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Revisiting AFP Day

/ 04:05 AM December 21, 2020

Today, the nation marks the 85th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. President Duterte, as commander in chief, is the guest of honor and speaker at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo.

In 1950, our family lived in Balintawak, one of a few number of pioneers in a sparsely populated area north of Manila. It was a time of conflict and uncertainty, as Hukbalahap units (the armed elements of the Communist Party of the Philippines under Jesus Lava) were on the rise, attacking military installations with impunity and moving closer to Manila. A measure of how serious the situation was could be seen in our leaving Balintawak to stay in a hotel in the city for a couple of days. It was a revitalized Armed Forces under the inspiring leadership of Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay that broke the back of the communist movement with the lightning arrest of high-ranking Politburo members in Manila safehouses, plotting the takeover of government.

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Had the communists succeeded, we would now be the Democratic or People’s Republic of the Philippines. Under their rule, there would be no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom of assembly, and no religious freedom to speak of. In fact, this conversation would not even be taking place. While some may argue that our liberties are now under siege, we must also accept that we can still call down the government when we see the Constitution being violated or the poor and the weak being gunned down on mere suspicion of criminal activities, or when corrupt government officials make life difficult for the ordinary citizen. We get the government that we elect, and at times, that we deserve.

Today, the Armed Forces continues its vital role as the nation’s main line of defense against not just communist insurgency but also against secessionist forces bent on carving out an independent homeland in Mindanao with outside assistance, or against just plain bandits engaged in kidnapping for ransom operations. The Armed Forces is far from perfect, but it is all we have against armed elements that challenge the authority of the state. How good it is at this job depends a lot on how we treat the organization. In order for the military to be effective, we must have a professional Armed Forces whose loyalties are to the nation and to the Constitution, not to any single individual or partisan figure. We all realize this can be a tall order but if men of goodwill join hands, it is an attainable goal within our lifetime.

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Having said all these, allow me to propose that there is room for reasonable debate on the proper date for the observance of AFP Day. Consider the following events:

ʎ The Philippine Army marks the establishment of the organization on March 22, 1897, when at the Tejeros Convention, members of the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions met to dissolve the Katipunan and prepare for a Republic. Artemio Ricarte was elected captain-general of the Philippine Revolutionary Army, a position comparable to the present office of AFP chief of staff. Ricarte is hailed as the Father of the Philippine Army and is best known for his refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the United States after exile to Guam.

ʎ The Philippine Navy was organized in May 1898, shortly before the First Republic was inaugurated on June 12, 1898, with Pascual Ledesma as director for the Navy.

ʎ The Academia Militar, now the Philippine Military Academy, was organized in October 1898, upon the recommendation of Gen. Antonio Luna, under the provisions of a presidential decree issued by then-President Emilio Aguinaldo.

With the Army, the Navy, the Philippine Military Academy, having been established in 1897 and 1898, respectively, how could AFP Day be reckoned from legislation passed in December 1935, under a Commonwealth administration beholden to a foreign power? Celebrating AFP Day on Dec. 21 is completely out of sync with the realities of our history. We continue to be held hostage to our colonial past. If President Diosdado Macapagal did not decide to transfer Philippine Independence Day from July 4, 1946 to June 12, 1898, we would still be marking Philippine Independence Day in accordance with the restoration of our freedoms by the United States, rather than as a result of our own efforts and sacrifices against the Spanish colonial masters.

We need to revisit the past and to retrace our roots if we are to discover the truth about ourselves. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana should take the lead in correcting a historical anomaly.

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