Amazing journey of PMA Class of 1986

Every class that graduates from the Philippine Military Academy has some unusual memory of the years spent at Fort del Pilar. In the case of Class of 1956, what was unusual considering present-day practice was that we never saw our commanders in chief, Presidents Elpidio Quirino and Ramon Magsaysay, on the parade grounds of PMA. In those days, it seemed that the academy was a world apart from politics and politicians as we focused on the academic workload while keeping physically fit for the months ahead. Each cold Baguio morning, we got up at the sound of reveille to salute the flag reminding us that our loyalty was to the nation and to the Filipino people, and not to any individual. Perhaps that is how things should be.

Some 30 years later, Class of 1986 would graduate under the most unusual circumstances. For most of the class members’ four years at the Fort, the commander in chief was President Ferdinand Marcos; the superintendent was Brig. Gen. Jose Ma. Zumel and the commandant of cadets was Col. Nicasio Rodriguez, both from the Air Force.

The Edsa revolt would test the character and idealism of the class members. Many were prepared to join the rebel forces if the situation called for their participation but cooler heads prevailed, advising them to remain in their barracks as events continued to unfold. The successful uprising brought about a new commander in chief, in fact the first woman commander in chief in the person of Cory Aquino. Military bands had to slow down their marching beat for the benefit of the new president.

Class of 1986, 357 strong, reported to Fort del Pilar in 1982. Only 128 of the original members would finish. They would be joined by others from different classes, bringing the total on graduation day to 174. The valedictorian was Cadet Gilbert Gapay of Tarlac and the first captain was Cadet Rozzano Briguez of Cebu City. The goat was Cadet Arthur Biyo, who would more than redeem himself by making it to star rank in the Marines.

In the four years of the Duterte presidency, only Class of 1986 has provided leadership for the Philippine National Police. The first appointee was a one-star police general, Ronald dela Rosa, who graduated No. 22 out of 174 in the class. In getting four stars on his shoulder, Dela Rosa jumped over Classes of 1982, 1983,1984 and 1985, plus some members of his own batch. He was the beneficiary of a process known as “deep selection.” As the term implies, it involves going deep into the ranks of qualified officers in search for new leadership. Deep selection does not happen very often. It is a presidential prerogative and its exercise has never been questioned in a court of law.

During the administration of President Cory Aquino, she picked Army Gen. Lisandro Abadia, Class of 1962, to serve as Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, jumping him over Classes of 1959, 1960 and 1961. In his time, President Fidel V. Ramos chose Gen. Recaredo Sarmiento, Class of 1966, to head the PNP, bypassing Classes of 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1965.

The appointment of Dela Rosa ushered in a bloody war on illegal drugs that resulted in the deaths of anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 suspected drug pushers and users, mostly from the marginalized sectors of society. The number depends on whose figures you are inclined to accept.

Dela Rosa was followed by Oscar Albayalde, whose exit from the service was clouded by allegations that he had been coddling police officers involved in the illegal drug trade. His case is still pending somewhere in our justice system.

Archie Francisco Gamboa survived a helicopter crash that could have ended in tragedy for the boy from Bukidnon. In the Sword of 1986, Gamboa wrote: “Life’s struggle does not go to the strongest or the fastest. The man who wins is the fellow who thinks he can.” The fourth member of Class of 1986 to head the PNP is Camilo Cascolan, “Picoy” to his classmates and friends. He will be around for only two months as he retires in November.

Class of 1986 has also made a mark on the AFP. General Gapay, its present chief, succeeded his classmate Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. The AFP vice chief of staff is Vice Adm. Gaudencio Collado Jr. and the deputy chief of staff is Air Force Lt. Gen. Ramon Lim. Former Army commander Gen. Macairog Alberto is now ambassador to Israel, and former Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Briguez is with the Philippine National Oil Commission. Vice Adm. Allan Cusi continues to serve as PMA superintendent.