By Alexander GL Quirante, PMA '72 and Ms. Imelda Del Mundo
Preface & Photo Album by Juny "The Hawaiian WebMaster" P. La Putt
Gregory "Greg" H. Ramos had two important choices in life - to take a sword to defend and fight for his country and people or take a cross to save as many souls as he could. He opted for the latter which to him was a more noble and desirable profession and mission in his life. The article that you are about to read explains why Greg decided to set aside his military uniform and put on instead the familiar white clerical garb of a priest in the Roman Catholic Church.
First, allow me to mention a few facts about Greg Ramos. He is one of the four children of Alberto Ramos and Incarnacion Hembrador who were originally residents of San Dionisio, Paranaque, Metro Manila. Greg is the second child in the family. Elizabeth is Greg's elder sister and Francis and Cynthia are his younger brother and younger sister, respectively.
Greg was born on December 6, 1959 in Paranaque. To most of his classmates and friends, he is better known as "Somar" - a nickname given to him when he was still a cadet at the Philippine Military Academy which is actually his last name (Ramos) spelled in reverse. Greg went through with his early education at the Paranaque Elementary School where he completed grade six. He then went on to St. Andrews School for four years of high school, before joining La Salle University in Manila to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.
It was during his freshman year in college that he took the PMA entrance examination. Greg actually didn't have plans of becoming a military man. Apparently, he only tried taking the exams to accompany a close friend and classmate of his who wanted to take it. His friend failed in that examination but Greg passed it instead. And this somehow turned out to be a major turning point in his ambition to become an engineer. An uncle of his who was then a pilot in the Philippine Air Force encourage Greg to join the Academy and before he knew it, he was marching to the tune of "You're in The Army Now" when he reported as a plebe at Fort Del Pilar in April of 1977. It was four years later in 1981 when he graduated from the Academy and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Philippine Army.
The article written by Alex and Imelda will explain in detail what went on with Greg's life after graduating from the Academy and the other incidents that came about which directed him into a life of service to God and his fellowmen by becoming a priest. In my conversation with Fr. Greg in September of 2000, I asked how his parents and the other members of his family felt about his decision to enter the seminary. To this Fr. Greg replied and said, "It was a big surpirse to my parents and also my brother and sisters. It took them time to really accept my decision. They just could hardly believe that I wanted to become a priest." Fr. Greg also mentioned of his ambition to become a parish priest one day. He explained that he wanted to try out the unique pastoral experience of being a parish priest and a chance to have his own community to look after and serve. He also stated that he was willing to return to military life and serve in the Chaplain Corps. Fr. Greg, however, leaves the final decision to the Lord and that he would accept whatever the Lord has in store for him.
Just as it is often said, "Many are called but only a few are chosen," and Fr. Greg Ramos has somehow been chosen to accept a very important call. We offer our prayers for the success of Fr. Greg in his chosen profession and may his life serve as an inspiration to others. He is one of a kind and in fact, the only one such case from amongst the graduates of the Philippine Military Academy. I will always be proud to raise my right hand to salute him or kneel down just as his father did during his ordination by kissing the palm of his hands as a sign of my respect and admiration ... for an officer and a gentleman who has made one of the highest forms of personal sacrifice look all so simple to do.JUNY "The Hawaiian WebMaster" P. LA PUTT
November 11, 2000
Rev. Fr. Greg Ramos a.k.a. Somar '81 was just another soldier in the AFP serving his assignment in Tagum, Davao, his first after graduating from the Philippine Military Academy on March 1981. As a young man, Somar was regarded as a free-spirited, "not so spiritual" self-sufficient guy who was in control of his own life as an individual. Basically an introvert, never a gambler or a drunkard, Somar had a very good relationship with his peers and enjoyed life in the Academy. "Good boy," so they say, and not the socially active type though, he'd always find time to join gimmicks (like good time, socials, nightlife, and what have you!) with Mistahs (Academy lingo to mean classmates), and lower/upperclassmen occasionally.
