Liberato Picar Philippines Military Academy Album

URLs to browse or search the collections

The SEAiT collection contains sixty–one photographs from two albums compiled by Captain Liberato Picar, an alumnus of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and a retired Philippine Navy officer. These photographs illustrate cadet life during his four years at the PMA in Baguio City from 1936 to 1940.

During his research for a book about the Philippine military, University of Wisconsin historian Alfred W. McCoy collected photographs from surviving members of the PMA’s Class of 1940. This was the first class to graduate from the PMA under the full four-year, military-science curriculum and is the subject of a detailed collective biography (prosopograhy) in his book, Closer Than Brothers.

Through members of Class ’40, Professor McCoy was introduced to Mrs. Beatriz “Betty” Apostol Picar, the widow of Captain Liberato Picar (PMA ’40) who was known among his classmates for having a good photo collection. She confirmed that her husband, Captain Picar, had compiled two photo albums of his cadet days some time before his death. Mrs. Picar graciously loaned these two albums to Professor McCoy, and he hand-carried them back-and-forth between Madison and Manila for incorporation into the SEAiT project.

In an interview with Mrs. Betty Picar at her home in Makati, Metro Manila, on December 9, 1995, she recalled that her husband, Captain Picar, had a small camera at the PMA and thinks, but could not be certain, that he took the snapshots collected in the second, “small album,” samples of which are found on the SEAiT site. Since they did not meet and marry until 1943, her knowledge of this period is, of course, indirect. However, one of the photos in this “small album” shows Cadet Picar at Wright’s Park reflecting pool in Baguio City, posing with camera in hand. This photo lends substance to Mrs. Picar’s supposition that her husband was indeed the photographer who took these informal snapshots.

To compile the larger album, titled “Album, Commander Liberato R. Picar,” Captain Picar mixed formal, 5×7 inch shots by Baguio City’s photographic studios with snippets of his own informal snapshots. He then decorated each page with stylized, geometric line work, arraying the photos on the page in an art-deco style evocative of the 1930s. The cumulative effect of this succession of photos, spread across facing album pages within their art-deco frames, is powerfully evocative of the ethos of newly-established military academy, the best hope of the pre-war Philippine Commonwealth, a neophyte nation then brimming with idealism and promise.

In a society where patronage was pervasive, the entering cadets of Class of 1940 were selected by exams that proved an effective mechanism for social mobility. Drawn from every region and social strata, this class proved a diverse and talented group. Although there were two graduate civil engineers and several Manila socialites, most cadets came from the broad lower-middle stratum of Filipino society. Among the thirty-two alumni Professor McCoy interviewed, seven were from poor households, seventeen from a lower-middle stratum of small farmers or minor officials, and only eight from affluent families. While their mothers had stayed at home raising six or seven children, fathers held jobs ranging from farmer to senator. In a memoir written before his death in 1987, Captain Picar recalled a village childhood in La Union Province, on the Ilocos Coast north of Manila, that seems typical of his classmates:

“The house where I was raised had two rooms, one room which served as living and bedroom for all of us … It was thatch-roofed, with cogon grass, walled with coconut leaves and floored with split bamboo. Surrounding it were a few coconut trees, which father had planted. I was told I was born in this simple house…”
“For elementary education I enrolled in the Caba Elementary School, which is… about two kilometers from our house. As usual, I had to trek my way to school barefooted for three years… Because our town had no electricity, for all these years I had been studying beside an oil lamp. The study efforts exerted were rewarded when I graduated number three in a class of about fifty.”

These photo albums served as the basis for some of Professor McCoy’s observations about PMA cadet life in the 1930s, and several can be found in his book , Closer Than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).