WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Tell it to the Marines

So when I saw Philippine Marine Lt Dimayuga doing the prelude to macho dancing to show off his belly battle scars to the media, I just thought that was no way to treat one's uniform. Why was Dimayuga allowed to dishonor his uniform and have his face plastered all over the papers for all to see?

There is a reason why soldiers have to observe utmost security, not to mention conduct becoming of a gentleman. A soldier could not do his job if his face got in the way. Having his face and puckered washboard belly plastered on the front page of the national dailies is not the way to observe security precautions and gentlemanly. He only does that when he is seeking to qualify for very early retirement.

There is a reason why military organizations have to observe utmost security. They do so by observing rigid information management procedures.

The question is, why is the Philippine Marines – to borrow military lingo – countenancing this display of cock crowing? Why are they so willing to disclose matters regarding military operations? Why isn't the information coming from official sources? Why is a lowly lieutenant allowed to be the posterboy?

Obviously, the public perception of a hero is being generated here. Cardstacking is classic propaganda tactic that overwhelms the audience with awe, they forget to ask questions.

Gee, I live to ask the questions. I am perfectly capable of awe. I just reserve it for the truly awesome.

So here's my theory which I'm going to tell to the Marines.

I've been sifting through the newspapers in the last three months and the findings from my content analysis of stories from Sulu is enough to make this suggestion that the Marines are the only force to be reckoned with down there. We know that is not true. Why the skewed sampling then?

To my view, the other units still observe strict security of information and disclose to the public on the standard need to know basis through official channels. The Marines on the other hand seem to be for some time now romancing the media who, for certain obvious reasons, have very little choices in terms of credible sources of information down in Sulu. When one is desperate, he doesn't ask questions. He's just so happy for the lifeline you throw his way.

What is happening to the Marines? In my mind I still see Col. Ariel Querubin mouthing "It's over" to his friends in the media. Gee, and this was just a few minutes after BGen. Allaga testily told off the press that "I am speaking for the Marines. Ariel is not talking" or something to that effect.

Breakdown of discipline? That flies in the face of the heroes these boys paint themselves to be. What I understand about the manifest need for social ascendance and shameless courting of public recognition is that these often are the deception point that masks an area of insecurity. Obviously, posterboy has the tacit approval of the chain of command to get cozy with the media. He's probably acting under orders. My question then is whether the conduct of the Marines down in Sulu can stand up to scrutiny. Or are we being given a shining moment in the person of the posterboy to dazzle the eyes and make us miss seeing an instance of deplorable embarrassment?

Let's take a closer look at the Marine posterboy then. Do we hear public clamor to award him a Medal of Valor? Oh, bull. If he really were qualified, the AFP would have recommended his receipt of the Valor Medal months ago. Public opinion plays no part in it. The AFP would know soon after the report of the encounter comes in whether the soldier deserves it or not.

You don't get a Valor Medal just because your unit bagged an enemy hotshot, and especially not when it is unclear that your unit indeed bagged the enemy hotshot. I said "your unit". It's not the same as "you". So how do you even get distinguished from the soldiers in your unit when you can't without question claim the bullet that felled the hotshot, if indeed he was felled?

If this were a battle of posterboys, that ambiguous, hazy, indistinct heroism of one Marine Lt. Dimayuga does not even come close to the distinguished conduct of the Philippine Army posterboy. I'm referring to PA spokesperson Lt. Col. Bacarro who, 16 years ago to the day this article is being written, personally performed "acts of conspicuous courage, gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty" during a 10-hour encounter with an overwhelming number of enemy troops.

Bacarro earned his Medal of Valor by turning the tide of that battle through performing in action a deed of personal bravery, this despite oozing blood from a thigh wound. Knowing full well that no help was coming due to location and weather constraint, Bacarro climbed a fence under heavy enemy fire, commandeered a dump truck and rammed the fence to provide entrance to his men. He then ably led his men to extract to safety elements pinned down by enemy fire, and on to a decisive victory.

Sixteen years later, Bacarro deserves to have his face plastered on TV, but many among us do not know we're looking at a legitimate hero. The AFP did and recognized it accordingly. Public opinion did not factor into it.

To my view, the lashcurler brigade in the media is pushing public opinion to be put to bear on the AFP. It's like we need an awarding ceremony now. Maybe the President is itching to give someone a Valor Medal so her friend the Burning Bush would have reason to call her and hear her crow? All's well that ends well, no thanks to the fickle members of the media who forgot the last wife among the five (what, where, when, who, and why).

Oh, well. If this oil-over-troubled-waters ploy works, I expect the President won't have a problem with the Marines from hereon in. Everybody happy.

There's just that little thing though about the impeccable standards of soldiery in the Philippines that would have been compromised, and I'm afraid that damage would take more than just a friendly phone call to repair. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)