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Masculinity in the Philippines

In the imperial age, the military shaped society to suit its peculiar needs. Modem armies are complex, costly institutions that must ramify widely to mobilize the vast human and material resources their operations require. Since the armed forces demand the absolute obedience and, at times, the lives of ordinary males, the state often forms, or reforms, society’s culture and ideology to make military service a moral imperative. In the cultural encounter that was empire, colonial armies proved as surprisingly potent agents of social change, introducing a major Western institution, with imbedded values, in a forceful, almost irresistible, manner.

As powerful, intrusive institutions, modem armies transformed cultures and shaped gender identities, fostering rhetoric and imagery whose influence has persisted long after colonial rule.

Above all, these armies, colonial and national, propagated a culture, nay a cult of masculinity. Recent historical research has explored the ways that rising European states reconstructed gender roles to support military mobilization. To prepare males for military service, European nations constructed a stereotype of men as courageous and women as affirming, worthy prizes of manly males.

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In its genius, the modem state-through its powerful propaganda tools of education, literature, and media-appropriated the near-universal folk ritual of male initiation to make military service synonymous with the passage to manhood.

Not only did mass conscription produce soldiers, it also shaped gender roles in the whole of society. Modern warfare, as it developed in Europe, was the mother of a new masculinity propagated globally in an age of empire through colonial armies, boys’ schools, and youth movements.

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As a colony of Spain and America, the Philippines felt these global cultural currents and provides an apt terrain for exploration of this militarized masculinity. Like the other colonial states of Asia and Africa, both powers controlled their Philippine colony with native troops led by European officers, an implicit denigration of the manliness of elite Filipino males.

For the all-male electorate of the American era, Filipino nationahm thus came to mean not only independence but, of equal importance, liberation from colonial emasculation. Over time, a cultural dialectic of the colonial and national produced a synthesis with symbolism and social roles marked by an extreme gender dimorphism. When Filipino leaders finally began building a national army in the 1930s, they borrowed the European standard of military masculinity with all its inbuilt biases. By exempting women from conscription and barring them from officer’s training at the Philippine Military Academy, the Commonwealth exaggerated the society’s male/female polarities.

Once set in 1936, these military regulations and their social influence would prove surprisingly persistent and pervasive. It would be nearly thirty years until the armed forces recruited their first women soldiers in 1963; and another thirty years after that before the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) admitted its first female cadets in 1993 (Hilsdon 1995, 48, 51, 89; Duque 1981, vii). If we accept what one historian has called “the emancipated status of Filipino women in the 19th century,” then the prewar nationalist movement, with its rhetoric of militarism and male empowerment, may have skewed the gender balance within the Philippine polity. In a Malay society with a legacy of gender equality-bilateral kinship, matrilocal marriage, and gender-neutral pronouns-this aspect of nationalism seems socially retrogressive.’

Understandably, postwar historians have overlooked this glorification of masculinity and military valor in their sympathetic studies of prewar Filipino nationalism. Nonetheless, mass conscription shaped gender roles in the first half of the 20th century and fostered a rhetoric that pervaded Philippine politics in its second half. In deploying Europe’s cult of masculinity to support mass conscription, the Commonwealth introduced a new element into the country’s political culture. Indeed, this engendered social order-propagated through conscription, education, and mass media-fostered imagery that would shape Philippine politics at key transitional moments in the latter decades of the 20th century. For well over half the fifty plus years since independence, the Philippines has been ruled by presidents who won office with claims of martial valor and then governed in a military manner.


The Philippine acceptance of this Euro-American model of masculinity provides strong evidence of the paradigm’s power. The successful imposition of this Westernized masculinity, with its extreme gender dimorphism, upon a Malay society with a long history of more balanced roles, makes the Philippines a revealing instance of this global process. Within twenty years, the span of a single generation, mobilization and its propaganda, convinced a people without a tradition of military service to accept conscription and internalize a new standard 1 of manhood. When tested in battle during World War 1, the generation of Filipino officers formed in this mobilization proved willing to fight and die with exceptional courage.

