I’m not the warrior type. I do not find weapons an endearing bedside companion. My sense of courage does not go near or beyond a mindless bunjee jump. It took me awhile to psychologically heal from my comparative anatomy classes back in college. Blood for me is best taken in metaphorical form than something that is spewed with bits of bone and guts and some unrecognizably severed body part.
Just the thought of spending a day or two in a decrepit foxhole—without a book, or pen and paper—while the enemy unleashes a barrage of mortar shells a few inches from where I’m surely close to fainting makes me want to, well, faint.
Although it will take a whole damn lot to force me to tuck tail and run, no, I can never be a soldier by any stretch of the imagination.
Soldiering requires a special kind of man (and woman). Besides, I’m irreparably flatfooted and overweight, enough to exempt me from CAT and ROTC classes when I was a student.
Hence I felt relieved at seeing young and spritely PMA cadets at the Philippine Military Academy homecoming bash march proudly in their uniforms. These men and women are a sight to behold. Their faces augur a vision of discipline rarely seen in those who feign it for reasons insane.
I have been told stories of how PMA graduates, barely out of PMA grounds, engage rebels in armed combat in Mindanao. Many young, idealistic lives were snuffed in those encounters, both rebel and soldier, enough to turn the soil red for decades.
The recent congressional hearing on the alleged corruption in the military is a very sad development. I wonder, seriously, how these young soldiers are taking it.
Many of them, it’s safe to assume, entered the academy with high hopes, undoubtedly. Probably a substantial number of cadets thought of being the avenue of change in a society that’s degenerating by the minute, until they’re faced with the charge that some of their superiors are allegedly crooks. Their hardcore sense of kinship with each other probably makes them feel guilty, too. And that’s sadder than sad.
Although it may be true that the silence of the generals on the issue is deafening, the tacit grit being displayed by these young soldiers are even more. Theirs is a compliance to tradition that is most praiseworthy, but only when the same is seen in their superiors. Any display of unfair advantage could force a break in the ranks.
Virtually estranged and left without so much as a say in the controversy, these young soldiers are now faced with a dilemma bigger than their own training could hold: what to do now?
If they speak, they will be branded as insubordinates, traitors to the code of honor by which they were weaned. If they stay mum and let the storm pass, they could be branded as corroborators to a crime that is national in scope.
Caught unwittingly in the crosshairs of a controversy, they are left with little choice but to stand and watch as a storm unfolds not even their guns could stop. That is dire helplessness if I ever saw one.
A young soldier’s pride is all that’s left as he or she grapples for ways to answer, in the still of the night, impossible questions. You see, in the final analysis, each soldier is left in the swelling squall of his or her individual thoughts. In this realm of the mind, no tradition, good or bad, takes precedence; only a sense of survival and the very human need for answers. Demoralization doesn’t even come close to describing what they are thinking and feeling at the moment.
One can only hazard a guess.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the chief editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.