Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Bandit mentality: Bad practices in wearing the military uniform

Units have their own distinctive uniforms but the basics on how to wear them is practically the same. Shown is the photo of a Scout Ranger NCO who is wearing the Scout Ranger Distinctive Uniform. 


In any professional armed forces, proper military clothing is observed to maintain the respect and heroic nature of the military service.

Though different uniform styles are designed for each branch of the military these should be worn neatly and properly whether while on duty inside or outside camps where soldiers are subjected to the scrutinizing eyes of the general public.

For each service branch, a set of rules are to be followed when dressed in military attire, otherwise soldiers are subject to sanctions in accordance with the provisions of the Military Justice System.

In the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the lack of sanctions in subordinate units  has led to the continuous bad practices in wearing the military uniform. That is why we normally see shabby-looking soldiers who are wearing dilapidated boots and worn out uniforms.

Are we becoming helpless against these violators? Can't we do something to correct the problem?

Military Professionalism and the Uniform Code

During basic military training, soldiers are indoctrinated about their transformation from civilian life to a regimented one as they are honed to become part of the armed forces.

I can still vividly recall the message of  General Charles De Gaulle in a poem 'Military Professionalism' that he wrote which says:

“Men who adopt the profession of arms, submit their own free will to a law of perpetual constraints of their own accord. They resist their right to live where they choose,to say what they think,to dress as they like.”

Through this poem, soldiers are indoctrinated the importance of obedience and discipline. Recruits are required to wear a prescribed uniform for every specific military duty. During our 'beast barracks', there was an authorized uniform for parades, a separate bathroom attire and sleeping attire.

Since we entered the military profession, we were taught so many things about the military uniform,  including the correct way to iron and fold them.  We are told to ‘respect’ the uniform and the thousands of uniformed servicemen who had given honor to the country.

Uniform fundamentals 

First of all, soldiers are reminded that sharp personal appearance is the outward indication of your pride in yourself and the Army. You are not supposed to show yourself in uniform when you look shabby. Every soldier is supposed to be the ‘show-window’ of the military organization. It takes only one shabby-looking soldier to erode the trust of the public in an area where a unit is deployed.

Our uniforms must be presented neatly and cleanly. It means that the uniform must be regularly washed. Aside from that soldiers are taught on how to iron our uniform correctly.

I can still recall that as a PMA cadet, I got delinquency reports even for a simple offense of having loose strings which I failed to cut from my newly issued uniform. That is how we were trained to become respectable individuals in the military service.

Soldiers are trained that the uniform is to be worn with pride and to practice humility. No jewelry, combs, checkbooks, pens, pencils or similar items will appear exposed on uniforms.

AFP regulations also tell us that uniforms are not to be mixed with civilian clothing. No civilian undershirts and no wearing of civilian type shoes when in military dress.

Basically, smoking and chewing gum detracts from a professional image and is not allowed in military formations and when in public view.

Bulky items in our uniform’s pockets are not allowed. We are taught that having our hands in our pockets does not convey a professional image. Soldiers are not supposed to place their hands in their pockets except momentarily to place or retrieve items.

The cap is part of our uniform. We must always wear our cap while outdoors or while under arms, when carrying a rifle or wearing a saber.

Otherwise, we are not supposed to wear our hats indoors. Soldiers should develop the habit of removing their caps upon entering a building.

In some formal occasions however, it has been a custom to wear the cap during the duration of the activity. A fine example is during military graduation ceremonies.

Soldiers will keep fingernails clean and neatly trimmed so as not to interfere with the performance of duty. Female soldiers are also not supposed to wear nail polish that is exaggerated, faddish, or of extreme coloring, such as purple, gold, blue or white.

There are many ‘military cut’ or hairstyles that are acceptable in the Philippine Army. Basically, the hair will be neatly groomed. The length and bulk of hair will not be excessive or present a ragged, unkempt, or extreme appearance. However, there is no clear-cut policy on which haircut is specifically authorized.

Soldiers are required that their hair must not fall over the eyebrows or extend below the bottom edge of the collar. Likewise, lines or designs will not be cut into the hair or scalp. If dyes, tints, or bleaches are used, colors used must be natural to human hair and not present an extreme appearance.

For males, sideburns will be neatly trimmed. The base will not be flared and will be a cleanshaven, horizontal line. Sideburns will not extend below the lowest part of the exterior ear opening. The face will be clean-shaven and growing moustache is not permitted.

For female soldiers, hairstyles will not interfere with proper wearing of military headgear or protective masks. Hair holding ornaments (barrettes, pins, clips), if used, must be transparent or similar incolor to hair, and will be inconspicuously placed. Beads or similar ornamental items are not authorized.

Conservative civilian prescription eyeglasses are authorized for wear. Glasses with faddish frames or lenses, initials or other adornments are not authorized. Soldiers may not wear lenses that are so large as to detract from the appearance of the uniform.

