When war ends, denials begin
Last week the family took a trip out of town, choosing to visit Bataan for the Lenten season. We spent some time at a resort in Bagac which, during the war, was the western anchor of a Filipino-American defense line extending across the waist of the Bataan peninsula to Orion, on the shores of Manila Bay. On the way to Bagac, one cannot fail to see the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor) resting majestically atop Mount Samat. It is the most visited tourist attraction in the province.
The Shrine of Valor is our way of extolling the bravery and courage of the Filipino soldier who fought in a conflict not of his own making and which resulted in so much misery and destruction to his country. Along the road are specially designed markers indicating the route taken by captured Filipino and American soldiers who were force-marched to concentration camps, in what the world has known as “The March of Death.”
Seventy-five years ago in April 1942, Maj. Gen. Edward King Jr. surrendered his Luzon force of 78,100 Filipino and American troops to a smaller but more experienced Japanese Army led by Gen. Masaharu Homma. It was the single, largest capitulation of a US-led military force in American history.
In celebrating Araw ng Kagitingan, we honor our veterans, giving recognition to their heroism, their gallantry in action, their sacrifices on the battlefield and their sufferings in prison camps. It is also important to reflect on what happened to the survivors among them, when the war ended. In doing so, we learn from the past and, hopefully, we avoid the same mistakes.
In 1940 we were a commonwealth of the United States. We had no quarrel with Japan, or the Japanese people. Unfortunately, there were US armed forces stationed in the Philippines. And when the United States and Japan were unable to resolve their problems, war became inevitable. Filipinos were taken in to serve in the armed forces of the United States, and we fought alongside US soldiers against the common enemy, with loyalty and determination.
One would think that when the war ended and victory was finally attained at the cost of so many innocent lives and so much property damage, the last thing that would be thrown at the Filipino veteran, loyal and steadfast as he was in Bataan and Corregidor, would be a law that made sure any benefits he was entitled to as a US veteran were rescinded.
But that is exactly what happened. When the war ended and we were just beginning to rise from the ashes of the conflict, the US Congress passed the “Rescission Act of 1946,” declaring that “the service of Filipinos shall not be deemed to be or have been served in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof.” This effectively stripped Filipinos of their recognition as US veterans and blew away whatever benefits they may have been entitled to. The fact that such a law needed to be passed indicates that the legal status of Filipino soldiers as US veterans stood on solid ground. One does not rescind or cancel something that never existed in the past.
So much for our steadfast devotion to Uncle Sam.
Perhaps, the lesson to be learned here is that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. As such, it may
be imprudent to put all our eggs in one basket. The world is changing rapidly. There is an additional sheriff in the region.
He is just a few miles away and is challenging the old one.
The old one seems bent on building walls to keep outsiders out, and is himself turning inward. If we are to survive and avoid being caught once again in a conflict between two great powers, we must learn to live with everyone and stop acting
like little brown brothers.
History tells us that long before the Spaniards, the British and the Americans came, we coexisted with China in peace and friendship. Chinese people who came to our lands became very much a part of our nation, and much of our customs and traditions are of Chinese origin.
Perhaps it is wise to keep in mind some insights expressed by former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew on China and the United States: “China’s strategy for Southeast Asia is fairly simple: China tells the region, ‘Come grow with me.’ At the same time, China’s leaders want to convey the impression that China’s rise is inevitable and countries will need to decide if they want to be China’s friend or foe. China is also willing to calibrate its engagement to get what it wants or express its displeasure.
“Are Chinese leaders serious about displacing the United States as the No. 1 power in Asia? In the world?
“Of course. Why not? They have transformed a poor society by an economic miracle to become now the second-largest economy in the world. . . . Theirs is a culture 4,000 years old with 1.3 billion people, many of great talent—a huge and very talented pool to draw from. How could they not aspire to be No. 1 in Asia and the world?”
From Bataan we returned to the city, just in time for a Good Friday recollection conducted by Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, at the Santuario De San Jose in Greenhills.
Bishop Ambo’s talk can be found on the internet, but he also spoke about a letter from his father. Before dying his father had told him that he didn’t have much time left, but he wanted to tell his children a few things: “I am not writing to entrust properties or money to anybody. I was never interested in acquiring wealth. You my children, are my wealth. I only wanted to make sure you acquired a good education, good breeding, and proper values. Life is short, do not waste it; it is a gift. To live it meaningfully you have to make sure you don’t live it for yourselves only.”
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