The PMA spirit
BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven () - March 9, 2005 - 12:00am
I’m happy with yesterday’s frontpage photograph and story, by our Baguio City correspondent, which depicted four of our graduating female cadets of the Philippine Military Academy, who had landed in the Top Ten of the graduating class.

"It’s not… a gender thing," 2nd Lt. Geraldine Abigail Albano Haller, who ranked fourth in her class, rightly stated, after outperforming 11 of her female fellow cadets and 145 male cadets. Well said.

As this writer saluted them last Saturday after the "honors" tendered me, and as, I’m confident, our President and Commander-in-Chief will salute them when she presides over their Graduation this coming Saturday, they are all soldiers of our country.

This graduating class 2005, as they told me last weekend, has proudly styled themselves the Sanlingan "Honor" class – a statement of intent to restore the lustre of their Academy’s old glory, an escutcheon a bit rusted by recent scandals and cries for reform, and restate the pride they have in themselves, in each other, and the PMA’s motto "Courage, Integrity and Loyalty."

I can only say of that unforgettable day on which the PMA, its faculty and Corps of Cadets, honored this undeserving individual that I went up to Fort del Pilar and Borromeo Field hoping to inspire our cadets, dispirited as I had heard many of them were by the torrent of attacks and criticisms of their Academy, and their "honor" and "integrity" – but instead they inspired me.

I looked into their young faces as they marched past, and when we trooped the line, along with the First Cadet and PMA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Cris Balaoing, surely himself an inspiration to his cadets, and saw their determination, hope, and true grit.

When the graduating class goes to the battlefield, or to garrison duty elsewhere, I now know each of them will acquit themselves with courage and distinction.

They must.
This is what I saw in their eyes that Saturday.
* * *
I was happy to address them in their mess hall, aptly named after their "Medal of Honor" mistah, Captain Conrado B. Yap, who had died bravely in Korea when he tried to rescue his men from enemy fire, and recover the bodies of those who had fallen.

"Yap Hall" commemorates this fearless soldier who hailed from Zambales. He was the commanding officer of a Tank Company and died on April 22, 1951, at Yulton Hill in Korea.

I forgot to tell the cadets in the course of my rambling speech that Captain Yap had literally "saved" my life years after he had died in battle.

The tale goes this way: I had gone to Fordham University in New York City on a Fulbright-Smith Mundt scholarship, for the first year living on campus in the Bronx in Dealy Hall, then Martyrs’ Court. This was in 1952-53. My American classmates and I used to go drinking in the nearby Webster’s Bar, or at Greasy John’s under the Elevated.

One night, having a few beers in the Webster Bar, we found the place full of rough, tough fellows, some of them truckers – the latter the noisiest and rowdiest of the bunch. One of my classmates (a student from Pennsylvania) lost his temper and bellowed at the unruly group of truck drivers, "Hey! Can you guys tone it down? Give us a break!"

This obviously was the wrong thing to do, because eight of those burly fellows got up and made for us, growling that they’d beat us smart-ass college swells to a pulp – and by the looks of those muscles, they could do it. Andy, Ray and this nervous Saluyot backed up into a corner, determined to do or die – probably die.

Just then, the biggest of the lot peered more closely at me, then asked: "Where you from, fellow?"

I replied, "The Philippines!"

He laughed, turned to his companions, and roared: "Loosen up, you guys. The fight’s over. I’m not fighting this Filipino – they may be small but they’re the scrap-piest and bravest on earth!"

To use that old bromide, you could have knocked me down that night with a feather.

He put an arm around me, and told us, "let us buy you a drink!"

Then he recounted: "I was a grunt in South Korea. And by golly, the Chinese had us pinned down, throwing all that artillery at us. And there I was, with a bunch of my platoon, cowering in a hole, scared out of our wits. Then, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up, and there was this little Filipino captain, cool as you please, standing up unafraid amidst all that stuff blowing up, and saying: "Get up, soldier – let’s go! Don’t you know there’s a war on?"

