PMA's woman topnotcher ran slowly, but took big strides
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – "At first I was weak," Rovi Martinez, valedictorian of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Salaknib Class of 2017, said, recalling her first months in the military school that did not accept women until 1993.
"I didn't meet the standards. I always failed when it came to running and sit-ups. I almost failed in everything physical in my first two months," Martinez, 23, told Rappler in an interview here on the eve of graduation day, when she is set to receive the presidential saber from President Rodrigo Duterte.
The PMA is an everyday test of the physical, mental, and emotional state of cadets, preparing them to become the top officers of the military. Women don't get a pass. They're all subjected to the same rigorous physical tests and exercises.
Martinez' rise to the top is a story of fate, determination, and overcoming personal weaknesses. It took a lot of help, too, especially from fellow women.
The class produced 8 women topnotchers, a feat that, Martinez said, their male mistahs also celebrate. "The accomplishment of one is the accomplishment of the entire class. Our male classmates are all very happy for us," Martinez said.
A moment of weakness
It was an everyday struggle for Martinez. "It was so hard, I just want the day to end, and the other day to come again. Eventually, I got used to it. I just wanted to finish and to graduate from the academy. I never aimed to be the Number 1. I just do my best in everything that I do in the academy," she said.
The transition period from civilian to military life is always difficult for cadets like Martinez who didn't exercise outside the academy. She remembered suffering stomach aches that she feared was appendicitis because there was no time to rest after meals.
They faced all these while upperclassmen would try to break them and have them quit, part of the mental challenges that cadets are regularly subjected to, to test their determination.
One day, Martinez did break and told her squad leader, "Sir, yes sir. I'll quit, sir." The surprised upperclassman let her have a heart-to-heart talk with her fellow female cadets, who reminded her of why she entered the PMA.
The PMA was her father's frustrated dream.
Mariel Martinez, a barangay councilor in Cabanatuan City, tried but failed to join the military and the police. "My father told me stories about his frustrations....He just said, 'Maybe hindi talaga ako para doon (I'm not cut out for the military).' Nagkaroon ako ng idea (I got an idea) when I was child. I thought I wanted to become one," Martinez said.
At that moment of weakness, Rovi thought the military wasn't written in her stars as well.
Her father's dream
It's a childhood dream she gave up when she enrolled at the Araullo University to take up accountancy. She was, in fact, doing well as presidential scholar. But fate wouldn't have her give up on the PMA.
She was on her 3rd year when she saw posters calling on Araullo students to take the entrance exam to the PMA. She finally did and changed her course.
The reminder uplifted her morale and strengthened her resolve to overcome the challenges. She stayed on and learned how to survive in the academy – juggling her time among academic requirements, physical exercises, and personal relaxation.
Her squad leader also joined her runs on the Borromeo Field. "I remember I was told: It's better to be slow, but you have the big strides, than to be fast because it would make you feel fatigued. I just practiced and practiced, and eventually I got used to the physical activites here," she said.
Joining the navy
Martinez will be joining the Philippine Navy. "Masaya ako sa Navy ako napunta. Para kaming small AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). Mayroon kaming army sa Marines. Kung gusto mong maging pilot, mayroong Naval Air Group. Kung gusto mong maging kapitan ng barko, mayroon kaming vessels," Martinez said.
(I'm happy to be joining the Philippine Navy. We're like a small AFP. We have the equivalent of the army – the Marines. If you want to become a pilot, we have the Naval Air Group. If you want to become the captain of a ship, we have vessels.)
As topnotcher of the navy class, Martinez will also get a scholarship at the US Naval War College.
What future does she imagine for herself in the navy? Martinez said she'll take it slow like she did in the academy, but will make sure to take long strides.
"Naniniwala po ako (I believe) that I should live one day at a time and take one step at a time. I will do my best as junior officer of the Philippine Navy," she said.
She hopes to command a navy vessel and perhaps become the Flag Officer in Command (FOIC), the top post at the Philippine Navy. Or become the AFP chief of staff, the highest post in the military. – Marga Deona and Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com