GMA TELLS 324 PMA GRADS TO STAY LOYAL TO CONSTITUTION

[PHOTO AT LEFT - PHILIPPINE MILITARY ACADEMY GRADUATION RITES. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presents the Presidential Saber to Philippine Military Academy (PMA) topnotcher Cadet 1st Class Ariel Toledo during graduation rites Saturday, March 25, 2006, at Fort Del Pilar, Baguio City. Looking on are PMA Supt. Brig. Gen. Leopoldo Maligalig (standing, left), and Vice President Noli de Castro. (Ramon I. Samson)]

FORT DEL PILAR, BAGUIO CITY, March 27, 2006 (BULLETIN) By MIKE GUIMBATAN JR. & GENALYN - KABILING - GMA vows military reforms. Stresses commitment to duty at rites.

President Arroyo yesterday reminded 324 newly commissioned second lieutenants and navy ensigns composing the 2006 graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) to remain loyal and focused in their work as she vowed to sustain military reforms along with political and economic reforms.

The President directed the graduating Mandala class to remain loyal and committed in crushing the enemies of the state such as the outmoded communist ideology and the terrorist extremists.

She exhorted the young officers to maintain focus in their work and keep off politics as she will work out military reforms to support them.

"Our officers deserve the embrace of the nation and I also embrace you today. But you need more than embrace. You need guns that work, shelter for your family and an undivided focus on security concerns not political intrigue," the President said as she tasked Defense Secretary Cruz to pursue the roadmap of reforms in the military.

"While you are waging war against the enemies of the state, I am waging war against the war on poverty," the Chief Executive said as she directed the young officers to become partners in making a great nation through political and economic reforms.

But, she lamented that for some of her economic reforms works her popularity suffers.

The President, talking tough on the new military officers, said she would not tolerate soldiers engaged in destabilization moves, adding "people want progress not rerun of the past."

"We cannot keep sweeping disloyalty under the rug. We cannot even allow disloyalty to face the rug with a few pushups. We must sweep disloyalty out of our house once and for all and let the sunshine in," she told the cadets.

Mrs. Arroyo was referring to rebel soldiers who were only forced to do pushups for mounting a series of bloody coup attempts against the Aquino administration in the 1980s. Some of the renegade soldiers involved in those coup plots have been implicated in the foiled power grab against Arroyo last month.

The commander in chief warned the young officers to keep out of politics.

"We owe it to you to keep the temptation of politics out of your reach. I expect you to be loyal to your values, to your nation and to your Constitution. And in return, I will remain steadfast in my loyalty to you and to the cause we all share: the fight for a just, a fair and a stable democracy," she added.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who was present in the graduation rites, explained the President wants to apply harsher punishment on renegade soldiers involved in coup attempts under the military justice system.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. added that punishment for violation of Articles of War also provides imprisonment and discharge from service.

The President in gray suit handed over awards and diplomas to the new military officers in over two hours of graduation ceremony under heavy security following assassination plots and harassment threats by rightists and extremists groups.

Nothing untoward happened as parents, guests and visitors have to undergo a four area check up before finally entering the Borromeo fields grandstand.

The whole PMA compound is saturated with perimeter security, plainclothes security, k-9 guard dogs, and close in security in white barong.

President Arroyo came by 9 a.m. on board the black Presidential Mercedez Benz car with five back-up white Nissan safari and four motorcycle escorts.

After trooping the line with PMA Superintendent Brig. Gen. Leopoldo Maligalig, she climbed the grandstand in a red carpet passing through a parachute makeshift shade where the graduates, their parents, civilian and military professors are seated facing the grandstand.

This was the first graduation arrangement in PMA’s history. Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz declared the graduates’ commission as officers while AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Generoso Senga administered the oath of office to the 324 new officers whereby 179 will join the Philippine Army, 79 the Navy, and 66 the Air Force.

"Mandala," short for "Mandirigmang Dangal ng Lahi" (Warrior Pride of the Race), is someone who dreams of bringing national glory to the Filipino, said Class Valedictorian First Class Cadet Ariel Toledo, 25, who hails from Sitio Lussuac, Sto. Domingo town, Ilocos Sur. Lt. Toledo in his valedictory address reminded his mistah to keep "guard against forces that harm the common good.

The other top nine graduates, two of whom are female, are: Cadets Francis Rosales, Romel Sotero, Ethelbert Kiunisala, Michael Gotong, Amina Abdula, Noah Hernandez, Ermin Soloren, Joe Vergel Flores, and Joy Penaloza.

The class will distinguish itself as the biggest class ever to graduate from the 108-year-old military institution, General Maligalig said.

The Mandala class is also considered as the brightest class because it boasts of having the most magna cum laudes (11) and cum laudes (35).

It has also the most number of female members at 37 with two of them in the Top 10.

Even the President made special attention to the growing female PMA graduates which is already 77 plus the 37.

