The first law passed by the National Assembly of the Philippine Commonwealth in December 1935 was the National Defense Act (CA No. 1).
Article IV, Sec. 30 of the law provided for “the establishment of a military school to be named the Philippine Military Academy for the training of selected candidates for permanent commission in the Regular Force. The student body of the Military Academy shall be known as the Cadet Corps of the Army of the Philippines.”
On June 15, 1936, 120 candidates who qualified in two entrance exams were appointed cadets and directed to proceed to Teachers Camp, Baguio City.
Horacio Farolan of Surigao topped the list of new cadets who would undergo a four-year course leading to a Bachelor of Science degree. Under an earlier program, the Philippine Constabulary Academy offered a non-degree, three-year course leading to a commission in the Regular Force of the Philippine Army.
They were World War I babies born between the years 1914 and 1919. It was supposed to be “the war to end all wars,” but a year after graduation they found themselves fighting a second world war (World War II) more deadly and devastating than the first.
Except for a few, practically all were products of the public school system. Most belonged to the middle and lower classes representing different regions of the country and speaking all kinds of dialects. Their parents were farmers, teachers, small merchants and minor government officials. By and large, the majority did not have any real or solid ambitions for a military career. The Military Academy meant the opportunity to obtain a free college education.
Like most of the young men of their time, they were products of an educational system set up by the American colonizers. In the words of Prof. Renato Constantino, they were so “miseducated” that they were more familiar with the lives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln rather than with the lives of Emilio Aguinaldo, Andres Bonifacio, or Gregorio del Pilar. They could recite Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” from memory, but were not familiar with Jose Rizal’s “My Last Farewell.” They sang the Star-Spangled Banner along with the National Anthem each morning in English, which was the medium of instruction in schools.
When Batch ’36 was received at Teachers Camp, the superintendent was Col. Pastor Martelino, US Military Academy Class 1920, while the commandant of cadets was Capt. Rufo Romero, West Point Class 1931. The first captain was Cadet Ernesto Mata with Cadets Napoleon Valeriano and Nicanor Garcia commanding the two companies that made up the corps.
When it was their turn to lead the corps, Ramon A. Olbes of Sorsogon was designated the first captain. He would serve two years in this position because of the extended four-year course that was in place. Olbes died in a plane crash together with his wife in March 1962. He was an executive of Don Andres Soriano connected with the Bislig Bay Lumber Company.
On March 15, 1940, of the original 120 cadets, only 79 would take their oaths as third lieutenants of the Philippine Army before Maj. Gen. Basilio J. Valdez, the chief of staff. Vice President Sergio Osmeña would read the commencement address of President Manuel L. Quezon during the graduation rites. (Many of those who did not make it with the class were commissioned in the reserve force and later integrated into the regular force.)
Licurgo Estrada of Pangasinan would graduate at the top of his class. He was a four-year “starman,” consistently No. 1 in his class from plebe year.
Ramon Gelvezon of Iloilo would be the “goat” of the class. However, he would more than make up for this dubious distinction by being one of the first in his batch to reach star rank.
Batch ’36 or the Class of 1940 would produce 14 generals and flag officers during a period when the AFP was allowed only 27 general officers. Two became AFP chiefs of staff—Generals Victor Osias and Segundo Velasco; two served as flag-officers-in-command (FOIC) Philippine Navy—Commodores Heracleo Alano and Felix Apolinario; two were superintendents of the Philippine Military Academy; and two served as president of the National Defense College of the Philippines.
When I was a young boy growing up in Baguio City before the outbreak of World War II, I remember seeing an imposing figure in dress gray uniform having weekend dining privileges at the family home. He was my first cousin Cadet Horacio Farolan, as mentioned earlier in this space as having topped the entrance exams in 1936. I would follow in his footsteps and he would serve as my role model in more ways than I can think of.
“Ching” Farolan joined the Air Force after graduation and was one of only 17 in the class to receive the coveted aviator wings. He ended his military career as PAF vice commander, also serving as acting commanding general PAF for almost a year prior to retirement. (It seems strange that an officer would be allowed to continue in an acting capacity for such a long period of time. A permanent appointment would have been the more appropriate course of action.)
He will be remembered for his heroism at Aglaloma Point, Bataan, organizing a defense perimeter made up of remnants of Air Corps, Philippine Constabulary and Army units that threw back early Japanese attempts to outflank defense positions on the peninsula.
After the war, he would reestablish the Philippine Air Force Flying School that graduated the first post-war pilots of Class ’49.
In February 1963, he was designated chief of a military mission to the Congo. The Philippines had contributed a squadron of F-86 Saberjets as part of a UN Peacekeeping Force in the former Belgian colony.
Brig. Gen. Horacio Farolan retired from the military service in August 1967 and, on the same day, he was appointed Philippine Representative to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, Canada.
Last month, he passed away at the age of 95.
That leaves Brig. Gen. Reynaldo Bocalbos as the “last man standing” of Batch ’36.
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Of the six pre-war classes that were covered by the four-year program, two—Class ’40 and Class ’41—completed the course. Class ’42 and Class ’43 were commissioned third lieutenants effective Dec. 13, 1941 and inducted into the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). Class ’44 and Class ’45 were disbanded and sent home.
The Academy would reopen its doors after the war with Class ’51, the first to graduate from its new home at Loakan, on the outskirts of the city.