WHEN ATTENDING programs, especially of government offices, I have always wondered why each speaker called to the podium has to proceed by first acknowledging the presence of everyone on stage and even in the audience. At times, the only one not included is the name of the janitor.
Surprise! At the 69th anniversary celebration of the Philippine Air Force last Tuesday, President Duterte launched into his extemporaneous speech without the usual greetings. He said that the prepared manuscript he was given contained mostly “motherhood statements,” and quickly proceeded to deliver his bombshell exposé on police drug lords.
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This year marks the 13th anniversary of the Oakwood mutiny. It was in July 2003 that some 300 soldiers took over Oakwood Premier Apartments in Ayala Center, Makati City, demanding the resignation of then President Gloria Arroyo and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes. Among their grievances were anomalies in the Armed Forces, such as the “pabaon” being given to retiring senior officers. They occupied Oakwood for almost a day before agreeing to return to barracks under certain conditions agreed upon with government negotiators, but which were later disavowed by the authorities.
A commission, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Florentino Feliciano, was formed to investigate the mutiny. The Feliciano Commission identified the leaders as Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes, Capt. Gerardo Gambala, Capt. Milo Maestrecampo, Lt. James Layug and Marine Capt. Gary Alejano. The report of the commission said the mutiny was a “well-planned power grab,” not a spontaneous protest. It also found that a number of the grievances were legitimate and rooted in corruption in the military organization. Incidentally, Trillanes is now a senator, and Alejano is a party-list representative.
Among the core group of mutineers held in detention at Camp Aguinaldo was Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon. Faeldon managed to escape from prison and, shortly after, released a CD-recorded message stating that “he was leaving to join the fight for a credible government.” The AFP announced a nationwide manhunt for Faeldon, calling the renegade Marine officer an “enemy of the State.”
In a column 10 years ago (“Mabuhay si Capt. Nicanor Faeldon!”, Opinion, 12/18/05), this is what I wrote about the announcement: “The Armed Forces of the Philippines has branded Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon as an ‘enemy of the State.’ What a silly statement! The last time I came across this phrase was when communist insurgents used it to rationalize the execution of some of their victims. Whoever is behind this declaration is either hallucinating or completely out of touch with reality, and is the greatest a– licker in the AFP. The real enemies of our people are today walking in the corridors of power laughing their heads off…”
In spite of the nationwide manhunt order, the AFP never did get to capture Captain Faeldon. Perhaps, the men tasked for the job did not consider him an enemy and, therefore, preferred to close their eyes or look elsewhere. The fact remains that Faeldon moved around in various AFP camps and installations in the company of military and civilian sympathizers who considered him their friend, perhaps even their hero.
Today the renegade officer Captain Faeldon is the commissioner of the Bureau of Customs, continuing his fight against corruption in government, one that he started as a young lieutenant in the Marine Corps. When I asked him what he thought of his new responsibilities, he said he would much prefer to be engaged in the fight for the national sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea. But like a good soldier, he intends to carry out orders from the commander in chief to the best of his ability.
Nicanor Faeldon is an Ivatan from the province of Batanes, one of 12 children of education-oriented parents. His father was a division head in the Department of Education, while his mother was an academic supervisor, also in the same office.
As a young boy, the one book he treasured most was “American Caesar” by William Manchester, on the life of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. His dream was to become a soldier but parental objections prevailed, and so he took up political science at National University. After graduation in 1989, he decided to pursue his original ambition of a career in the military. He attended the Naval Officers Qualification Course and then joined the Marine Corps. He became airborne-qualified, and attended the Force Recon Course which is the Marine equivalent of Special Forces training. At the time of the Oakwood mutiny, he was serving as an ordnance course director in ammunition management at the Marine Training Center in Ternate, Cavite. His commander was Lt. Col. Juancho Sabban. Sabban is now his deputy commissioner for intelligence.
Where is the Duterte connection?
In the sense that he served in Davao and was noticed by then Mayor Duterte, this did not happen. He was never assigned in Davao but in 2012, in the course of an ordinary courtesy call, he and the mayor had a long conversation about the country and its problems. The mayor must have been impressed. Both share a common passion: love of country. And this explains why Faeldon, a soldier, would rather be on the frontlines facing the West Philippine Sea than battling syndicates at the waterfront.
It should therefore come as no surprise that Nicanor Faeldon happens to be the guiding spirit behind the Kalayaan, Atin Ito Movement, an organization of Filipino students from all over the country. They have led demonstrations and protest actions on Pagasa Island, and on the Scarborough and Ayungin Shoals, and for their courage and devotion to the nation, they were my choice for “Filipinos of the Year” last January. The Aquino administration, weak-kneed and completely depending on the international tribunal at the Hague, frowned on these activities even as other claimants like Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia and China took more aggressive actions in defense of what they see as their territory.