‘Oath of the new Katipuneros’

I was there once or twice many years ago. There, were courage, loyalty and integrity are inculcated and carved into the being of the very few and the very privileged people who will someday defend the territorial integrity and political independence of my beloved Philippines. I mean, the Philippine Military Academy.

I really have no idea how life as a cadet is lived in the PMA, although the movie Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick), the HBO series Band of Brothers, and my experience as a son of a strict father and as an ex-seminarian give me a glimpse.

There is a unique sense of pride of being a part or having been part of an organization people look up to and consider elite. On your shoulders lies the responsibility of living the ideals that reflect the nobility and the tenacity of the human spirit.

I look up to the men and women who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy. They are very proud people whose “upbringing” is to make the country and its people safe from harm, and their motto says it all: courage, integrity and loyalty.

The oath of the new Katipuneros

1. I am willing to lay down my life in the pursuit of the Vision
2. I will be loyal always to the National Interest
3. I am willing to be a catalyst of change of an oppressive and unjust society into one that advocates equality and social justice
4. I will respect human rights
5. I will not commit any acts of corruption
6. I will live a modest life commensurate to my legal means
7. I am willing to be punished should I betray any decree of this oath
8. I am doing this supreme act of sacrifice for God, Country and People with no promise of reward, compensation or recognition

There is the Magdalo group whose leader Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is still incarcerated. He was later joined by General Danilo Lim–the two walked out from Makati Regional Trial Court all the way to Manila Peninsula Hotel. I called them The free people in jail.

But before the Magdalo group, there is another less known PMA graduate who laid down his life for his country–Philip Andrew Pestaño.

I heard about him only through an email that was forwarded to me. The email says:

Philip Pestano Memorial
Justice at 3 A.M.
by Fr. James B. Reuter, S.J.

*Note: This is the e-mail prayer brigade initiated by Fr. Reuter for Phillip.

Phillip Andrew A. Pestaño graduated from the Ateneo de Manila High School in 1989, entered the Philippine Military Academy, and became an Ensign in the Philippine Navy in 1993. He was assigned as cargo master, on a Navy ship.

He discovered that the cargo being loaded onto his vessel included logs that were cut down illegally, were carried to the ship illegally, and were destined to be sold, illegally. Then there were 50 sacks of flour, which were not flour, but shabu – worth billions. Literally, billions. And there were military weapons which were destined for sale to the Abu Sayyaf. He felt that he could not approve this cargo. Superior officers came to him and said: “Please! Be reasonable! This is big business. It involves many important people. Approve this cargo.” But Phillip could not, in conscience, sign approval.

Then his parents received two phone calls, saying: “Get your son off that ship! He is going to be killed!” When Phillip was given leave at home, his family begged him not to go back. Their efforts at persuasion continued until his last night at home, when Phillip was already in bed. His father came to him and said: “Please, son, resign your commission. Give up your military career. Don’t go back. We want you alive. If you go back to that ship, it will be the end of you!” But Phillip said to his father: “Kawawa ang bayan!” And he went back to the ship.

The scheduled trip was very brief – from Cavite to Roxas Boulevard – it usually took only 45 minutes. But on September 27, 1995, it took one hour and a half. When the ship arrived at Roxas Boulevard, Ensign Pestaño was dead. The body was in his stateroom, with a pistol, and a letter saying that he was committing suicide. The family realized at once that the letter was forged. They tried desperately for justice, carrying the case right up to the Senate. The Senatorial Investigation Committee examined all the evidence, carefully. Then they issued an official statement, saying among other things: Ensign Phillip Pestaño did not commit suicide. He was murdered. He was shot through the head, somewhere outside of his stateroom, and the body was carried to his room and placed in the bed. The crime was committed by more than one person. In spite of these findings by the Senate, the family could not get justice. The case is still recorded, by the Navy, as suicide. For 12 years they have been knocking at the doors of those in power, to no avail. Now they realize that they should knock on the door of HIM who said: “Knock, and it shall be opened to you. Ask and you shall receive. Seek, and you shall find.”

Phillip Pestaño died at the age of 24. He was scheduled to be married in January of 1996, four months after he was murdered.

In these people lie the contradiction of hope and despair. The Magdalo group has no more hope for the corrupt military leadership sanctioned by the Arroyo Administration to become clean. So the members initiated the bold move. Yet, they are also hopeful that this country will someday have a great military and an exemplary leader, the same reason why they initiated the bold move.

The PMA will continue to produce the men and women who are changing this country. The new graduates will correct and straighten the obnoxious ways of the fellow alumni who made it possible for elections to be defrauded, public funds to be used for personal pleasures, and make a business out of the misery of people trapped in a war zone or addicted to drugs.

3 thoughts on “‘Oath of the new Katipuneros’

  1. MANILA, Philippines – When the Ombudsman reversed last week her predecessor’s ruling dismissing the case against 10 Navy officers and charging them with murder in the supposed suicide of Philip Pestano 15 years ago, many hoped such reversal would finally unravel the truth.

    After all, Pestano’s family had maintained all these years the young Navy officer was shot dead–he didn’t shoot himself in the temple as an official report had claimed–because he was going to blow the whistle on contraband being loaded onto navy boats.

    On Wednesday, however, the 10 Navy officers implicated in the case of Pestano, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1993, turned the tables on the latter’s three classmates and the head of a medical corps for alleged cover-up and tampering of evidence in the alleged suicide of the young officer.

