All Right, Sir: Quo Vadis, Cavalier

By Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson

“Oh lead to righteous way, those solid ranks of gray
Thy Virtues to display, Academy oh hail to thee.” 

Through all these years, the long gray line keeps getting longer. Many have fallen out of line, but more have chosen to stay. For four years, each and every cadet imbibes the virtue of courage, integrity and loyalty. We find them extremely difficult to learn at first, but since cadets are all together at it, in an environment made most conducive to being honorable, it has become more of a source of pride in us all. And so comes graduation, and the real cruel world thereafter. The idealist, still very much armed with the Academy virtues suddenly come face to face with everything that is the opposite of what was taught in the hallowed grounds of Fort Del Pilar — corruption, cowardice, treachery. So, when young graduates encounter in their fields of assignment, some upperclassmen who have already succumbed to the temptations of misplaced values, or have turned blind eye to such commissions, the effects could be very frustrating, if not disastrous.

Almost thirty-one years ago, I stepped out of the gates of the Philippine Military Academy as a fresh graduate. Joining the now defunct Philippine Constabulary, I was barely in my 20s then. I was young, eager and with a burning idealism to perform a duty I was prepared for four long and arduous years as a cadet – to serve and protect our country and people. There was a joke then that joining that branch of service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines was the fastest to forget the PMA motto, “Courage, Integrity, Loyalty”.

Etched in my heart and mind at that time was the ironclad commitment to protect my name and integrity. To remain fiercely loyal to the virtues taught at the Philippine Military Academy, I am absolutely sure, is the same vow that fills the heart and mind of every cadet who passes the august halls of our alma mater. That commitment, I am proud to say continues to fill my heart and has lingered in my my mind – “All Right, Sirs”.

For all of us, who share this common bond, nothing is more important than the Academy virtues while we are in the PMA. Outside the Academy, in a world burdened by shifting values and politics, it must still and should always be Courage, Integrity and Loyalty. We must at all times be ready and able to respond to the “challenge” by any PMA’er. “All Right, Sir” is the nexus between two cavaliers. It is wrong to assume, and even think that this “challenge” will not matter anymore once we leave the Academy. It is also incorrect to say that only an upperclassman has the prerogative to challenge an underclassman. In fact, it must be a sacred duty of any PMA’er to “challenge” another PMA’er. We must forever be proud that we share a common language known only to us – a language that is not extinguished, a language that puts to test our integrity and honor. This is the reason why, after the Senate “Question Hour”, I have the highest respect for another PMA’er, the Secretary of National Defense and former Cadet Corps Honor Committee Chairman (1965-1966) Angelo T. Reyes. When I “challenged” Cavalier Reyes and he refused to answer, I knew that he still values the Honor System. I was sure that integrity and honor still reign in his heart. I am not saying here that he lied and violated the oath that he took when he testified in that Senate Question Hour and therefore he could not respond to another PMA’er’s “challenge”. Justifiably so, when a cavalier is not one hundred per cent sure that everything that he does or says is absolutely honest and true, it is most honorable to refuse to answer. Secretary Reyes did something brilliant. He invoked his oath before the Senate.

We had a long telephone conversation that evening after the question hour where I expressed to him the high respect that I am expressing now. I also told him, if he would “challenge” me a thousand times if I had gotten involved in illegal drug activities in any way except catching drug traffickers and confiscating drugs, I would answer, “All right, sir” a thousand times. I told him if he would challenge me right then and there if I stashed dollars abroad, or had committed money laundering, or had engaged in kidnap for ransom, I would answer, on my honor, “All right, sir”.

In all my places of assignment, in all my thirty years of military and police service, I adhered to the principle that I imposed upon myself – “What is right must be kept right. What is wrong must be set right.” Looking back, my uncompromising adherence to that principle has created for me a lot of enemies, both within our organization and outside. No regrets. If I would live again another time, I would live by the same principle.

When I assumed the post of Chief, Philippine National Police in November 16, 1999, I gathered all my senior officers, many of whom were upperclassmen in the PMA for a command conference. I told them it was time that we led the PNP by good example, as it is basic leadership principle that leaders must set the example for their men to follow. I told them the PNP leaderships in the past may not have been so strict but that I expected the officers and men to start projecting a good image for the PNP, not much in what we say, but more in what we do. I believed then as I still believe now that to be an efficient organization serving the public, the PNP must gain the respect and trust of the people.

At that time, it was common knowledge in Camp Crame that some police officers were using recovered stolen motor vehicles for official and personal purposes. I lost no time in issuing a directive to have these vehicles returned as soon as possible. The response was very encouraging. Within a period of about two weeks, the officers concerned returned more than six hundred (600) vehicles which were immediately examined and processed for return to their rightful owners. I felt like the whole police organization told me afterwards, “All Right, Sir”.

Almost simultaneously, we conducted a no nonsense drive against mulcting cops. These vultures preying on hapless motorists, public utility vehicles, merchandise truckers, vegetable dealers and the like must be checked and stopped. There was an unfortunate incident at the start of the campaign when one policeman was shot dead by an erring police officer. That incident prompted the Senate to grant a posthumous award to the policeman concerned – the first time ever that the Senate made such a gesture of appreciation for our police organization. Many arrests and dismissals from the police service followed in a relentless drive against the so-called “kotong cops”. From the positive feedback that we got from the public especially those directly affected, it was clearly a successful campaign. Again, I saw an image in my mind of many devoted members of the police organization proudly saluting the nation and shouting, “All Right, Sir”.

