Last SaturdaY, the Philippine Military Academy held its annual general membership meeting at Camp Aguinaldo with Interior Secretary Mar Roxas as guest of honor.
In his introductory remarks, Roxas recalled how in his younger days, whenever the family went up to Baguio, there was always this “mystique about the PMA,” an air of mystery and reverence surrounding the institution. His grandfather President Manuel Roxas, the first president of the Third Republic, held the rank of brigadier general in the Philippine Army and served as the aide de camp to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Secretary Roxas himself would pursue a career in investment banking. In 1996, Roxas, still a neophyte congressman, was invited by PMA Class 1984 to be an honorary member of the group. Perhaps it was something about “mystique” that led him to accept their invitation.
I have often been asked what led me to Fort Del Pilar and a military career. My father was a newspaperman and my older brothers were not particularly interested in the military.
Was it the glamor of the cadet uniform? The challenge of a military lifestyle? The desire to “serve the nation,” as some would put it? Or was it the “mystique about PMA” referred to by Roxas?
The uniforms looked good especially to the ladies, the military life represented a challenge of the unknown, and a desire to “serve the nation” was farthest from my thoughts. Perhaps the thing about “mystique” had something to do with my decision, but it certainly was not very clear to me at that time.
The best reason I can offer, and this is something I have mentioned in the past, is that after graduation from UP High in Diliman, I really was at a loss as to what to do with the rest of my life. Some guys were set on becoming lawyers, doctors or engineers. I wasn’t sure about anything. I took the PMA exams along with some of my high school classmates and when the notice arrived from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to report to V. Luna Hospital for final physical clearance, I said to myself, “Baguio has always been home to me. Let’s see what happens…”
The rest is history and I shall be forever grateful to the military academy for all it has given me. It is a debt that can never be fully paid.
Today, the PMA is the main source of regular officers for our Armed Forces. With the end of the ROTC program as we knew it in the past, we only have Officer Candidate schools that from time to time graduate a number of young eligible candidates for the Armed Forces. This situation is reflected in the fact that for the past decade or more, PMA graduates have had a monopoly of leadership in the major services of the Armed Forces—in fact, in the AFP as a whole.
It would be in the national interest if we could revive military training programs so as to be able to attract more of our youth. National security is the responsibility of all, not just a few.
Secretary Roxas, in his speech before the alumni, mentioned that the threats to national security are no longer restricted to NPA insurgents and Muslim secessionists. Today, there is the ongoing war on terror; the challenge of cyberwarfare and climate change; and looming large on the horizon is the dispute with our neighbor over the West Philippine Sea. We shall need all hands if we are to confront and successfully overcome these obstacles to the economic growth and stability of the nation.
Somehow I am reminded of a story concerning US Sen. James Webb, an Annapolis graduate Class of 1968, who served in Vietnam as a young Marine lieutenant. After the war, he went to work with the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and was disturbed about the many conflicting reports regarding Vietnam—about who had served and who had not. So he began to do more research. He was unhappy with what he discovered. “This was the first large-scale war in American history where the elites did not go,” he said. “I called Harvard, Princeton and MIT, and I asked the registrars very specific questions. This was a war fought by the poor, by minorities and by the middle class—not the elites.” Many young men were sent to Vietnam because they had no other way out of what was supposed to be the universal obligation of military service.
Webb went on to say, “It is simply a matter of the elites not having a sense of duty to their country, while the lower classes for reasons of economics and family tradition, continue to sign up and do the fighting.”
Are we going to fight our wars with only the poor and the middle class? What about the elites in our society, those who live in gated communities, who feel secure because they know that there are others who will do their fighting for them? It is time to remind everyone that we—not just the military or the police, certainly not just the poor and the middle class, but the elites as well—are all responsible for the safety of our country.
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On Feb. 16, PMA alumni and their families will be making their annual trek to Fort Del Pilar for homecoming activities. In the past, Foundation Day was the main reason for the February gathering. But this event is now celebrated in October to mark the establishment of the Academia Militar by President Emilio Aguinaldo in 1898, a few months after the birth of the First Philippine Republic.
The guest of honor for the homecoming program is Vice President Jejomar Binay.
One can see how politically astute the PMA Alumni Association is. They invite Secretary Mar Roxas to grace the annual membership meeting and balance this with Vice President Binay as the honored guest in Baguio. No one can accuse the PMAAA of being for or against any of the potential rivals in the coming presidential elections.
I mentioned earlier that Secretary Roxas is an honorary member of PMA Class 1984. Vice President Binay, on the other hand, is an adopted brother of Class 1988. In fact, his military assistant (security matters, in particular) is Col. Ferdinand Fraginal of the Philippine Marines, also of Class 1988.
Now remember that former President Gloria Arroyo was an honorary member of Class 1978. Her military assistant was Col. Delfin Bangit, a member of the same class. He was later named AFP chief of staff just before she stepped down from office. During Arroyo’s time, PMA Class 1978 was a powerhouse group in the Armed Forces.
This time around, will it be Class 1984 or Class 1988?