My recollection of Dec. 8, 1941, was going to Mass at the Baguio Cathedral, accompanied by an aunt, a deeply religious woman with a special devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Just as we were leaving the church, I saw a low-flying, single engine airplane with a large red dot on its wings and fuselage. The plane flew so low and at relatively slow speed such that I could make out the image of the pilot in his open cockpit. It was the first time I had actually seen a plane in flight and for a 7-year-old boy, the experience would remain etched in memory for many years to come.
There were warnings of danger, but the pilot did not appear to have any aggressive intentions as he flew over the city several times, often dipping his wings for a better view of the landscape. After months of speculation about an impending conflict, the symbol of the Rising Sun finally made its first appearance over the skies of Baguio City. It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
In the evening, we experienced our first blackout, not due to any power failure but more as a security measure. The old folks brought out candles and cautioned us to be quiet and not move around too much.
A few days later, strange-looking soldiers with cloth flaps hanging from the back of their caps marched into the city and soon we were taught to sing a new anthem, learn a completely different alphabet, and bow from the waist to the new arrivals. The term “enemy occupation” would soon be part of our vocabulary and for the rest of our lives the experience would play a major role in the life of the nation.
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In December 1989, the most serious coup attempt against the government took place in Metro Manila and Cebu. Parts of the Makati Business District were taken over by rebel elements, mostly Scout Ranger units from nearby Fort Bonifacio. Mactan, in the south, was also under rebel influence.
At that time, I had just assumed my post as administrator of the Export Processing Zone Authority (now the Philippine Economic Zone Authority). I had gone to my offices on Roxas Boulevard, and waiting for my action was a fax message from Tokyo requesting for reservations at the Cavite Export Processing Zone in Rosario. In the middle of a coup attempt with the business district in rebel hands, a Japanese company was expressing interest in setting up a manufacturing facility in the country. I was flabbergasted, but nevertheless, we sent a reply confirming their reservations and a few days later, with the standoff still being maintained, we received payment of their deposit for the lot reservation.
I had the opportunity to meet the Japanese investors who had indicated a desire to do business in the country at the height of a coup attempt. They invited me to dinner at a restaurant close to the Imperial Hotel, and since most of the group did not speak English, much of the conversation was carried out through an interpreter.
As the dinner progressed, one of them asked how many legal holidays we observed in the Philippines. I replied we had something like 12 holidays in a year and added the information that one of them was the anniversary of the Fall of Bataan. I sensed surprise, almost shock, from the group at this unusual piece of news. The question immediately asked was, “Why do you celebrate a defeat?” I explained that for us Bataan was more of a victory, considering that we were able to stand up for so long against a superior force despite extremely difficult conditions, unlike other Allied forces in the region who surrendered swiftly and unexpectedly. From the nodding of heads around the table, I seemed to have satisfied my hosts and so I related further that on this Bataan anniversary each year, the Japanese and American ambassadors, accompanied by the Philippine president, make a pilgrimage to a mountain shrine (Dambana ng Kagitingan) in Bataan. One of them asked, “What do the three persons talk about when they visit the shrine?” I said that most likely they talk about the bravery and courage of the men and pay tribute to their heroism without distinction as to nationality.
This December, the nation is not facing any coup attempts. The noted scholar Samuel Huntington expressed the view that “what draws the soldier into the political arena is not their own strength, but rather the weakness of the political system.” It was widespread corruption and the incompetence of civil officials that led to a military coup by Gen. Park Chung-hee in South Korea. From time to time, the Royal Thai Armed Forces has also intervened under similar circumstances. Soldiers were drawn into politics mainly because the existing system was too weak to defend itself from other intrusions or could not deliver in terms of the basic needs and aspirations of the people.
As civil institutions are further strengthened and public officials made more accountable, the threat of military intervention becomes a thing of the past.
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Today (Dec. 17) is both the birth and death anniversary of my mother-in-law, Mary Morales Joaquin. We were never sure of her birth year. As retirement age for government employees approached, she kept getting younger.
I first met my future mother-in-law when, as a young high school student, I would drop by my father’s office at the Philippines Herald in Intramuros, just beside Letran College. He was then editor and publisher of the paper owned by Don Vicente Madrigal. Much of the waiting time was spent doing my homework, playing chess with the reporters; after a while, I got to know most of the people, if not personally, at least by name—Joe Lansang, Sammy Rodriguez, Caring Nuguid, Doroy Valencia, Teddy Benigno, Etang Perez, Lulu Henson and Mary Joaquin, to name a few.
Mary Joaquin was the eldest child of Eusebio Morales of Moncada, Tarlac, and Frances Alden, a young English schoolteacher from London. She was followed by Carmen, May and, finally, Eusebio “Frankie” Morales Jr. The girls all attended St. Theresa’s College in Ermita, and Frances Alden Morales made sure that they went to school in proper English attire—with wide-brimmed hats that naturally made them objects of ribbing by their classmates.
Mary moved to the University of the Philippines, where she quickly blossomed into a campus figure. In 1929, she was chosen as the first “sweetheart” of the College of Engineering fraternity Beta Epsilon, whose Most Exalted Brother at that time was Dominador Cepeda.
Marriage cut short her university education, but even after the marriage broke up, she did pretty well on her own steam. Much of her work was in advertising and public relations with most of her time spent at the National Electrification Administration. Her greatest boast was that she made a substantial contribution to the electrification of our country. And over the years, I learned to quietly agree with everything she said. She would have been 101 years old.