Death at the Fort, command responsibility
In April 1952, I joined a group of 80 young men aged 17-21 who were reporting to the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City. On the way up along Kennon Road, we were all full of fun and laughter but as soon as our bus approached the gates of the academy, everyone turned silent and pensive, possibly thinking of the life we had just left behind and wondering if we had made the right decision. At that time, the place known as Loakan was a desolate, one-building affair with a temporary dusty parade ground next to it.
Today, Fort General Gregorio del Pilar has grown and developed into one of the finest military institutions in the land. Named in honor of Gregorio del Pilar, the hero of the Battle of Tirad Pass, it is home to the cadet corps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. It was in December 1899 that Del Pilar with a force of 60 men, held back a battalion of US forces in hot pursuit of President Emilio Aguinaldo. Ramon Magsaysay awardee for iterature, journalism and creative arts F. Sionil Jose described the action at Tirad Pass as “the most heroic episode of the Filipino-American War comparable to the Battle of Thermopylae in ancient Greece.”
Last Wednesday at Fort Del Pilar, 4th class cadet Darwin Dormitorio of Cagayan de Oro City died of a heart attack after suffering internal bleeding brought about by the use of blunt force. He is the son of retired Col. William Dormitorio, PMA Class 1974.
Since the enactment of antihazing laws in 1995 and just recently in 2018, there have been two deaths attributable to hazing at Fort Del Pilar. In March 2001, 4th class cadet Edward Domingo collapsed unconscious and was pronounced dead at the PMA station hospital. Two cadets were charged with homicide for his death and sentenced by the Baguio Regional Trial Court to 12 years’ imprisonment. Prior to 2001, there were other hazing cases, some resulting in death, but in the absence of antihazing laws, dismissal from the academy was the only penalty meted out.
In the present case of the PMA, three upperclassmen are
being held in detention facilities as the primary suspects. But why are only cadets being investigated? What about the officers at the PMA?
For some time now, the AFP has overlooked the principle of command responsibility. Simply put, command responsibility holds that a commander is responsible for everything their unit does or fails to do. There is a whole book on this principle. The last time the principle was invoked and carried out in the AFP was in 1995. Briefly, on April 4, 1995, Abu Sayyaf elements raided the town of Ipil in Zamboanga del Sur, killing 53 people and burning to the ground four blocks of the commercial center. Just two days after, the defense establishment, headed by Defense Secretary Renato de Villa and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Arturo Enrile, carried out the relief of Southcom chief Brig. Gen. Regino Lacson, and Col. Roberto Santiago, commanding officer of the 102nd Infantry Brigade. Lacson was replaced by Maj. Gen. Edgardo Batenga while Col. Narciso Abaya took over from Santiago.
Since then, several major events have taken place with a profound effect on the military organization. Among them were the Zamboanga City siege in September 2013 by the Moro National Liberation Front, and the occupation of Marawi City in May 2017 by the Islamic State-Abu Sayyaf elements. In both cases, no one was held responsible and accountable. In fact, no one was relieved of command in the AFP.
The first step in moving forward is to immediately relieve the following officials from their positions pending further action as may be necessary:
1) Lt. Gen. Ronnie Evangelista, superintendent
2) Brig. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro, commandant of cadets
3) Lt. Col. Caesar Candelaria, commanding officer, Station Hospital
4) Capt. Jeffrey Batistiana, tactical officer, “Echo” company
It is not easy to make these recommendations that involve the careers of fellow officers. The sentiments expressed are not made in anger or rebuke, but more in sadness and sorrow. It is especially painful for me in the case of General Bacarro, who is an outstanding officer holding a Medal for Valor. General Evangelista, after a long and distinguished army career, retires in a few months. But with great honor comes an even greater responsibility and, in the end, accountability for what happens under your watch.
Tomorrow, a new chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Noel Clement, takes command of the AFP. Clement will be the sixth AFP chief of staff in the three years of this administration.
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