‘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.