No girls left and right - a straight guy! He'd often opt to stay discovering his talents and enhancing them or simply help out with the school functions technically or socially. During Hops (attributed to cadet parties), Somar would frequently join the "suicide squad or SS" (which the Hawk Company where he belongs, was virtually known for!) providing cheerful company to kill dull moments and entertain or dance with bored, unattended drags (invited persons) in the occasion. Joining the SS means to "strike anywhere" or "tagasalo" in the native parlance. In other instances, he'd simply operate music mobiles or assist in "technical operations" to stay behind the scene.
Somar's attitude towards life was radical, beyond the good boy image, packed with ideals and viewpoints that often led him into 'clashes' with his co-cadets and other people. This seemingly meek yet unconventional guy had simple dreams just like any other Peemayer. As a Cadet, he dreamt about having a common life structure of a career military officer, of being a gentleman and an officer, of becoming a unit commander, and eventually moving up the ladder as provided for in the military service. He wished to live up to the life that most Cadets would reach after completing military school.
While in the Academy, Somar only had one girlfriend and another one during his professional military career. Even with women and relationships, he had a different opinion that set him apart from the others who got into multiple relationships. He did plan to get married, raise his own family and live a normal military life; however, finding "Ms. Right" wasn't his top priority. For him, "career comes first and love is the next serious thing."
On spirituality issues, Somar would often debate about the Scriptures, question religious practices, and was even in conflict with Church authorities just for the heck of it. [Calling on his Mistahs (or classmates), would you agree or disagree?] "Mr. Church Enemy No.1" was the type you would classify as a "spiritually unconcerned" person. But was he for real? Outwardly, yes, but deep within him was a troubled heart, confused, contorted and full of questions.The EDSA Revolution - First Spiritual Battle
Early 1986 came the EDSA Revolution, Somar's fifth year in the military service. From Tagum, he was assigned at Fort Bonifacio. Joining fellow Philippine Army (PA) Rangers, his troop was ordered to stand as a supporting force to block the 'revolting' civilians. The incident stirred his "spiritual think-tank" raging battle between good and evil, as most fellow soldiers felt at the time. The dilemma to follow orders, go neutral or go against the authorities kept bugging their (Somar and his troop) minds. As the Operations Officer, for the first time in his life, he had the difficulty deciding what order to pass on -any move would directly affect the lives of innocent civilians. All the peace offerings, the flowers, the children and the thousands of Filipinos lining up and clamoring for peace and freedom from the dictatorship - almost tore his heart to pieces. The question: "Am I to hurt any of these people?" caused a spiritual battle flowing down the very core of his being.The Turning Point
His "180 degrees" came when the PA Rangers (the Striking Force at the time) turned neutral and they (Somar's Unit) became the frontliners. This time he learned to call on God asking why all of it had to happen. He felt the numbness and there was chaos inside him. He was 'dead scared' at the sight of literally trampling on the harmless civilians - a scenario of bloodshed was creeping in his mind. Did his pleas fell on deaf ears? Did God disregard his call for help? Not at all. Since the dictator finally stooped down and ended his regime with his flight to Hawaii (fortunately not Paoay, Ilocos Norte), Somar felt the tremendous pressure removed from him and once again, "the world seemed a good place to live in." After then President Marcos stepped down, the first thing Somar saw on TV was the Blessed Virgin Mary and twice, the event simply took a turning point. The Revolution didn't make much of an impact though for Somar. His military life continued with a recall order for him to return to Tagum, Davao. What was resounding to him was the after-effect of the EDSA Revolution.The Call to a Celibate Life
The scene in 1987 at Tagum, Davao - First Lieutenant Greg Ramos was about to become a Captain and alongside his usual functions, he was ordered to organize Block Rosary and handle Sunday Mass preparations inside camp. The tasks drew him to God once more through his direct supervision of such activities and communication with the priests and nuns of the town. At the time, Somar was chosen to undertake a Maintenance Course for Armored Vehicles in Kentucky, USA. The same Somar after his entire but brief spiritual dilemma during 1986 Revolution, stayed spiritually unbalanced in his relationship with God.
