Woman finishes as 6th-ranked cadet at Philippine Military Academy
Janice Matbagan of the Philippine mountain resort of Baguio used to stare out of her window as a child at night and see the beckoning lights of the Philippine Military Academy.
For years she dreamed about studying at the storied institution that turns out the country’s future military leaders. In her teens, however, she chose to study a profession that was attracting a lot of young women: nursing.
But the dream of becoming a military officer resurfaced and, after two years, she dropped nursing to enter the academy.
Matbagan graduated and became a second lieutenant on March 6. And she did it in style – finishing as the Number 6 graduate in the class of 2011. That’s the second-highest a woman has finished at the academy. Arlene Dela Druz graduated Number 1 in the class of 1999.
She chose to enlist in the Air Force, with dreams of becoming a pilot. At the moment she’s waiting for her first assignment.
Matbagan views the military as a calling rather than a profession, she said. “It might sound overly dramatic,” she noted, but serving her country “is a blessing for me.”
Her family was concerned about her choice at first, but quickly threw their support behind her.
One adjustment she and the other cadets in her class had to make is that academies give their charges precious little time for themselves. Their day starts as early as 5:30 a.m. as they line up for breakfast and then inspection. Classes start at 7. After classes end in the afternoon, cadets are off on marches or taking part in rifle drills. In the evening a strict study period is enforced. At 10 p.m., it’s lights off.
The first – or plebe – year is the toughest, from learning how to comport yourself to doing laundry the right way, Matbagan said. Cadets begin practicing leadership their second year, with each sophomore in charge of a plebe. Third-year cadets oversee three or four plebes in a squad.
“You have to be responsible enough to know what’s going on with your squad members,” Matbagan said. “Are they passing their physical exams? Are they maintaining good conduct? You have to know all those things.”
Those who don’t know the 'ins and outs' of the Philippine Military Academy may think it teaches only military skills. The truth is that it teaches an array of academic disciplines plus physical education and character building.
Matbagan said it was the totality of the academy experience that made her a better-rounded person.
It developed her character and leadership skills, for example, she said. It also helped her understand “the importance of excellence,” she said.
“I gained more understanding of people, thus enabling me to deal with them better,” she said.
Matbagan did well in the academy sports program, particularly in long-distance running and in judo. One of her achievements was winning a 10-kilometer run that was part of the Subic International Marathon. She was such a top performer in distance races that the academy asked her to coach other cadets in the marathon.
Matbagan’s sports prowess also led to her receiving the Athletic Saber Award, which recognizes a standout athlete who also has excellent scores in academics, military skills and character.
Another honor that Matbagan earned was the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group Award for top Air Force cadet. The group recognized the top Army and Navy cadets as well.
A third laurel that came Matbagan’s way was the Australian Defense Award for the cadet with the highest scores in core Air Force skills courses.
Twenty years ago Matbagan would not have been admitted to the academy. It was only in 1993 that the institution began accepting women.
Women continue to constitute a fraction of the student body. Matbagan was one of 22 women among the 196 cadets who entered in 2007.
As a newly minted Army officer, Matbagan has viewed with interest -- but not alarm – accusations that top Philippine military leaders received millions of pesos in send-off gifts as they were retiring.
“If an institution doesn’t encounter any challenges, its flaws” will fail to surface, she said. “The way I see it, those issues are like sharpeners that will make the pencil sharper.”
She said the reports of the accusations have made her think about the Honor Code values she learned at the academy: “We, the cadets, do not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate among us those who do.”
Cadets even take their exams without an instructor present, confident none of their classmates will cheat. “I appreciate that kind of system,” Matbagan said. “It’s a good example for everyone to apply in real life.”