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MATATAG '71 Bright Star Shining for a Long Time!

by Rolly Malinis


On April 1, 1967, one-hundred-forty-eight (148) young boys were appointed as new cadets of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). They comprised the PMA Class of 1971. Theirs was an interesting mix of men. Intelligent. Innocent. Uncertain. Ambitious. Naïve. Distracted. Bratty. They represented the best from among the 5,457 youths screened for admission to PMA. The class is also addressed as Matatag, the PMA Class of ’71 motto. Matatag is a Filipino word meaning “unyielding, firm, or steadfast.”

The PMA training system turned these young boys to responsible men. Increased their threshold level for physical and psychological pains. Developed their patriotism. Taught the value of the honor system. Educated them toward a Bachelor of Science degree. Trained them about soldiery, discipline and leadership. And motivated them to live with the basic tenets “Courage, Integrity, and Loyalty.” So, at the end of the four-year training, each one acquired the character, military skills, and the education essential to their successful pursuit of a progressive military career. Together, the various training and traits inculcated in them taught them to be goal driven and to possess that strong determination and passion to pursue military and police careers, civil service, elective positions and other endeavors.

After difficult and rigorous training, only 84 (56%) were left from the original 148 who reported in 1967. Additions were 25 turned-backed cadets from upper classes. One-hundred-nine (109) graduated on April 2, 1971. Two other graduates of West Point and Annapolis [Abaya, Alano] joined them in a few months bringing the class total strength to 111. The branches of service assignment were as follows: Thirty (30) were taken by the Philippine Army, 38 by the Air Force, 31 for the Constabulary (PC), and 11 by the Navy.

Communist Insurgency

Young graduates of PMA ’71 were deployed to confront the threat from the local communists. Search-and-destroy missions were relentless against the rebels in Pampanga Three ranger-trained lieutenants hunted them in Isabela. In these encounters, a few got an early taste of near-death situations.

Smuggling arms by the NPA was attempted in 1972. A young-Philippine-Constabulary-intelligence officer [Aglipay] belonging to PMA ’71 volunteered to track and stall the shipment at Digoyo Point, Isabela. The timely battle encounter between his team and the NPAs/MV Karagatan’s crew and subsequent joint-AFP operations led to seizure of the caches. In effect, the botched arms-landing significantly deprived the communists the capability to fight the government.

The Muslim Rebellion

In 1971, the Muslim secessionists posed the most serious threat to national security.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) started as a political organization in the late ‘60s. Then it was transformed to a large armed force trained in Libya and Malaysia. In 1973, the MNLF surrounded Cotabato. And the rebels nearly succeeded in taking Mindanao.

Members of the class were everywhere. In the ground. In the air. And in the sea. In Sulu and Basilan, North and South Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Sur, Zamboanga Del Norte and Sur, and Davao del Sur.

Class ’71 contributed two deaths and five wounded to the government’s list of 149 deaths and 506 wounded during the early phase of the war in Mindanao. An air force pilot of the class [Nartatez] was lost in Sulu sea after performing flare-drop mission over Tonquil Island. His body was never found. The second one [Duran] was ambushed and beheaded in the rebel-infested road between Pagadian and Ipil in Zamboanga Del Sur. One [Dominguez] almost lost his leg during an ambush in the town of Pigkawayan, Cotabato. Five others suffered gunshot wounds in battle encounters.

In 1973, they nearly lost a distinguished member of the class [Honasan] in a ground battle at Lebak, South Cotabato. Oozing with blood due to sniper shot, he refused to leave his men. Fate would intervene. He survived to play pivotal role in Philippine history.

February Revolution and Coups

PMA ’71 became famous or “notorious.”

Marcos had a vision when he declared martial law in 1972. Losing steam in mid-80s, the situation became progressively worse. The government became dysfunctional. Corruption was widespread. Troops were neglected. Civilians accused him of cheating in the election. It was during this turbulent time when the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), spearheaded by PMA ’71 core group, was born. Threatened with arrest, they rebelled.

A minority group from the class disagreed. To them rebellion was superfluous. When asked for support, one or two refused the use of its battalion/unit. They stuck with these beliefs during the 1986 revolution onward.

Undeterred, the RAM went on. The world-renowned February 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution triumphed.

The rebels were hailed as heroes. Four, all Class ’71, received the “Distinguished Conduct Star” medals, second only to the medal of valor. Mr. & Ms. Magazine featured 16. Four others appeared in a full-page photograph in a Sunday magazine.

It was short-lived. The coalition between the Cory government and the RAM was doomed from the start. It was a case of broken promises. Two major coup attempts followed. One on August 28, 1987 and another on December 1, 1989 lasting for seven days. Both failed.

There was a reversal of fortune. The group was now being brought to court for rebellion.

Reaping of Rewards

Fifty-four (54), in addition to the five lieutenants/captains who passed away early, left the military service before the 56-year mandatory retirement age. The exodus started in 1973 and accelerated in 1987. Of that number: one resigned before completing the mandatory eight-year service; 11 resigned as majors; 41 left with the rank of lieutenant colonels; and one in the rank of colonel.