"And, with a wink, he turned around and started running towards the Chinese lines, waving his own men forward, gesturing with his automatic – and to my amazement, there we were, too, springing to our feet and pounding after him towards the Chinese positions – our entire gaddamed platoon, heck, our entire company!"

"When we had taken the hill, this Filipino guy grins at me, shakes my hand and says, "See? We did it!" Then he started walking away.

"What’s your name, sir?" I called after him. He casually yelled back, "The name is Yap, just Yap from the Philippines!"

The trucker fervently declared: "I’ll never forget him!"

And by golly, never should we. It’s men like Yap who give us back our pride. Remind us that there’s a "war" on, but with courage, persistence, and grit, we can win it.
* * *
Friends have been asking me what I said to the cadets which earned a standing ovation in Yap Hall. I didn’t give a speech, really, I just told stories. Some of them silly and sentimental. They were hungry for role models in this uncertain society of ours, and therefore I sought to offer them a few.

I didn’t have a written address, but here’s a gist, which I try to recall, of part of what I’d said:

"Foreigners have often remarked to me, sometimes in good humor, at other times ungraciously, that we are a funny sort of people. We celebrate our "defeats" rather than our "victories." The date of the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal is a national holiday. We honor the Battle of Tirad Pass in which our boy-general Del Pilar was mowed down by an American sniper and his small contingent of troops, the rear guard of the retreating Revolutionary Army, wiped out to the last man. We commemorate the surrender of Bataan and the fall of Corregidor. Even a few Filipinos themselves have grumbled that to have fought such battles were awful and expensive blunders – for we threw the lives of so many good men away when resistance should have been seen as doomed from the start.

They miss the point entirely. We fight, whether in war or peace, for what we believe is right and just; not merely when we are confident of victory but whenever duty and conscience and a sense of honor and decency tell us we must.

Such concepts have begun to look outdated and old-fashioned and are even held up as objects of ridicule and fun. T-shirts carry the increasingly popular slogan – charming but insidious in its message – that "Winning isn’t Everything: Winning is the
Only Thing."

It is a sad commentary on our times that heroes are now being painted as fools and cynical manipulators who triumph through treachery and deceit, or accumulate great fortunes through great crimes, are hailed as winners.

And yet, deep in our hearts, we know – we
all know – that this is not so.

In moments when I am tempted to despair, I think of a man who had a bright future before him – a brilliant lawyer, a fast-rising politician, a congressman and later National Assemblyman, a linguist and a philosopher, a spellbinding orator who – in his last campaign – had decisively trounced by a vote of almost two to one a political rival who survived him to go on to become President of this Republic. He held the promise of glory and success within the palm of his hand, but he threw it all away because he declined, to paraphrase the title of that bestseller, to "look out for Number One." For him, duty came first and when war broke out and the Japanese invaded the Philippines, he volunteered as a Captain in the infantry reserve to go to Bataan and fight. He left behind him a young wife and ten small children.

He was promoted to Major in the field, and after the surrender stumbled through the terrible Death March in which thousands perished. He survived months of starvation and disease in the prisoner-of-war camp in Capas only to be released dying of malaria. But at least he came home. He lingered a few months in the Philippine General Hospital, and finally succumbed a few days before his 44th birthday.

"The Archbishop of Manila ordered the bells of all churches in the city to toll for him that day. But it was only when his simple coffin lay within the Funeraria Nacional on Rizal Avenue that I realized how greatly his friends and his comrades-in-arms had loved him. For they came by the emaciated thousands. And some stood silently by his bier and wept. And some saluted. And when the day of the funeral came, it took three hours for the family to get his coffin out of Paco Church after the Mass because so many men and women pushed their way through for one last look at him.

Vehicles were scarce in those days, and so his hearse was a beautiful glass enclosed carriage drawn by four perfectly matched black horses – and his mourners marched on foot behind the hearse all the way from Paco to La Loma cemetery, traversing the city from the south side over the Pasig river to the north – a distance of many miles. And at almost each street corner a new platoon of silent men would fall in to join the procession until, at the end, there was more than a massed battalion in threadbare shirts, some in worn-out khaki uniforms without insignia, moving forward with measured tread – the gaunt, the haggard men of Bataan marching a fallen comrade in dignity to his grave, under the watchful, suspicious vigil of the Japanese and their police.

