Training under a military program for around three years was no easy task.
My Saturdays and summer breaks were filled with 10-hour long training sessions doing drills and exercises and learning about the air force. I would go back home with an empty stomach, an aching body, and low morale. With such conditions, I still would have to write papers for the succeeding session. It was a lot to take in, especially during my years in junior high school. However, as cadets, we were trained to endure and to be resilient amid hardships, so I didn’t complain.
Back then, I was only allowed to share my experiences with my fellow cadets as there was an ongoing rule that enforced us not to disclose what happens inside the program to anyone uninvolved. As a result, I had no way to gain an external perspective about how the program treated its cadets. Like many others who were focused instead on the accessories on our uniform and on our pencil rifles, we didn’t really see what was going on.
Not until a few years after I retired from the program did I get to share my experiences with other people. After hearing what others had to say, I was dumbfounded. I didn’t realize that I allowed myself to be in a toxic and counterproductive environment. I thought that the intense training was a way for me to grow as a person; I failed to realize that it only promoted power tripping, intimidation, and derogation of morale.
Among the practices that we observed which made no sense was having to drink salty water to energize us and to give us a more “masculine” demeanor. Through these, I slowly became a puppet. My military officers shaped me into a person I never wanted myself to be. To them, that was military training.
While I do understand that soldiers should be strictly disciplined, forming their characters should be done through sensible and humane means. There should be a regulation of power that can be exercised in campus military programs especially as the cadets are still students. If the goal is to instill discipline, then why is it that students come out of the program scarred and uneasy instead?
Although there was an option to leave the program, I was afraid I’d be seen as a failure. If ever I did decide to quit, my younger self wouldn’t have been able to withstand the emotional gaslighting and shaming I would get from the officers. I already wasn’t the most prominent and most skilled cadet; I found no sense in possibly adding more burden to myself by getting into trouble.
Being stuck in the program definitely hindered me from exploring other student organizations and other undiscovered interests. Even though I wasn’t passionate about military training, it became my main priority because I was afraid to get punished. Sometimes, I wonder about the things I could have done if I dedicated those three years to a real passion I had. I felt like I missed out on so much and I’m now trying to catch up.
Thankfully, years after retiring from the program, I can now see myself in a position where I would be content with my future plans. I got to develop the assets I deem important for my self-development, fully becoming the person I know I want to be. Now, I am no longer someone else’s puppet.
I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with my old fears anymore. But when people started filing for candidacy for the 2022 national elections, I became afraid. When I heard the news about Sen. Ping Lacson and Sen. Bato dela Rosa—two former Philippine National Police chiefs—filing for the presidency, I remember thinking that it was now impossible to escape tyrannical rule even after Duterte steps down. The thought of what might happen if they gained such power scared me. I didn’t want the kind of environment I witnessed back then to be the reality of Filipinos on a national scale—an environment that cultivates corruption, homophobia, and abuse.
Although Dela Rosa had dropped from the race, that isn’t an assurance that we would be in the clear already. Especially with vice presidential candidate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio pushing for mandatory military service for the youth, this obsession with such a culture is still very much strong. Her justification for such a proposal is misguided, which is nothing short of alarming as usual.
I may not share the same sentiments with other people who were in the same program as I, but I want to speak out and let others know of such realities. We cannot put these people who were shaped in environments similar to mine to be in power. There have been numerous victims already—and enough is enough.
I never got the chance to speak about how I felt back then. But I no longer allow myself to be governed by nonsensical rules and power tripping. I may have said my piece, but the work is yet to start. As long as people like my then-officers continue to be trained into the same oppressive patriarchs, we cannot be at ease.