In the next few days—possibly two weeks—the Philippine Army, the oldest, the largest, and the most dominant major service branch of the AFP, shall have its change of command ceremony. This is usually held at the parade ground of Fort Bonifacio, home of the 80,000-strong Army in Taguig City.
The Philippine Army traces its roots to the Tejeros Convention of March 22, 1897, when members of the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions of the revolution met to establish a republic and create its armed force. The convention elected Artemio Ricarte as captain-general of the Filipino Army.
Let me digress a bit.
Ricarte is considered the “father of the Philippine Army” and served as its commanding general from March 22, 1897 to Jan. 22, 1899. Although lacking presence or charisma, he had a reputation as a vicious and deadly fighter; he adopted the nom de guerre “Vibora” (viper).
Born in Batac, Ilocos Norte, Ricarte graduated from Letran College with a bachelor’s degree and was preparing for a teaching career. Instead he joined the Katipunan in the fight for independence. At one point, he led the attack on a Spanish garrison in San Francisco de Malabon. Ricarte continued the fight for freedom against the new colonizers until he was captured by US forces. In 1901, he and Apolinario Mabini were exiled to Guam. Upon their return, Ricarte refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the United States and was barred from setting foot in the Philippines. In 1903, as a stowaway on a Chinese vessel, he landed in Manila and immediately met with former colleagues for the continuation of the fight for independence. A year later, he was captured by constabulary agents and spent six years in Bilibid Prison. On his release, he again refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the United States and he was deported to Hong Kong.
From Hong Kong, he moved to Yokohama, Japan, where he spent almost 30 years until the start of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. He was flown back to the country and remained here for the rest of the war. Ricarte joined the Japanese forces led by Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita in their retreat to the north. At the age of 78, he died in Ifugao Province on July 31, 1945, from the effects of dysentery.
Some people consider Ricarte a traitor for collaborating with the Japanese. We had people who collaborated with the Spaniards and the Americans while the fight for Philippine independence was still going on, and they are referred to as ilustrados. For Ricarte, the verdict is already in:
• Ricarte’s remains are buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani;
• His home in Batac City is now a historical shrine—the Ricarte National Shrine;
• The Philippine Navy honored him by naming one of its more modern ships, the BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS-37); ironically, it is the Philippine Army, of which he is the founding father, that has failed to honor its patriarch. Not a single major installation of the Army is named after Ricarte, a man who chose exile from his beloved land rather than sign an oath of allegiance to a foreign power. When it comes to our colonial past, many of us have selective memories.
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The “revolving door” of the Army during the last two administrations has produced the following results:
Much has been said about the need for meaningful and lasting reforms in the military organization. But for as long as we operate under a “revolving door” concept of leadership, what we shall get will be temporary, short term, and mainly cosmetic changes that come and go with every variation of command authority.