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PMA Foundation Day

/ 04:06 AM October 25, 2021

Today, the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) celebrates its 123rd foundation anniversary. It was on Oct. 25, 1898, upon the recommendation of Gen. Antonio Luna that Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the revolutionary government, issued a decree establishing an Academia Militar in the town of Malolos, Bulacan. Its first director was Col. Manuel Sityar, a Spanish mestizo and Guardia Civil officer who had earlier defected to the revolutionary forces. The move was part of an overall organizational effort at modernizing the Filipino armed forces. In fact, today’s army and navy mark their establishment to the actions taken during the 1897–1898 period.

For many years, the PMA traced its roots to the Constabulary School in Intramuros set up by American colonial officials in 1905. In creating the school, what was left unsaid was that the colonial regime wanted and needed Filipino natives to take up the continuing fight against Filipino freedom fighters who were now branded as “insurrectos, tulisanes, o ladrones.” Most of the US forces in the Philippine-American War were volunteers from different states of the Union and were homebound. It was the classic “divide and rule” concept employed by the British in India that was now being adopted by the Americans.

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In 1991, retired colonel Cesar Pobre, former head of the PMA Academic Group, dean of the AFP Corps of Professors, with a master’s degree in history from the University of the Philippines, and a doctorate in the same discipline from Karachi University, came across the existence of Aguinaldo’s decree. As a result of his deeper research work on the matter, he published a paper entitled “A Historical Analysis of the Roots and Growth of the Philippine Military Academy.” Pobre’s findings would be confirmed by the National Historical Institute and, later, the recommended change was approved by the Board of the PMA Alumni Association, the AFP chief of staff, the secretary of national defense, and the president. As expected, there were strong objections to the change, citing issues of divisiveness and involving emotional resistance. Pobre however, pointed out that “re-defining PMA roots is not a political but a historical exercise … history in essence is the search for truth and accuracy.”

Like the First Republic established in Asia under President Aguinaldo, the Academia Militar was short-lived but it is important to bear in mind that in 1898 we already had the beginnings of a military institute of learning complete with the leadership, structure, and curriculum. There is a need to re-examine Philippine history if only to rectify foreign-inspired distortions.

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When I joined the PMA in 1952, there were only 80 of us in the class most of whom were from the middle class, the lower middle class to be more accurate, since the political and economic elite of the country showed little enthusiasm or interest in a military career. For one thing, it had one of the lowest-paying jobs in the country with too much risk involved. Many of the class were products of provincial high schools, with a few coming from Metro-Manila institutions. All were chosen by competitive examinations nationwide and quite a number would cite the free college education as their main reason for joining the Academy. We represented various congressional districts and, in a way, were a cross-section of the youth of the land. Today the cadet corps has expanded from about 300 members in my time to more than a thousand to include young women who see the military as part of a more inclusive society.

Through the years, the Academy has given back to Juan dela Cruz a fair return on his investment in terms of competent leadership with a high degree of integrity. The output has not always been as desired and hoped for. There have been a number of rotten eggs that have spoiled an otherwise solid reputation. But what other institution can provide the leadership needed by the nation? The wealthy and the privileged look down on the uniform, except when the soldier is needed.

Today, key positions in the AFP have generally been held by PMAyers. This has resulted in a monopoly of power by one group, oftentimes by one class of the academy. I have often stated that monopolies whether in business or in government, do not always serve the best interests of the nation. What is needed for national security is a well-trained citizen army an important component of which is the compulsory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program of the past that would strengthen and broaden the leadership base of the military organization.

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