Models of Masculinity

During the two decades of this extraordinary social experiment, prewar Philippine institutions used two complementary cultural devices to indoctrinate the young into a new gender identity: a mass propaganda of gender dimorphism and a militarized form of male initiation. Among the many schools that participated in this experiment, t w v t h e University of the Philippines (UP) and, a decade later, the Philippine Military Academy (PMA)-would play a central role as cultural mediators in constructing this new national standard for manhood. To translate a foreign masculine form into a Filipino cultural idiom, the cadet corps at UP and the PMA appropriated local traditions of male initiation, using them as a powerfully effective indoctrination into modem military service. Scholars of the Philippine military have often noted how the ordeal of the first or “plebe” year serves to bind the PMA’s graduates into a class or “batch with an extraordinary solidarity.

The half-dozen doctoral dissertations on the Philippine military argue, in the words of a Chicago psychologist who observed the PMA in the mid-1960~~ that cadets form “lifetime bonds. . . in the crucible of the hazing pro~ess.”~ What is the meaning of this ritual with its extreme violence? Hazing, seemingly a small issue, has embedded within it larger problems of masculinity central to armies everywhere. In fieldwork around the world, anthropologists have discovered the near universality of male i n i t i a t i ~ nAround the globe and across time, many societies view .~ manhood as something that must be earned and thus create rituals to test and train their adolescent males.

Observing these rituals in the remote Highlands of Papua-New Guinea, anthropologist Roger Keesing offers a single, succinct explanation for the prevalence of harsh male initiation: warfare (Keesing 1982,32-34; Herdt 1982,5741). Similarly, at the m a r p s of the modem Philippine state, young men have long been initiated into manhood through ritual testing of their martial valor. In the 20th century, Muslim groups in the south have formed all-male “minimal alliance groups” to engage in ritualized warfare, while the Ilongot highlanders of northern Luzon require boys to pass “severe tests of manhood” by taking “at least one head” in combat (Kiefer 1972; Rosaldo 1980, 13940). From an anthropological perspective, hazing becomes the central rite in a passage from boyhood to manhood, civilian to soldier. Filipino plebe and New Guinea adolescent pass through similar initiations to emerge as warriors hardened for battle and bound together for defense of their communities (Gennep 1960, vii, 11).

Recent historical research has explored the ways that rising European states reconstructed gender roles to support mobilization of modern armies. By marrying anthropologists’ universals to the historian’s time-bounded specifics, we can see how European nation-states, by making military service an initiation ritual, primed their males for mass slaughter on the modem battlefield. After Britain’s dismal performance in the Crimean War of the 1850s, headmasters at its elite “public schools” began hardening boys for future command through sports. Indeed, Harrow’s head proclaimed that “the esprit de corps, which merit success in cricket or football, are the very qualities which win the day in . . . war.” A half-century later in South Africa, British troops faced difficulties subduing Boer farmers, raising questions about the military “fitness” of ordinary Englishmen.

Responding to this perceived crisis, Lord Baden-Powell organized the Boy Scouts in 1908 “to pass as many boys through our character factory as we possibly can (Mangan 1987, 150-53; 1981,2241; 1986, 33-36; Rosenthal 1986, 1-6). In his study of the cult of war in nineteenth-century Europe, historian George Mosse asks: “Why did young men in great numbers rush to the colors, eager to face death and acquit themselves in battle?” Simply put, they volunteered because the modern nation-state, through its poets and propagandists, made the passage to manhood synonymous with military service. To become a man in Victoria’s England or Bismarck’s Germany, a young male had to serve.

In the first months of World War I, this cult of war achieved a virtual florescence as young idealists hurled themselves into the slaughter. After 145,000 German soldiers died at Langemarck in 1914, one poet wrote: “Here I stand, proud and all alone, ecstatic that I have become a man.” Recalling this battle in Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler said: “Seventeen year old boys now looked like men.” Similarly, during World War 11, U.S. Army researchers found that American soldiers fought hard to avoid “being branded a ‘woman,’ a dangerous threat to the contemporary male personality” (Mosse 1990, 15, 72; Stouffer, et al. 1949, 131-32). Not only did mass conscription produce soldiers, it also shaped gender roles in the wider society. To prepare every male for military service, European nations constructed a stereotype of men as courageous, honorable, and physically formed on “borrowed Greek standards of male beauty.” By the 1920s, women were, through this century-long process, “transformed into static immutable symbols in order to command the attention of truly masculine men.’

