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April Fool’s Day

/ 05:03 AM April 01, 2019

Today Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana meets with US acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan in Washington. It will be the first meeting between the two officials. The visit would therefore be more in the nature of getting to know each other. Nonetheless, Lorenzana is expected to take up the matter of a possible review of the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). He has consistently advocated a review of this security arrangement noting that significant changes in regional and global relationships have taken place since the treaty was signed in August 1951 more than half a century ago.

Incidentally the treaty was signed by Carlos P. Romulo, Joaquin Elizalde, Vicente J. Francisco and Diosdado Macapagal for the Philippines, while Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, Tom Connally and Alexander Wiley signed for the United States.

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While others have spoken up for maintaining the existing treaty in its present form, declaring its vagueness as being some form of deterrent, Lorenzana has called for greater clarity as to the extent of US commitment in the region. For one thing, it does not address situations arising within our exclusive economic zone. The MDT Article 4 in particular, talks vaguely of “an armed attack in the Pacific area…” How about nonviolent encroachments short of an armed attack?

Shanahan served for 30 years as a Boeing Aircraft Corp. executive before being appointed by President Donald Trump to the position of deputy defense secretary in 2017. During his time at Boeing, he was known as “Mr. Fix It,” being a key management expert in the development of company aircraft. He took over in January 2019 when Gen. James Mattis resigned over policy differences with Trump specifically over his sudden decision to withdraw US forces from Syria.

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A few notes on Mattis. Filipinos should be specially grateful for his role in the return of the Balangiga bells. As I mentioned in an earlier column, his personal initiatives and actions in monitoring developments on the return of our national treasure made the event possible.

Mattis is a product of the ROTC program in the United States. He joined the Marine Corps and was known as the “warrior monk” for his intellectual skills. When he was appointed to the defense position by Trump, he needed a waiver from Congress since the National Security Act prohibited an active duty officer to serve as defense secretary until seven years after retirement. This was to ensure separation from military and civilian oversight responsibilities. The waiver was granted by a Senate vote of 98-1, a measure of the respect in which he was held by the lawmakers. Perhaps we might consider this same condition in the appointment of our defense officials. His resignation was considered a terrible blow for the Trump administration.

The Lorenzana-Shanahan meeting takes place on the first day of the month of April, a day traditionally known as April Fool’s Day.

* * *

Exactly 67 years ago, on April 1, 1952, 77 young men aged 17 to 21 arrived at Fort General Gregorio del Pilar, home of the Philippine Military Academy located in the outskirts of Baguio City. Four years later, on April 4, 1956, 51 of the original 77 emerged as the Class of 1956. They were commissioned as second lieutenants in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and were distributed among the four major services of the AFP — Army, Air Force, Constabulary and Navy. (The Constabulary, now the Philippine National Police, has since been separated from the AFP, leaving the latter with only three branches of service.)

The great majority of young men joining the PMA — and this is true for the Class of 1956 — come from the middle class. Many are products of provincial high schools with a few coming from Metro Manila educational institutions. All are chosen by merit using as basis competitive exams held nationwide. The free college education complete with subsistence, shelter, uniforms, books and a moderate stipend, all supported by the Filipino taxpayer, is often cited as the main reason for joining the academy.

In 1952, the Philippines had a population of 22 million; today there are over 100 million Filipinos. The commander in chief was Elpidio Quirino from Ilocos Sur; today the commander in chief,
Rodrigo Duterte, hails from the opposite end of the archipelago in Davao. In 1952, the AFP had only eight generals; today it has 180 generals. In 1952, the PMA cadet corps consisted of only some 300 cadets; today the corps has over 1,000 cadets with approximately one-fourth being women.

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Of the 51 graduates, one became national security adviser, another served as commanding general, Philippine Army and director general, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, while another was commanding general, Philippine Air Force and later, ambassador to Indonesia. Others served as heads of government-owned and -controlled corporations, particularly Pagcor and Philippine Airlines. This week the surviving members of the Class of 1956, along with their ladies, get together to mark another milestone in life. The dwindling numbers tell us that the final boarding call is not too far away.

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TAGS: April Fool’s Day, Delfin Lorenzana, Lorenzana-Shanahan meeting, MDT, mutual defense treaty, Patrick Shanahan, Ramon Farolan, Reveille
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