Home of the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Camp Emilio Aguinaldo occupies 178.78 hectares between Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (named after the politician and academician Epifanio Cristóbal de los Santos, 1871-1928), Colonel Bonny Serrano Avenue (named after the Korean War hero Colonel Venancio “Bonny” Merioles Serrano, 1922-1970), Katipunan Avenue (named after the revolutionaries for Philippine independence from Spain), and White Plains Avenue in Quezon City. The Camp Aguinaldo is more than just a military camp, but is also a major hub for social activities for civilians.
Opened in 1935 as the American era (1898-1946) Camp Murphy, the military base was named after the former American Governor-General (1933-1935) and High Commissioner (1935-1936) to the Philippines, William Francis Brennan Murphy (1890-1949); who also served as the Mayor of Detroit, the Governor of Michigan, the Attorney General, and a Supreme Court justice in America.
The camp was established as the home of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), after the Philippine government purchased part of the properties of Doña Magdalena Hashim Ysmael-Hemady (1877-1955) and Hacienda de Mandaloyon of Francisco “Don Paco” Ortigas (1875-1935).With the establishment of the Philippine Army in 1938, Camp Murphy was split into two, with the Philippine Army taking much of the area to the east; while PC took the smaller western property and named it Camp Rafael Cramé, after the first Filipino Chief of the Philippine Constabulary, Brigadier General Rafael Crame y Pérez de Tagle (1863-1927).
Beside Camp Murphy was the Zablan Airfield, at the eastern edge of the base. The airfield was named after Major Porfirio E. Zablan, of the Philippine Constabulary Air Corps (PCAC), who was one of the first Filipinos to take actual flight training. Mastering his training, Zabalna quickly rose among the ranks of his fellow recruits, and was allowed to take further training in the USA. When Zabalan was killed in a training exercise in the USA in 1935, the airfield was named after him in honor of his service and sacrifice. After World War II (1939-1945), all flight operations of the Zabalan Airfield were transferred to the Nichols Air Base (now the Villamor Air Base, after Colonel Jesús Antonio Villamor, 1914-1971). The current location of the Zabalan Airfield is now the southern stretch of Katipunan Avenue.
The areas around Camp Murphy were designated to the barracks of the enlisted men and their families. To compensate the lack of a nearby source of potable water, gigantic water tanks were erected all over the camp. To this day, these water tanks are major landmarks in the residential district of Murphy District of Cubao (now called Barangay Socorro, est. 1961). As the families of the enlisted men grew, the barracks areas became fully fledged residential areas, which are now the Barangays of Socorro, San Roque, West Crame and Escopa. The Project 4, Barrio Escopa was once called Barrio Lata (Tin Can) after the many army rations consumed by the residents, it was later renamed as Barrio Escopa in 1943, after the 1st Company of the Philippine Army (or ISCOPA) who were billeted there.
To accommodate the growing families of the enlisted men, schools were opened in the vicinity. However, these schools were destroyed in World War II, after the Japanese took over Camp Murphy and the Zabalan Air Field, to house the Japanese 29th Sentai’s Nakajima Ki-44 Shōki and Ki-84 Hayate planes. After the war, the new schools constructed for the enlisted men’s children were the Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo High School (est. 1946, as Armed Forces of the Philippines School for Enlisted Men, AFPSEM) and the Fort Aguinaldo Elementary School (est. 1949, as Enlisted Men’s Barrio School).
In 1965, President Diosdado Pangan Macapagal Sr. (1910-1997) had Camp Murphy renamed after the first Philippine president and revolutionary general, Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy (1869-1964), almost 17 months after his death. Aguinaldo was born in the province of Cavite, and went to Manila to take his collegiate education, at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. However, Aguinaldo didn’t complete studies to serve as the Cabeza de Barangay in his hometown of Cavite el Viejo (present-day Kawit) in 1895, and as its Gobernadorcillo (mayor) in the same year. Joining the Fremason, Aguinaldo was introduced to the Katipunan revolutionary movement of Andres Bonifacio, another mason. And with the 1896 outbreak of the Philippine Revolution, Aguinaldo led successful armed skirmishes against the Spanish colonial forces. In March 22, 1897, Aguinaldo was elected as president of the Philippine revolutionary government, in Tejeros, Cavite Province; but he was convinced to surrender and be exiled to Hong Kong, with the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. In Hong Kong, Aguinaldo negotiated with the American ambassador for support in his return to the Philippines, as the USA had just entered into the Spanish-American War (1898). And on the 24th of May 1898, the United States Navy’s Asiatic Squadron of Commodore George Perrin Dewey (1837-1917) arrived in Manila Bay and destroyed the Spanish Pacific Squadron, with Aguinaldo and his men aboard the USRC McCulloch. Declaring a revolutionary government on the 28th of May, Aguinaldo’s plans were dashed by the betrayal of the Americans, who blockaded Manila for Filipinos and “purchased” the Philippines from Spain for $20 million, in the December 10, 1898, Treaty of Paris. Despite these setbacks, Aguinaldo established the First Philippine Republic on January 21, 1899, in Malolos, Bulacan ; but was once again thwarted by the outbreak of the Philippine-American War on February 4, 1899. Aguinaldo moved from province to province fighting and avoiding the American troops, until his capture on March 23, 1901, in Palanan, Isabela Province. Aguinaldo was forced to pledge allegiance to the Americans, and spent the rest of his days working for the care of his fellow revolutionaries, by securing pensions for the Asociación de los Veteranos de la Revolución (Association of Veterans of the Revolution).