One day a nun roused Somar's spiritual think-tank once again when she commended him for being active in church services. He laughed and hardly believed at the thought that he might be "called to serve" as the nun commented. In one of his brief solitary conversations with God, he asked," Are you calling me?" His question was pretty much like the usual PMA cadet talking to one another - quite funny and casual in a way when one tries to 'talk' to God. Somar dared God he would heed His call should his schooling not materialize. No sooner, the Course was cancelled to his amazement and for reasons not disclosed to anybody. "Was it coincidental?" he murmured and thought so. He still refused to believe that God was leading him into something he never imagined he could get into - "a sizzling Army Officer to become a Priest, not me!"Repentance to God
Still in Tagum, Davao, a Dominican Nun asked Somar to donate balloons for the children in celebration of Our Lady of Assumption come Aug. 15th. Being an aggressive guy, he pledged 250 balloons and placed his order a month prior to the feast. Unfortunately, a typhoon struck the Mindanao region and a few days before the event, Somar couldn't find any store that would sell or supply his order for balloons. There was also an unavailability of helium gas in the whole city and adjoining areas. He was really feeling bad about disappointing the children and compromising the integrity of his word. He knew the children would be expecting their balloons on the feast day.
On the night before Aug. 15, another twist happened in his life. This time, for reasons he couldn't comprehend, the desire to enter priesthood dawned upon him. Without a doubt and any apprehensions, he spoke to God with repentance deep in his heart, acknowledging his sins, for turning away from God, and maneuvering his life to serve his own desires. He requested God not to despise the children. Fully entrusting the feast day in God's hands, he decided that he would go downtown to look and buy 250 balloons. In the morning of Aug. 15, Somar went to San Pedro Cathedral in Davao City. There he fervently prayed again and surrendered everything to God. After a few searches nearby, he found one store with enough balloons and available helium gas. He bought 250 balloons and on the occasion, the children were truly happy. Somar felt relieved and joyful as well, and he praised God in his heart and mind.Total Surrender to God
Year 1989, almost everyone in the military service was "intensely desiring" for reform in the AFP. First Lieutenant Ramos triggered a simulated uprising in his area of operations (AOR), which caught all eyes on him. ATTENTION - was his agenda! Somar issued a manifesto demanding for an audience with the senior officers and for media exposure. He led the so-called "revolt" in Davao and moved on his own, causing dismay from the higher authorities. But was there really truth in it? In his intention? Well, maybe he just wanted to cause more conflict to his troubled mind. Soon, Somar was reprimanded by GHQ (General Headquarters) and was eventually relieved from his post. Worse, he was issued a warrant of arrest (WOA) ordering him to appear before the Davide Commission for investigation.
The real issue behind? He was simply sympathizing with the revolting military men in Metro Manila who had been longing for a "better" system of government. There really wasn't any actual revolt in Davao. And fortunately though, the WOA wasn't served at all. No interrogation took place. But then, Ist. Lt. Ramos got all the more bothered. The unserved WOA did not set him free; it actually made him feel like a "criminal in hiding" -a fugitive. It dimmed his future and got him even more perplexed. He didn't know where to go or where his life would be headed. His dreams and goals in life have suddenly waned. He was being confronted by the detrimental effect of his past mistakes, his dilemma - "will I stay or will I surrender?" And once again, he needed God like he never needed Him before. He uttered, "God, whatever your will is, I will burn the bridge behind me. I will follow you. " And Somar 'surrendered' his fate to God. He then went on with his agreement with God, set his plans, and lay on all areas of change to 'reformat' his life.
