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Nationalism at its finest

/ 05:03 AM November 12, 2018

First, a few lines for a good man.

Retired Brig. Gen. Eliseo Rio Jr., acting secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology, marked his 74th birthday on Oct. 27. Happy birthday, Jun. Born in Capiz, Rio graduated from the University of the Philippines with an electrical engineering degree. This was followed by an electronics and communications engineering (ECE) degree from the University of the East. He placed fourth in the ECE licensure exams in 1971.

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A product of the UP ROTC program, he served with the Armed Forces in military intelligence work and was posted as our defense attaché in Kuala Lumpur. He was commandant of the AFP Command and General Staff College, and was AFP deputy chief of staff for communications, electronic, and information systems (J-11) at the time of his retirement in October 2000. His work in the civilian sector in the field of communications technology is even more remarkable. Perhaps, his award as “Most Outstanding Professional in the Field of Electronics and Communications” by the Professional Regulation Commission says it all. Unfortunately, Jun Rio lacks the Davao connection.

General Rio is the son of one of the most distinguished alumni of the Philippine Military Academy, Col. Eliseo Rio Sr., who graduated at the top of Class of 1942. He has two brothers who also finished at the PMA: Ephraim, Class of 1973, and Evaristo, Class of 1978. If I were the commander in chief, I would be most grateful for his continued service on behalf of our people.

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When I was a third class cadet (second year) at the PMA in 1954, one of the most significant military actions that took place in Southeast Asia was the battle for Dien Bien Phu, a small village in the northwest corner of Vietnam close to the Laotian border. In a siege that lasted for 56 days, Vietnamese forces under the command of Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap surrounded and defeated a French garrison force, sounding the death knell for French colonial rule in Asia. It also led to the partition of Vietnam into north and south at the 17th parallel.

More than 20 years later, the same Vietnamese commander would lead his forces in defeating another Western power, the United States, in a war that claimed the lives of some 3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans. The victory resulted in the reunification of North and South Vietnam under a communist government. One of the iconic images to come out of the Vietnam conflict is that of a Vietcong fighter clad in black pajamas and wearing rubber sandals while cradling an AK-47 as he charged into battle. Last month was the fifth death
anniversary of General Giap, acknowledged as one of the greatest military strategists of the 20th century.

In three decades of fighting, the Vietnamese were able to defeat two Western powers while fending off Chinese intrusions into their country and against their sovereignty. Only last week, Vietnam lodged a strong protest against Chinese weather stations in the Spratly Islands, declaring that “the use of meteorological observation stations on illegally built structures […] has seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the islands” and asked China to stop these actions. In contrast, the Philippine foreign office meekly said that “we are verifying these reports and will take action accordingly.” There is no need for verification. China herself made the
announcements regarding the weather stations.

What is it that makes a small nation like Vietnam stand up to a powerful next-door neighbor, in effect telling her that she is squatting on “my land”? There can be only one explanation. The Vietnamese have a strong sense of nationalism, one that is sensitive to any form of domination by outside powers, be they French, American, or Chinese. They are fiercely independent and after years and years of warfare defending their nation, their ethnic identity, they continue to value and uphold their dignity as a people regardless of the tremendous odds facing them and the sacrifices that such a position would entail. A Vietnamese interviewed by an American put it this way: “We fought you for 10 years, and before you were the French and we fought them for 100 years, and before them the Chinese, and we fought them for 1,000 years. We are a very proud people, and you are just a small part of our past.” This is nationalism at its finest.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of the company of two Vietnamese seminarians studying for the priesthood here at Mount Carmel. Anthony Nguyen who is soon to become a priest, is from North Vietnam while the younger man Anton Tran, hails from South Vietnam. They are part of a group of six Vietnamese here at the Carmel seminary.

While vocations for the priesthood are on the decline among Filipinos, more Vietnamese Catholics are joining the ministry. In Metro Manila alone, there are close to 500 Vietnamese men and women studying at Loyola and other religious institutions. Next Saturday, Nov. 17, we shall mark the canonization of 117 Vietnamese martyrs as saints of the church. The Philippines, the only Catholic nation in Asia, has only two saints.

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