The center of the Camp Aguinaldo is the General Headquarters (GHQ) with the Lapu-Lapu Grandstand and Parade Grounds. The parade ground is the center of all formal of the AFP in Camp Aguinaldo, and it is named after the Chieftain of Mactan, Lapu-Lapu, whose warriors defeated the Spanish forces of the Portuguese explorer, Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan, 1480-1521). The AFP camp in the province of Cebu is also named after Lapu-Lapu.
There are other buildings in the Camp Aguinaldo, named after historical places and notable soldiers. Such is the AFP Commissioned Officers Club’s Tejeros Hall. Built in 1984, the Tejeros Hall was named after the district of Tejeros, in the city of San Francisco de Malabon (now General Mariano Closas Trías City), province of Cavite; where the unification of factions of the Katipunan revolution against the Spanish Occupation of the Philippines lead to the election of General Aguinaldo as the president of the revolutionary government. The Tejeros Hallis a choice the location of military and civilian meetings and social functions; such as weddings, debuts and event fund raising shows. The Tejeros Hall also boasts a collection of artworks by Carlos Perez Valino Jr. (1930s-2008), Jose “Al” Rabino Giroy (born 1962), and Zenaida “Zny” Laygo (born 1930).
The next building named after a noted soldier is the Office of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Luis P. Torres Hall of Justice. The edifice was named after Colonel Luis P. Torres, who served as the JAG from 1939-1941 and from 1945-1946. Col. Torres also served as the Secretary of Justice under Pres. Manuel Luis Molina Quezón (1878-1944), from 1932 to 1936; and mayor of Baguio City from 1950 to 1951.
The Medical Corps building is named Bulwagang Heneral Valdez, after General Basilio J. Valdes (1892-1970). Valdez was World War I (1914-1918) veteran, who took his formal medical education at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). After the war, Valdez served in the Philippine Constabulary, revitalizing its medical corps. In 1939, Valde was appointed as the chief of staff of the Philippine Armed Forces, and he was later assigned the position of appointed Secretary of National Defense by Pres. Quezon, in 1941. After the war, Gen. Valdez acted as ad interim Secretary of Public Health and Welfare, under Pres. Sergio Osmeña Sr. (1878-1961). Retiring from government service, Gen. Valdez taught surgery at the UST, while leading notable institutions such as the Philippine Cancer Society (est. 1956), the Philippine Tuberculosis Society (est. 1910), the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (est. 1948), and the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital (est. 1948).
More of the history of the AFP as well as notable acts of heroism in its ranks can be viewed at the AFP Museum and Multi-Purpose Theater. Constructed in 1995, the AFP Theater has been a venue for film showings, variety shows, and even awards shows, such as the national AWIT Awards (the Philippine’s Grammys). The AFP Museum was renovated and reopened in 2012, where there are photo galleries of Philippine military history, tribal weaponry, dioramas of major battles, an exhibit honoring the recipients of the Philippine Medal of Valor, uniforms and insignias over the years, and a collection of artifacts of the many battles waged in the past, starting with the Katipunan Revolution of 1896 to the present. Aside from these artifacts, inside the AFP Museum and Multi-Purpose Theater are artworks by National Artist Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (1930-2018), Imelda “Impy” Manalaysay Pilapil (born 1949), Ephraim Samson (born 1947), Carlos Perez Valino Jr. (1930s-2008), Ireneo “René” San Agustian Robles, Jr. (born 1950), Apolinario “Ka Inar” Paraiso Bulaong (1930s-2013), and portraits of the past AFP Chiefs of Staff by Luisito “Chito” Katindig Villanueva (born 1938) and the deaf-mute artist Samuel Navarrete Abrera.
