PMA gender equalityreaches new heights

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

First, a story of kindness and compassion reminding us that, in a world filled with violence and greed, there are people who still care.

Four-year-old Angel (not her real name) was born with a bilateral cleft lip. She went up into the magical bus, the Hospital On Wheels (HOW). After an hour of surgery under nerve blocks (local anesthesia) she went down from the bus. Her deformity was gone. Not only that, she ate pancit right after the surgery. Angel is one of the hundreds of patients that benefited from the two-day HOW surgical-medical-dental-optic mission in Porac, Pampanga last Feb. 25 to 26. The mission was held at the foot of the mountains in Porac, serving the Aetas.

It is history in the making. A hospital brought to the foot of a mountain where Aetas with various surgical conditions (tumors, hernias, deformities) underwent surgery. Thank you for your help and prayers in changing these people’s lives, Dr. Jim Sanchez, HOW.

*      *      *

In April 1993, after more than half-a-century of exclusively male admissions, the walls came tumbling down at the Philippine Military Academy. For the first time in its history, 16 young women with ages ranging from 17 to 21 joined the long gray line of the Cadet Corps, Armed Forces of the Philippines (CC, AFP). Out of the hundreds who took the entrance exams, 23 were fully qualified for admission but there being only 17 slots allotted for women, the top 17 of the 23 were selected to join the New Cadet Battalion made up of newcomers, including the men.

This action was the result of legislation known as the “Women in Development and Nation-Building Act.” It gave women equal opportunity for admission, training and commissioning in all military schools of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police. The law, Republic Act no. 7192, was authored by Senator Santanina Rasul, the first Muslim woman member of the Senate, and co-authored by Senator Raul Roco. Of the 17, only seven would graduate.

In 1993, just prior to departure for Baguio from the V. Luna Medical Center assembly point, I was able to chat with some of the young women who made it to the history books by breaking the gender barrier at the Academy. One of the tallest at five feet, six inches was Arlene Orejana, an AB Psychology graduate of the University of the Philippines. The fourth of five girls, Arlene grew up in General Santos City in South Cotabato. Incidentally, what is it about South Cotabato that produces some of the topnotchers at the PMA? Only last year, Krystlenn Quemado from Koronadal City in South Cotabato graduated at the top of her class. For Arlene, admission to the PMA was the fulfillment of childhood dreams. After graduation she married Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, class of 1995, who would serve in the Senate after years of detention for leading a mutiny against the government.

Maria Victoria Blancaflor from Novaliches, Rizal was a metallurgical engineering student at UP Diliman. She finished her high school at St. Paul College Quezon City. After more than 25 years of service, Col. Blancaflor served as the Commanding Officer of the Second Cavalry Battalion, Armored Division, Philippine Army.

Another young lady who I met was the daughter of a retired Manila police officer. Leah Lorenzo was a second-year BS Zoology student at UP Los Baños. She had originally thought of pursuing a medical career but when PMA opened up for women, she felt that discipline was an important consideration in her life and decided to pursue a military career. Col. Leah Lorenzo-Santiago, who graduated summa cum laude and was No. 3 in the class of 1997, is currently the Executive Officer G-1 (Personnel and Administration), of the Philippine Army. Another 1997 graduate, Col. Consuelo “Bon” Nunag-Castillo, is head of the Public Affairs Office of the Philippine Air Force.

Yesterday was Recognition Day for the Plebe Class of 2026. From among 37,500 who took the written exams for the PMA, 1,200 passed and after going through physical and psychological tests, 350 were selected to join the latest class at the PMA. Of the 350, there were 222 males and 128 females. At a ratio of 1:2, this class makes up the highest female-to-male ratio since the admission of women in 1993. In terms of ethnic groups, most were from the Tagalog provinces, followed by the Visayans, the Ilocanos and the Bicolanos. In August 2022, 348 were incorporated into the Cadet Corps. Today the current strength of the fourth-class cadets is 319, made up of 216 male and 103 female. This makes the total dropout at 29, due to academic deficiencies and physical disabilities.

The rites of recognition is one of the most momentous events in the life of a fourth-class cadet. It is a rite of passage, symbolized by the shaking of hands with the upperclassmen. It is the moment when a plebe ceases to be part of just his own class, subject to constant corrections from upper class cadets, and becomes a full member of the Corps of Cadets. It is a point in time when he and the other cadets in the upper classes cease to exist in worlds apart from each other and simply become comrades in the profession of arms.

The guest of honor during Recognition Day was General Andres Centino, AFP Chief of Staff. In his speech to the cadets, Centino quoted a poem by an American poet, Edgar Albert Guest, “Don’t Quit.” A line from the poem reads: “Success is failure turned inside out. . . Stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit – it is when things seem worst, you must not quit.” Centino called on the Superintendent, Lt. General Rowen Tolentino, to decrease the dropout rate from current 35 percent to 25 percent in the years ahead.

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