Friday, July 23, 2010


We can still vividly recall the citation that earned newly-appointed Philippine Army chief Maj. Gen. Arturo Ortiz the Medal of Valor in 1990.

He led a Special Forces company on a daring assault at a New People’s Army (NPA) camp in Murcia, Negros Occidental. Even after months of intensive training, the military does not consider them “graduates” until they carry out a successful attack. That was the case for the 606th SF Company in April 1989.

We were then covering the military for the Philippine Star.

To illustrate the kind of training they get, we witnessed on several occasions a favorite drill at rites marking the completion of a training class. A soldier would bite a stick holding a small balloon inches from his face while his “buddy” would pop it with an M-14 rifle from about 50 paces. This taught them trust and teamwork, their officers told us, not to mention of course, the imperative of shooting straight (because they would stay in the jungle for weeks on end, SF soldiers can not carry too much ammunition, and so must make each bullet count).

Then Capt. Ortiz got wind the NPAs were holding their own graduation ceremonies for new cadres at the Murcia camp.

According to the Army account, a frontal attack was ruled out – not only were Ortiz’s troops outnumbered two-to-one but the approaches were well protected with trenches and booby-traps. The NPA chose to build their camp at that spot precisely because it appeared impregnable – the only place they didn’t guard was the cliff behind the camp. They believed – it turned out mistakenly – no one in his right mind would attack from there.

Ortiz, aided by newly trained militia in the 606th, found a route, crawled their way around the rebel camp and to the base of the cliff and slowly scaled it until they could launch a dawn assault that completely surprised the NPAs, killing 85 of them and seizing over 50 high-powered firearms – even today, one of the most audacious military operation in the annals of the Philippine Army.

It may be just coincidence – President Corazon Aquino gave the Medal of Valor to then Capt. Ortiz, and now her son, President Noynoy Aquino has appointed Gen. Ortiz to lead the 80,000-man Philippine Army.

And it was during the turn-over ceremonies at Fort Bonifacio that P-Noy promised soldiers an end to the “bata-bata” and “padrino system” in the military.

He seemed to strike a raw nerve about this apparent flaw among Filipinos – the penchant to cut corners, to take the short-cut, to compromise and strike deals – which has put us repeatedly in hot water.

The recent decision of the US Federation of State Boards for Physical Therapy (FSBPT) to suspend licensure examinations for graduates from the Philippines, India, Egypt and Pakistan has cast, once more, an unflattering eye on cheating in our shores.

Cheating comes in many forms – to deceive, dishonesty, to mislead, elude, to wantonly violate rules.

The FSBPT cited the 2007 raid against the St. Louis Review Center in Manila to buttress their allegations of cheating (they have been reluctant to grant us an interview) although they haven’t really detailed how they arrived at their conclusions.

They alluded to past NPTE test-takers memorizing questions then sharing them with the review center.

Everyone feels the urge to cheat. English playwright Susannah Centlivre observed “man cheats in his own way, and he is only honest who is not discovered.”

We concede this prodigious feat, repeated and filtered from so many past examinees, could enable someone to reconstruct the entire test. All it needs is time and an army of co-conspirators with above-average memory. A tall order, yes, but within the realm of possibility.

But that leads us to the question we posed to healthcare executive Eileen DeCesare, if the FSBPT was so concerned about a leak in the NPTE, why didn’t they mix up questions like what they do for US nursing licensure examinations? So they penalize thousands of foreign-graduate physical therapists wishing to work in the US (where the demand for PTs continue to grow) because of their lack of foresight?

If the sharing of leaked questions is as prevalent as the FSBPT suggests, how can they be sure they haven’t spread to review facilities elsewhere, even in the US itself. So why only the Philippines, India, Egypt and Pakistan? Is it possible test-takers from these countries were simply turning in much better scores than graduates from the US or other countries – that test administrators might have deemed improbable?

If cheating can happen everywhere could it be possible the FSBPT’s bigger problem is not cheating?

That said, there is no denying that this was not the first time Filipino examinees have been tainted with accusations.

“Kung makakalusot” a Pinoy saying goes.

The US government makes strident efforts to catch and punish cheats. They do that regardless of who's in power, 365 days a year. A large chunk of government exists solely to catch and punish cheats.

They might not always succeed, but they're trying hard. The difference in the Philippines, a pal once remarked, is that we are hardly trying.

The business of government should not only be to fend for the life, liberty and happiness of its citizens – but also to ensure they pursue these honestly. Equal protection, a level playing field and justice for all.

P-Noy’s recent messages strike at the core of the problem. Officials abusing their wang-wang is a sure sign of a cheat. Businessmen who pay paltry taxes but splurge on million-peso sports-cars flaunt impunity. People who jump the queue or students who swap hours in the classroom for loiter time in the malls – a lot of “small stuff” that added together, expose the symptoms of a larger disease.

It’s good the President is looking to reward people who have demonstrated the virtues of their profession. For Gen. Ortiz, who as Medal of Valor awardee is considered a living hero, that would be the courage and daring of soldiering.

“Gusto mo maging bayani”. We’ve heard this phrase said much too often with derision, disbelief, disapproval as if buckling the odds, going against accepted practice and challenging others to do the same are wrong. The fact is, the Philippines is in dire need of heroes.

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