I also stopped the bad habit of some senior police officers who used to play golf during office hours, leaving their subordinate officers to serve the public in their stead. I wanted them to be at their desks and in command of their posts. That was a natural and fair thing for me to ask of my subordinates because I was at my own post all the time myself. I was truly prepared to be “challenged” anytime by my subordinates and promptly reply, “All Right, Sir”.

I was surprised, even shocked at the quantity of gasoline allocated to the office of the Chief, PNP which I discovered when I assumed office. Even if I were assigned a hundred cars, I would not be able to consume that much gasoline. That led me to conduct a check of the whole budget allocation between PNP headquarters and field operations. I found out that the field units were getting less than their just share of the PNP budget. Immediately, a serious study was conducted to rationalize budget allocation and this led me to re-allocate resources on a 85% to 15% sharing scheme in favor of field units. We cannot have an effective police force without adequate logistical support. Imagine a police officer asking a crime victim for gasoline money so he could conduct follow-up operations. Or, think of a police officer not being able to type a police report because he ran out of paper or typewriter ribbon. Supervision was at its closest as it was at its best to make sure that the directive was followed to the letter. The response from the field was very positive in that their resources tripled or even quadrupled as a result. Again, when I came face to face with junior officers in their field assignments who started to feel the positive effects of the newly introduced resource allocation scheme and with some victims of crimes who were reporting to me the progress of investigation, even only in my mind, I replied to my own challenge, “All Right, Sir”.

One of our interesting and enjoyable tasks is to encourage policemen to stay trim and fit. We set a target date for pot-bellied police officers to attain a 34-inch waistline. It was a successful program. We saw some policemen go down from a 40-inch waistline to 34 inches in just a few months. And whenever we met around the oval of the PNP grandstand, be it on regular exercises or during physical fitness examinations, we casually greeted each other, “I’m still all right, Sir.”

I put a stop the moment I assumed as Chief, PNP to the practice of utilizing PNP funds to pay for the PR services of media practitioners, broadcasters and reporters in order to project a favorable image of the PNP and selected officers to the public. I was, and still convinced up to now, even when I am already in this field where image projection is practically the source of survival, that the best image-building activity is to do one’s job efficiently, serve the people honestly and spend the taxpayers’ money wisely. Subsequent events will prove that this is still a sound theory. I still believe that while perception may be important, truth will almost always outlast perception.

Then came the mother of all my policies – THE NO -TAKE POLICY. I lived and led by example. I refused bribe offers from illegal gambling operators. I took time out of my busy schedule to personally talk to suppliers of the PNP to tell them in their faces that nobody, but nobody was authorized to accept rebates or commissions from anybody. Commissions and rebates must be applied to discounts and/or additional supplies to benefit the PNP as an organization, never its individual members. It is very much part of PNP records – expenses of the office of the Chief of the Philippine National Police were at its lowest during my watch. Grateful victims of kidnapping that we rescued offered significant amounts of money as a “reward” for doing a good job. I consistently declined those offers. The words of Thomas Jefferson come closest to how I feel: ” I am sure that in estimating every man’s value either in private or public life, a pure integrity is the quality we take first into calculation, and that learning and talents are only the second”.

I can truly say that I am proud of the accomplishments of the PNP under my watch. To any PMA graduate who would come up to me and “challenge”, I can proudly respond, “All Right, Sir”.

That is why it pains me now that all the idealism that I fought for in my thirty years of service and all the malpractices that I checked and declared war against are now being made the issues confronting my integrity. What makes it even more painful is the thought that some cavaliers are at the forefront of self-proclaimed crusades against my person as if I am an evil of society. For most PMA’ers like me, who value integrity and honor like life itself, being accused of accumulating money from criminal activities gives excruciating pain.

At the end of each day, we must be ready to look at the mirror and ask ourselves, “All Right, Sir?” and give a quick reply, “All Right, Sir.” I can never appease my detractors much less my enemies. But I find peace and strength with my clear conscience and conviction that I am doing the right things for the people I have sworn to serve. Emerson expressed this feeling when he said. “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

Those who voted me into the Senate will want me to carry over to my new office the same ideals that I learned and inherited from the Philippine Military Academy. I am proud to be an alumnus of the PMA. A PMA graduate is more than a military man. He is a man with a mission to serve the people. He has a cherished tradition to uphold. He is a true servant of the people. He practices the virtues of Courage, Integrity and Loyalty at all times, even when nobody is looking.

I will need Courage, Integrity and Loyalty in my new role as senator of the republic.

I will need Courage to face the vicious and malicious accusations against me. There is a militant segment of our society who demands that I resign from the Senate although my accusers have not come up with a single piece of credible evidence. Where do I summon Courage? According to Mark Twain: Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear. I have a mandate from ten and a half million Filipino voters. I intend to carry out my mandate.

Integrity is what I do not intend to lose, even when I am in a field where too many have forgotten the basic moral values first taught and learned at home. I have a standing policy among my staff members in the Senate – nobody, including myself is authorized to demand or accept commissions from contractors for projects of my countrywide development funds or any name they wish to call it.

My Loyalty is to God, country and people. God dictates my conscience, while the Constitution is the repository of the country’s aspirations and the Filipino people’s will.

“When bells for us are rung, and our last taps is sung…”

Certainly, it was difficult, but somehow, I managed. For the last thirty years, I can look at anyone’s eye and say, I have kept my virtues the Philippine Military Academy imbibed in me, even when they deem honorable people here as species nearing extinction. That when I come face to face with my Maker, I can proudly salute, and say, “All Right, Sir”! In the end, it will be my most treasured possession – the PMA values that our dear alma mater have provided us – more than the training, education, skills and camaraderie… more than life itself.