Sunday, September 03, 2006


“The budget for counter-insurgency should not be increased, because we are not sure whether the money would indeed be used for counter-insurgency. It might only be used for political killings.” Striking words these – from a young man who had braced himself for a military officer’s career all his life.


“The budget for counter-insurgency should not be increased, because we are not sure whether the money would indeed be used for counter-insurgency. It might only be used for political killings.”

Striking words these – from a young man who had braced himself for a military officer’s career all his life.

Ronald Gian Carlo Cardema, 21, had dreamed of becoming a military officer for as long as he can remember. “I never imagined myself in any career other than that of a military officer,” he told Bulatlat in an interview. He knew about the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) even as a little boy, and prepared for a military officer’s career early on – taking the Cadet Officer Candidate Course (COCC) in high school and eventually becoming corps commander of his Citizens’ Army Training (CAT) batch. He did the same at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna (UPLB) and became an officer of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

A consistent honor student from grade school, he was a scholar taking up BS Biology – though he had no plans of becoming a doctor – when he took the PMA entrance examinations. “The success of an officer is not only measured by the stars on his uniform, rather it is in harnessing all the means to use his position and authority to serve his countrymen well, to inspire his men with good deeds. That’s success,” he wrote as his motto in one of his forms. He got in, was consistently among the top five of his class, and should have been in his third year there by now.

Last May, his uncle Noel “Noli” Capulong – a leader of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), Southern Tagalog Environmental Action Movement (STEAM), and the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL) – was gunned down by bonnet-wearing men riding motorcycles near his home in Calamba City, Laguna.

Ronald was then on a rest period from the PMA, having been taken ill a few months back. He asked permission to extend his leave and was allowed to do so, he said.

Grief and anger drove him to write an open letter condemning his uncle’s slay and other extra-judicial killings. In it, he revealed that persons he knew as intelligence agents frequently visited his uncle’s house before the latter was killed. He would send the letter to all political groups he knew of – from Left to Right. The letter circulated all over the Internet.

A few weeks later, he returned to the PMA – and found himself getting dismissed. The official reason given for his dismissal was that he went absent without leave.

Late last month, he was surprised to find his name on the news – as a “rebel” who had studied communism in Laguna and gone on to infiltrate the PMA! The “information” was leaked by sources who remain unknown.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, a PMA graduate and a former Marine commander, took up his case and offered to help in having him reinstated.

He politely refused, saying he just wants to get on with life at this point, as a civilian. Though he remains an avid observer of developments in the military institution, he has lost all interest in getting another shot at his aborted military education. He is preparing to get back into UPLB, but ultimately plans to shift to BA Political Science at UP Diliman. He now has his sights on a new career prospect: the legal profession.

Below are excerpts from his interview with Bulatlat:

What is it in the military life that fascinated you?

It was the term “the most noble profession,” referring to the military man’s job, that struck my mind the most. I saw that soldiers are disciplined, and they help each other out whenever there are things that need to be done, to succeed in their plans.

Were you aware that your Tito Noli was an activist early on?

When I was little, we didn’t really know of it, of activism. Even when I was in high school, we didn’t know of it. It was only when I was in college that I became more aware of activism, through my classmates who were activists.

About my Tito Noli, he was quiet at home. He would only speak if you asked him something, he was that kind of person.

One time I saw him speak (at a rally) in Calamba, and I saw that he was pushing for his views for the betterment of the nation. That’s when I realized that he was an activist.

In the letter of yours that circulated around the Internet, you said that it was here at UPLB that you learned patriotism. How did that come to be?

Even when I was in the ROTC and the said organization is military-based, we were always aware that we students at the State University have our studies funded by the people. We are indebted to the people, because our government is funded by the people. It was thus that I realized that we should be very patriotic because our studies are really funded by the people, so we should give back to the people.

It is worth noting that included in the reading list on your Friendster profile are the likes of Renato Constantino and the Simbulans (Dante and Roland) – who are known to have strongly criticized the military at various instances. What made you interested in their writings?

Dr. Dante Simbulan, the father of Roland Simbulan, is a PMAer. I read one of his books, The Modern Principalia, and what he is saying there is very right. I thought that if PMAers discussed social problems like he does, it would be good. What’s wrong if military men discuss social problems? He himself used to be with the military, and was a member of the Corps of Professors at the PMA at that. I thought, if his views are like that, it should not be wrong for us to also think critically about our society.

As for Roland Simbulan, I saw his website and it was only then that I found that he’s the son of Dr. Dante Simbulan. I read his articles there and they were good – articles on the environment and other topics. I also know him to be a faculty regent at UP and that gives his views more weight. You see his position, see that he’s a regent at UP, you would really look into what he’s saying. His writings are good.

