Medal of Valor
More than 25 years ago, a young captain assigned with the Army’s Special Forces carried out a stunning nighttime operation against a numerically superior group of some 200 rebels located at Sitio Manipulon, Murcia, in Negros Occidental Province. The results of the raid set a new standard in the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counterinsurgency efforts that, to this date, has not been duplicated in terms of enemy killed and firearms recovered.
On April 6, 1990, Capt. Arturo B. Ortiz led five teams of the 606th Special Forces Company, Philippine Army along with a number of Cafgu troops in a raid against a large NPA training camp in Negros Occidental. Under cover of darkness, Ortiz led his troops on a grueling 11-hour cross-country march, scaling a 1,000-foot high cliff, enabling his units to infiltrate the enemy position while avoiding booby traps and claymore mines. Aware that air support and artillery fire would be futile due to the dense forest cover, Ortiz instructed his men to move as close as 10 meters from the enemy periphery before launching the surprise attack. Moving from one team to the other, he directed their line of fire that spared the women and children in the encampment.
For this outstanding performance of duty, Captain Ortiz was awarded the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Valor (MOV). His citation reads: “The two-hour gun battle resulted in 84 terrorists killed with 22 dead bodies counted, including 17 recovered on site, 8 captured, and several others wounded and missing as reported by the Negros Regional Party Committee. Recovered from the enemy were 33 assorted firearms, 21 rifle grenades, several hand grenades, five ICOM radios, and other enemy equipment. By this display of exceptional courage and high degree of leadership, Capt. Ortiz distinguished himself in the field of combat in keeping with the highest tradition of Filipino soldiery.”
The Medal of Valor is the highest military honor that can be bestowed on members of the AFP for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. It is not an award that is easily granted. To date, there have been only 40 MOV awardees: 27 from the Philippine Army, 8 from the Philippine Marines, 3 from the defunct Philippine Constabulary, and 2 from the Philippine Air Force.
Each award is thoroughly screened and is vetted through several layers of command before it reaches the major service commander. From here, the papers go to the AFP chief of staff, the secretary of national defense, and finally, the Office of the President, for approval. Only the president can authorize the award and the whole process usually takes anywhere from nine months to a year, even longer. In the case of Captain Ortiz, his MOV was awarded nine months after his successful mission. The award is so prestigious that even the president as commander in chief may choose to salute the MOV holder, the only individual given this rare honor.
Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, who retired from military service as the 53rd commanding general of the Philippine Army, graduated with PMA Class 1979. He is presently the president of the Association of AFP MOV awardees.
Incidentally, one of the most attractive sites at the Philippine Military Academy is the view of a pine-covered mountainside stretching all the way to distant Mount Santo Tomas from the back of Lim Hall. The hall, named in honor of Brig. Gen. Vicente Lim, the first Filipino to graduate from West Point, houses the offices of the PMA superintendent, the dean, corps of professors, and the commandant of cadets.
The centerpiece of the building is the Hall of Valor, featuring the framed photos of PMA MOV awardees, with their respective citations. It is a sanctuary for those in search of heroism and inspiration, and each time I visit the Academy, I make it a point to stop even for a few brief moments at the Hall of Valor. I always leave the place with a feeling of deep pride and respect for the achievements of this select group of PMAyers, some of whom paid the supreme sacrifice in the performance of duty. Let me add that there are other military personnel, some officers with different sources of commission, as well as enlisted men, who have been honored with the MOV in recognition of their bravery and heroism under enemy fire.
Last week, Malacañang approved the award of the MOV to 42 members of the PNP’s Special Action Force (SAF) who were killed in the Mamasapano action two years ago. Two from the same group were earlier awarded the medal posthumously.
The grant to the other 42 SAF troopers was one of the requests of family members during a meeting with the President last month.
The sudden mass conferment, in response to family pleas, has drawn widespread criticism from both AFP and PNP elements. General Ortiz has forwarded to me a few of the comments that he received:
The MOV must not be given wholesale. It is a singular act of exceptional and uncommon heroism by a soldier that sets him apart from the rest. It must not be trivialized, abused, demeaned, or devalued. Otherwise, the medal loses its honor and prestige.
This action sets a bad precedent and would open a floodgate for indiscriminate awarding of the MOV. This cheapens the award and might weaken the institution and system of AFP awards.
In the entire AFP history, there have only been 40 awardees. Then in one fell swoop, 42 SAF members get the same medal. It would surely land us in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The MOV should not be trivialized and all soldiers and men in uniform should stand against this.
The AFP leadership and concerned authorities should do something to restore, protect, and preserve the honor and prestige and integrity of the MOV, revered and considered sacred by the AFP. Wholesale award of the MOV to the SAF 44 is too much.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año have expressed similar concerns about the grant of the award. We can honor the memory and sacrifices of the SAF troopers in ways that do not diminish the value and prestige of the Medal of Valor.