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A vanishing breed of nation builders

By Ramon J. Farolan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:37:00 11/15/2009

Filed Under: Constitution, Heroism

IN early 1946, just after the end of World War II the US Congress passed two pieces of legislation which would define US-Philippine economic relations for many years. The Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946 stipulated payment of $620 million in war damages to assist the country in recovering from the devastation brought about by the conflict in the Pacific. But this assistance was contingent on the acceptance of the ?Parity? clause of another law known as the Philippine Trade Act of 1946. This clause granted to US citizens equal treatment with Filipinos in the exploitation of natural resources. It also gave American businessmen the same privileges as Filipinos with regard to property, business and industry.

Two days before the grant of independence on July 4, 1946, both laws were accepted by the Philippine legislature and subsequently confirmed by a later plebiscite. We achieved the trappings of formal independence but continued to be dominated by our erstwhile colonizer.

Among other items, the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946, Section 306-b in particular, provided for the grant of 50 midshipmen slots at the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) per year for a period of three years. This was aimed at rehabilitating the merchant marine sector of our economy which had been completely decimated during the war. For those not too familiar with this particular sector, merchant marine refers to the fleet of civilian-owned vessels operated by the government or the private sector and engaged in commerce or the transport of goods and services in peacetime. In war, the merchant marine fleet becomes an auxiliary of the Navy and can be utilized to deliver troops and supplies for our military forces. One of the most important elements of a productive merchant fleet and an effective sea transport industry is people?well-educated, competent and dedicated. It was in pursuit of this goal that the idea of sending a fairly large number of young Filipinos to train at Kings Point (home of the USMMA) was concretized. Keep in mind that we were allotted only one cadet slot per year at the US military academy in West Point and the US naval academy in Annapolis.

In 1946 the first 50 Filipino cadets chosen by civil service exams in nationwide competitions were shipped out to Kings Point. Of the 50, all except one would finish the four-year course. Some of the more prominent members of the class of 1950 are:

Nemesio Prudente (president of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines), Danilo Vizmanos, Luisito Goduco, Gil Fernandez, Romulo Espaldon (on the USMMA website, Espaldon is mentioned as one of the notable alumni of the academy, having served as Southcom chief and ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Yemen), Cecilio Hidalgo, Ramon Madrid, Leonardo Bugayong, Inocencio Estaniel, Vicente Perez, Alfredo Protacio, Gonzalo Santos and Benjamin Tanedo.

For some reason, there were no cadets sent in 1947 and 1948. But in 1949 the arrangements were resumed and 20 cadets, also chosen by civil service exams, were sent to the academy. Let me also point out some of the prominent members of this batch: Francis Ablan, Feliciano Salonga (father of Lea Salonga and currently chairman of SBMA), Jaime Francisco, Francisco Almazora, Alfredo Divino and Serapio Martillano (former flag officer in command of the Philippine Navy).

In 1950 the third and last batch of 20 Filipino cadets were dispatched to Kings Point. The group included Gregorio Abad, Hermenegildo Domingo, Jose Lansangan Jr., Bienvenido Lim and Jose Reyes.

* * *

The notification to a successful candidate was in the form of a letter signed by an official of the US Maritime Commission. It read: ?You have been formally designated by the President of the Philippine Republic for acceptance as a Cadet-Midshipman in the US Merchant Marine Cadet Corps as provided for by Section 306-b of the United States ?Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946.? This letter serves as your authority for reporting to the USMMA, Kings Point, Long Island, New York where your appointment will be duly executed.?

In exchange, the candidate agreed to ?return to the Philippines after the termination of training and to render at least two years? service to the government of the Philippines for each year of training received under this agreement.?

A word about Kings Point. Most Filipinos are more familiar with West Point and Annapolis and, possibly today, with Colorado Springs, home of the US Air Force Academy. The USMMA located in Kings Point was established in 1943 mainly as a result of a major maritime accident which took the lives of over 140 seagoing passengers leading to greater federal supervision over the industry. The motto of the academy is ?Acta Non Verba? or ?Deeds, Not Words.? And its official marching song is ?Heave Ho! My Lads, Heave Ho!?

* * *

Why the US Merchant Marine Academy?

Bienvenido Lim, class of 1954, had earlier topped the nationwide exams for the Philippine Military Academy. But he had dental problems during the physical exams and was dropped. While visiting the USIS offices along the Escolta, he noticed a sign about exams for the US Merchant Marine Academy. He was accepted with all his dental flaws and after a short stint in the Philippine Navy, left the service to establish one of the most successful naval architecture firms in the country, Reyes and Lim.

Francisco Almazora, class of 1953, was taking up engineering at Mapua Tech when one of his classmates was appointed to the US Military Academy at West Point. He felt he was just as good if not better, and decided to try for the

USMMA. After graduation and service in the Philippine Navy, Almazora joined Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, a job which took him to places like Chile, Venezuela and Thailand, and finally home to the Philippines as a ranking officer of the tire company.

Hermenegildo Domingo, class of 1954, wanted to be a doctor but could not afford the high cost of a medical education. Like many young boys who did not have the means, the USMMA cadetship opened up opportunities for eventual service in the Philippine Navy where he would become one of our top shipyard management and shipbuilding executives.

* * *

With the graduation of the class of 1954, the brief relationship with the Merchant Marine Academy came to an end. Of the 90 Filipino Kings Pointers, most eventually joined the private sector where they excelled, establishing their own successful business enterprises. Some stayed with the Philippine Navy, occupying the highest positions in the organization. Today most of them are retired but their contributions in the field of maritime affairs will remain an important chapter in the continuing task of nation-building.

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