Rhetoric of Colonial Masculinity

Although the American colonial regime eventually played a central role in the formation of a Filipino officer corps, the US Army was initially hostile to the idea. During its first decade in the islands, the US Army was absorbed in a massive counterinsurgency campaign, and, like colonial armies elsewhere, denigrated the masculinity of its subject society. In little more than two years after their landing in 1898, the U.S. Army learned the same colonial lessons that the British and Dutch had distilled from two centuries of using “native troops” in India and Indonesia. Asian soldiers were, from an imperial point of view, welladapted to withstand the rigors of service in their own country.

But only a European had the character required of an officer. As the editor of England’s Statesman wrote in 1885, educated Indians were “wanting in the courageous and manly behavior to which we justly attach so high an importance in the culture of our own youth.” Colonials often found dominant lowland groups both “effeminate” and insubordinate. But certain “martial racesn-such as the Gurkhas, Ambonese, or Karens-were thought capable of great courage under fire and fierce loyalty to their white officers5 In effect, there was an imperial consensus that certain native troops, when drilled and disciplined by European officers of good character, made ideal colonial forces.

From the outset, the American commander in the islands, General Elwell S. Otis, felt, like most Americans of his day, that elite Filipinos were unfit for command. In an essay for a U.S. military journal in 1900, one American officer dismissed the typical officer in General Emilio Aguinaldo’s revolutionary army as “a half-breed, a small dealer, a hanger-on of the Spaniards.” Thus, when the US Army formed its colonial forces, the Philippine Scouts, the soldiers would all be Filipinos, but their officers were to be white Americans selected from “the line of the Regular Army” (Woolard 1975, 13, 225; Franklin 1935).

In sum, America’s high colonial rhetoric celebrated the special bond between American officers and their Filipino troops, and, by implication, denigrated elite Filipino character and capacity for command. Writing from retirement at the end of the US rule, one American veteran, Constabulary Captain Harold H. Elarth, offered a succinct version of this rhetoric. “By fair dealing, unusual sagacity and confirmed courage,” young American officers, “pacified and controlled tribes that for 300 years had continuously warred with the Spaniards.” This success, he explained, came from “the psychology of the Malay” which inspired Filipino soldiers to follow their American lieutenants with “adoration” (Hurley 1938, 298-99; Elarth 1949, 14-15).

Nationalist Response

In the early years of American rule, Filipino nationalists rejected this emasculating colonial rhetoric and made the training of native officers a central plank in their campaign for independence. By demanding officer training, the all-male nationalist movement challenged colonial assumptions that native men were, by racial character, unsuited for command. In the political rhetoric of the day, military drill would advance the nationalist cause by training officers for a future army and hardening the fiber of the country’s youth. To assert their manhood, nationalist leaders seized upon any pretext for military drill, even service under the colonial flag. Only a few years after the Philippine-American War, certain colonials and nationalists began to cooperate in building a Filipino officer corps. In 1907, the fledgling Constabulary School at Manila graduated its first Filipino officers from a short, three-month training course and then moved to permanent quarters in the mountain city of Baguio for a more rigorous six-month curriculum.

A year later, the U.S. Congress authorized the admission of Filipinos to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1914, the h s t Filipino cadet, Vicente P. Lim, graduated with an academic rank of seventy-seven among 107 cadets-an event of such significance that the Philippine Resident Commissioner, Manuel Quezon, made a special trip from Washington, DC.6 When America entered World War I, the Philippine Legislature voted overwhelmingly to raise a Philippine National Guard division and Senate President Quezon crossed the Pacific to lobby personally for Washington’s authorization. Even the War Department’s determined effort to block its mobilization until 11 November 1918, the very last day of war, could not dampen the Filipino enthusiasm for military service. Over 28,000 men volunteered.

With bands playing and banners flying, the Philippine National Guard drilled for three months until it was disbanded in February 1919 (Woolard 1975, 170-84, 196). During the 1920s, the American colonial regime, in fundamental change of policy, began training Filipinos for command. After taking office as governor-general in 1921, General Leonard Wood, a career officer, mobilized the resources of the US Army to open officer training programs (Hayden 1955, 734-35). To train a first generation of Filipino officers, the US Army loaned instructors, rifles, and bayonets to the newly-formed military science departments at Manila’s colleges and universities. Along with the weapons, these programs also borrowed an American model of the military male. Though the program spread to many schools, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of the Philippines (UP) remained, for over a decade, the largest and most influential.

