How do we explain things to them?


By Ramon J. Farolan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

This morning the long gray line coming out from the Philippine Military Academy will be lengthened by 184 fresh graduates who will be commissioned second lieutenants in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The young man who is graduating at the top of his class, cadet Karl Winston Cacanindin, comes from the little-known province of Aurora, the son of a public schoolteacher and a municipal official.

Of all the educational institutions of the land, none is probably more democratic than the Philippine Military Academy. Here, no one cares for your birthplace, your religion, your social standing, your family fortune or whether your parents are married. The cadets come from every part of the country and in that sense they represent the youth of the land, from the Batanes Isles to the Sulu Archipelago. The great majority of these young boys and girls are from the middle and lower classes of Philippine society. And for many, entrance to the PMA represented the only opportunity for higher education with the possible realization of dreams for a better life. For a few, the vision of someday being AFP chief of staff was also part of the dream.

The members of PMA class 2009 join the Armed Forces at a critical juncture in the life of our nation. They are being asked to serve our people with courage, loyalty and integrity. The secretary of national defense, Gilbert Teodoro Jr., recently reminded them to strictly follow and observe the military code of honor, admonishing them not to lie, steal or cheat.

These are good reminders but as these young men step out of the cloistered halls of Fort Del Pilar into the real world, how do we explain to them the contradictions they will face in their new life?

We ask them not to cheat. But our politicians cheat like hell in order to win elections and at times, use the Armed Forces for their own purposes and advantage. By the way, when will the secret Mayuga report on alleged AFP participation in the 2004 elections be de-classified and made available to the public?

We ask them not to steal. But politicians and administration stalwarts steal from the national coffers as though it were their personal piggy banks. And they continue to do so, supremely confident that they will be protected by those in power. No one goes to jail. In fact, the only people in jail are the Magdalo junior officers and the marines and scout rangers who were involved in the February 2006 actions—all soldiers who decided this regime was not worth dying for. The civilian allies of the administration like Benjamin Abalos, to give only one example, have not even been charged over cases of plunder magnitude.

We ask them not to lie. But in the current Legacy scandal that has resulted in the forced leave of SEC Commissioner Jesus Martinez, guess who is being reported as his replacement? Deputy Executive Secretary Manuel Gaite. Remember the Good Samaritan who lent half-a-million to Jun Lozada, a complete stranger, on the basis of a phone call at two in the morning? The money was reportedly borrowed for house repairs. All this was revealed in Senate hearings on the aborted ZTE-NBN scandal. In other countries, Gaite would probably be charged as an accessory to a cover-up. Only in the Philippines would such an individual be considered for a position in the Securities and Exchange Commission, an agency tasked with regulating business in the country.

The fertilizer scam involving Joc-joc Bolante has almost been forgotten. Remember how Bolante sought asylum in the United States when the Senate wanted to question him about the disappearance of P728 million in funds for our farmers? He is back in the country after being denied asylum, but it appears he could have saved himself so much discomfort in a US immigration detention center by remaining in the country. After the sound and fury of hearings at the Senate, all remains quiet at the Office of the Ombudsman.

And before I forget, how can this regime invoke the military code of honor when it double-crossed the Magdalo junior officers who were promised military justice after surrender? As Max Soliven put it, “Word of honor binds those who give them, not the accused or imprisoned.”

Now what does all this mean to our cadets and young officers? The message is clear: If you must lie, lie to protect the administration. If you must steal, make certain some of it goes to the administration. If you must cheat, cheat in favor of the administration. You will be assured of protection and you may not see the inside of a courtroom. Like Gaite, you might even be rewarded, perhaps even with the position of AFP chief of staff someday.

* * *

In a recent column, I had some special notes on PMA icons. I reported that in the history of the academy, only one individual graduated No. 1 in the class, and also served as first captain (baron) of the cadet corps. This was cadet Leopoldo Regis, class of 1951, who died in the crash of President Ramon Magsaysay’s plane in 1957.

Two days ago, Navy Capt. Winston Arpon, class 1964, sent me a sheaf of his literary work and corrected me, saying that the No. 1 graduate of his class and also first captain was cadet Manuel Arevalo. Unfortunately, the Academy Scribe that lists the Graduation Day awardees for every PMA class has Manuel Arevalo as the Presidential Sabre awardee (No. 1 graduate) but lists the Chief of Staff sabre awardee, which goes to the first captain of the corps, as Jorge P. Agcaoili. But Winston Arpon should know best. After all, he served as a member of the Regimental Staff when Arevalo was first captain.

Because of this error, I also discovered that there was a third cadet who served as first captain of the corps and graduated No. 1 in the class. Cadet Aristeo Ferraren of the class of 1938 held both positions. That makes three individuals with this rare achievement.

A wonderful writer—I thoroughly enjoyed reading his notes on “Witful Thinking, Wednesday”—Winston Arpon served at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. as an assistant of Ambassador Kokoy Romualdez. He has his own column for the PMA community posted weekly on the Internet. On graduation from the PMA, Arpon was awarded the following: JUSMAG Military Professional Award, US 13th Air Force Socio-Humanistic Award, DND Press Club Journalistic Award, Chief of Services Award and Philippine Constabulary Award. (This last one is a bit puzzling, as Arpon is a Navy man.)

* * *

We all know by now who are the top graduates of class 2009. Nothing has been said about the “goat.” But whoever he is, let me point out that the goat of class 1937 was Gen. Jonas A. Victoria and the goat of class 1938 was Gen. Augusto L. Jurado. Guess what!? Both became commanding generals of the Philippine Air Force.

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