military and its role in an emerging global society as ours,” says former President Fidel V. Ramos.
In 2001, he was awarded the Medal of Valor by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – the highest honor given to a Filipino, for his role in capturing MILF’s strategic staging area for operations, Camp Mack in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte. Then Lt. Col. Querubin and his battalion were exchanging heavy fire with rebels under the blanket of darkness. Under siege by machine guns, rockets, mortar and snipers, he continued his advance, knowingly putting himself under immense danger. Up to this day, President Arroyo calls Querubin, “my hero”.

The most decorated military man “retires” in 2021.

Querubin with his ‘mistah’, Senator Bongbong Marcos in a Senate Hearing, 2010 | courtesy of Ariel Querubin

Querubin left behind his illustrious military career in 2009 after he ran for Senator under the Nacionalista Party. In this slate was Senator Bongbong Marcos, both of whom hail from the Ilocos Region. Bongbong Marcos is the godfather to his son and his classmate in the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1979.
Querubin along with almost 200 former high-ranking AFP and PNP officials recently expressed their support for the presidential bid of former Senator Bongbong Marcos. Almost all living Medal of Valor awardees signed the manifesto of support.
The living hero was eventually granted amnesty by former President Benigno Aquino III, and went on to work as an internal security consultant for San Miguel Corporation and special assistant to SMC President, Bilyonaryo Ramon S. Ang.
The full-blooded Marine finally got his retirement ceremony in December 2021. The Philippine Marines held a retirement ceremony in honor of Querubin, 12 years after his actual retirement. Incidentally, it was held at the same camp where he held the infamous Fort Bonifacio standoff.
“For all of us in the service who vowed to make the ultimate sacrifice for the country and the Filipino people, you would know how meaningful these two moments are: the beginning and end of our military career,” says Querubin.
The event was attended by political figures like Deputy Speaker Rosemarie “Baby” Arenas, Sen. Grace Poe, Sen. Sonny Angara, Sen. JV Ejercito and Sen. Sonny Trillanes. Bilyonaryo Manny Villar and his wife, Sen. Cynthia Villar, were also present. Bilyonaryo Iñigo Zobel, his long-time friend and kumpare, was also in attendance.
“Hindi ko maipaliwanag ang labis na pagpapasalamat at ang tuwa na aking nararamdaman nang ipaalam sa akin ni General Caculitan na ako raw ay pararangalan ng isang retirement ceremony ng Philippine Marines,” said Querubin. “As they say, better late than never.”
Querubin’s book, A Question of Valor, is expected to be launched soon.