On wanting to be a hero

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Amelia H. C. Ylagan-125

Corporate Watch

MARCOS-Martial Law
Screen grab from Ferdinand Marcos’s video announcing he had declared Martial Law

Today, Sept. 11, is the 100th birth anniversary of the late dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. That his birthday is grandly celebrated, and his death in exile in 1989 not equally marked, only pathetically shreds the illusive “glory” of Marcos’s life and death. Even his fake World War II medals could not make him a hero.

The Supreme Court has ruled that huge amounts recovered from Marcos bank accounts that a Swiss court transferred to the Philippine government were ill-gotten wealth and will pay for the claims of thousands of alleged victims of human rights violations during the Marcos administration (The Philippine Star, 11.28.2016).

Marcos’s controversial hero’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on Nov. 18, 2016, an astounding 27 years delayed, was reportedly a fulfillment of a campaign vow of President Rodrigo Duterte who admitted being indebted to the late strongman’s daughter, Imee Marcos (The Philippine Star, 09.08.2017).

On a less-honored knoll at the Libingan lies a little-known soldier who was killed in action, in Marcos’s intense war on the Muslim rebels during martial law. A spartan white-washed concrete cross marked with his dog tag simply bearing his name and serial number, date of birth and date of death does not praise him as a hero. Yet in life he had proudly worn a chestful of medals and decorations, and bars of military campaign ribbons as he moved up to his last rank of Lieutenant Colonel until he was killed in action at the young age of 34. He was magnanimous in life and death, and would not have been bothered that a non-hero would claim to be a hero by being buried at the Libingan.

But we who live on do care that our definition of hero is not altered by the usurpation of the honor and glory by those who have compromised and corrupted values and principles for greed and power — for otherwise, we would ourselves have been corrupted. And we worry, that Marcos’s surviving family and friends are trying so hard to reverse history and call him hero. But we shudder more that soldiers and officers who have sworn into the sacred priesthood of the military might not now know what it takes to be a hero.

Why are so many high-profile ex-military men in post-retirement government positions today now tarnishing their image with alleged corruption and other grave misdeeds? It would be a shameful about-face to all they had been taught at the Philippine Military Academy and other preparatory military and police training schools to defile the sworn “Courage, Loyalty and Integrity” and other similarly-worded moral and ethical codes that universally vow “Love of Country and Fellowmen” to the death. Don’t military men want to ultimately be heroes?

A medical doctor-clinical psychologist, wife of a retired general, talked of the psychological qualities and idiosyncrasies of a military man. “A concept of integrity is basic with a military man,” the doctor said. “And always, there is a focus — an objective — as in a military operation.” Even when the objective is dubious or ambiguous, she was asked. “Then comes the military discipline of obedience,” she replied. Is it blind obedience to whoever is the team leader, up the hierarchy to the Commander-in-Chief, the doctor was asked. “Yes, that is the discipline — never to work alone but within a team, and under the direction of the hierarchical leadership.” It seems incompatible for that military mind-set to transplant in the democracies of civilian government service; the doctor was prodded — should retired military men even be appointed to head critical government agencies? By the Inquirer’s count, President Duterte has appointed 59 retired military generals, police directors, admirals and colonels to the Cabinet and other agencies, including government-owned corporations (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 06.27.2017).

“These retired military now in government positions all start out with good intentions, both on their side and on the side of the appointer,” the good doctor said. “Only a few of the appointees turn out to be scalawags, rotten eggs who destroy the image of military after them,” the doctor evidently bristled, being the wife of a retired, honest low-key general of the old school. She repeatedly stressed on the clinical diagnosis of “a neurotic need for recognition” as the debilitating syndrome irreversibly and fatally consuming these wayward ex-military in government. The non-medical doctor suggested to the medical doctor that maybe these ex-military are obsessed with still being heroes, as they have been geared to be as soldiers, but now in the mundane world of money and power that tempts the altruistic military mold.

Perhaps the compulsory retirement age of 56 or 30 years of service (whichever comes later) or optional retirement after 20 years of service, but not to exceed 60 years of age (per Sec. 5 of Presidential Decree No. 1638 as amended by Sec. 2 of P.D. 1650) — is too young for the military to retire from active service.

By that time, they still have a lot of energy and ambition in them to feed the “need for recognition” aka “being a hero” that the clinical psychologist talked about. Hopefully the diagnosis of “neurotic” does not too readily come in the barbaric fight for money and power by their being appointed to civilian posts in government by exploitive political leaders. It is suggested that the retirement age for military personnel be raised to the standard government retirement age of 65.

It is also recommended that studies be actively revived for the redesign and refunding of the military pension plan (from the defunct Retirement and Separation Benefits System) to finally relieve the national government budget from funding payments to military pensioners year after year since about 2010. Pensions would increase every time the salaries of active soldiers are upgraded (

In 2015, monthly pension for about 123,471 military retirees ranged from P11,125.50 to P86,062.50, depending on rank and length of service (CNN Philippines, 05.27.2015).

Finally, can it possibly be incorporated in the “terms of engagement” (hiring contract) of the military, when they are first sworn to active duty that they undertake NOT to be appointed to positions in government maybe until after up to five years from retirement from the military. The underlying reason for this is the often internally emphasized but still un-minded tradition that military personnel who end active duty with the military are not really retired but are on “reserve” status, to be available at any time for a call to active duty again, if emergency in the country has a need for immediate trained-troop augmentation.

Now, that’s what being a hero means — to selflessly be ready and willing to serve the country at any time, without the neurotic need for recognition.

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.