Baguio and the PMA
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—We drove up to this city last Wednesday, which by sheer coincidence was on the eve of the 3-day alumni homecoming activities of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
We were met with banners along the way, mostly from the PMA host classes for this year—Class 1961 (of former AFP chief, ex-senator and now Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon), Class 1966, Class 1981 (of whistleblower former Army Lt. Col. George Rabusa) and Class 1986 (of Rabusa’s former deputy, Air Force Lt. Col. Antonio “Ramon” Sonny Lim). Hotels were fully booked, restaurants were beginning to burst, but one could sense somehow that this gathering would be different from the rest before it.
Yesterday morning, Friday, as the bulk of the PMA alumni began arriving in the city, the Senate resumed its probe on military corruption. Everything that the soldier was taught at PMA was being torn apart at the Senate: honesty, respect for seniors, putting public interest above all interests.
In that hearing, Rabusa tangled with an officer 2 years his junior, Navy Capt. Kenneth Paglinawan, formerly with the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) who passionately denied that he ever asked Rabusa for “for the boys” money and who insisted he returned P1.5M cash to the whistleblower.
In military circles, Rabusa was known as a trusted officer of the late AFP chief Angelo Reyes. Paglinawan, on the other hand, served as a longtime aide of ex-AFP chief and former defense secretary Renato S. De Villa.
The driver of a shuttle bus we rode in listened intently to the heated exchange between the 2 PMA graduates. A waiter said one of the generals being probed, former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot, is a provincemate from Pangasinan, and that it was a shock for him to absorb all the charges being leveled against his fellow Pangasinense.
Journalists based here note there’s less excitement this year. In past homecomings, the city would be abuzz days before. The atmosphere is more subdued now, they say.
At a forum with masscom students of UP-Baguio, I reminded the students that nearly all the officers now involved in the corruption scandal spent the best years of their lives here—full of idealism and consumed by one dream of fighting for one’s country.
Each day they were served a mantra: do not lie or cheat or tolerate those who do.
I asked some graduates what this alumni homecoming meant to them. A former Army colonel who quit the service several years ago did not mince words: “Lost PMA pride.” As such, he was skipping this year’s activities.
Another Army colonel, a graduate in the late 1980s, believes otherwise. For today’s alumni parade, he said, he’s going to wear a shirt that screams this headline: “Arrogance is not part of my discipline.” It’s an obvious dig at Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, which is understandable since this colonel says he is more idealistic than the senator. I try to fight for my idealism every day at work, he tells me. It’s not mere lip service.
So, yes, this intelligence officer is at Fort del Pilar now, mingling with his classmates. He attends the PMA homecoming every year with no miss. “To get what I would call idealism reload,” he quips. He takes this chance to do his own character check on PMA graduates—who drives the latest SUVs, who gets billeted in the most costly hotels, who brings wives flashing their diamonds. He gets a high doing this, because at least he knows he’s not like them. Not yet anyway.
To Amy Col. Danilo Servando, a member of the host class 1981, this is the time “when cavaliers should close ranks and show solidarity.” It’s the PMA alumni who have been the “unifying forces” at crucial times in the country’s history, he says.
Another PMA graduate, this time from 1986, says his visit to the PMA grounds today shows his support for the institution “at a time when it is beleaguered.”
A retired police general says he was not going due to work and lack of budget. But he explains he has no reason to be ashamed of as a PMA graduate. “I did not steal a single cent so why should I be embarrassed about being a PMA alumnus?” Besides, he adds, politicians are more corrupt. And then he takes this line, that there is a Left agenda to divide the Armed Forces and that this current scandal is part of it.
And so it is that after President Aquino speaks today before the alumni, they will stay a bit longer in the academy that molded them and exchange frank exchanges about what they had become as individuals and as an organization.
Some won’t hold back in saying hurtful words to each other. “It’s an open ground…pwedeng magsigawan doon,” says a PMA graduate.
Others however will blame other forces for what the military is suffering now—the Left, the media, the politicians.
If this mindset prevails, then the homecoming will just be like the rest before it: a mere ritual that reminds them of a once-idealistic past and a once-revered vow to not lie, not cheat, and not tolerate those who do.
TAGS: military corruption, Philippine military, Philippine Military Academy