Seventy-one years ago in 1942, Maj. Gen. Edward King Jr. surrendered an army of 76,000 Filipino and American soldiers to a Japanese force of 54,000 under Gen. Masaharu Homma. Of the 76,000, some 10,500 were American officers and enlisted men. It was the single largest capitulation of a US-led military force in American history, culminating in the Bataan Death March.
There were 16 general officers in Bataan, six were Filipinos. The most prominent of the Filipinos was Brig. Gen. Vicente Lim, the commanding general of the 41st Division, Philippine Army. Lim was also the first Filipino cadet to graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1914.
It is interesting to note that in the award-winning biography of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Jean Edward Smith, the words “Bataan and Corregidor” are nowhere to be found. Perhaps that is a measure of the importance that was given to the struggle in the Philippines by many Americans. (Recently, an American destroyer, the USS Decatur, was in town for a goodwill visit. Some crew members were taken on a tour of Corregidor and Bataan. At lunch, one of the Navy officers confessed to me that he was not too familiar with the events that took place in Bataan and Corregidor. He justified his lack of awareness by claiming that it was more of an “Army affair” with little Navy participation.)
Tomorrow, the nation marks the Fall of Bataan. The event has been rechristened as “Araw ng Kagitingan” so as to put emphasis on valor rather than on defeat and surrender. It is a reminder of the courage and bravery of our soldiers who fought alongside American GI Joes in a war not of their making.
Last Friday, the Filipino Veteran was honored with a parade and review at the Philippine Army grounds in Fort Bonifacio. The guest of honor representing a number of living and posthumous awardees was Gen. Renato S. de Villa, former AFP chief of staff and now chair of the Filipino Veterans Foundation Inc.
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Perhaps we should be reminded what “Bataan and Corregidor” was all about. More importantly, we should learn from the lessons of the past.
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 differences over a number of issues, war became inevitable. Filipinos were taken in to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States and we fought alongside US soldiers with loyalty and determination. Little did we know that as we continued to resist, the fate of the Philippines had already been decided in Washington. In a private meeting at the White House attended by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt assured visiting Prime Minister Winston Churchill that Europe would be the first priority. “The Philippines was being written off—unhappy fate though that might be for the troops fighting so gallantly there. The Secretary of War nodded in agreement. ‘There are times,’ he said, ‘when men have to die.’ Roosevelt explained to the Prime Minister that he could hardly of course admit that he had given up on the Philippines either to the US public or to Gen. MacArthur and his troops.” (Leonard Mosley, “Marshall, Hero For Our Times,” 1982)
Legally, as citizens of a commonwealth of the United States, Filipinos were American nationals entitled to all benefits afforded those serving in the US Armed Forces.
However, when the war ended, and we were just beginning to rise from the ashes of the conflict, the US Congress passed a law, 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.
So much for our steadfast devotion to Uncle Sam. By the way, the United States does not observe Bataan Day as a national holiday. Rightly so because it was a day of defeat. Seventy-one years after, very few Americans know what “Bataan and Corregidor” was all about or even where these places are located.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that there are no permanent friends; only permanent interests. One would think that when the war ended and victory was finally attained at the cost of so many innocent lives and millions of property damaged, 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 his benefits as a US veteran were rescinded.
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Now as we face territorial disputes with our giant next-door neighbor, let us not believe that the US Seventh Fleet will be around to protect our interests when push comes to shove.
The insights of former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on China, the United States and the rest of the world should be kept in mind: “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 when it ‘arrives.’ China is also willing to calibrate its engagement to get what it wants or express its displeasure.
“China is sucking the Southeast Asian countries into its economic system because of its vast market and growing purchasing power. Japan and South Korea will inevitably be sucked in as well. It just absorbs countries without having to use force…. China’s growing economic sway will be very difficult to fight. China’s emphasis is on expanding their influence through the economy. In the geopolitical sense, they are more concerned now with using diplomacy in their foreign policy, not force.
“Are Chinese leaders serious about displacing the United States as the number 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…. They have followed the American lead in putting people in space and shooting down satellites with missiles. 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 number 1 in Asia, and in the world?”