No bombs were uncovered except for the traditional firing of the 21 Presidential gun salute from 105 howitzers of the premier military institution.

While the soldiers wage war against the enemies of the state, the President also promised to continue to eliminate poverty in the country "to allow you to defend our nation from enemies outside our borders or from transnational global enemies rather than having to contend with enemies from within."

The President in gray suit handed over awards and diplomas to the new military officers in over two hours of graduation ceremony under heavy security following assassination plots and harassment threats by rightists and extremists groups.

Nothing untoward happened as parents, guests, and visitors have to undergo a four area check up before finally entering the Borromeo fields grandstand.

The whole PMA compound is saturated with perimeter security, plainclothes security, k-9 guard dogs, and close in security in white barong.

President Arroyo came by 9 a.m. on board the black Presidential Mercedez Benz car with five back-up white Nissan safari and four motorcycle escorts.

After trooping the line with PMA Superintendent Brig. Gen. Leopoldo Maligalig, she climbed the grandstand in a red carpet passing through a parachute makeshift shade where the graduates, their parents, civilian and military professors are seated facing the grandstand.

This was the first graduation arrangement in PMA’s history. Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz declared the graduates’ commission as officers while AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Generoso Senga administered the oath of office to the 324 new officers whereby 179 will join the Philippine Army, 79 the Navy, and 66 the Air Force.

Ermita said he expects a first female chief of staff of the Armed Forces very soon after the PMA produced more than 100 female officers since nearly a decade ago.

Cadet Ariel Toledo of Sto. Domingo, Ilocos Sur graduated magna cum laude and received the Presidential Saber and the PMA Achievement Award for Academic Excellence.

He also obtained the Philippine Air Force Saber since he will join the military unit afterwards.

The other top nine graduates, two of whom are female, are: Cadets Francis Rosales, Romel Sotero, Ethelbert Kiunisala, Michael Gotong, Amina Abdula, Noah Hernandez, Ermin Soloren, Joe Vergel Flores and Joy Penaloza.

The class will distinguish itself as the biggest class ever to graduate from the 108-year-old military institution, PMA superintendent Brig. Gen. Leopoldo Maligalig said.

The Mandala class is also considered as the brightest class because it boasts of having the most magna cum laudes (11) and cum laudes (35).

It has also the most number of female members at 37 with two of them in the Top 10.

Even the President made special attention to the growing female PMA graduates which is already 77 plus the 37.

No bombs were uncovered except for the traditional firing of the 21 Presidential gun salute from 105 howitzers of the premier military institution.

Among those who attended the PMA commencement rites were Vice President Noli de Castro, Defense Secretary Cruz, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Generoso Senga, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jose Reyes, and Navy chief Vice Admiral Mateo Mayuga.

By GENALYN D. KABILING

President Arroyo yesterday vowed to press ahead with changes in the 1987 Constitution even at the price of her popularity, saying it is a cause worth fighting for.

In a speech at the graduation rites at the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2006 in Baguio City, the President said she is ready to be unpopular to overhaul the political system and drive the country towards the league of First World countries in 20 years.

The President acknowledged that her tough decisions on economic reforms in the past have already sent her popularity to plunge to record lows.

"Political reforms won’t be any easier and my popularity may suffer again but it is another cause worth fighting for," she said amid mounting opposition to government efforts to push people’s initiative in revising the Charter.

"We must have the courage to change our economic system and to overhaul the policies and institutions of government so that our economy works for the poor not just the rich," she added.

Mrs. Arroyo, unfazed by growing public resistance to constitutional reforms, said she would not tolerate any "diversion from the path" towards economic progress and political stability.

"We have a plan to modernize our economy and we will fulfill it. We have a plan to modernize our system of government and we will fulfill it. And we have a plan to reform our military to protect and strengthen our nation and we will fulfill it," she said.

Malacañang also appealed to the President’s political opponents and critics to give a chance the move of barangay leaders to disseminate information and explain the pros and cons of constitutional reforms. "Everyone has been saying that we must listen to the voice of the people.

This is the time to do it. Let us take the debate down to the grassroots and discover their genuine sentiments," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a statement.

Bunye urged the opposition groups to observe the barangay assemblies and "hear for themselves what the people have to say about their destiny."

"For too long, all we have heard are the ranting of pretenders who are just out to grab headlines. We say that the Barangay assemblies are a symbol of democracy at work," he said.

Malacañang has denied it is behind the Charter change initiative through a signature campaign in the barangay level but saw nothing illegal about the move as alleged by some opposition lawmakers.

Bunye said the public must welcome, and not demean or resist, people’s initiative for change and reform. Malacañang and its allies in the House of Representatives are pushing for a people’s initiative to revise the Constitution due to the strong opposition to Charter change in the Senate.

The people’s initiative is one of three modes of revising the Constitution, which may also be done if two houses of Congress convene as a constituent assembly or by electing delegates to a constitutional convention. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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