Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association
January 23, 2010 at Tent City, Manila Hotel
By W. SyCip

I am deeply honored by your invitation to get together with you today to discuss the subject of “Integrity” which is part of your motto: “courage, integrity and loyalty”. All of you are officers and graduates of the very highly regarded Philippine Military Academy. The subject “Integrity” requires transparency and “full disclosure” of all the facts. I may therefore have to give you a brief statement of my short military career after which you may regret having me with you today.

After graduating from the University of Santo Tomas and passing the CPA Board exams at the age of 18, I found that I had taken my student life too seriously, missing all the fun and yet unable to practice my profession as CPA licenses were issued only at age 21. My father then agreed that I could take further graduate studies at Columbia University in New York. I had completed all requirements for my Ph.D and was working on my dissertation in the Columbia library on the day when Pearl Harbor and Clark Airbase were bombed by the Japanese.

The Japanese armed forces quickly captured Manila and imprisoned my father when he refused to cooperate with their “co-prosperity” movement. To be more involved in the war effort, I joined the Second Philippine Regiment at Camp Cooke, California, which was one of the two Infantry regiments in the U.S. Army that were identified for the day when the U.S. would return to the Philippines. After completing 3 months of basic training, we were all interviewed. Since I had the advantage of a better academic background and the highest IQ score in the Regiment, I was told that the military was short of people for intelligence work. I was quickly transferred to a University in Denver for eight months of Japanese language school followed by a cryptography school in Virginia. Eventually I found myself in an Airforce unit in India working on Japanese airforce codes in the China-Burma-India Theater. On V-J, or Victory over Japan day, all messages stopped when Japan surrendered. A few of us were asked whether we would like to extend our military career and be sent to officer training school. I don’t think there were any volunteers as we were all anxious to return to our homes. My father had lost a lot of weight but was fortunately alive. He was taught how to plant mongo beans in the Muntinlupa prison by Senator Salonga who was his prison mate.

So here I am, a former Staff Sergeant, having the privilege of addressing the top officers of the Philippine Armed Forces!!

My introduction to the activities of PMA was a few issues of your magazine “The Cavalier” – and from newspaper articles about the role of the Philippine Army in trying to maintain peace and order with the NPA and Mindanao problems.

Your letter had asked me to talk about how SGV, the firm I founded in 1946, has been able to maintain its integrity over the past 64 years. Your PMA is over a hundred years old. I am therefore not sure that my comments will be of use to you.

I retired from SGV 14 years ago and I no longer have any equity interest in the firm. I would, of course, still be very concerned about the professionalism and integrity of the firm that I founded and that still carries my name.

I started the firm with one clerk – I was the senior partner, the junior auditor and the janitor! From the beginning I was convinced that the success of any organization would have to depend on the quality of its people. While I was still single, I assured all the university graduates that I was interviewing that none of my family will be in the firm. I did not want the prospective staff to feel that I intend to build a family empire. All the bright students were told that progress of the individual within the firm will be based on performance.

Like PMA, we had strict and rigid rules in accepting applicants. Many of the bright graduates are from poor families and have done well in public schools, inspite of our declining educational standards.

SGV is known for its tough training programs, and these training continues throughout their stay in the firm. Our job is to increase the assets and decrease the liabilities of every person during their career with SGV.

During my 50 years with SGV, there was not a single case of anyone asking me to promote a staff or moving someone into partnership. Everyone accepted the fact that every movement upward was based on the performance of the individual. There was only one occasion where I had to dismiss a partner. He had failed to keep appointments with the client because he was seeing a girlfriend and had not been honest with the firm.

At SGV we always believe that leadership has to set the example. I told the partners that they don’t have to ask the staff to show up on time at 8:00 a.m. if they arrive at the office at 7:30 a.m. However, if the partner plays golf and not show up till 9:30 a.m. the staff will, of course, follow his example and be late at the office.

Through the years many of our very competent partners have been drafted into important government positions including many members of the Cabinet. We have a rule that such partners should not return to the firm as we did not want the public to feel that we are putting our partners into the government in order to have an inside track of government activities.

I was therefore mildly shocked when I learned that in the Armed Forces before a person can be promoted to be a colonel his promotion had to be approved by the Commission on Appointments in Congress. It is also my understanding that every subsequent promotion also had to pass through the Commission. Is this the ideal structure for an Army where discipline, loyalty, and integrity are essential to maintain an efficient fighting force?

