Antonio, Gregorio and Robin

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    ‘To wish that, in his dreams, Robin Padilla comes face to face with Antonio Luna, the latter asking him to explain why he should not be indicted under “Artikulo Uno.”’

    LAST July 30, the Philippine Army Multi-Sectoral Advisory Board (PA MSAB) “elected actor Robin Padilla as its new Strategic Communication (StratCom) Committee Chairperson.”

    This, according to the announcement released by the Philippine Army. The same announcement explained that the StratCom was one of four committees of the MSAB that “collectively works (sic) towards promoting the continuity and sustainability of the Army Transformation Roadmap and encourage shared responsibility in its success.

    “The advisory board” the release continued, “is composed of individuals from the government, non-government, media, business, defense and youth sectors.”

    The release did not explain why Padilla, who joined the Army as a reservist, was chosen for the position. Could it be due to his numerous action movies where he displayed prowess as a courageous fighter for the less fortunate? But Padilla is no longer active in the movies and it is debatable if he can still draw crowds to the box office these days the way he could in his prime. Then again perhaps if he co-stars with Philip Salvador and has Vivian Velez as the leading lady, the 16-million plus Duterte voters could guarantee a mega hit like we’ve never seen before.

    But they’ll need to take time to explain to the youngsters who the lead actors are, and why so many of my generation have fond memories of VV.

    I’m not sure, through, how the ghosts of Antonio Luna and Gregorio del Pilar can rejoice in the naming of Padilla as StratCom head for the Army advisory board. Luna, known for his fiery temper that he unleashed against anyone he deemed working against the interests of the Filipino people, could very well have pounded the table had he been around during the election of Padilla. Complete with Spanish expletives flying out of his mouth, Luna might have dared those who nominated Padilla – or Padilla himself – to a duel, to settle the matter of the latter’s qualifications for the post. Or maybe he would have dared the actor to race against him on a jet ski to the Scarborough or the Panatag Shoal, a dare I suspect the StratCom chairperson would have declined.

    How can we forget that as early as January 2017, Padilla had already defended the claims of the Peoples’ Republic of China on the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal, in a speech during the Filipino Chinese celebrations at SM North Edsa. “‘Yung mga ginagawa pong mga island, hindi pa ‘yan kasalanan ng mga Tsino. Alam po ninyo kung sino ang mga may kasalanan diyan ? ‘Yung mga politico pong nagbenta ng mga lupa para dalhin doon.”

    Again, in 2019, after a Filipino fishing boat was sunk in the disputed area, Padilla, in a Facebook video, was quick to downplay the incident, aping the statement of President Duterte on the matter. He (mistakenly) claimed that China had apologized for the incident, and that since the fishing boat did not sink, the Filipino fishermen were in fact liars.

    He also added that those who were mad at the Chinese should go to the disputed area and fight the Chinese themselves, and not involve the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

    “We will not last a day” against China, he said.

    I thought I could hear the ghost of Gregorio del Pilar stirring. The noise that Antonio Luna was making had woken the boy-general.

    It’s interesting to think of the Army’s MSAB StratCom chairperson side by side with Luna and Del Pilar on this day, and at a time when a generation of young Filipinos need to understand what heroism really means. My father’s generation saw heroism first hand during the period they call the “Occupation,” and the bloody “Liberation” that followed.

    I even remember my maternal grandfather dressed crisply with a side cap decked with medals, always ready to join every Independence Day parade. We would quiz him about his medals and realized that the best way to enrage him was to claim that one of his medals had been given by the enemy.

    My generation saw heroism during the struggle to restore democratic processes, a struggle that led to the assassinations of critics like Ninoy Aquino and Evelio Javier, among others, and the disappearance of countless more, and culminating in what has come to be known as the Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986. (The same EDSA Revolution which sparked similar revolutions behind the Iron Curtain that eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; but I digress.)

    But where have the generations after mine found their heroes, real heroes who gave up their lives so that others could breathe more freely?

    There’s been a dearth of heroes, not counting the frontliners who died battling this pandemic; and I wonder if it is because we have become far too careful and far too insular in our thinking, limiting our outlook to those that are really personal and leaving the public space to those “crazy” enough to poke their fingers into issues that should in fact matter to the citizen.

    And this is the result: an Army Advisory Board StratCom chairperson who wouldn’t stand up to an enemy if it is far more powerful than us, because “we won’t last a day.” I guess that’s not how scripts are written for him; even outgunned he always wins in the end (and gets the girl to boot) and that’s why he always shows courage — on the silver screen at least — to fight no matter the odds. But in real life his persona is otherwise.

    Our Army has won plaudits for its courage against the Spaniards and the Americans and the Japanese and the North Koreans and the Communist Chinese, the VietCong and VietMinh and the CPP-NPA, the MNLF and MILF and homegrown terrorists. Some who had fallen in the process of service had the privilege to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani; many others have just been buried where they fell. But now that the Army is in “transformation” mode, I am moved to both to wish and to wonder:

    To wish that, in his dreams, Robin Padilla comes face to face with Antonio Luna, the latter asking him to explain why he should not be indicted under “Artikulo Uno.”

    And to wonder what kind of transformation its StratCom chairperson (with his strange conception of courage and patriotism) represents?

    Knowing he would die, young Gregorio del Pilar chose to take his last stand at Tirad Pass to buy the revolution some time.

    That is the spirit of the Philippine Army to me. No transformation needed in that.