Command Responsibility

Published September 30, 2019, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Ambassador  José Abeto  Zaide
Ambassador José Abeto Zaide

In the Gallic War, Julius Caesar resigned a batch of maverick Roman legionaires with one word, “Cives!” With one word, he decommissioned them from “soldiers” to “citizens.”

* * *

Fort Del Pilar of the Philippine Military Academy is convulsed by the death of 4th class cadet Darwin Dormitorio  —  a heart attack casualty from internal bleeding caused by blunt force. He was the son of retired Col. William Dormitorio, of PMA Class 1974. Three other PMA cadets are said to be in hospital recovering from hazing.

This is the second fatality attributed to hazing since the enactment of anti-hazing laws in 1995. In March, 2001, 4th class cadet Edward Domingo collapsed unconscious and was pronounced dead at the PMA station hospital. Two cadets were charged with homicide for his death and were sentenced by the Baguio Regional Trial Court to 12 years’ imprisonment. There have been other fatal hazing cases. But until the introduction of anti-hazing laws, dismissal was the only penalty meted out.

* * *

A question of honor.  The PMA superintendent Lt. Gen. Ronnie Evangelista resigned his post in the aftermath of Dormitorio’s demise.  Gen. Evamgelista’s valedictory: “In the military tradition of command responsibility, it is now the proper time for me as head of this institution, together with the Commandant of Cadets, to relinquish our respective positions. I did not leave my post in the midst of crisis. I faced the problem squarely and we have finished the investigation. As I resign my post, it is now up to the proper authority to decide on the finality of the case.” The Commandant of Cadets, Brig. Gen. Bartolome V. Bacarro, also joined in removing himself from office.

The list of other accountable officers who also resigned at PMA goes on: Lt. Col. Caesar Candelaria, commanding officer of the Station Hospital; Capt. Jeffrey Batistiana, tactical officer of Dormitorio’s unit; and the physician who attended to Dormitorio. Four upperclassmen were dismissed from the PMA  —  two squadmates of Dormitorio for “direct participation,” the squad leader for “command responsibility,” and a graduating cadet for “encouraging maltreatment.” Suspended were Dormitorio’s platoon leader and commanding officer, both 1st class cadets. A floor inspector, also a 1st class cadet, was served demerits and confinement.

General Evangelista and General Bacarro are products of our Philippine Military Academy.  When they entered the academy as neophytes, they went through the same rituals and survived the grind.  Now as the senior officials at the PMA, they find themselves impaled with responsibility for the tragic death of Cadet Dormitorio.    The system has failed and caused the tragic death of one who would have been a fine officer. General Evangelista will be retiring in a couple of months and General Baccaro is a decorated officer.  But in military speak, they were invested with “command responsibility,”  That is a compound word which is difficult for those of us who are not in uniform to comprehend: Dormitorio’s death is not on their hands; but it happened during their watch.  They are responsible for what happened under their stewardship.

* * *

There is no civilian word which translates or can well give the full dimension of “command responsibility.”  It goes beyond Webster’s translation; and I am afraid we have not digested its meaning. We, who hide behind the courage of fighting men, do not all understand its full measure. It covers a domain that is different from our universe.  It is for those who would march to the beat of the drum “that would make the dead fall in line.”

There are voices who want to reform the military and the PMA and to observe the civilian code of conduct. But that would entail a different armed forces and inject a different culture.

I remember we had two classmates who entered the Philippine Military Academy; who were both honorably discharged  —  Egay Velasco and Ding Camua.  The two worthies were scions of military officers with distinguished career  Before entering PMA, both Egay and Ding were members of our Blue Eagles juniors varsity team.  Egay now walks with a limp, a red badge of courage from his initiation at PMA.  The two do not speak much of the initiation or their joys and tribulations at the academy; but they are both enrolled members of their PMA graduating class.

I hold no brief for the cabal, nor do I presume to know a suitable replacement phrase that will hold up the camaraderie and brotherhood of fighting men. It is presumptuous for a civilian to suggest a replacement honors code to replace the one for our men in uniform.  Only the PMA can come up with one for its own.

FEEDBACK: [email protected]