Conservative sunglasses may be worn in uniform when in garrison, except indoors or in formation.

Soldiers are also not supposed to wear the uniform when going to a bar or strip club or any other place whose main purpose is to sell or serve alcohol. We are not allowed to get drunk in uniform, to go to political rallies, endorse political candidates and make political statements.

The reign of “bandit mentality” 

Looking around, it is frustrating to see that many soldiers do not respect the uniform at all. I am dismayed that soldiers do not follow dress regulations taught during training and opt to mimic the bandits whowe are fighting in the countryside.

Whether in large garrisons in urban centers or in far-flung detachments, we can find many uniformed men who look just the same with the Abu Sayyaf and NPA bandits.

Their presence is practically everywhere----starting from the GHQ, AFP to large camps of the three branches of service and down to the small detachments/outposts in the boondocks.

It is normal to see soldiers wearing tsinelas or sandals while wearing BDA. Basketball jerseys are also fast becoming the preferred undershirt.

Anywhere, you can find military trucks transporting soldiers who can be mistaken as newly captured rebels. 

Lame excuses

Though trying hard to understand this organizational ‘cancer’ that is creeping in our ranks called ‘bandit mentality’, I sometimes cannot help but confront erring soldiers whom I met personally.

Believing that there might be valid reasons for these actions, I always find time to let them verbally explain and hear their side.

Seeing one M35 truck driver in Pili town one day, I noticed that he was wearing ‘half-uniform’ and in tsinelas. Asked why he was wearing such unauthorized outfit, he calmly said that ‘the vehicle’s engine is very hot’ and so it is more relaxing to wear tsinelas and get rid of the ‘upper uniform’ (jacket). Comfort oriented soldiers, I sighed.

I realized later that the mess sergeant and many other soldiers who were buying provisions for the unit as well as the duty escorts were in various types of outfits you can imagine.

One was wearing the only the ‘upper uniform’. The other preferred only the Army shirt with baketball shorts. And, these are the soldiers who are wondering why they are not respected by the civilians whom they meet.

“We are in civilian attire or half-uniform to avoid the liquidation squad of the NPA sir,” came his explanation when I accosted him. Another unacceptable justification to an officer who was not born yesterday and who had fought both ASG and NPA bandits, I told him.

Inside military camps, soldiers who are performing ‘fatigue duties’ (cleaning and maintenance as well as construction personnel) use different military uniforms as their preferred outfit.

One soldier prefers the BDA jacket to protect himself from the scorching heat of the sun. The other soldier wears the BDA pants with his favorite Nike shoes and Adidas sweatshirt. If cautioned, the emotional reply is “nagtatrabaho kasi kami sa initan sir”.

Everyone seems to have the ready answer for their stupid actions. Reservist soldiers or ‘weekend soldiers’ have the easiest explanation why you can find them wearing the uniform as if they are members of the Hukbalahap bandit group.

“I am only a reservist soldier sir,” came the reply from one whom I accosted in a carenderia for removing his jacket and hanging it on his shoulders like Robin Padilla in one of his movies.

When I was a company grade officer in Mindanao, I once worked with many soldiers from different units as we hunted down bandits and terrorists in the marshlands of Maguindanao down to the lush forests of Basilan and Sulu.

I myself had violated regulations by conforming to some of the bad practices that I had observed in the past. I was also one of those who wear the ‘pis-pis’ (a form of amulet worn by our Filipino Muslim brothers), a yellow bandanna with Islamic prayers inscribed by an Imam.

As a young officer, I was stupid enough to assume that it was cool to wear the ‘pis-pis’ in the same way that Abdurajak Janjalani, the original Abu Sayyaf leader, did in mid-1990’s. Well, my own alibi during that time was that I was not issued force protection equipment (Kevlar helmet, Level 3A flak jacket); therefore, I felt that wearing my ‘anting-anting’ (amulet) for protection was justified. Of course, I was once stupid too. I am glad to have outgrown these bad practices and consistently demanded compliance to regulations by my subordinates when I climbed the ladder of the military bureaucracy one step at a time.

What went wrong?

The Philippine Army traces its humble beginngings from the revolutionary forces of the Katipunan which fought the Spaniards in the late 1890’s. Obviously, these ‘soldiers’ were ragtag fighters without any proper training. During that time, anyone who had a band of armed followers became the leader and “Heneral”.

It was during the time of President Manuel L Quezon (Commonwealth Period) that he established the new armed forces under the supervision of General Douglas Mc Arthur.

Due to the unexpected outbreak of the war, the newly organized and ill-equipped Filipino servicemen were incorporated into the US Armed Forces and named as the USAFFE.

Though lacking uniform and equipment, these forces were deployed for combat. These ill-trained Filipino soldiers fought courageously in the series of battles during WWII.

