VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Commander Digong in uniform and the AFP Uniform Code

Clad in camouflage uniform, Commander-in-Chief Rodrigo Duterte visited troops in Marawi July 20, the first time since the military launched offensives last May 23. It was not the first time the President wore a military uniform. Last July 7, he was also in a military uniform when he visited troops in Iligan City, which led to a string of questions on whether he was wearing it right and if he’s covered by the Armed Forces’ rules on uniform.

President Rodrigo Duterte in Marawi City. (Photo from PCOO)

Did he wear the military uniform properly according to AFP rules?

No, he didn’t.

The Battle Dress/Field Uniforms prescribed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Uniform Code is worn differently. “Prescribed military uniform,” means the proper way of wearing it, strictly according to the rules.

Approved in October 2004 and promulgated in 2005, the objectives of the AFP Uniform Code “are to provide descriptions of all authorized military uniforms and components, and to establish clear-cut guidance in the use of uniforms to present a respectable image of the AFP,” Vice Admiral Ariston Delos Reyes wrote in the foreword of the code.

The uniform represents visual evidence of the authority and responsibility vested in the individual.

Is the president covered by the AFP Uniform Code?

No, he isn’t. As president and commander in chief, “he is over and above the military” and can wear the uniform distinctive to his position, said retired general Edilberto Adan, who was the AFP Deputy Chief of Staff at the time the code was promulgated.

“The president has the prerogative to wear a distinctive attire that shows he’s the commander-in-chief. It does not have to be the exact uniform (as the AFP’s),” Adan said in an interview.

What uniform was the president wearing in Iligan? Can he wear other uniforms?

Duterte wore the new digitized camouflage of the Army when he visited Iligan. It is the recently approved new Battle Dress Attire (BDA) or uniform that was given to him during the Philippine Army day. It is still undergoing field test to validate the specifications. But he can wear any uniform not only of the armed forces, but also of the police or Coast Guard he wants to represent, Adan said.

If the president had strictly followed the Uniform Code, how was he supposed to wear the Army camouflage uniform?

There are many components to the Battle Dress Attire or uniform, from the patches, insignias, headgear, undershirt or undergarments (including type of drawers or briefs), belts to shoes. As prescribed according to rules. Even the rolling of sleeves and buttoning up of the uniform are governed by the code.

The code prescribes a distinctive service or unit patch for the uniform and the right sleeve reserved for the patching of the national flag. Duterte was seen to have the AFP seal on his left sleeve while photos didn’t show if there was the flag on the right sleeve. A 3.1 cm wide green, khaki or black belt with prescribed buckle must be worn with the Utility (camouflage) and General Uniform. It was not visible from available photos if Duterte wore the prescribed belt for the BDA.

According to the code cap or hat is an integral part of the uniform, it is required to be worn. “When outdoors, personnel remain covered at all times unless ordered to uncover.” Duterte wore a blue baseball cap, Under Armor brand with the military uniform.

Generally, the standard black leather or black hot weather tropical (jungle) combat boots is prescribed worn with the utility uniform. The code explicitly describes boots that do not meet the standard criteria for optional boots as those that are lightweight hiking shoes/boots based on running shoe’s latest technology, boots with patent leather and/or zippers, or boots made entirely of canvas and rubber, boots designed for police and SWAT use in urban areas are not acceptable combat boots because they are not suited for load bearing in rough terrain.” Duterte was wearing what looked like a blue/gray casual sneakers.

The battle dress or utility camouflage uniforms should bear a name and service cloth. It was not clear in the available photos if Duterte had his nameplate on the uniform. Standard undershirt must be worn with the uniform either white or green with quarter length sleeves and round neck. According to the code V-neck white undershirts are optional but not to be worn as standard undershirt. In available photos, Duterte is seen with an undershirt.

According to the Uniform Code: “The Army is a uniformed service where discipline is judged, in part, by the manner in which the individual wears the uniform as prescribed.

Therefore, a neat and well-groomed appearance by soldiers is fundamental to the Army and contributes to building the pride and spirit essential to an effective military force. A vital ingredient of the Army’s strength and military effectiveness is the pride and self-discipline that Army soldiers bring to their service. It is the responsibility of commanders to ensure that military personnel under their command present a neat and soldierly appearance. It is the duty of all soldiers to take pride in their appearance at all times.”

Why did the president wear the Army uniform the day he visited Iligan?

The president was in a combat zone and wearing a military uniform was for his security, Adan said. It was also intended to identify himself with the troops on the ground and serve as morale booster for the embattled soldiers, he added.

The Camouflage Utility/Battle Dress Uniform Duterte wore that day is the authorized wear of the military when in the field or in cases of heightened alert conditions.

What happens if those authorized to wear the military uniform violate the code?

The Uniform Code is part of the AFP regulations. Those authorized to wear the uniform face prosecution under the Articles of War when they disregard its provisions.

“All military personnel shall strictly observe all provisions in this Code to make sure that their attire is appropriate and presentable for the given occasion in keeping with the highest standards of military discipline,” De los Reyes said in the code’s foreword.

Did he violate Article 179 of the Revised Penal Code as a civilian who wore in public the new digitized camouflage uniform of the Army?

He did not violate Art. 179 that penalizes the public and improper use of insignia or uniform pertaining to an office not held by such person or a class of persons of which he is not a member. The President in this case is the Commander-in-Chief and there is no prescribed uniform for his position.

“By wearing the uniform, what office did he allegedly claim to hold which he actually did not? Or what class of persons did he allegedly claim to be a member, of which he actually is not? Under the circumstances, I think we also have to look at intent. Did he pretend to be somebody he was not or come across as someone he was not? Did he pretend to be or come across as someone holding an office which he did not? Did he pretend to be a member of the military? I think the answer to these questions is no. He wore the uniform as Commander-in-Chief. I think everybody got that. I don’t think anyone was confused or thought he was pretending to be someone he was not,” a lawyer opined in an interview.

Did he violate Republic Act 493 since he is a civilian, and he wore in public the new digitized camouflage uniform of the Army?

In general, RA 493 prohibits the use of insignias, badges, emblems, or rank of members of the AFP by those who are not members, the lawyer added. “There is no mention that the President wore any such insignia, badge, emblem, or rank (except for the AFP seal on his left sleeve). He just wore the new digitized camouflage uniform of the Army. I believe that it can be argued that the AFP seal simply represents that he is the Commander-in-Chief of the AFP. Then again, I think we also have to look at intent. By wearing the Army camouflage uniform, I don’t think he was pretending to be someone he was not, and nobody thought he was someone he was not. So, I think that he did not violate RA 493,” the lawyer said.

In any case, the President is immune from suit during his tenure.