And as I looked into the eyes of many of them, I glimpsed sadness – but I also saw pride. Many years afterwards I can still recall those eyes and those faces. A tattered army of men who had lost a battle, but not a war. And I thank them for that vision, and for accompanying my father in love and loyalty to his rest.

Bataan and Corregidor and all those other "useless" and "wasteful" battles which culminated in "defeat" deserve their place of honor in the memory of our race, for they remind us of what we were – and what we can be again. There is great need in these timorous times, for this generation dissipated by ease and pleasure, weakened in resolve by the pursuit of material gain in place of the common good, to understand that only sacrifice can make a nation strong and only generosity – the willingness to reach out to others – can make a nation great. As that makeshift schoolboy textbook once attempted to teach us; The hard way is the only enduring way.

Nothing has afflicted the Filipino people more painfully in the past several years than an erosion of the spirit, a loss of self-confidence, the slow strangulation of the optimism that used to be regarded as native to us."

Yet, that recent TIME Magazine survey was right: We’re still the happiest people in Asia, and among the happiest in the world. This is because, for all our disappointments and our deficits, we still have Faith.

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, carrying the tablets of the Ten Commandments, he found the Jews to his anger, worshipping not God but the golden calf. We have worshipped the golden calf for too long and the goddess of reason for too long. It’s time for us to go back to the patriotism that sustained our fathers, from Rizal to Bonifacio, to Aguinaldo, to young boy General Gregorio del Pilar, and forged a nation out of a motley of tribes speaking more than 87 dialects.

For a nation, as we still raucously do, can speak in many tongues and in many, even angrily contending voices, but we remain a nation as long as our hearts beat as one.

Oh well, I suppose one of our freedoms is the freedom to sound corny. Or foolish. But, as our favorite schoolboy essayist G.K. Chesterton used to say: "The foolish things of this world have God chosen, in order to confound the wise."
* * *
And now another embarrassing correction.

In yesterday’s column, I published the wrong name when recalling the lady Ambassador from the People’s Republic of China who had invited me to be a guest of Beijing in the 50th anniversary celebration of the Liberation and the Founding of the People’s Republic of China. She was Ms. Fu Ying (not Wang), who later was promoted to Director General for Asia in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. Over a year ago, Fu Ying was posted to Canberra, as Ambassador to Australia.

Ambassador Wang Chungui – a male – succeeded her. He was the arrogant Chinese envoy who got into that table-pounding incident with then Secretary of Justice Hernani Perez when he demanded the release of the Chinese fishermen and their vessels who had been caught poaching off our Palawan waters. Two years ago, when Chinese national Zhang Zhongyi was kidnapped, Ambassador Wang went to see then Vice-President Teofisto Guingona, who was concurrently Foreign Affairs Secretary on August 27, 2003, warning Guingona that the Philippine government must ensure the kidnap victim’s safety and get the Chinese government’s "consent" before it launched any effort to save him and other hostages.

Mr. Wang is now posted to Kuala Lumpur as Ambassador to Malaysia. I guess he’s not as pushy there as he was in Manila. When he was Prime Minister, the peppery Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohammad brooked no impertinence from any envoy, and was indeed harsh and outspoken, whether he was assailing an Australian prime minister or George Soros. Neither would the current Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who had, for many years, been Mahathir’s Deputy, countenance any cheekiness on the part of any foreigners.

Here, we seem to kowtow – a truly Chinese term, "kowtow", as to Emperors – when dealing with the Chinese.

Why, we’re even begging them to send us more tourists, offering giveaway "visa" breaks which may compromise not only our national security, but result in thousands more of TNTs, like the Chinese aliens who now jampack Divisoria, and our provincial towns, posing as fake Filipinos.

our Department of Tourism even hires foreign propaganda and lobby agencies to "court" the big-spending Chinese tourists – no wonder they spit on us these days. And send their shabu specialists to set up clandestine drug manufacturing laboratories here, making us one of the new drug "exporting" centers of the world.

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