As for Renato Constantino, I read his book The Filipinos in the Philippines and Other Essays. He urged us to place more confidence in ourselves as a race, taught us that we don’t have to degrade ourselves before foreigners who should be the ones to adapt to our terms when they visit the Philippines.

As one who was able to spend quite some time at the PMA, you must have heard of the likes of Crispin Tagamolila and what they did during the Marcos period. What do you think of him and what he did?

I read about Tagamolila in a book by someone who also used to be a military officer, retired Navy Capt. Danilo Vizmanos.

I bought the book because I saw that it was written by someone who went to the U.S. to study at King’s Point, and afterwards became a navy officer. That was my first reason for buying the book. I then saw that the book was dedicated to Lt. Crispin Tagamolila.

I think he was really patriotic. Captain Vizmanos makes readers like myself realize that people like Lieutenant Tagamolila who were already officers of the Armed Forces and were privileged with benefits left the service to go over to the other side and take to the hills, where they have none of the privileges and benefits they had as military officers. If you care for nothing but money, why would you do such a thing?

I realized that people like him are really patriotic and they cast their lot in defense of those of our countrymen who suffer. They dedicated their lives just for that. (In the hills) they make do with little food and distance from their families. That’s patriotism.

During the peak of military restiveness, some newspaper columnists branded the PMA as a “breeding ground of destabilizers,” supposedly because many of those who have led mutinies were PMA graduates. As a former PMA cadet, what can you say about this?

It now seems funny because recently, UP was also branded as a “training ground destabilizers.” So what’s that – UP and PMA are training grounds for destabilizers? Three of our cabinet members are from the PMA, if I’m not mistaken. There are others who are from UP.

We can say such statements are irresponsible... And I think many of those they call “destabilizers” may be destabilizing only corrupt officials and are not really aiming to bring down the government, they may only want change in the policies of the government.

Talking about military restiveness, what do you think about the various forms of protest staged by military men thus far under the Arroyo administration – from the so-called Magdalo group to the likes of Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim?

Technically these are beyond the boundaries of the Constitution, but we all know that what they are fighting for, their views, their idealism, are correct. The Constitution does not provide for these types of action, but we have seen that they didn’t do that to demand money or whatever: they were demanding benefits not only for themselves but also for their foot soldiers.

The ones who did those actions were among the best of the best.

Lt. Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes IV was the Honor Committee chairman when he was a cadet at the PMA. He was in charge of maintaining honor in the ranks of the cadets. Those who joined the Magdalo group were usually among the top ten in their classes... They were the really battle-tested ones: most of them are Marines, Scout Rangers, Special Forces – they are the ones who lay their lives on the line in the battlefield, and they really realized the problems.

Your Tito Noli is one of the many, many victims of political killings under the Arroyo administration. What are your observations on the political killings?

I don’t really know who perpetrates the political killings, but these are very cruel... Those are very inhumane.

My uncle was on his way home after selling a few baskets of eggs when he was suddenly gunned down.

Government is being pointed to as the one responsible for these killings. Even if we say for the sake of argument that it is not the government that perpetrates these, at least it should be able to solve these.

If they are really the ones doing these, (they should realize that) political killings are useless because the military cannot capture the hearts and minds of the people (by going on a killing spree). Even if you finish them all off, all those against the government, you can’t kill off the ideas. Their views would only make a greater dent on the consciousness of the people.

The budget for counter-insurgency should not be increased, because we are not sure whether the money would indeed be used for counter-insurgency. It might only be used for political killings.

What do you think of the “all-out war” declared by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo against the Left?

I don’t think the government will win it. Because I have read that during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos, there was already an all-out war, against the Moros and against the communists. That was Martial Law, and however much power the military had then, it lost the war. The people they called “enemies of the state” grew in number and strength. Based on that experience, I can’t really say whether the government can hope for victory now.

How do you see the
mistahs you left behind at the PMA in the next few years? Do you see any reforms coming for the military as an institution?

I know that the mistahs I left behind there are good and capable people. I know they will do what is right, I know they want our country to be peaceful and the war to stop and the nation to develop.

I know that the military has established a Grievance Committee to hear out problems raised by soldiers and that they are building houses for soldiers. Those are the developments I’ve been hearing about.

I know of many competent soldiers and officers. They either have left the service or are in prison. So I don’t know what development there will be for the military.

Now that you have decided to just live a civilian life, what career path are you now thinking of – and why?

I am going through the process of reinstatement here, and I intend to shift to any pre-law course and proceed to law school. Before I thought that by being a soldier I can defend myself and others – the victims of oppression – through arms. But now that I have lost the chance to bear arms, I think I can defend those who are oppressed through debate, as a lawyer. Bulatlat

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