Naturally, no one cared how they looked or behaved during that time as long as warm bodies were present to defend the country.

When the AFP was gradually reorganized after the war, the soldiers were immediately plunged into the thick of the fight against the emerging the Huk rebels who waged violent attacks against government forces and facilities in Luzon.

In Mindanao, Constabulary and Army units were busy scouring the island of Sulu to hunt for the elusive Kamlon. Gathered war stories and some photos from this campaign reveal that soldiers were trained to imitate the bandits’ way of life as one of their strategy against the rebels.

During the reign of President Marcos, soldiers remained busy fighting both communist and secessionist rebels. For some reason or another, the use of different types of uniforms by soldiers was widely tolerated.

We can verify from footages during the EDSA revolution in 1986 and the 1989 coup d’etat that soldiers were proudly sporting long hair like “Rambo” who was the popular war movie icon among soldiers during that time.

Based on personal accounts of many officers who saw action in the field in the 1980s, the military uniform during those times was not really ‘uniform’ in the real sense of the word.

I have heard many senior officers who had served in the field during their younger years that the US ‘fatigue’ (olive drab) uniform was their favorite attire.

The much abused phrase called 'humanitarian consideration' is also made an easy escape for leaders who do not want to take responsibility of disciplining their subordinates. As a result, "Kawawa naman" is the easiest excuse among incompetent leaders. I really suggest that they must feel 'awa' for the organization too.

In the 1990’s, the emergence of reform-minded officers gradually transformed the military organization. Some officers were gradually taking notice of the importance of setting the correct image of the Filipino soldier. Even star-rank officers were reprimanding soldiers who were found to be sporting long hair and those who were wearing lousy and untidy uniforms.

In its effort to improve the ‘looks’ of the military personnel, there were measures implemented to ensure that soldiers will be wearing the same type of uniform. Instead of granting them cash benefits, three sets of uniforms (Reenlistment Clothing Allowance) were issued to enlisted personnel during their reenlistment every three years.

It is interesting to note that the constant changing of the uniform patterns had been the easiest ‘reform’ that can be implemented in the military organization. However, while the patterns of the uniform had been changed continuously, bandit mentality has not been eradicated until today.

One of the causes why this problem is not corrected is the usual tendency for officers to please their soldiers, a solid example of leadership by popularity. Officers and NCOs who feel that they do not have the credibility to lead, normally turn a blind eye on these infractions.

Recommended solutions

1. Review the AFP uniform code/regulations. A uniform board must be convened to study and possibly, revise the existing AFP dress regulations. Representatives from different BOS (branch of service) must be consulted as there are peculiarities in the uniform for each BOS. Each BOS will base their own dress regulations from the published AFP uniform regulations. All authorized military attires must be clearly defined such as the ‘fatigue duty attire’, formal ceremonies outfit, authorized haircut for men and women, etc.

2. Audio-video instructions.Training photos and videos can be made to ensure uniformity of the training instructions about dress regulations. Video CDs containing these instructions will be distributed for all training institutions (e.g. DTUs, ATGs, RCDG) and line units all over the archipelago. Photos about the different military outfits and the rules governing them must be posted in unit bulletin boards. This must also be part of the pre-entry training, reenlistment training and sustainment training for soldiers and units.

3. Command responsibility. Every officer and NCO-leaders must be made responsible for implementing uniform regulations by demanding compliance from unit leaders. Complaints through text messages especially with photos must be submitted to the military police or the DPM as part of our feedback system. Those who insist to dress and behave like bandits must be denied reenlistment so that they can wear anything they like as carefree civilians. Commanders who are inept, incompetent and who don’t have the iron will to implement regulations must be removed from their posts.


Bandit mentality is a curable illness that needs a dose of medicine called 'leadership'. 

To solve this problem, there is a need that both officers and non-commissioned officers (Sergeants) to do take responsibility and lead the way. We have no one to blame but the unit leaders for these infractions. We don’t need a star-ranked officers to do the job that is supposedly performed by NCOs and junior officers.

To look good and be owned by the people are also among our goals in the Army Transformation Roadmap. Sino namang Pilipino ang maging proud sa sundalo nya na mukhang bandido?

There is a need to discipline our soldiers. Let us start with the way they wear their uniforms and the way they behave as members of the largest armed group in the country, the AFP.

For a volunteer Army like our own armed forces, this is not difficult to implement.

Filipino soldiers had copied the way how the enemies of the state wear their assorted military garb. The MNLF-Misuari Faction members are wearing assorted uniforms matched with bandannas that also serve as amulets. 

When I was in the frontline, we didn't have any flak jackets nor helmets. As a 'force protection' I wore my 'pispis' (amulet) given by a Muslim friend. 

I didn't allow my soldiers to wear those kind of non-regulation outfits when assigned or visiting a military garrison. 

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