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Gen. Manuel T. Yan, soldier of peace

By Ramon J. Farolan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:21:00 12/08/2008

Filed Under: People, Obituary

LAST Saturday, necrological services were held for Gen. Manuel T. Yan, soldier, diplomat and peacemaker. The following is part of my remarks at the services that evening:

Of his more than 88 years on this earth, Manuel Tecson Yan devoted 63 of those years entirely to the Filipino people: 35 years in the military organization, where he rose to become, at the age of 48, the youngest AFP chief of staff; 21 years in the foreign service, becoming undersecretary of the Department after foreign assignments in Thailand, Indonesia and the United Kingdom; and seven years? involvement in the peace process with our Moro brothers, resulting in the signing of a peace accord in 1996 with the Moro National Liberation Front, an agreement which resulted in the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Only declining physical health in the last few years prevented the dedication of his entire life in service to his country.

During his most active years, he turned down all offers to run for public office, even when full financial support was assured. Business was completely alien to him, and because he turned a blind eye to the lure of politics and business, he was able to devote?with complete integrity and sincerity?all his energies and efforts for the welfare of his country and people.

Manuel Yan started his military career as a young high school graduate from Arellano High School, joining the Philippine Military Academy, class of 1941. At the PMA, he was a ?star? man during his second and first class years, the five-pointed star on the collar of his dress uniform an emblem of academic excellence. As a senior cadet, he served as the chairman of the Honor Committee and was also the editor in chief of the Corps Magazine, two positions which I also held during my cadet days some 25 years later.

On graduation day, Manuel Yan received the Presidential Sabre, symbol of superiority in both academic work and military training, from Vice President Sergio Osmeńa, the commencement speaker. In finishing at the top of his class, Manuel Yan became one of the few to accomplish this feat as a high school graduate. Many young boys who join the PMA do so after one, two or even three years of college work.

The First Captain of the class, or Baron, was cadet Abelardo Mondonedo. He would receive the Chief of Staff sabre, while cadet Luis Magallanes won the athletic sabre. Antonio Romero would take the Equestrian Sabre for horsemanship. Incidentally, Abelardo Mondonedo would be followed as First Captain by his younger brother Augusto from the class of 1942.

As AFP chief of staff, Manuel Yan was known to be a considerate boss who was concerned with the personal health of his assistants. Last September, the PMA alumni association tendered a testimonial luncheon in his honor. At this gathering, his aide de camp Captain Emiliano ?Mitch? Templo related how on one occasion when suffering from gastrointestinal problems, he decided to call in sick. Hours later, General Yan was on the line inquiring about his health and recommending complete rest. Templo was so embarrassed he decided to report for duty the following day even though he still felt weak. How many superiors take the trouble of personally looking into the physical welfare of their immediate subordinates?

In a service that is more commonly known for tough-talking men using all kinds of cuss words like ?goddamit? or ?bullshit,? Yan was the exception. When he was upset by the failures and stupidities of subordinates, the harshest words from him would be ?By golly!?

On one occasion, while visiting the troops in the South, he was made to wait by the late arrival of a member of his party. Not a word of reprimand was uttered by Yan. Of course, we know that silence can sometimes be more painful than a good bawling out.

Yan?s tenure as head of the armed forces was marked by widespread student activism as well as the emergence of the New People?s Army. He was probably the last chief of staff to display 4-star license plates on his official vehicle as he moved around the capital region?a tribute to the respect and esteem in which he was held by all sectors of society.

Upon retirement from the armed forces, General Yan started his foreign service career as ambassador to Thailand. This was followed by another stint as ambassador to Indonesia. When President Cory Aquino sent me to Jakarta following the Edsa Revolution, I found myself in the difficult position of following in his footsteps. Considering that prior to General Yan my father was also the ambassador to Indonesia, it was like stepping into the shoes of two giants. I lived in their homes; I used their offices and I quickly realized that they had something in common?they were loved by the community they served. When I presented my credentials to President Suharto at Merdeka Palace, he inquired about General Yan and when I informed him that Yan was the deputy foreign minister (now undersecretary), Suharto commented that ?we soldiers continue to serve our country even when out of uniform.?

Last February, De La Salle University of Manila honored him with a Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa, in recognition of his outstanding achievements as a military man and a government servant and his dedicated service to the Filipino people. In response, Manuel Yan spoke of the lessons and insights that he gained as a peace negotiator.

He said that, first, peace negotiations are not necessarily bargaining processes all the time, but a mutual search for solutions to problems and concerns that affect not just the rebel groups but the government and country as a whole. We should look on them as problem-solving, rather than bargaining processes.

The second lesson is that we must keep in mind that at the core of every peace process is the issue of trust, and it must begin with each side developing a common understanding of each other?s positions.

The third lesson is that the peace process must be supported by an effective method of consultation with the people. These consultations must be continuously held, so that those whose lives are affected will have a stake in the outcome. He added that such has been the subject matter of his toil and inspiration.

In the end, he said, ?this is the only country that we have; we must take care of it through a perpetual search for peace.?

* * *

In his own remarks, President Fidel V. Ramos quoted the Beatitudes: ?Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.?

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