UP Cadet Corps

Drill began at UP in 1922 when its Regents funded a Department of Military Science and Tactics, retained an active-duty U.S. Army captain as its chairman, and authorized an armory. Five years later, UP President Rafael Palma, a prominent nationalist, praised the Department for establishing “the nucleus of a future national military organization” (Panis 1925, 14-15; Palma 1924; Peiia 1953, 1-2). As Palma predicted, the ROTC program grew rapidly, adding field artillery in 1929 and machine guns six years later. After passage of the National Defense Act in 1935, the university acquired another 2,000 Springfield rifles and doubled its cadet corps to 3,304 trainee officers by 1938.

Beyond drill and marksmanship, the program indoctrinated its cadets into nationalism. “We need to make . . . our youth . . . so proud of their race and their democracy that they will die fighting for it,” President Quezon told the UP cadets in 1937. “We have all been trained,” wrote the Corps’ cadet colonel a year later, “with patriotism ever so carefully engraved in our hearts by our military instructors, we are proud to say, as they would have us say, w e are ready.07 Other Manila universities followed these leads. While the publiclyfunded UP had the largest cadet program, the elite, Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila was proud home to the country’s top drill corps. The 1923 Manila Carnival featured a drill competition by cadets from San Beda, the National University, and, of course, Ateneo and the UP. Along with basketball and baseball, close-order drill contests would remain a high point of inter-collegiate competition until the war.

These parades, featuring what one UP cadet called “thousands of virile young blood[s]…rifles on their shoulders, gallantly marching to the time of their music,” drew large crowds and sparked school ~ p i r i t . ~ By the early 1930s, a decade of reserve-officer training had encouraged an ideal of military masculinity among cadets at Manila’s universities. At the UP, trainee officers articulated an ideology that equated masculine strength with national defense. “A nation stands or falls, succeeds or fails, just in proportion to the . . . manliness of each succeeding generation,” wrote a cadet in the 1931 yearbook (Viardo 1931, 381). Cadet sergeant Fred Ruiz Castro, a future Supreme Court chief justice, explained that military training helps “engender the proper citizenshipu-notably “courtesy to all especially to the old and to the weaker sex.”

In the 1935 UP yearbook, Castro and his comrade Macario Peralta, Jr., a future defense secretary, co-authored an essay arguing that drill molded the masculine virtues necessary to build the nation: “From the Corps, graduate men steeped in patriotism . . . men who know their duties both to country and to God . . . men who are sound thinkers, strong hearted …These are the men the country needs to cope with new problems” (Castro and Peralta, Jr. 1935, 345). Reinforcing this gender dimorphism, UP’S all-male cadet companies barred women from drill but recruited them as “sponsors” to appear in formal, frilly gowns at full-dress parades. Illustrative of this imbalance, in the late 1920s one of these sponsors gave the Corps a “colorful oration” titled “The Woman Behind the Man Behind the Gun” (Castro 1932; 355; Quirino 1930, 427). By 1936, the UP cadets had expanded their Corps of Sponsors to forty coeds such as Miss Eva Estrada, the muse of the Second Artillery Battalion and a future senator. On National Heroes Day, the UP cadets staged a mock battle in the city’s main park, the Luneta.

“Planes sweep down from the clouds to drop their deadly bombs,” wrote the college yearbook, “men shoot, advance, fall . . . beneath the smoke the unseen drama of war with its horrors and victories.” As male cadets littered Luneta’s smoking battlefield, “the Nurses’ Corps recruited from the ranks of the Sponsors rush to the field to give aid to the wounded and the dying.” Among these all-male cadets, appeal to women, the defining opposite within this dimorphism, was deemed an essential attribute of future military leadership. “The girls go for him in a big way (very big way),” said the 1937 UP yearbook of cadet Major Ferdinand Marcos, “so much so that most of the time he has to put up the sign ‘Standing Room Only.’ Claims his heart is impregnable to feminine allure, and insists on calling guys who fall in love inebriated weaklings.”

Marcos himself internalized this gendered duality to write, after the war, of sacrificing his manhood to defend a feminized nation he calls Filipinas. “We cursed ourselves . . . for having given up our arms and with them our manhood. . .,” Marcos wrote of their wartime surrender to Japan on Bataan. “Filipinas had welcomed us in spite of the disgrace of our defeat in Bataan. But it seemed that although she had smiled at us through her tears, she would not bind up our wound^.”^ Harsh male initiation also became part of officer training at UP. Cadet Sergeant Macario Peralta, Jr., the future defense secretary, noted in the 1932 yearbook that the Corps had faced difficulties in “breaking in the new cadets,” but made sure that troublesome plebes “receive sundry other polite attentions” (Peralta 1932, 358). Peralta’s yearbook biography, published two years later when he was cadet colonel, revealed the meaning of this euphemism. “One year after the Colonel sprouted in the University campus, he commenced hazing the plebes and beasts with unrelenting inhumanity. He is still at it” (Philippinensian1934, 396).

