Ma’am Commodore the Navy’s Luzviminda Camacho
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 8, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — It was her father – then a chief petty officer in the Navy – who encouraged Commodore Luzviminda Camacho sometime in 1987 to join the military, and she has never regretted heeding his advice.

Camacho has achieved many firsts in the Navy: She became the first female skipper or commanding officer of a Navy ship; the first female commander of a Philippine contingent to a United Nations peacekeeping force and the first female star-ranked naval officer.

Currently, she is chief of the Armed Forces’ Office of Legislative Affairs in Camp Aguinaldo. 

“My father was the one who encouraged me to join the Navy. At that time, I just graduated with an Industrial Engineering degree from Adamson University and was already working as a quality control officer in an electronics company in FTI (in Taguig City), I was the eldest of five siblings,” the newly-minted commodore told STARweek. 

Her changing work shifts, however, did not sit well with her strict father even if they lived only about three kilometers away at the Bonifacio Naval Station. 

“He didn’t push, he just asked me to try to take the (entrance) exams,” she said.

So take the exams she did and she shortly found herself undergoing grueling physical training at the Armed Forces Training Command at Tanay, Rizal as a candidate soldier under the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (WAC) for three months. 

After that, she proceeded to the next stage of her training at the Naval Education and Training Command in Fort San Felipe in Cavite City in December 1988, graduating in February the following year. That March, she reported for work at the Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard. 

Her work was mostly administrative and secretarial as at the time, women in the military were uncommon and not assigned combat duties under the WAC.

She felt that as a college graduate, there was more that the military could offer, and more that she could contribute to the service. So she applied to the Officer Candidate School of the Armed Forces and found herself and her gear back in Tanay in October 1989. She graduated in August 1990 as a lieutenant. 

Since she also trained with the Navy, she asked to be assigned back to headquarters where she was made an adjutant. 

In the following years, she continued to be promoted and took more courses to obtain senior posts, but she still wanted to be organic or to be a line officer with the Navy, and not just under the WAC. Thanks to Republic Act 7192, which expanded the role of women in nation building, she got her wish. 

“There was a time I wanted to go home because I was so tired, I had sprains, but I thought of my father, I thought of the maxim that those ‘who adopt the profession of arms submit their own free will to a law of perpetual constraints of their own accord’,” Camacho says. 

To be a lieutenant commander, an officer is required to be “aboard ship” – equivalent to being in an infantry unit in the Army – so she was posted as an executive officer or “Ex-O” of BRP Cebu (PS 28), a 56-meter corvette that was constantly on offshore patrol off the coast of the Bicol region. It was on this assignment in 2007 that she faced one of the most difficult challenges in her naval career. 

“As an Ex-O, your primary responsibility is the morale and discipline of your men,” Camacho explains. She declined to give details of the infractions she did not let pass but recalls she was “challenged” by her subordinates as well as her superiors of the Offshore Combat Force to which her ship belonged. 

“They (erring crew) thought they could influence me but I was there to implement the regulations, any violator must face punishment, there’s always a delinquency report,” she said.

“When you’re on mission there must be teamwork, and efficiency,” she adds.

Camacho recalls that when she was a skipper of another patrol ship, some crew members violated or abused their R&R (rest and recreation) privileges. Once “taps” are sounded at 10 p.m., all crew must be back from their R&R and she took possession of the liberty log book to make sure that those who were tardy would not go unnoticed.

Not surprisingly, the discipline made her subordinates “grow” as the regulations are made clear to them and the punishments are explained, she says.

Being a woman was an advantage when she was assigned as the deputy of the Office of Ethical Standards and Public Accountability (OESPA) where she dealt with various personnel problems, including when military duties and personal obligations cross and conflict.

At the OESPA, she had to tackle family problems of naval personnel as well as cases of sexual harassment.

“Victims often confide and speak up when they talk to a female officer,” Camacho admits.

 In 2013, she became the first female commander of the Philippine military contingent to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) composed of 11 navy officers and 145 sailors and marines. Subsequently, she was tasked as commander of the Joint Task Group Liberia that spearheaded the successful transportation, quarantine and post quarantine of the 142 members of the 18th Philippine Contingent to Liberia.

In Haiti, the Philippine contingent had the difficult responsibility of providing administrative and security services to UN personnel.  

“I always tell my subordinates to provide an example, to lead by example,” Camacho says. 

In March 2011, she pursued graduate studies, earning the degree of Masters in Public Management Major in Development and Security at the Development Academy of the Philippines. 

Among the people she looks up to are former Navy chief retired admiral Ferdinand Golez and actress Meg Ryan because of her role as a female military commander in the 1996 movie “Courage Under Fire.”

Being promoted to commodore is what she considers the most fulfilling part of her career.

Among her favorite ways to ease the stress from her job is to run marathons, sometimes play golf. She is proud to say she has run many 10-kilometer marathons. “But of course, prayer is most important.”

Camacho dedicates all her achievements and service to her only son, Praise Bisleg, who is now abroad after finishing his Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation at the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific in May 2014. 

When asked for her advice to women, she has this to say: “Being in the naval service dominated by males, I have faced various challenges that somehow tested my faith.  But I have clearly set my goals and worked hard to achieve them.  My deep commitment to my chosen career aided me to transform my dreams into reality. It is with high hopes that my achievements will serve as an inspiration to other female soldiers…that gender should not serve as a hindrance to achieve your dreams. May the legacy I have marked in the naval history continuously influence others to contribute in promoting positive change and progress in the workplace.”

 

LUZVIMINDA CAMACHO
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