LIFE MATTERS: Snappy to Shabby

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By Col Dencio Acop (Ret), PhD

‘Snappy’ and ‘shabby’ are two terms I learned when I entered the Philippine Military Academy in 1979. While there, I soon learned that ‘snappy’ meant not compromising in doing the right thing even at the cost of one’s self. In short, it meant honor which sounded about right since after all a soldier was expected to pay the ultimate sacrifice for his country if he had to. A soldier’s life, in fact, was all about honor. On the other hand, ‘shabby’ stood for everything that was the opposite of ‘snappy’. For instance, it referred to cadets who cowardly chose to do the easier wrong than the harder right. Those who lied, cheated, stole, and or tolerated those who did so that they do not get kicked out of the academy. It also meant the upper-class cadets who ‘hazed’ their juniors psychologically and physically for no good reason. Upperclass privilege became the abuse of power over those who could not defend themselves or were intimidated from fighting back. Cadets also saw the corruption practiced by officers assigned to the academy. Military traditions were not only misinterpreted but were used to justify wrongdoing. Does not sound like the breeding ground for honorable future members of the officer corps wouldn’t you say?

‘Snappy’ and ‘shabby’ gave rise to ‘take life’. If cadets were found to be in violation of rules and regulations but were quick enough not to get caught or found out, such cadets were not punished but praised. Confusing and hypocritical right? The system tolerated the bizarre concept and practice of ‘take life’, this phenomenon I just described which unjustly rewarded the dishonorable and still called it justice whatever that meant. All these probably seemed benign at the time, as they were practiced and tolerated by classes even way before us. As the late AFP chief of staff and defense secretary once admitted, ‘he did not invent corruption but just walked right into it’. Still, to say that injustice and corruption are benign and tolerable is to say that the rule of law is as the wielder would have it and not about justice and truth.

Look at our government today. Wouldn’t you say that it is mostly led by those who had gone through the rigors of ‘snappy’, ‘shabby’, ‘hazing’, and ‘take life’? Would you say that they learned their lessons if there was any lesson to be learned from such? What is the dominant character that we now see from these formerly idealistic scholars of the Filipino taxpayer? I have to say that when I was a cadet and Lieutenant in the ‘80s, I still saw predominantly honest officers whose selfless service to the nation was not given justice by the ‘owner-type’ Jeeps they drove or the shabby abodes they lived in. But they were the most gallant of men and honor ran through their veins. I fought with men who gave their lives though neither had the quantity nor quality of equipment decent for a fight. They left the comforts of home and refused to take bribes. They fought all sorts of enemies: insurgents, rebels, criminals, hunger, poverty, loneliness, and most of all their fragile selves. These officers then were predominantly ‘snappy’.

The reward of honorable men is not found in worldliness as their sacrifice is not worldly. But theirs is found in a grateful nation and a home in the eternal kingdom.

I miss the ‘snappy’ officers for today I merely see ‘shabby’, cowardly ones.