Common wealth Army

In 1935, national defense suddenly became the most critical issue facing the Fhpino people. In Washgton, President Franklin Roosevelt approved the creation of the Philippine Commonwealth as an autonomous, transitional government with a ten-year timetable to full inde- pendence. Under the National Defense Act, President Quezon made mobilization his top priority and committed a quarter of the budget to building a national army that would, by independence in 1945, have 10,000 regular soldiers backed by reserves of 400,000. In April 1936, some 150,000 Filipino men registered for the country’s first draft and, nine months later, 40,000 reported for training. Within three years, over a million schoolboys were marching.I0 From its foundation in 1935, the Commonwealth, through military mobilization, intensified this process of gender reconstruction-encouraging a reinforcing array of national symbols, militarized masculinity, and domestic roles.

With only a decade to prepare for independence and the burden of defense, the Commonwealth tried to fashion a masculinity that would sustain mass conscription. As it mobilized in the 1930s, the Philippines imported a Euro-American form of manhood along with the howitzer and the pursuit plane. To build popular support for a citizens’ army, the neophyte Philippine state deployed a gendered propaganda with men strong, women weak; men the defenders, women the defended. Just as the new nation was personified as the feminine “Filipinas” in currency and propaganda, so young men were conscripted to defend her and her defenseless womankind.

The government, in this transition to independence, slullfully manipulated public rituals and symbols to make a polarized gender dimorphism central to a new national self-image. We do not have to read against the grain to tease gender out of the Philippine Army, as if from some recondite cultural text. The key actors+ezon, Army Headquarters, and the cadets themselves-were quite self-conscious in their use of such imagery. The impact of militarization upon gender roles was most evident at the Manila Carnival-a grand, pre-war festival celebrating the fecundity of the land and the glories of its

people. Like other pre-Lenten festivals across the Hispanic world, Carnival was a mix of the serious and frivolous, of celebration and reflection. Located at the heart of Manila, the sprawling Carnival enclosure held elaborate displays of provincial products such as rope or coconut. The two-week whirl of spectacle, society, and sport culminated in the crowning of the queen and her court at an elaborate formal ball. With the Philippines on parade, elite actors gained a stage to project images of nation and society before a mass audience. Before conscription, the queen’s coronation had been a lavish, highsociety affair-with eligible bachelors as escorts, whimsical Roman or Egyptian themes, and matching costumes for court and consorts. Since the city’s elites selected the carnival queen by jury or press ballots, winners were women of wealth, prestige, and intellect. At the 1922 Carnival, for example, Queen Virginia Llamas was escorted by her future husband Carlos P. Romulo, later president of the UN General Assembly.

The queen’s consort at the 1923 Carnival was Eugenio Lopez, later the county’s most powerful entrepreneur, just as 1931 queen was Maria Kalaw, the future Philippine senator and UN delegate (Nuyda 1980, 1920, 1922,1931). With the launching of the Commonwealth’s army only months away, the 1935 Carnival saw revelry and whimsy giving way to military symbolism and a serious debate about gender roles. To accornmodate its greatly expanded display, the US Army occupied “an entire section of the Manila Carnival Grounds” for 400 linear feet of military exhibits and a replica of a World War I trench warfare complex (Tribune, 3,9 February 1935).

The cadets of Manila’s universities were honored with a large military parade, treated to guided tours of the military exhibit, and featured as the queen’s escorts. In this martial spirit, gender was on the march. At her coronation ceremony, the Constabulary band played a march while Queen Conchita I-walked between “two files of University of the Philippines cadets with drawn sabers” to a throne where the US Governor General placed a crown of diamonds on her head and the “admiring throng applauds” (Tribune, 16, 21, 22 February 1935). On their night in this Carnival Auditorium, Far Eastern University students staged a spectacular revue called “Daughters of Bathala,” with males forming an outer, protective circle while women in gowns whirled about in a “grand finale . . . symbolizing the types of modern Filipino women from the suffragettes and debutantes to the thrill-girls of the cabarets and the boulevards” (Tribune, 3 March 1945).

