The sad story of Fort Bonifacio

President William McKinley of the United States was responsible for American colonial presence in the Philippine Islands.  Through the Treaty of Paris of 1898, McKinley bought the Philippine Islands from Spain.  The purchase made the islands an unincorporated territory of the United States.  The military reservation south of the Pasig River was named in his honor.  

After the Americans turned over Fort McKinley to the Philippines, it was renamed Fort Bonifacio in honor of Andres Bonifacio, the supremo of the Katipunan who ignited the revolution against Spain.  American presence was still felt in the fort despite its new name.  The main street leading to the fort was named McKinley Road, and a large tract of its land was kept as a cemetery for American soldiers who died in the Philippines during World War II.

During the martial law years, Fort Bonifacio was the detention center of political opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr.  After Ninoy was assassinated at the Manila International Airport in 1983, his body was brought to the army station hospital in Fort Bonifacio.  Ironically, Ninoy used the pseudonym Marcial Bonifacio on his passport when returned home.     

The Filipino soldier has the duty to defend the Philippines from both internal troubles and external aggression.  Even before the shooting begins, he must be ready to fight and to sacrifice his life in the defense of the nation and its people.  Indeed, the soldier hates war the most because he is the first in line to do the dying.    

In recognition of the noble role of the Filipino soldier in the defense of the country, then President Ferdinand Marcos made sure that Fort Bonifacio became the home to the nation’s defenders.  Fort Bonifacio provided soldiers with decent, affordable housing.  A camp commissary made groceries affordable to military personnel and their families.  There were schools inside the fort for the benefit of the dependents of the soldiers.  Public transportation operated inside the camp.  Sports facilities kept soldiers fit.  A modest golf course inside the fort made the rich man’s sport affordable to even the lowest ranking soldier.  The fort itself provided employment for many civilians inside the camp, most of whom were dependents of enlisted personnel.

Fort Bonifacio also served as a deterrent against any attack against the national capital region.  The military presence in the fort assured everyone that the defenders were a stone’s throw away in the event of such an attack.

Under the 1973 Constitution, President Marcos was vested with both executive and legislative powers.  This meant that he could have converted Fort Bonifacio to a real estate windfall by privatizing it.  After all, the fort was adjacent to Forbes Park in Makati, arguably the most expensive residential real estate in the country at that time.  Just imagine the commissions and kickbacks that could have been earned legally and illegally in the process.

Fortunately, President Marcos did not do that.  He knew that it would have meant displacing the soldiers.  As commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Marcos had to look after their welfare.

 President Marcos may have had other practical reasons for keeping Fort Bonifacio for the country’s troops.  Evicting them from the fort could have triggered resentment from within the military establishment, something he could not afford since his martial law regime needed the support of the military.  Be that as it may, the fact that remains is that Marcos kept Fort Bonifacio a home for the soldiers.

By 1992, the military strength of the AFP, or more precisely, the lack of it, made the AFP the laughing stock of the military forces of other ASEAN countries.  The Philippine Air Force was called “all air and no force” because all its fighting aircraft were hand-me-down, decrepit, and World War II vintage.  Also, the Philippine Navy badly needed new fighting class vessels.

Under the administration of President Fidel Ramos, large chunks of Fort Bonifacio were sold to the private sector.  The people were told that the proceeds of the sale were to be spent on upgrading the fighting capability of the AFP.  Considering that the value of the Fort Bonifacio real estate being sold was in the billions of pesos, everyone was looking forward to the acquisition of several new aircraft and ships for the AFP.    

In the end, valuable land in Fort Bonifacio was gone forever.  In its aftermath, thousands of soldiers and their families, mostly enlisted personnel, were evicted from the equivalent of their “ancestral homes” in the fort, and forced to relocate to distant areas where facilities are either lacking or expensive.  Ironically, the soldiers lost their home during the administration of President Ramos, who was a soldier.

Today, the AFP remains ill-equipped to defend the archipelago from the illegal territorial claims of the communist government in Beijing.  What happened to the proceeds of the sale of Fort Bonifacio?  Good question.     

As of this writing, what is left of Fort Bonifacio is a ghost of its original self.  It has been overtaken by large commercial establishments, a substantial number of which cater to foreign interests.  Where once a military reservation was in place now stand the skyscrapers and plush condominiums of the Bonifacio Global City (BGC).  Everything about the place is now very expensive.  Even the cities of Makati and Taguig are locked in a court battle as to which of them has jurisdiction—which means the right to collect taxes—over BGC.

The military camp named after Andres Bonifacio used to be larger than all the camps in the metropolis combined.  That glory is now lost forever and the AFP is still ill-equipped.  The supremo does not deserve this kind of treatment, and like him, the people do not deserve being kept in the dark as to where the proceeds of the sale of Fort Bonifacio real estate really went.

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