It is an honor to once again set foot on this hallowed ground of my beloved Alma Mater.
Here in the Academy, we are bound by stringent rules and norms of conduct. What are left off the books are covered by our long-standing customs and practices, sifted from the mores of our forerunners.
Nobody but us would understand our traditions, which are mostly extra-regulatory by nature. … Understanding what we are trained for reminds me of an exceptional story of the past:
In the third century B.C., a Chinese general named Xiang Yu led the Chu Army and sent his troops across the Yangtze River to take on the Qin Dynasty. While his troops slept, he ordered all the ships to be set on fire and be burnt into ashes.
The next day, he simply told his men: “You now have a choice: either you fight to win or die.”
By removing the option to retreat, he switched their focus to the only thing that mattered — winning the battle.
The Academy shares the same value — plebehood strips us of our civilian antics. Our option to retreat to the comforts of our civilian lives is set alight, shifting our focus to nothing but surviving the sternly regimented life in our Academy. As upperclassmen describe plebes, they are the lowest life form in the cadet corps.
Plebes are left with the only goal that matters — to be leaders that set them apart from the rest, being born for a greater purpose, imbued with honor, discipline and excellence.
In front of us today in the long gray line are the 286 young men and women of the PMA Masaligan Class of 2021, who have successfully endured and survived the challenges of the plebehood.
The challenge is to survive the remainder of their cadet years to tell tales of how they lived up with their class motto, Masaligan–a Cebuano word for “resolute,” “dependable,” “trustworthy” or in Tagalog, maasahan, mapagkakatiwalaan.
To be a member of Masaligan class is to have an ironclad commitment to the Academy’s values that serve as the backbone of a refined military leader.
Perhaps as a striking reminder, conspicuously displayed atop the gymnasium at the back of the very memorable Borromeo Field, is a sign that reads “Courage. Integrity. Loyalty.” Such are the virtues of the Academy that have never faded over the years.
First on COURAGE.
Many would disguise as brotherhood of sorts, fraternities if you will. What they lack in fundamental principles and noble cause, they make up for nauseating and vicious membership rites. These organizations have the notoriety for senseless abuse, harassment and pretentious call of courage.
On the other hand, in the hallowed ground of Fort del Pilar, we learn the very praxis of courage. Yes, our long-standing traditions are often extra-regulatory, but never in violation of the plebes’ honor and self-respect. Often stringent and arduous, but never on the lines of disrespect or dishonor.
Our tradition imbues the fourth-classmen with physical and moral courage and snappy obedience to superior orders without being horridly servile, or anchored on the basic assumption: He who does not learn to obey is not fit to command.
We agree that it is not perfect, but it sure exemplifies courage in its truest form and substance.
Inside the corridors of the Academy, we are taught of an important code that embodies the principles of a fearless cavalier. I refer to none other than our exclusive Honor System.
I once chanced upon an article on the Honor Committee that best describes the applicability of our Honor Code even after we have left the Academy. It says that:
“Our Code does not deviate from the universal concept of Honor. It demands the truth … nothing else, but the truth … both by act and implication… It is in keeping this priceless legacy from our predecessors that we seek to transmit it unblemished to the unending gray line.”
As I always say, the building block of one’s trustworthiness is integrity.
Being consistent in one’s behavior under every circumstance, including those unguarded and tempting moments, means that a man has integrity, that he is worthy of somebody’s trust.
As a general rule, you do not trust a man that plays truthful and upright in public, but renounces the same standards when he is alone or in private. To ultimately test one’s integrity is to see whether he does what he says. Especially when no one is looking.
Lastly, on LOYALTY.
Each man must not think only of himself but also of his buddy fighting beside him. So said the great American general during World War II.
I believe that nowhere else would you find a better display of loyalty and selfless service than the unequal sacrifices of many of our cavaliers and soldiers who went beyond their call of duty not only for our people but also for their comrades in arms.
During the Zamboanga Siege, then Lt. Col. Oriel Pangcog, of Sanbisig Class of 1991, was the battalion commander of Joint Special Operations Task Force Group Arrow.
The 250 members of AFP’s elite troops were among those who engaged Nur Misuari’s trusted commander Habier Malik and his men in a close-quarter combat.
Col. Pangcog’s bravery and leadership were instrumental in the successful clearing of two barangays occupied by the rebels. He was also directly credited for the capture of 106 rogue MNLF rebels, killing of 38 others and rescue of 43 hostages and the recovery of 100 high-powered firearms.
Not too long ago on Jan. 25, 2015, the country suffered in grief with the massacre of 44 commandos of the PNP SAF in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on a mission to extricate elusive terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir a.k.a. Marwan; Basit Usman; and Amin Baco.
In the frontline of that bloody encounter Raymond Train, team leader of the seaborne battalion of the PNP SAF. We would learn later that in the dawn of Jan. 24, P/Supt. Train with his men infiltrated the enemy’s lair and successfully killed Marwan.
The succeeding hours were the longest they had. The team was pinned down by amassing hostiles familiar with the terrain. They moved with maximum discipline yet from time to time the enemy’s massive volume of fire and mortar rounds left one seaborne commando down. P/Supt Train would hear groans and cries from his wounded men. The commandos could have fought their way out but did not want to leave the 13 wounded and nine dead bodies behind. Train recalled a comrade begging him, “Huwag nyo kami iwan Sir.” They never did. In Train’s own words and I quote:
“I cried when I saw the bodies being dragged by pigs, but I wanted to account for all my men. That was the least we can do for their families, to bring their loved ones back.”
But not every warrior is as fortunate as Oriel Pangcog and Raymond Train, who managed to survive the ravages of war.
Just last Monday, October 23, your Secretary of National Defense officially declared that the five-month battle against Islamist militants in the City of Marawi had finally ended, and that all combat operations were already terminated.
Officially, we say that we have won the battle. Unfortunately, triumph is never without a cost.
Amid the horror of war, we learn numerous stories of heroism and gallantry of our soldiers and policemen who did not mind putting their lives on the line for their fellow soldiers and countrymen.
One such is the story of Army Scout Ranger Capt. Rommel Sandoval, a member of PMA Sanlingan Class of 2005 and the highest ranking military officer killed in the battle against the Maute-Abu Sayyaf groups.
Captain Sandoval was killed after he tried to rescue one of his men, Cpl. Jayson Mante, who was trapped and wounded inside the five-story building that was among the strongholds of insurgents. His heroic feat was also recounted in a Rappler article dated September 23, 2017, and I quote:
“As the bullets came flying in, Sandoval, in his last moments, was still thinking of his men. He crawled on top of Mante to shield him from getting hit further. When they recovered Sandoval’s body, bullets were lodged on his chest. His body had blocked bullets from going through and hitting Mante. He chose to take all the bullets for his troops.”
Even in the face of death, Capt. Sandoval lived up to his promise that not a single man under his watch would die in the battle zone.
In the years to come, the Masaligan Class of 2021 will become the military leaders of this country. Your lives will be on the line, but the defense of every citizen of this country will be your highest duty.
Suffice to say that in your hands will depend, to a great extent, the fate and lives of our people and the future generations.
To the 286-strong members of PMA Class of 2021, it is my hope that receiving your handshake of recognition from your upperclassmen today will be a testament of your living commitment to our motto: Courage, Integrity, Loyalty.
Again, thank you very much for this opportunity to celebrate the end of your (inaudible) days. Mabuhay ang Philippine Military Academy.