Instead of the usual frivolous rhetoric about feminine beauty, the 1935 Carnival launched a national debate on women’s rights. Speaking before the convention of the Federation of Women’s Clubs, Senate President Quezon announced that the Constitutional Convention had just approved compulsory military service. He urged the nation’s women to assume “the duty to mould the character of . . . youth that we may build up here a citizenry of virile manhood capable of shouldering the burdens of our future independent existence.” And how was such a radical social reconstruction to be accomplished? Men would be called away for “training in patriotism,” but women, Quezon said, should stay home to “bring up upstanding, courageous and patriotic youngsters.” Instead of being lulled by the “sentimental glow” of his oratory, the Federation’s president, Mrs. Pilar H. Lim, the wife of General Vicente Lim (USMA ’14), confronted Quezon, demanding that he redress “the injustice done . . . through the failure of the constitutional convention to insert a provision . . . granting the women . . . the right to vote.”

Quezon assured Mrs. Lim that he has “always been in favor of granting this right to women.” Indeed, two years later, under his presidency and through Mrs. Lim’s leadership, a plebiscite on women’s suffrage passed by an overwhelming margin.” Over the next three years as mobilization intensified, each carnival accentuated the military symbolism and its supporting gender dimorphism. When President Quezon opened the towering gateway to the 1936 Carnival city, a full battalion of Philippine Army troops formed an honor guard while he “severed” the ribbons with a specially-made native sword.

In its Carnival coverage, the Sunday Tribune Magazine juxtaposed photo-essays of the military review (“the steel helmets of the U.P. cadets glaring in the afternoon sun”) and the 1936 Fashion Revue (“models resplendent in shining silver and satin.”) For their night at the Carnival, the UP students presented a richly engendered historical pageant, written by Dr. Carlos P. Romulo, featuring a cast of one thousand students (“including seven hundred girls”) and starring a woman student as “Filipinas,” the feminized symbol of the nation (Tribune, 15 February, 1 March 1936).

Theme: After the establishment of the Republic, the nation will meet with difficulties and dangers, but it will overcome them all and thereby become stronger . . . Book of Time Revealed. Spirit of History ascends the stage from stage right and writes “Commonwealth.” 111. Trumpets. Filipinas enters from stage left followed by people, including agencies, soldiers, dancers . . . IV. Spirit of Prophecy ascends from stage left . . . and . . . writes “Republic.” V. People cheer, bells ring, salute of guns . . . VIII. Invasion-all to arms. Battle. XI. Mourning dance. Filipina rises from the center of the floor, flag over her. National hymn is sung by all. I. 11.

Despite such military inroads, the coronation of Queen Mercedes I featured the usual “fantasy numbers” such as “Parisian Lace” and the “exotic South Sea Wastes.” Her escorts were still society bachelors in white-tie and tails. A year later, the military symbolism was triumphant. At the 1937 Carnival, the queen’s escorts were now uniformed ROTC cadets. The queen now became “Miss Philippines” and her coronation, as its libretto indicates, was a martial drama of male soldiers rising to her defense as the engendered symbol of the nation.

Scene I Triumphal entrance of the Army of Miss Philippines, sovereign of our cultural and economic progress, composed of officers and soldiers who will stage a military exhibition. Scene I1 Entrance of the Drum and Bugle Corps which will go through some military evolutions. Scene 1 1 1 The Drum and Bugle Corps will announce the arrival of Miss Philippines and her Court of Honor . . . Miss Philippines will be preceded by a group of pages carrying the crown and other presents, and another group of pages carrying her train . . . Scene IV The Drum and Bugle Corps announces that all is ready for the coronation of Miss Philippines. Scene V Ceremonies of the coronation of Miss Philippines, placing of the crown by His Honor, The Mayor of Manila . . . Scene VI Gun salute to Miss Philippines by her Army. Entrance of Foreign Envoys-Royal offering, etc. Scene VII Military evolutions by the Army of Miss Philippines and the Drum and Bugle Corps.

