LIFE MATTERS: Shabby na kung shabby

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Dr. Dencio S Acop (Ret. Col.)

I just came across a post shared by my academy classmate Dan Balandra about Colonel Andres Bustamante PMA Class of 1960 which prompted me to write this article. An officer of the Philippine Constabulary then the Philippine Army, Bustamante reads about how an officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is supposed to be — professional, competent, and living a life of honor. Because he performed his duty well with courage, integrity, and loyalty, as his alma mater taught him, he was assassinated just before he made the rank of brigadier general. Just because he did his duty without fear or favor, he was removed from the Constabulary by his higher-ups and he had to transfer to the Army. Where he still made good nonetheless. Until the only way to put him down was to assassinate him. The account of Bustamante was written by his own son who naturally knew the inner workings of his own parent. Bustamante’s narrative is so inspiring and rare that i shared it through social media and wrote this piece. It is such a breath of fresh air to recall the exploits of officers from the past when the profession of arms was still governed by the very core of its fabric — HONOR. So unlike many or even the majority of officers today who wear high rank, even as many stars as can be worn, but are in fact undeserving of such by their acts of moral and material corruption, so contrary to the values of the military which are all built upon the code of honor. I even came across one whose profile picture unabashedly displayed the words ‘courage, integrity, loyalty’ and ‘marangal’. When all about the persona were merely just the opposite. I thought it probably more truthful if the words were not the profile picture at all.

‘Shabby na kung shabby, pero enjoying naman’. This used to be a phrase from the academy which was actually meant to discourage, not encourage, dysfunctional behavior among members of the cadet corps. Even if the cadets are supervised by a system external to them like the academy hierarchy, the cadets within and among themselves hold sacred the Honor Code which regulates ordered behavior to ensure harmony within the ranks. Thus, unbearable sanction was reserved for anyone who violated the Code of Honor. Cadets who were tried by a committee of peers and were found to have lied, cheated, stolen, or tolerated those who did were ostracized by the rest of the corps — treated as dead though still living. The same is true within the officer corps which the cadets join upon graduation from the academy. Soldiering is built upon the bedrock of honor. It is no longer the honorable profession of arms if members, though licensed to kill legitimately as the sole coercive power of the state, killed not the enemy; prosecuted wars based on lies; dishonored themselves through corrupt conduct; convicted themselves by stealing from the people; or tolerated those who did from among them. Honor is no different from truth and even if someone said that truth has many forms, there is only one truth — that which was not a lie. Even if the officer corps answers to a civilian commander-in-chief and bureaucracy, that officer corps can only competently exist if it lived by its core principle of honor. Without honor, the military is merely mercenary and its members plain hoodlums in uniform as a former president put it.

When the West Point Society of the Philippines along with the other US Service Academy Alumni Groups put up the Philippine-American Memorial at the PMA grounds in 2006, it was awe-inspiring to note the gallantry and courage of early West Point alumni who fought in World War II in the Philippines and paid the ultimate sacrifice. For instance, Brigadier Vicente Lim USMA ‘14 the first Filipino West Pointer and commander of the 41st Division, USAFFE, was captured twice, tortured, and beheaded by the Japanese Imperial Army. Other West Point graduates who were captured, tortured, and executed by the Japanese were Brigadier General Fidel Segundo ‘17, Colonel Salvador Reyes ‘17, Colonel Eustaquio Baclig ‘18, Colonel Pastor Martelino ‘20, Colonel Alejandro Garcia ‘23, Colonel Santiago Guevarra ‘23, Lieutenant Colonel Maximiano Janairo ‘30, Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Cepeda ‘33, Major Antonio Chanco ‘38, and Captain Vicente Gepte ‘40. Other graduates who either fought or became prisoners of war included Colonel Ricardo Poblete ‘24, Lieutenant Colonel Jaime Velasquez ‘31, Major Tirso Fajardo ‘34, Major Leon Punsalan ‘36, Major Manuel Salientes ‘37, Captain Felicisimo Castillo ‘40, and Captain Atanacio Chavez ‘41. In all, 18 alumni fought in WWII and 11 paid the ultimate sacrifice. As Secretary of the WPSP then, the honor of researching the lives of these alumni heroes who fought in the last great war fell on my shoulders. The experience of better knowing my early predecessors left an indelible imprint in my soul as it furthermore affirmed the attraction that military life always had upon me as a boy — the chance to be counted among those who defended their country and exemplified the highest love for his fellowmen. The profession of arms is only for those who can live and die with honor. It is not for everyone. And it is certainly not for those who are ‘shabby na kung shabby’.