Fifty-two (52), though struggling, remained in the service till completion. Their persistence was rewarded. Seven attained full-colonel rank. Forty-five [41% of the class which is a few notches higher than PMA classes average] rose to become generals - or its equivalent in the Navy and Police. The list included 17 brigadier generals (1-star), 18 major generals (2-star), and 7 lieutenant generals (3-star). Two [Lacson and Aglipay] were promoted to the highest position that the police service could bestow upon – Chief of the Philippine National Police with the four-star rank. One was appointed as Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines with the four-star rank [Abaya]; his vice-chief-of-staff [Delos Reyes], a three-star position, was also a ’71. Another member, for a short time, held the position of acting commanding general of the Philippine Air Force [Seron]. Others held top positions in the military-or-police-organizational-staff hierarchies.

The rest took over major commands. They led Army infantry divisions and brigades; Northern Luzon Command [Dominguez]; Air Force tactical, base and logistical commands; Navy’s Philippine Fleet and Western Command; and Philippine National Police regional, tactical and special commands.

In terms of educational achievements, PMA Class ’71 has three (3) lawyers, two (2) with PhDs, and at least 33 with master’s degrees in various fields.

Beyond Retirement

For the Matatags, there was life after retirement from the military. The class continued to have a great impact on Philippine history. The Class remained visible in government, business and community service. Delos Reyes and Francia, had their second retirements to date. A number turned to politics. The election to the Senate of two graduates of the Philippine Military Academy [Honasan, Lacson] belonging to Class ’71 sealed another “first” for the Class and PMA. This is the first time in history that two members coming from the same PMA class [’71] serve together in the Senate. Honasan remained the low-key “workhorse in a chamber of showhorses.” After reaching his term limit at the Senate in 2019, Honasan was appointed as Secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology. Lacson reinvented himself from being a crime fighter to a fighter of national interest guarding national budget from the unconstitutional pork barrel. The hope that a PMA ’71 will be elected Philippine president in 2022 is still very much alive. Honasan, Lacson and another Matatag Delos Reyes worked for the miraculous resumption of retired military and uniformed personnel pension indexing to prevailing rate effective 2019 which resulted in doubling of monthly pension of more than 220,000 retirees and surviving spouses. The additional pension benefits amount to about P40 billion per annum.

Paynor, a constabulary officer turned accomplished diplomat, continued to excel in the diplomatic field. He successfully directed the Philippines’ hosting of the annual talks among the leaders of the 21 Asia-Pacific economies. A retired police general [De Leon] holds the distinction of being the only PMA graduate to head a major university system – the Mindanao State University. He also served as the executive vice-president of Centro Escolar University and then president of the Philippine Public Safety College which he transformed into one of the premium security institutions of the country. A former Pangasinan town mayor [Velasco Rey] who was the Administrator of the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System is now its new chairman. Aglipay from being the Chief, PNP and Chairman of the Philippine Retirement Authority is now the successful CEO of the EMME Group of Companies with five Business Groups. One of the Emme Corporations is one of the 500 Top Corporations of the Philippines. At present, Aglipay serves as Chairman Emeritus of three industries in the Philippines - the Trucking industry, the Private Security Industry, and the Port Users Authority. A retired C-130 Air Force pilot [Ramos J] risked his life and job as he rescued from death United Nations’ personnel trapped in civil-striped Rwanda in East Africa. From being Chief Operating Officer of Eastern Telecom Molato decided to go on his own as owner and administrator of STI College in Rosario, Cavite.

On the other hand, a few suffered a different fate. One has been in prison after being convicted of a crime by a general court martial. Two were charged for the slay of a labor leader; although one, who was in detention for a year, was exonerated by the court in 2016 paving the way for his appointment as ambassador to Myanmar.

PMA ’71 Initiatives for PMAAAI

Aglipay as the president of Class ’71, has to assume various positions in the organization in preparation for his designation as Chairman of the Board, PMAAAI in 2020-2021. Upon assumption as Chairman of the Committee on Investments and Strategic Planning in 2018, he recommended the creation of the PMAAAI Council of Class Presidents to provide a forum for discussion and resolution of common issues among PMA Classes. He spearheaded the streamlining of the PMAAAI and its affiliate Foundation through the merger of PFTJI, PDFI, and PEFTI. In search for permanent home for the PMAAAI, he worked for the approval by SND of usufruct for two lots at Bonifacio Global City where the Alumni Center and hotel facilities worth P300 million will be donated and constructed by Megaworld. These hallmark projects are now in the implementation phase and have been realized through the combined effort of a great team, the Magnificent 8: Cavaliers Delos Santos ’69, De Veyra ’70, Aglipay ’71, Delos Reyes ’71, Flores ’72, Lorenzana ’73, Querol ’73, and Piano ’78.

As of 2020, ninety members [90] of PMA Class 1971 are still living. Twenty-one already passed away. The latest deaths were Ariel Domingo in 2012, Runes, Galvez in 2013, Navida in 2016, and Lim and Lumang in 2018. Sixty-six live in the Philippines, 17 in the US, two in Canada, and two in Australia. While many are enjoying retirement, a few Matatags [Alano, Fabros, and Brazal] did running in marathons, trekking, mountain climbing, and long-distance walking, as long as their knees could hold up. Brazal became the most traveled alumnus of the Academy having visited more than 90 countries.

PMA ’71 is leaving behind a unique-great-life-story’s legacy. It tells of how military careers evolve and end, how rebels are created and how a single class can produce two senators, two ambassadors, 45 generals, more than 475 medals for exemplary service, successful government officials, technocrats and entrepreneurs.

The bright star is shining! Then. Now. And forever.

         

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