Beyond the ballroom, the Carnival’s sporting contests and the ROTC drill competitions proliferated in celebration of a physical, martial masculinity. Before a crowd of 40,000, for example, the Schools Parade featured girls in gowns riding on flower-covered floats while high school boys stepped past in “uniforms and snappy marching [that] thrilled the watching t h o ~ s a n d s . ” ~ ~

By the 1938 Carnival, the military parade had been transformed from a procession of students in their toy-soldier uniforms into an awesome spectacle of military might. With thousands of spectators packed along the boulevards, armed columns of Philippine Army, Philippine Scouts, and college cadets tramped past the Legislative Building as tight formations of bombers and pursuit planes “roared overhead” (Tribune, 15, 16 February 1938). After its establishment in 1936, the Philippine Army deployed a similar dualism to build support for conscription among a people without a tradition of military service. As the date for draft registration approached, the Commonwealth plastered public spaces with recruiting posters.

One depicted a statuesque Filipina, neckline cut low and bare arms outstretched for the embrace, calling on “Young Men” to “Heed Your Country’s Call!” Another asked, “Which Would You Rather Be . . . this or that?”-and then showed a snappy soldier smiling at two admiring women while a civilian male skulks in the rear, hands in pockets-a universal sipifier.I4 Then, at 8:30 A.M. on 15 May 1936, each provincial governor supervised an elaborate ritual to select the first conscripts for basic training. Before the public, the governor, flanked by military guards, placed the registration cards for all twenty-year old men in two large jars. “Two young ladies, not over eighteen years of age, shall . . . make the drawing,” read the Philippine Army regulations. “These young ladies shall be blind-folded and shall wear dresses with short sleeves-not reaching beyond elbow” (Commonwealth, Bulletin No. 17; Meixsel 1993, 301).

So strong was the appeal of military training that four of the country’s leading legislators, including presidential aspirant Manuel Roxas, volunteered for the first Reserve Officers’ Service School (ROSS) in mid-1936. In this commencement address to this class in September, President Quezon explained that officers were to serve as the nation’s models for patriotism and new, virile form of citizenry (The Bayonet 1936, 94, 98). The good officer. . . , wherever he is, . . . spreads the doctrine of loyalty, of respect for law and order, of patriotism, of self-discipline and education, and of national preparation to defend our country. . . . Our whole nation will become more firmly solidified, more virile, more unselfishly devoted to promotion of the general welfare, as our officer corps grows in quality and strength, and the results of its efforts permeate to the remotest hamlet of our country.

Philippine Military Academy

Forming such an officer corps was the most difficult part of this mobilization. As Quezon put it, “the heart of an army is its officers.” Along with buying rifles and building camps, the creation of this army required, as the president was well aware, the construction of officers as exemplars for a new image of the Filipino as warrior. To form such leaders, the Defense Act provided for the establishment of a Philippine Military Academy at Baguio for the education of career officers. This academy was, in the words of the Commonwealth’s vice-president, “the foundation stone of the entire military establishment,” providing “the leadership necessary to knit together a scattered and loosely connected citizen army into one whole, living, pulsating, homogenous machine that can fight with courage” (Scribe 50; Osmefia 7-8, 10).

In establishing his new academy, Quezon, through his military advisers Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower, chose the US Military Academy at West Point as its model. Transporting the West Point system, with all of its peculiarities, from the bluffs of the Hudson to the mountains of Baguio entailed cultural adaptation. From the perspective of the PMA staff, the new academy would socialize the cadets through its formal curriculum and a four-year progression from neophyte to command. To succeed, however, these formal processes rested upon rituals and symbols that would make the academy’s abstractions meaningful to teen-aged Filipinos. Drawing upon the country’s culture of masculinity, cadets used rituals of male initiation and group solidarity to reinforce the PMA’s institutional imperatives.

Through a fusion of the West Point curriculum, faithfully reproduced by the PMA’s staff, and informal innovations by these Filipino cadets, an American academy became a viable model for a Philippine institution (Love11 1955, 316-21; Wamsley 1972, 399-41 7). To ensure that its cadets would be archetypes of masculine beauty, the academy barred applicants with “any deformity which is repulsive” or any who suffered from “extreme ugliness.” Medical examiners had to insure, moreover, that an applicant’s face was free from any “lack of symmetrical development” or “unsightly deformities such as large birthmarks, large hairy moles, . . . mutilations due to injuries or surgical operation” (Commonwealth of the Philippines 1937). To mould these exemplary males, the PMA became a total institution that would, like West Point, leave a lasting imprint upon every graduate (Janowitz 138; Goffman 1961).

