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Redemption

/ 05:07 AM April 02, 2018

More on fathers who bury their sons:

Lt. Christopher Mariano, Class of 1992, was the second
son of Brig. Gen. Manuel Mariano, former commander of
the AFP logistics command, and wife Lolit. He died in line of duty serving the nation while assigned with the 5th Infantry
Division in the Mountain Province. An older brother is Col. Joel Mariano, Class of 1991, also with the Philippine Army.

For many years now, March Week has always been a special period in the lives of senior cadets of the Philippine Military Academy. Two weeks ago, 282 members from Class of 2018 received their commissions as junior officers in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, one of the largest batches to finish at Fort Del Pilar.

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The topnotcher and brigade commander, known as “the baron” among cadets, was Jaywardene Hontoria, from Iloilo province. He opted to join the Philippine Navy starting as an ensign (equivalent to second lieutenant in the Army and Air Force). That makes him low on the totem pole of officers in the active service. Quite a drop from brigade commander of the cadet corps! And now the slow climb up the ladder begins. In about 25 to 30 years, we shall know how he fares beyond the walls and the parade ground of the academy. If we go by record books, valedictorians rarely make it as AFP chief of staff. In the history of the academy, only one reached the top of the pyramid — Gen. Manuel Yan, Class of 1941.

Some reports indicate that Hontoria is the third graduate to finish both as topnotcher and baron of the class. He is actually the fourth individual to enjoy this distinction. The others were: Aristeo Ferraren, Class of 1936; Leopoldo Regis, Class of 1951; and Manuel Arevalo, Class of 1964.

Perhaps what is interesting in Hontoria’s case was his rapid shift — in less than 24 hours — from barracks life to marital bliss. One would think that a few years of bachelorhood outside the confines of Fort Del Pilar would be appreciated before adding on new responsibilities and obligations.

In the case of our batch, the Class of 1956, Filoteo Arevalo
was the first to get married to his longtime girlfriend, Norma Musni. They were wed three days after graduation at the
Camp Allen chapel near Baguio City Hall. My wife Penny was one of the bridesmaids.

The Arevalos have been one of the most blessed and the most productive parents of the class. Of their 11 children — five boys and six girls — all the boys graduated from the PMA: Alexander, Class of 1982, a management systems expert; Filoteo Jr., Class of 1984, a commercial pilot with Asiana Airlines; Robert, Class of 1985, Philippine Army vice commander; Benedict, Class of 1990, commandant, Combined Arms School, Tradoc, Philippine Army; and Armand, Class of 1991, deputy commander, First Scout Ranger Regiment.

Norma Arevalo brims with pride when relating how she slipped on the class ring of six cadets: her husband, and their five boys during the traditional Ring Hop of their respective classes, even if the boys had special girlfriends of their own.

In most graduation exercises throughout the land, the loudest applause is usually reserved for the topnotcher of the class. One notable exception to this practice is carried out year after year at the commencement rites of the PMA. As the names of the cadets are called out to receive their diplomas from the commander in chief himself, the applause starts to increase in volume and intensity as the last few rows of the officer candidates move toward center stage. When the last man, the “goat” of the class (last in the order of merit) is announced, the audience breaks out in loud and enthusiastic cheers and clapping.

This year the “goat” was Haezzer Keith Atiwag of Mountain Province. He received a brand-new pistol in contrast with the Presidential Saber awarded to Hontoria. But even if he was way down the roster, don’t count him out in the race for the stars of a general or the post of AFP chief.

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The first batch to finish the four-year academic program at the PMA was the Class of 1940. Among the more than 200 young men who made up the class was Ramon Gelvezon from Iloilo province. His early years were quite uneventful and he fared well academically. Then, in 1937 he got involved in a love triangle that resulted in the death of a young UST coed. It was a sensational case at that time because of the prominence of those involved. The scion of a well-known Batangas family resented what he felt was the excessive interest showered by his girlfriend on Cadet Gelvezon, and in a fit of jealousy, stabbed the young lady to death.

The affair had disastrous repercussions on Gelvezon as his academic standing took a nosedive. He survived many battles as a
“finalist” (one who takes removal exams for poor ratings during the school year) and graduated in March 1940 at the bottom of his class. And of course, he got the most applause during the ceremonies.

He vowed to exert his best in all future assignments. In the anti-Huk effort in Quezon province, he came to the attention of Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay who had a penchant for awarding “spot” promotions to deserving personnel. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel, bypassing many senior officers. This was followed by several difficult assignments to Pampanga, the seat of the Huk movement, and then to Cavite, a perennial hotspot for any provincial commander given the banditry and smuggling activities in the area. Gradually, he earned a reputation for getting the job done in all the sensitive positions entrusted to him. When he attended the Command and General Staff College he finished, this time, at the top of his class and thus erased the stigma of Class of 1940’s “goat.”

A few months later, President Diosdado Macapagal promoted Gelvezon to the rank of brigadier general, one of the first in his class to reach star rank during a time when stars in the Armed Forces were quite rare. Of the critical points in his life that had a tremendous impact on his career, perhaps the dubious distinction of being the “goat” of the class played the most important role in his drive for excellence, success and final redemption.

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TAGS: Aristeo Ferraren, Christopher Mariano, Filoteo Arevalo, Haezzer Keith Atiwag, Jaywardene Hontoria, Leopoldo Regis, Manuel Arevalo, Manuel Mariano, Manuel Yan, military fathers and sons, Norma Musni, Philippine Military Academy, PMA, Ramon Farolan, Ramon Gelvezon, Reveille
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