In any organization, it is essential that you motivate people. Better performance should be rewarded by faster promotion and financial rewards. I note that all your members are identified by being a member of the class when you graduate. While the identification by graduating class may promote cohesiveness, is this divisive relative to the whole organization? Does this prevent the rapid promotion of younger talented people of later classes? Is it proper for key government officials to be a member of a particular class?

In an article in your magazine, I note the following paragraph:
“A PMAer may be absolutely loyal to the Constitution, but would that loyalty at all times prevail over the personal loyalty demanded by military and civilian superiors whose loyalty is not to themselves? A PMAer may have a very high sense of honor, but can he impose his integrity on others, say corrupt superiors? Can the PMAer keep his courage, integrity and loyalty intact, by just ignoring betrayals, corruption, electoral fraud and other forms of misconduct swirling around him or her?” I think you can answer these questions better than an outsider like myself!

I was pleased to read the article in your July-August 2009 Cavalier:
“If we have neglected to build a respectable air defense capability, the main reason was the failure of our leaders to give it top priority. We had an AFP Modernization Plan that was revised many times. Billions of pesos from the proceeds of the sale of part of Fort Bonifacio were supposed to finance the AFP Modernization Plan to include modernizing the air defense capability of the PAF. Until now many are wondering where the money went and why we do not have a modernized AFP. It is a topic that needs to be fully explained by our leaders to the present and future members of the AFP in particular, and the Filipino people in general.”

We in the civilian world are also at a loss as to what happened to the P7 billion proceeds from the sale of property at Ft. Bonifacio for the modernization of the Armed Forces.

You are much more aware of the so called “Comptroller mafias”. What surprised me was how many of the PMA graduates were aware of this practice and accepted the rather unusual procedure which were supposed to overcome red tape but was at the same time opening the doors to corruption.

We who are in the private sector wonder about the rapid changes in the military leadership. In the private sector, we will not have CEOs with one or two year terms if we want reforms or proper planning for the future. Is it possible to carry out reforms in an organization as large as the Armed Forces when there is such rapid changes in the leadership?

Sixty years ago most observers of Asia thought that the Philippines will be, next to Japan, the leading country in East Asia as we had two assets — democracy and Christianity. Why are we now one of the worst performers in the region?

In February of 1987, when freedom in the Philippines had been won with what the world would know as “People Power”, Rafael Salas was keynote speaker at the district meeting of Rotary Clubs in Manila. In a speech that one Rotarian referred to as the best SONA he had ever heard, Rafael spoke on “Managing the Aftermath”. Let me read to you part of what he said:
“But this freedom cannot be fully exercised unless there is order. Governments are instituted to insure peace, stability and continuity; to enable the citizens to plan their future and insure the survival and growth of their children. The resumption of hostilities with the NPA and the constant threat of rebellion in Mindanao and a very high incidence of crime are pointers of the lack of order I speak of. Insecurity stifles productivity. No long-term investment and high productivity can be encouraged when businessmen feel uncertain and insecure. The administration has exerted a sincere effort to resolve these problems. But time presses. Order must prevail. A free society cannot be mobilized for development unless there is a feeling of safety and confidence in the future.”

It seems that 23 years later we are faced with the same problem. The large number of private armies with unlicensed guns all over the country scares many visitors and our own people. Our being ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in East Asia scares much needed foreign investment.

You often hear comments blaming the Armed Forces and the Police force for the high incidence of crime. I tend to disagree.

In studying the Philippine problem and comparing our situation with our neighbor countries, it is clear to me that our political structure favors the solution of short term problems ending with a ribbon cutting event before the end of the politician’s term of office. The government – and also many in the private sector – refuse to adopt long term solutions to the root of our problem which is poverty!

The Asian Development Bank just released a report pointing out that the Philippines and India, who claim to be democracies, lag behind East Asian countries in reducing poverty. China and Vietnam, both authoritarian states, are the two countries that have rapidly reduced poverty. Are there lessons to be learned here?

To solve poverty requires long term planning. There is perfect correlation between poverty and education. An illiterate is almost always poor – our high dropout rate and the declining standards of education is the most serious of our many national problems.

I would rank the cost of credit for the poor and the lack of rural health facilities as the two other factors that we must take into account to reduce poverty.

Until we solve the problem of poverty, it may be unfair to expect the Army and the Police to solve our peace and order problem.

Your answers to the questions I have raised may help in improving integrity and loyalty in the Armed Forces.

There are countless cases where courage has been demonstrated by you and your men – and here, the private sector may learn from you: how to speak out courageously even if it may affect adversely their business interest!