In the course of his "floating" (no assignment) status, he became truly depressed and confused about a lot of things. It seemed that nobody was interested in providing support to his case. Just when for him "the whole world was about to crumble," then Philippine Army (PA) commanding general Lisandro Abadia recommended for the nullification of his WOA. Come last quarter of 1990, just several weeks after filing the said recommendation, Maj. Gen. Abadia was promoted to AFP Chief of Staff and soon after, the WOA was lifted. Somar regarded this event as a true blessing. He thought God provided him a way out of the mess he made. Inside him, he knew it was a sign - God's leading. Yet, defiant as he was, he felt like he was being called to a path he didn't want to cross and also being forced to say yes to something he chose not to do. Still confused, he hesitated to answer the call. He was facing roadblocks before him and the thought of leaving more than eight years of his military life was indescribable. He still harbored disappointments and had several unresolved issues against authorities. He feels messed up at the time and that was keeping him away from God's calling.A New Beginning with God - The End of His Self-Controlled Life
Truly undecided though, he then heeded God's call. "Alright, I'll go and be a priest and see if I'm really being called." He applied at a pre-novitiate house, the ARVISU, and was referred to the Holy Apostles Senior Seminary to stay there and discern further. So he decided to stay for five years to learn more about God and served the vocation he finally willed to do. His critical and final deciding point came during his third year in the Seminary. A 30-day spiritual retreat that involved a process for the seminarians to discern whether they are being called or not gave him the light. He saw in a vision that brought him back to the time when he was a Firstclass Cadet at the Academy just days before graduation. He dreamt about being in a Church and at every corner was a statue of a Saint. Suddenly all the Saints became alive and were running after him. That vision made him realize what God had 'in store' for him in His time.
On 2 March 1996 while on his 5th year in the Seminary, Somar was ordained as a Deacon. Even at this last stage, he was still struggling on the 'truth' of his taken path. He thought of joining the Military Ordinariate due to "unresolved issues" during the latter part of his military life. Barely five months in the Deaconate, he was ordained as a Priest on 31 July 1996, the feast day of St. Ignatius de Loyola. Now, Rev. Fr. Greg Ramos opted to serve in the Archdiocese of Manila and was assigned as the Parochial Vicar of St. Anthony de Padua Parish, Singalong, Manila, a position he held for only a year. By August 1997, Fr. Greg was asked to serve as Parish Representative for one month and accompany the Filipino Youth Delegates to the 1997 World Youth Day in France.
Upon his return to the Philippines, Fr. Greg was given another assignment as Dean of Academics and Spiritual Director of the Holy Apostles Senior Seminary and held the position for two years. On the third year, he was tapped as the Director for Spiritual Formation. Currently on his 4th year of being a Formator, Fr. Greg's vision is just to be a simple Parish Priest who would tend to his 'sheep' with earnest and spiritual fulfillment. One would see him serving as regular Presider of the Holy Mass every Wednesday noon break from 12:15 to 1:00 p.m. at the Chapel of the Eucharistic Lord, 5/F Bldg. B, SM Megamall, EDSA, Pasig City. He would continue with his schedule to give counseling and hear confession. Later in the afternoon, he would proceed to the EDSA Shrine (in front of Robinson's Galleria) to hear confession. During the homily, one would find Fr. Greg "reeling off' the mass attendees to a somewhat different dimension of actualizing the teachings of the Church, which would probably carry a radical orientation yet more pronounced as a show of "faith with [positive] action" and firm trust on the Lord that "He will not abandon us." Fr. Greg still joins his PMA classmates during their regular reunion-meetings, social gatherings and special projects. To his classmates, he's still Somar, their Mistah, but this time with an aura of respect and reverence for his chosen life-long vocation of serving God as a Priest.ALEXANDER GL QUIRANTE, PMA '72 & MS. IMELDA DEL MUNDO
Metro Manila, Philippines
(Click the above banner to see Fr. Greg's mini photo album)