IT seems like only yesterday that I was walking up the makeshift graduation stage at the Philippine Military Academy to receive my diploma from Speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr. who was the guest of honor and commencement speaker. After four long years of a monastic existence, sheltered from the realities of the outside world, we were being commissioned as 2nd lieutenants in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, only the sixth batch of cadets to graduate upon the re-establishment of the academy after World War II. All 51 of us would immediately be assigned to army units in Southern Luzon, battling an insurgency that posed a serious threat to national security.
I wish I could say that my motives in joining the PMA were as noble as others have put it. But the truth is, after graduation from high school, I wasn?t too sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. The academy represented something different, a challenge to be met, an opportunity to be on my own, an adventure that could lead to other endeavors in the search for self-fulfillment. And now more than 50 years after leaving Fort Gregorio H. Del Pilar, I realize it was the best decision a young man of 17 could have made.
This morning the academy graduates some 226 men and women who will be farmed out to the three major services of the AFP with the army taking in the bulk of the class.
There is concern and anxiety about how to grapple with the harsh realities of the real world. There is also joy and a sense of accomplishment.
I know how they feel. And I share their excitement, their happiness at reaching an important milestone in their lives. Just as we were immediately thrown into battle as army platoon leaders, they will soon face the enemies of the State?the NPAs, the MILF, the Abu Sayyaf and, yes, the private armies of political warlords nurtured by years of corrupt leadership?and I pray the Almighty shields them from harm and guides them always in the work of keeping our nation together.
The Philippine Military Academy traces its roots to the Academia Militar established by President and General-in-Chief Emilio Aguinaldo in October 1898, a few months after the proclamation of the First Philippine Republic. Like the Republic, the Academia Militar was short-lived. But it is important for us to keep in mind that in 1898, we already had the beginnings of a military institution of learning, complete with a structure and curriculum. This explains why PMA Foundation Day is celebrated in October of each year.
Today the PMA continues to provide the nation with its military leaders, most of whom come from the ranks of the underprivileged. They come from all parts of the country and are chosen on the basis of nationwide mental and physical examinations. No one cares about their birthplace, their religion or their social standing. A great number of applicants to the PMA are products of provincial schools. I doubt if we have any Ateneo or De La Salle high school products in the Corps of Cadets. The last one I am aware of was Brig. Gen. Victor Corpuz, a La Sallite. He graduated with the Class of 1967, defected to the NPA as a young lieutenant and later re-joined the AFP, reaching star rank and heading its intelligence service. He is now posted with the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Many of the present crop are sons or daughters of farmers, jeepney drivers, schoolteachers, or daily wage earners unable to provide higher education for their children. The PMA represented their only hope for a brighter future.
The honor roll of this year?s graduates reflects the humble beginnings of a large number of the class.
Finishing at the top of his batch is Cadet Erano Belen of Dumaguete City, son of a tricycle driver. For many of our readers, having only one meal a day may be unthinkable. But in the case of Belen, it was part of growing up.
The second-placer, Cadet Froilan Pinay-an of Hungduan, Ifugao Province, grew up with the sound of gunfire around him as NPAs and military elements clashed in his neighborhood. Both parents were farmers who taught him the power of prayer and the importance of always doing the right thing. It took him three attempts before he finally made the grade for PMA. With no resources to fall back on, failure was not an option. While waiting for acceptance, he spent time as a farmer helping his parents plant cabbage and beans.
Pinay-an says: ?I have felt the hardships of being a farmer. There were many obstacles such as calamities and pests that would destroy the crops. There were times when you were able to produce a good yield but the price of the product was low. But the two years I spent farming with my folks provided some of the best moments in my life.?
Of 31 women graduates?the largest female batch to finish?Cadet Karen Padayao of Ormoc City tops the group. The Army is her choice of branch of service.
We won?t be hearing from this class for some time after graduation?unless disaster strikes or they plot or stage a coup along the way. But 20 to 25 years from now they will be the senior officers of the AFP, leading the brigades, providing the wing commanders, and heading Fleet-Marine operations. Some will become service commanders, and one or two may end up as AFP chief of staff handling awesome responsibilities. One of them might even be addressed later on as ?Mr. President.?
For the sake of our nation, let us pray that in raising these young men and women the military academy has successfully inculcated in each graduate the idea that military service means service to God, to our country and to our people.
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The qualities of an ideal President. He should have:
Villar?s money, Noynoy?s heart, Teodoro?s brains, Estrada?s appeal, Villanueva?s spirituality and Gordon?s . . . tongue. Shame on all of you with dirty minds!