QUEZON, Philippines - Army Pfc. Jessie Ponce, a brawny 27-year-old soldier, took a deep breath and shook his head to hold back the tears.
"I don't want to show them that I am affected, too. If we will all show weakness, nothing will happen to us," Ponce told me inside the nipa hut that served as office to the First Infantry Battalion's Bravo Company under the Army's 2nd Infantry Division here in Infanta.
The youngest in a brood of six, Ponce lost a brother, a sister, a sister-in-law, two young nephews and two nieces in the storm surge in Tacloban City at the height of Supertyphoon "Yolanda" on Nov. 8.
His mother, Winifreda, brothers Philip and Eric, their families, brother-in-law Lilo and nephew Cesar survived. It was for them that Ponce had to show a brave front.
Of the nine soldiers from the 1st IB who hailed from Eastern Visayas, it was only Ponce who lost family members in the storm.
I had wanted to find Ponce.
The day after the storm, his brother Eric came up to me at the Tacloban police headquarters while I helped people make calls on the satellite phones provided by Smart, this time not as a journalist. In my battle dress uniform, I literally wore my other identity as a Navy reserve officer that Saturday night.
Eric caught my attention because he staggered towards me. He was obviously in pain. He had his right hand on his left rib, and he bent a little to the left. He had fresh, shallow wounds on his arms and legs.
"Ma'am," he said with a faint voice, his eyes red. "I am Eric Ponce, a police officer. My brother is in the Army. His name is Pfc. Jessie Ponce. He's assigned in Laguna."