Where have all the women PMA grads gone? | Inquirer News

Where have all the women PMA grads gone?

PMA cadets in Baguio City. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City—They fly attack helicopters, drive tanks and fire high-powered guns.

And they are women—306 of them—who have more impressive credentials than the average college graduate, having been educated not in the city’s major universities but by the country’s male-dominated premier military training school here.


To this day, the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) has admitted 528 female cadets since Republic Act No. 7192, or the Women in Development and Nation Building Act, required it to accept women in 1993.


For the past 21 years, a little more than half of these female cadets passed the PMA’s rigorous physical and academic courses. Among them are the seven original female cadets of PMA “Kalasag-Lahi” Class of 1997, some of whom now serve as officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

For example, Kalasag-Lahi’s Army Maj. Maria Victoria Blancaflor (now Mrs. Agoncillo) is a Gold Cross medalist for helping overrun the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Camp Rajamuda in Pikit town, North Cotabato province, in 2000. She was a tank commander, the first female to take on that duty.

Philippine Air Force Maj. Maria Consuelo Nunag (now Mrs. Castillo), also of Kalasag-Lahi Class, is the first female pilot of the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing. Nunag, in 2013, had been assigned to the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing, piloting a Bell 412 helicopter.

Each time the PMA graduates a female cadet, either a historic record is broken or the academy and the AFP discover new lessons about the modern soldier, said Maj. Agnes Lynette Flores, PMA spokesperson.

During this year’s PMA graduation in March, the members of PMA “Siklab Diwa” Class who were commissioned as officers included 2nd Lt. Kerlyn Asuncion, PMA’s first female adjutant, and 2nd Lt. Emalyn Fernando, the academy’s first female “goat” (the cadet at the bottom of the class performance roster).

Male-oriented training


But take it from one of the original female cadets; what makes the 306 female cadets special is the fact that they endured a male-oriented training system that had taken some years to catch up with the modern world.

Army Maj. Leah Lorenzo (now Mrs. Santiago), the first female cadet to rank among the PMA Top 10 cadets of Kalasag-Lahi Class in 1997, said she was 18 years old when she entered the academy at a time when the concept of a female cadet was resisted by senior male cadets.

Lorenzo, who graduated summa cum laude, was the third top cadet of her class. She spoke about the impact of female soldiers on the AFP during the Regional Summit on Gender and Development that was mounted in Baguio City on March 31.

“I was the first female cadet to pass out at the Borromeo Field. I wanted to quit on the very first day but when they told me that I had to pay P1 million if I [left], I decided to stay,” she said.

The daughter of a police sergeant, Lorenzo said she had eyed a medical degree when she took BS Biology at the University of the Philippines Los Baños in Laguna province.

When the PMA announced that it was opening its doors to female cadets, Lorenzo’s friend faked her signature and applied for the PMA entrance examination on her behalf.

Lorenzo said she received a PMA invitation to take the exam and assumed that the academy invited every woman her age as part of a recruitment drive—until she figured out what her friend had done.

As soon as she was incorporated into the PMA Cadet Corps along with 16 other female cadets, Lorenzo said she realized that they were going through a physical training sequence designed for men.

“At one time, all of us agreed to resign. But our seniors came to their senses and talked to us. And so… the start of better treatment for female cadets,” she said.


New regimen

Lorenzo said the academy designed a new regimen for women. They were also handed key positions in the cadet corps.

“Opening the academy to women in 1993 made the institution realize that the rigid and regimented way of life in the training of military personnel also applies to aspiring female military leaders,” Flores told the Inquirer.

“The PMA had to go through a process of adjustments and transitions,” she said, by remodeling facilities and retooling physical exercises fit for separate genders.

“Surprisingly, the first female cadets, and the rest who followed them, never expected special treatment while they were training. They proceeded just like their male counterparts,” Flores said.

She said the first seven female graduates proved that they could master various military specializations.

But Lorenzo said the real trials took place after graduation.

After receiving her commission, she tried to take a Scout Ranger training course but was barred because the Philippine Army had not yet developed a training curriculum for women combat soldiers.


Combat support

“I was told, ‘We do not train women for combat, they are just for combat support,’” Lorenzo said.

She chose to train in field artillery. “I wanted to train to hone my combat skills because I did not want to die in combat. I had to equip myself,” she said.

She also applied for a jungle war training course in Australia, which drew discussions among Army officials before her application was approved. She finished the course with flying colors.

Lorenzo said the first female graduates of the PMA also became the first female officers of many combat units and many feared that they would not be respected by soldiers in the field.

“During my first days as commanding officer of the 30th Infantry Battalion, I had this feeling that my men would not obey my orders. They did not talk to me,” she said. “I was only 23 years old at the time and the only female in the company.”

Lorenzo said she commanded 81 soldiers, over 60 Moro National Liberation Front integrees and over 200 Citizens Armed Forces Geographic Unit members, which were fielded in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur, and Marawi City.

None of her men died in combat under her leadership, she said.

Act of selflessness

Then one day, an act of selflessness helped Lorenzo gain some respect from her men. She took responsibility for scratches on a military vehicle instead of blaming its driver.

“The soldier who drove the Humvee approached me and thanked me for standing up for him. It was the first time a soldier approached me, talked to me and the first thing he said was, ‘Thank you,’” Lorenzo said.

She said her team had survived a surprise attack while securing a highway traversed by members of the Organization of Islamic Countries. Lorenzo admitted that the firefight scared her and said her reaction was amusing on hindsight: “I was screaming… ‘You are attacking my camp! I am still single! I just broke up with my boyfriend!’”

The first woman to be appointed company commander, Lorenzo was soon the recipient of a Bronze Cross and a Gold Cross.

She is now married to her classmate, Maj. Jerome Santiago of the Air Force.

Two of the original seven graduates spent some years teaching at the PMA: Army

Capt. Arlene Orejana, wife of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, and Navy Lt. Commander Marissa Arlene Andres (now Mrs. Martinez).

Aireen Somera, an “original,” had requested for a disability discharge back in 2007 and is now a Mrs. Reyes.

Sheryl Uy, the seventh original female graduate, suffered a spinal injury in an accident a few months after their 1997 graduation and has settled down to raise a family as Mrs. Cabasan, having been discharged with the rank of captain.

Flores said the PMA was proud of the successes earned by the first seven women graduates and by the women graduates who followed them.

In 1999, the late Navy Lt. Senior Grade Arlene de la Cruz became the first female to top her graduating class, followed by Tara Velasco in 2003 and Andrelee Mojica in 2007.

Female cadets have been part of the Top 10 cadets who graduated from 2008 to 2014, PMA records showed.


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TAGS: Baguio City, PMA, PMA graduates

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