The PMA’s 1938 yearbook thus described the Tactical Department and its drill instructors as “a veritable forging shop in which the raw and crude materials are . . . purified of their undesirable qualities.” In their song P.M.A. Forever, cadets celebrated their academy’s capacity to make men (Sword 1938, 46-48, 104). Within the walls of old and glorious P.M.A. They’re molded to the real men that they should beMen who can face the bitter realities of life With courage even in the midst of bloody strife. As centerpiece in the nation’s gender reconstruction, the PMA indoctrinated its Filipino cadets into a Euro-American ideal of military manhood. With its alien curriculum, the PMA, more than any Philippine institution of its era, aspired to a cultural transformation, a remalung of its cadets on a European model of mascuhity. The academy made its imprint through a program of moral formation through body movement, incessant supervision, and formal indoctrination.

In its own words, the PMA taught “soldierly movements to inculcate prompt obedience” in daily marching; “knowledge of ballroom ethics” with weekly waltz lessons; and “self-reliance, poise, initiative, judgment, enthusiasm, and discipline” in gymnastics (Commonwealth 1938,1619). Filipino cadets reshaped imported values through their own culture of masculinity, malung hazing the PMA’s central rite of passage-from civilian to soldier, from plebe to cadet. Entering plebes arrived at the academy from communities with their own rituals of male initiation and expectations for manhood (Rosaldo 1980, 35-37). In many lowland villages of the 1930s, adolescent males passed through an initiation, such as circumcision, and had elaborate codes for masculine friendship epitomized in peer groups called barkada.

In the villages of Central Luzon, for example, Tagalog males who joined tenancy unions during this decade were tested in an elaborate midnight ritual that branded each on the upper arm with a poker plucked white-hot from a raging bonfire (Fegan 1995; See also Blanc-Szanton 1990, 350). Growing up in such poor communities, many future members of PMA’s Class of 1940, the first products of this new school, were familiar with these masculine rites of testing and bonding. One classmate, Francisco del Castillo, recalled in his autobiography for the class’s 50th reunion Golden Book, that he often missed class in high school to join “youth who did nothing but form gangs to fight other gangs for su-premacy in the municipality of Vigan.”

In a later interview, he added that his reputation as “a local champion” in ritualized knife fights, attacking with the right hand and defending with a towel wrapped tightly about the left, made him the “leader” of the town’s west-side gang. Asked if his gang practiced any sort of initiation, del Castillo replied that “you let him do a certain errand and see how brave he is” (Mendoza 1986, 178; del Castillo 1995). For PMA cadets, hazing and the broader experience of plebe initiation served as a transformative trauma–coloring the subsequent academy experience for individuals and uniting a new class through shared suffering. During their first months, plebes were subjected to an unbroken regimen of running, recitations, and drill under nameless, powerful upperclassmen.

Arriving during summer recess when the main activity was their initiation, incoming plebes faced the harsh, unwavering attentions of the second-year cadets, or “yearlings”-still aching from their own humiliations that had ended only weeks before. After the initial “beast barracks,” the hazing subsided into a constant, low-level harassment that continued for another eight months until the upperclass “recognized” them as full members of the Corps. Surviving this abuse left cadets with a strong sense of personal pride and class identity. Writing in the Golden Book, Class ’40’s Cesar Montemayor recalled their plebe year as “a one-year initiation period full of rites, rules and requirements” that instilled “desirable manly and military qualities” (Batch 36 Golden Book, 110-11). In showing how the Commonwealth constructed a new masculinity at the PMA, we cannot ignore the impact that this mobilization and its propaganda had upon “the whole order” of gender roles in an emerging nation (Morgan 1994, 169-70).

Despite its isolation in the mountains of Baguio, the PMA’s training of these young males had lasting implications for the whole of Philippine society. The school served, in effect, as a social laboratory, a crucible for casting a new form of Filipino masculinity. Through hazing, study, and drill, the academy pounded young males into a foreign mold of military manhood. By parading before the masses in Manila and acting in Tagalog films, these prewar PMA cadets projected this image of masculinity into an emerging national consciousness. Only a year after the PMA opened, a Manila film crew shot a two-reel documentary, titled The West Point of the Philippines, which, the cadet yearbook reported, was “now being featured at the Ideal Theatre” and was “taking Manila by storm.”

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Masculinity in the Philippines. (2016, Oct 13). Retrieved from

Masculinity in the Philippines

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