    Pestano’s lifeless body was found on September 27, 1995 inside his cabin aboard the BRP Bacolod City, with a bullet hole in the head.

    In a three-page complaint dated January 23, 2011 lodged before the office of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Jessie Dellosa, the officers accused Lt. Col. Felix Tayo of the Medical Corps and Cdrs. Joselito De Guzman and Romulo Vigilancia, both classmates of Pestano, of Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman, Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline, and Conduct Bringing Discredit Upon the Military Service.

    Earlier, in a 21-page decision dated January 10, 2010, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales believed there was “presence of conspiracy” to commit murder against Pestano after reviewing the evidence that led her to overturn the decision of her predecessor, Merceditas Gutierrez, dismissing the murder case filed by Pestano’s parents.

    Morales then ordered the filing of murder charges against Capt. Ricardo Ordonez, Lt. Cdr. Ruben Roque, Petty Officer 1st Class Carlito Amoroso and Petty Officer 2nd Class Mil Leonor Igcasan, all retired; and Commander Reynaldo Lopez and Lt. Cdr. Luidegar Casis, both of PMA Class of 1992; Lt. Cdrs. Alfrederick Alba Joselito Colico, of PMA Class of 1994; Hospital Man 2 Welmenio Aquino; and Machinery Repairman 2 Sandy Miranda, all still in active service.

    Their case landed at the Sandiganbayan 3rd Division.

    On January 24 2012, the officers filed an eight-page motion to quash by contesting some evidence presented in the murder case, particularly the alleged two gunshot wounds that Pestano sustained in the head.

    “There is only one gunshot wound self-inflicted by the deceased. The bullet entered the right temple and exited in the left side of the head. The exit wound is not considered another gunshot wound. This statement in the Information is misleading and deliberately deceiving. Thus, on this score alone, the Information should be quashed and the case should be dismissed,” they averred.

    Ordonez first broke his silence and insisted the Pestano case was suicide and linked his death to a problem about his relationship with women then, especially when one of his girlfriends, Djoanna Grace Yasay, filed an administrative complaint against him before the Philippine Fleet for breach of promise to marry which is punishable under the Articles of War.

    He was then the commander of the BRP Bacolod City.

    The six active officers were held in custody so they can voice out their side in accordance with military rules and regulations.

    As to the complaint they filed before the Office of the Chief of Staff, the officers claimed that Tayo, De Guzman and Vigilancia “willfully and deliberately acted and still continuously act in conspiracy with one another to cover up the real cause of the death of Pestano…” at their expense.

    They claimed that the complaint filed against Pestano could have pestered him as evidently showed by his suicidal tendencies before he committed suicide such as cutting his pulse on the wrist, hallucinating in broad daylight and even sleep-walking.

    “The unbearable problem of Pestano at the time he committed suicide is the administrative complaint filed against him by his first girlfriend because his rich parents, particularly his father, Felipe, also known as Don Pepe, do not approve of her religious beliefs. Pestano, being a dutiful son, obeyed his parents, broke with Ms. Yasay and entered into a relationship with another woman named Joann Doxi-Lim, whom his parents favor,” the officers claimed.

    They claimed Don Pepe allegedly “used influence, money, connections and vast resources” to ventilate the case of his son.

    “He was heard saying that he will not stop until the Navy officers pay with their own lives,” they said.

    “Don Pepe is a contractor/supplier of the Philippine Navy. He is a golfing buddy of ranking military and government officials. The Directors of his company (Philipp Sanctuary) are all Navy officers, namely: Magsino, Viola, Mendoza, Carlos, Togonon, Marcelo, Zuria, Ventura, Mulane and Galutera.”

    Before the alleged suicide, on Sept. 10, the officers claimed Pestano deliberately slashed his wrist “in an attempt to commit suicide.”

    “Two of his (Pestano’s) classmates, Ensigns Joselito De Guzman and Robert Clement Bosch, who were aware of his depressive mood took him from the BRP Bacolod City and brought him to Camp Navarro General Hospital in Southcom (Southern Command). Pestano’s wound was treated and sutured by Lt. Col. Felix Tayo assisted by nurse Mercy Cando. Thereafter he was referred to Lt. Col. Jose Del Rosario, a neuro psychiatrist and psychologist for examination.”

    They said De Guzman and Bosch did not inform Ordonez about Pestano’s medical treatment and neither did Del Rosario; Del Rosario also “did not recommend Pestano’s confinement to the hospital for his suicidal tendencies…”

    Bosch had availed an early retirement and was honorably discharged sometime after the Pestano’s death. He is reportedly living now in the United States.

    As to the possible culpability of Vigilancia, the officers alleged that after the suicide he “boarded the ship [and] took away Pestano’s two pillows which had blood and bone fragments.”

    “These pillows likewise contained illegal drugs belonging to Pestano for his personal use. Pestano confided to Ensign Alvin Parrone that he had taken drugs before going to bed on the night when he was observed to be sleep-walking.”

    Parrone died a year or so after Pestano’s death.

    Ensign Edwin Vigilar, another classmate of Pestano, “was the first person to board the ship and took Pestano’s body to the morgue,” and, “was the one who washed Pestano’s body and scrubbed his hands to remove the gunpowder residue.”

    Vigilar, also availed of early retirement and was honorably discharged from the service, and now reportedly lives in Canada. He is the son of former public works and highways secretary Gregorio Vigilar.

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