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‘Dencio’

/ 04:51 AM August 22, 2011

First, words of welcome and bon voyage.

During my stint with the Philippine foreign service in Indonesia after the Edsa Revolution, I had the good fortune of having on my staff two young, idealistic and hard-working junior officers who contributed much to the success of the mission in Jakarta. At that time both were vice consuls, relatively new recruits of the Department of Foreign Affairs with a fresh outlook that is always appreciated in government service.

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Today (Monday), Ambassador Victoriano Lecaros is back at the home office after a successful and rewarding tour of duty as our envoy to Kuala Lumpur. Among Asean countries, Malaysia is a sensitive assignment calling for experience and maturity.

Ambassador Marilyn Alarilla leaves Tuesday for her new posting in Ankara, Turkey where she will have a close enough view of what people refer to as “the Arab Spring”—a spring that could easily become a winter of discontent for people in the region. For the first time since the founding of a modern, secular state by Kemal Ataturk in 1923, the civilians not the military, are in control in Turkey.

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I wish both of them continuing success in their new assignments.

* * *

A year into P-Noy’s administration, the Department of National Defense is run mainly by a trio of PMA graduates from the Class of 1968. The class is a product of two administrations. The members entered the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) during the time of President Diosdado Macapagal and graduated 56 strong in March 1968 just as President Ferdinand Marcos was halfway through his first term in office.

In the same year, Jose Ma. Sison, a young English professor at the University of the Philippines, using the nom de guerre Amado Guerrero, founded a new Communist Party with some 75 followers, mostly students. He along with Bernabe Buscayno, alias Commander Dante, would form the New People’s Army (NPA) as the military arm of the organization.

Forty-two years after leaving the PMA, Voltaire Gazmin serves as the defense secretary. Gazmin was also the 40th commanding general of the Philippine Army, but he is probably better known to the public as the custodian of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. during Aquino’s years as a political prisoner of the Marcos regime. He would later serve as head of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) tasked to protect the Aquino family after Edsa I. That says a lot about the character of the man.

As a cadet “Volts” Gazmin excelled in sports and he would be awarded the Athletic Sabre upon graduation. It is therefore not surprising that one of his significant contributions in the training of Army personnel was a command policy on physical fitness. It called for a physical fitness test involving all officers and enlisted men on a regular basis. The test was aimed at keeping them healthy and physically prepared for any eventuality.

The senior undersecretary of defense is Honorio S. Azcueta of Cagayan, also a member of Class 1968. “Nori” to friends, graduated No. 8 in the class order of merit. He served as aide-de-camp to former Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile during the martial law years before joining the MBM Class of 1977 at the Asian Institute of Management. He would later serve as president of Mindanao Steel from 1982-1986.

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The third “’68” in the department is Eduardo G. Batac, who previously served with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP). Ed Batac is the eldest of three Batac boys who joined the PMA. Vic graduated in 1971, and Vicente in 1986. Their father, Col. Gonzalo Batac, Class of 1943, served as one of our tactical officers in Fort Del Pilar. Ed is undersecretary for civil, veterans and reserve affairs, and also is the department spokesperson. It is his face that we often see, his voice that we hear, discussing DND issues.

There are three other undersecretaries in the department. Lawyer Pio Batino takes care of legal, legislative and special concerns. Lawyer Benito Ramos Jr. is in charge of civil defense activities, while retired Maj. Gen. Fernando Manalo looks after finance, munitions and installations.

Perhaps the most interesting member of Class 1968 is an African-American who was given the nickname “Dencio” by his Filipino classmates.

Robert Lawrence Dance was born in Lexington, Kentucky and attended the US military academy preparatory school with the idea of entering West Point. While in prep school, Dance and 38 other students took the PMA entrance exams. He scored the highest and was offered the chance to attend the PMA. Without thinking twice, he decided to take “the road less travelled” and entered Fort Del Pilar in 1964.

Here Dance excelled in the social sciences and humanities. He also stood out in track and field, particularly in the sprints, javelin, discus and shot-put events. He would receive the Dean, Corps of Professors Award.

After graduation he joined the US Army, later moving to the State Department with the rank of counselor. During his stint in the Army, he was given a teaching assignment at the PMA from 1979 to 1982. A year after retiring from the State Department, he visited the Philippines for the last time in 2008 to attend the 40th anniversary of his beloved Class of 1968.

“Dencio” was the last American to attend the PMA. The first was Eckwood Solomon Jr., Class of 1963, from Florida. Solomon would graduate No. 1 in his batch and garner most of the individual awards handed out on graduation day.

Recently Dencio’s son, Kristoffer Lee, discovered an essay written by his father in 2004. The essay is partly a recital of his reasons for joining the PMA and his experiences in a foreign environment that influenced his career choices. The last paragraph read: “I took the road less travelled. The journey has not always been easy but it has always been worth the effort. I have not a single regret in my decision to study at the PMA. And indelibly etched upon my soul are the words Courage, Integrity, Loyalty.”

Early this year Dencio passed away at the age of 68 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.

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TAGS: Ambassador Marilyn Alarilla, Ambassador Victoriano Lecaros, Foreign service, Robert Lawrence Dance, tribute
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