Responsibility for national security
Last Friday, the Class of 2020 of the Philippine Military Academy became the first class to graduate via videoconferencing. It was also the first graduation rites held without the presence of parents and loved ones. The 196-strong class made up of 173 males and 23 females joins the officer ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at a time of great difficulty for many of our people. The national economy is in a nosedive as the government struggles to deal with an enemy that is more dangerous than the New People’s Army or the Abu Sayyaf.For the sixth time since the PMA opened its doors to women in 1993, a female cadet, Gemalyn
Sugui, of Isabela, has topped the graduating class. Cadet Sugui is the daughter of a farmer and a public schoolteacher from Echague, Isabela. It must have been heartbreaking for them not to be able to personally watch their daughter receive all the honors and awards that she worked hard for, particularly the Presidential Saber symbolic of overall superiority over the men and women of her batch. In that sense, we commiserate with the Sugui family but at the same time we congratulate them for Gemalyn’s outstanding achievement.
Looking back, it was in April 1993 after more than half a century of exclusively male admissions, that the walls came tumbling down at the PMA. For the first time, 16 young women joined the cadet corps of the AFP. Out of the hundreds of women who took the entrance exams, only 23 qualified for admission. There were only 16 slots allotted for women, and so the top 16 of the 23 were selected to form the new cadet battalion of newcomers. Among them was Arlene Orejana of General Santos City in South Cotabato, now Mrs. Arlene Orejana Trillanes, wife of former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Class of 1995. Six years after the first female cadet set foot in Fort Del Pilar, the first of their gender, Arlene dela Cruz, would graduate at the top of her class.
In 2012, cadet Tom Puertollano, son of a carpenter, was the class valedictorian. Other topnotchers were sons of a farmer, a tricycle driver, and an overseas worker. This gives us some idea of the socioeconomic background of many PMA cadets, most of whom are products of provincial high schools and who come from the lower ranks of society. The prospect of a free college education has always been a strong incentive for many of them. In practical terms, this would indicate that the burden of defense and security for the nation is being left to the lower middle classes, while the well-off go about their lives oblivious to any form of national service.
Somehow, I am reminded of the late senator John McCain, a Vietnam War hero who spent five years as prisoner of war in Hanoi. He noted that the war in Vietnam that cost America 58,000 lives was fought largely by the poor, the working middle class, and not by the privileged elite. McCain had this to say: “Those who were better off economically did not carry out their obligations to the country, so we forced the Hispanics, the ghetto blacks, and the Appalachian whites to fight and die. That to me, was the greatest crime and injustice of the Vietnam War.” Their elite enjoyed deferments and exemptions.It is time to bring about a National Service program providing for compulsory military training for all our young people, at least for the first two years of college, or the 11th and 12th grade of high school. The responsibility for bearing arms in defense of the nation against internal or external threats should not be left solely to those who join the armed forces for purely economic reasons. It must be a responsibility shared by all Filipinos, rich or poor, young or old, male or female, educated or unschooled—all have an obligation to the nation.
The first Filipino to enter the US Military Academy (West Point) was Vicente Podico Lim, Calamba-born of Chinese ancestry. Through the years, his family has provided each new graduate with the rank insignia of second lieutenant or ensign (Navy) to honor the memory of one of our greatest military heroes. This year, one of his great-grandchildren, 21-year-old Quintin Valdes Lim, made the presentation in accordance with health restrictions. The PMA Class of 1956 was the first recipient of General Lim’s legacy.
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