Gen. Vicente P. Lim on a citizen army

/ 12:12 AM August 22, 2016

AMONG THE books in my mini-library at home is one from a dear friend, Nieves Lim Ledesma, granddaughter of Gen. Vicente P. Lim, the first Filipino West Pointer. The book, “To Inspire and to Lead,” is a compilation of some of the letters of the general to his sons Roberto and Luisito and to his wife Pilar, who were in the United States during the years prior to the outbreak of World War II.

The title of the book comes from a line in his last letter to Ms Lim, which was sent while he was leading the 41st Infantry Division in the frontlines of Bataan in February 1942.  The division had just inflicted serious casualties on Japanese forces at Abucay, and the general wrote: “I sincerely give the credit to my officers and enlisted men. They are the ones who did it all. Mine is only to inspire and to lead them.”


The letters provide valuable insights into the character and leadership qualities of General Lim, both as a father and as a soldier. Among the documents in the book is the commencement address he delivered before ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) graduates of the University of the Philippines in March 1941, as well as a paper prepared as a student at the Army War College in the United States. The paper was regarded by the commandant as “a study of exceptional achievement.” It dwelt on the Philippine Islands as a military asset.

* * *


Vicente Podico Lim was the third of four children of Jose Lim and Antonia Podico. Born in Calamba, Laguna, Lim grew up under the school system of compulsory public education established by the American colonizers. After two years of teacher training at the Philippine Normal School, he took the entrance exams for the United States Military Academy and was chosen to represent the Philippines, joining the Class of 1914. At West Point, he was known as “the cannibal,” due to his dark skin but perhaps mainly because of the ignorance about his origins. He graduated No. 77 out of 107 cadets who finished the course and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Philippine Scouts.

After his return to the Philippines, he was assigned to the faculty of the Philippine Constabulary School in Baguio City. Here he met Pilar Hidalgo, one of the country’s first female mathematicians and the first female cum laude graduate of the University of the Philippines. She would go on to be a co-founder of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines and the third president of Centro Escolar University. American participation in World War I led to an early wedding in August 1917; and the union produced six children—Luis, Roberto, Vicente Jr., Patricio, Eulalia and Ma. Pilar.

Roberto graduated from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. Vicente Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, finishing at West Point.

Incidentally, the Lim couple would have marked their 99th wedding anniversary this month.

* * *

During the time of General Lim, the threat to the Philippines came from Japan. Today the danger lurks just around the corner, from a neighborhood bully that is putting up artificial islands in the Spratlys and constructing runways on the islands for the use of warplanes.

Let us be blunt about the truth. The bully also prevents our fishermen from engaging in livelihood activities in their traditional fishing grounds. All of these acts of provocation are taking place within our exclusive economic zone.


General Lim recognized that the Philippines needed to develop a citizen army in response to the growing threat from the north. In pursuit of this objective, he agreed with the principle of compulsory military training for all able-bodied citizens. In fact, the Constitution of the day called for preparatory military training from the age of 10. The build-up of our national defense system called for the establishment of a military academy (now the Philippine Military Academy), as well as of an ROTC program at colleges and universities to provide leadership for trainees and reservists.

In a commencement address before ROTC graduates of the University of the Philippines in March 1941, General Lim declared: “This country has such an extensive shoreline in proportion to our revenues that we cannot sustain a standing army big enough to defend it. We must, therefore, educate every citizen to be prepared to fight at a moment’s notice. You will be the officers of this citizen army. I urge you, therefore, to enhance the military training that you have acquired in this university. It is not only for your benefit but for the protection of your country.”

In a recent conversation with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, he expressed his concern that we may fall short of the officer requirements for the increase in AFP strength as envisioned by President Duterte. Lorenzana viewed the restoration of a mandatory ROTC program as essential to the build-up of a well-trained citizen army.

Nowadays, the view has at times been expressed that there is no point in preparing to fight a world power. Such preparations are seen as simply a waste of valuable resources and manpower since defeat is certain. General Lim had this to say about this attitude: “If we desire the respect of other nations, we must show them that we are exerting all efforts to build a nation not only strong in arms but unconquerable in spirit. An indomitable will to fight and an unflinching resolution to defend at all costs ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ are the fundamental characteristics of any nation that deserves to survive.”

In a letter to his sons Luisito and Bobby, dated July 16, 1940, General Lim wrote about Philippine democracy:  “Our democracy in the Philippines is unilateral. It is only for the benefit, for the freedom, for the rights, comfort and happiness of each individual member of the nation. That is the common belief and I venture to say that 99.9 percent of our people believe in that kind of democracy. They do not know their obligations, their duties, and the sacrifices that they should give to the State which is the relative counterpart of the amount of personal democracy he should indulge. The two should balance.”

Along the same lines, my view has always been that we have placed too much emphasis on our rights and entitlements, not enough on responsibilities and obligations.

A simple example: We have vehicles parked on sidewalks that are supposed to be for the use of pedestrians; we have vehicles that use the road for permanent parking purposes, turning what is supposed to be a two-way road into virtually a one-lane street. And we complain about horrible traffic jams!

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TAGS: Lim, Nieves Lim Ledesma, opinion, Vicente Lim, Vicente P. Lim, Vicente Podico Lim
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