How easily we forget! Last Sept. 28 was the 118th anniversary of our greatest victory in the Philippine-American War. Filipino freedom fighters took an American garrison in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, by surprise, and virtually wiped out an entire company of US forces. Press reports in the United States called the Balangiga engagement “one of the worst tragedies in American military annals.” The Salt Lake Herald had “Terrible defeat at hands of Filipinos” as one of its headlines for the day. Of the 76 members of Company “C,” 48 officers and men were slain in the attack. It was combat at close quarters — bolos against Krag rifles. The church bells of Balangiga were taken away as part of the spoils of war.
Last December, the bells were returned, thanks largely to President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address in July 2017 and the personal initiatives of then US Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis. For the first time since the battle of Balangiga, the bells are home.
Each year we spend time and resources preparing to celebrate “Araw ng Kagitingan” in April while we ignore one of our few victories in the fight for freedom against a foreign power. For some reason, we are shy about remembering the battles we fought against American colonizers who came after the end of Spanish rule. We must keep Balangiga in our hearts as the symbol of a great victory by our people.
By law, Oct. 5 has been designated as National Teachers’ Day. It reminds all of us how certain individuals contributed in providing the foundation on which our lives were built. Some of the most effective were those who taught by example and who opened our minds to a new world that was about to unfold before our eyes.
Early on, as a senior cadet at the Philippine Military Academy, I had chosen the Air Force as my branch of service. But on graduation day, President Ramon Magsaysay ordered all new graduates to be sent to the Battalion Combat Teams of the Philippine Army serving as platoon leaders. The Hukbalahap insurgency in the Southern Luzon region had taken a turn for the worse, and the main focus of the Armed Forces of the Philippines was to bring the situation under control. After a few months with the Army, those who signified their intention to join the Air Force, the Navy or the Constabulary, were allowed to report to their new assignments. A dozen of us headed for Fernando Air Base in Lipa City, home of the PAF Flying School, and here for the first time, we met our flight instructors.
My mentor was Lt. Juan Estoesta, a hotshot fighter pilot, fresh from a stint in the 5th Fighter Wing at Basa Air Base in Pampanga. In those days, the Mustang or P-51 was the primary fighter bomber aircraft of the PAF.
Estoesta was a man of few words, and after brief remarks, introduced me to the PT-13, the primary trainer of the Air Force. The PT-13 was an open cockpit biplane used by the US Army Air Corps during the late 1930s. It had a maximum speed of 125 mph, a fabric-covered fuselage with fixed landing gear.
On my first flight, actually an orientation flight, Estoesta took me up to about 5,000 feet, and without any warning, rolled the plane over, and for the first time, I saw the world from an
upside-down position. Then he took me up higher and gave me a taste of a spinning aircraft that seemed to be out of control,
recovering just in time and leveling off.
It was during the post-flight briefing that I learned more about Estoesta. He was a patient man, but demanded strict attention as he dwelt on some of his observations. He stressed the importance of maintaining one’s composure in the face of unusual positions of the aircraft. He revealed that I had my eyes closed when the plane was upside down or spinning toward the ground. This was not to be repeated. Each training flight was a classroom in the sky with clouds rolling by your side, as close to you as never before.
Few people realize that the job of a flight instructor is one of the most dangerous in the field of education and training. Each time he goes up with a student, the instructor is putting his life in the hands of the student. This is so because for the student to learn his lessons, the instructor must give him full control of the aircraft and allow him to make mistakes, but at the same time, react fast enough to correct those mistakes before the situation gets out of hand.
After seven hours, Johnny Estoesta released me for my first solo flight. I remember him with affection and gratitude.
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