Women of the PMA

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

The first major breakthrough for women’s rights in the Philippines took place in 1937. By virtue of a referendum held in April that year on the question, “Are you in favor of granting suffrage to women?” qualified female citizens of the Philippines were allowed to vote in elections. The measure passed by 91 percent of the registered voters. Two years later, the first woman, Geronima Pecson, was elected to the Philippine Senate.

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In 1992, legislation widely known as “Women in Development and Nation Building Act” was passed, giving women equal opportunity for appointment, admission, training and commissioning in all military schools of the armed forces and the Philippine National Police “in accordance with standards required for men, except for those minimum essential adjustments required by physiological differences between sexes.” The law RA No. 7192, was authored by senator Santanina Rasul, the first Muslim woman member of the Senate, and co-authored by senator Raul Roco.

On April 1, 1993 the first batch of female cadets, numbering 17, reported to Fort General Gregorio Del Pilar in Baguio City. After more than half a century of exclusive male admissions, the walls came tumbling down at the Philippine Military Academy. Actually, of the hundreds of young women who took the PMA entrance exams for the first time, only 23 qualified. Since there were 17 slots available for women, the top 17 in the group were selected to join male members of the class of 1997. Of the 17, only seven would graduate.

By comparison, the US Military Academy at West Point, established in 1802, only accepted women in July 1976 when 110 joined the class of 1980. Of the 110, 62 would graduate. The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom allowed women in 1984, while the National Defense Academy of Japan opened its doors to women in 1992. On the other hand, the Royal Thai Military Academy in Bangkok, Thailand does not accept women in their ranks.

This year the class of 1997 celebrates its silver jubilee. After 25 years in the military service, how are the seven women pioneers faring in their careers? Of the seven, three are no longer with the AFP. Lt. Sheryl Jane Uy-Cabasang suffered serious injuries in a vehicular accident a few months after graduation and was granted Complete Disability Discharge (CDD) status. Captain Aireen Somera, a PAF pilot, resigned from the service due to health issues. She married a pilot classmate who also left the service to join commercial aviation. Captain Arlene Orejana-Trillanes, wife of former senator Sonny Trillanes, resigned from the service and is currently dean of a computer college at National University.

The four who continue to serve with the armed forces are: Col. Leah Lorenzo-Santiago, who graduated summa cum laude and was No. 3 in the class order of merit, is the Executive Officer, G-1 (Personnel and Administration) of the Philippine Army; Col. Ma. Victoria Blancaflor is the Commanding Officer of a tank battalion, Armored Division, Philippine Army (I was under the impression the women were mainly in administrative and training functions. But commander of a tank unit is definitely frontline business); Navy Captain Marissa Arlene Andres-Martinez is the Assistant Chief of Fleet Staff for Plans (F-5), Philippine Fleet, Philippine Navy; and the most senior in the group by virtue of date of promotion to current rank is Col. Consuelo “Bon” Nunag-Castillo, PAF (GSC). She is presently Deputy Senior Military Assistant to USec Arnel Duco at the Department of National Defense. Prior to this assignment, she was a helicopter pilot with the Presidential Airlift Wing. They are doing very well, perhaps even better than some of their male colleagues.

Since women were admitted in 1997, there have been several class valedictorians: Arlene Dela Cruz, class of 1999; Tara Velasco, class of 2003; Andrelee Mojica, class of 2007; Rovi Mairel Martinez, class of 2016; Dionne Mae Umalla, class of 2019; Gemalyn Sugui, class of 2020 and now, Krystlenn Quemado, class of 2022.

The graduating class of 2022 is composed of 165 males and 49 females; 104 are joining the Army, 57 are headed for the Navy and 53 to the Air Force. The class valedictorian Quemado, from Koronadal City, South Cotabato, is the daughter of Col. Nicolas Quemado Jr., PMA class 1993, the current Inspector General of the Philippine Army, and Prof. Loveleih, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Notre Dame of Marbel University in South Cotabato. She will be joining the Philippine Navy.

The class salutatorian is a male cadet, Kevin John Pastrana of Baguio City. His father hails from Iloilo while his mother is from Sagada, Mountain Province. He has a younger sister who is currently a PMA cadet. Pastrana is headed for the Philippine Air Force.

For Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Ferdinand M. Cartujano, today’s ceremonies will be his last as he retires from the military service on June 26. His tour of duty was made more challenging by the COVID pandemic that swept the nation but he rose to the occasion and we congratulate him for a job well done. It is possible that the next superintendent may have a fixed term of three to four years. This would enable him to carry out and oversee reforms that may be needed from time to time as the academy continues to adjust to a changing world.

For one thing, the presence of women in the defense establishment appears to be a growing trend worldwide. At the moment, there are 21 female ministers of defense in countries like Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, as well as a number of Scandinavian states.

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