Beside the AFP Museum and Multi-Purpose Theater is the Kagitingan Park (Bravery or Heroism), which exhibits the many vehicles and artillery used by the AFP over the years. The park was opened in 1996, and has grown steadily as decommissioned airplanes, helicopters, tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs), jeeps, and artillery guns are added to the collection.
Another military vehicle on display in Camp Aguinaldo is a tank used in the 1989 Coup d’Etat of the rebel Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) against the administration of Pres. María Corazón “Cory” Sumulong Cojuangco Aquino (1933-2009). 1989 Coup d’Etat Memorial is located beside AFP Veterans Center.
The AFP Veterans Center is one of the many institutions in Camp Aguinaldo, established for the welfare of the Filipino soldier. Inside the Veterans Center is the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (est. 1972); while located in other parts of the camp are the Armed Forces and Police Savings & Loan Association, Inc. (AFPSLAI), the Armed Forces and Police Mutual Benefit Association, Inc. (AFPMBAI), the Armed Forces of the Philippines Retirement and Separation System (RSBS), and the Armed Forces & Police General Insurance Corporation (AFPGEN).
Other major institutions located within the Camp Aguinaldo are the Kagawaran ng Tanggulang Pambansa (Department of National Defense or DND), the AFP Logistics Center (LOGCTR, formerly Logistics Command, LOGCOM), the Office of Strategic and Special Studies, the Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Office of Civil Defense (est. 1972), the National Defense College of The Philippines (est. 1963), the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (est. 1970 as National Disaster Coordinating Council), the National Capital Regional Command (NCRCOM), the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP), the Armed Forces Reserve Command (AFPRESCOM),the AFP Command and General Staff College (AFPCGSC), the Joint Special Operations Group (JSOG), and the Anti-Crime Task Force (ACTAF).
Aside from the institutions for official military business, there are several establishments for the soldiers to enjoy some R-N-R (Rest and Recreation). For some officers, there is the Camp Aguinaldo Golf Course, which is a 4945 meter (5409 yard) long 18-hole golf course, with challenging treeline, dog-legs, turtleneck greens, sand and water hazards. The golf course was several decades in operation, when avid civilian and military golfers established the Camp Aguinaldo Golf and Country Club in 1986, to manage the use of the course, as well as provide caddies and carts to the golfers, and serve hot meals and cold drinks before and after a game. And to train for the a game of golf, or just to unwind, there is also the Log Com Golf Driving Range, at the eastern side of the camp. The Camp Aguinaldo golf course and surrounding grounds makes the military base one of the major green areas of Quezon City.
Another R-N-R location is the AFPCOC Swimming Pool (AFP Commissioned Officers Club), the Daza Park, and the AFP Concessionaires or Soldiers Mall. Inside the AFP Concessionaires are eateries, suppliers of military uniforms and paraphernalia, a mini-grocery, internet shops, and electronic shops. The Daza Park (named after the Philippine-American war revolutionary, Major Eugenio Salvador Daza) is located the the southern area of the camp, and hosts a swimming pool, as well as a multi-function hall and gazebos for parties and other social functions.
For the spiritual needs of the soldiers and their families, the AFP coordinates with the Salam Mosque near Tandang Sora Avenue for its Muslim personnel; while for the Christian soldiers there are the Episcopal Church and the St. Ignatius de Loyola Cathedral inside the camp.
The St. Ignatius de Loyola Cathedral was erected in 1964, and was named after the Spaniard, San Íñigo López de Loyola (1491-1556), patron saint of soldiers. The St. Ignatius de Loyola Cathedral is seat of the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines; which was established as the Military Vicariate in 1950, and accepted into the Philippine Catholic system in 1952. Also known as the Diocese of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and the Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), the Bureau of Jail Management & Penology (BJMP), and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC), the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines has its offices at the AFP Ecumenical Building, behind the cathedral.
From the 1970s to the early 1990s, my family lived in the Murphy District of Cubao; and I would spend much of my childhood summers staying in my uncle’s house in Camp Aguinaldo. While my uncle was out in the field, my cousins and I would explore the camp, from the gold courses to the concrete playhouses. In those summers I saw developments in the camp, until my young adult life.
Living near the camp also allowed my family to experience the historical events that would involve Camp Aguinaldo and the nearby Camp Cramé. Among these events were the February 1986 People Power Revolution, where hundreds of thousands of people filled EDSA, to ouster President Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr. (1917-1989), after almost 21 years of a dictatorial rule over the Philippines. Later on, my brother and I were joining with the press in the coverage of the RAM Coup d’Etat against the government of Pres. Corazon Aquino in 1987 and 1989. And these coups will be the subject of my next article.