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Our long-haired freedom fighter

/ 04:05 AM September 28, 2020

More on PMA Class of 1986. In my last column, I missed two other members of the class who continue to serve in government after leaving the military service. Former flag officer in command of the Philippine Navy, Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad is now head of the Maritime Industry Authority while retired Maj. Gen. Arnel Duco is undersecretary for special concerns (legislative matters) at the Department of National Defense.

Now for some record-setting statistics. The Class of 1986 produced 86 generals/flag officers—34 came from the Philippine National Police, 33 from the Army, 10 from the Navy, six from the Air Force, two from the Coast Guard, and one with the Corps of Professors. Out of 174 who graduated, half of the class reached star rank. Another breakdown of their generals would be: six with four stars each, nine with three stars, 26 with two stars and 45 with one star. The PMA was still an all-male bastion.

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Incidentally, two of the most important Cabinet positions in the US government are headed by US Military Academy (West Point) graduates both from the Class of 1986. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo finished as valedictorian of the class while Secretary of Defense Mark Esper received the Douglas MacArthur Award for Leadership upon graduation.

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During four years as a cadet at the Philippine Military Academy, I came to know more about Gen. Douglas “I Shall Return” MacArthur; Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the famed Desert Fox; Prime Minister Winston Churchill who led Great Britain during its darkest days in the early stages of World War II; and Gen. Võ Nguyên Giáp, the Vietnamese military genius who defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 after a 56-day siege of the garrison. His victory meant the end of French colonial rule in Indo-China and would set the stage for an even greater confrontation with another Western power. The conflict would result in the reunification of North and South Vietnam as one nation.

The name Macario Sakay was rarely mentioned in history discussions. Some stories referred to him as a bandit, an outlaw operating in the foothills of Mount Banahaw in the Calabarzon area, first in the revolt against Spain, and second in the Philippine American War of 1899. Only much later would I discover that this so-called “bandit” was actually one of our greatest heroes in the fight for freedom and Philippine independence. It was black propaganda during American colonial rule that portrayed Sakay as a criminal with leadership pretensions. For many years, we accepted history as written by the victors and their followers including the ilustrado who favored statehood within the US union. Professor Teodoro Agoncillo, in a foreword to a biography of Sakay wrote: “No Filipino has been so maligned in history as General Macario Sakay… Sakay and his men lived dangerously and thus invited the hatred of the early Americans who started a double-barreled campaign of imperialism and liquidation. The Americans called them bandits and outlaws.”

Who was Sakay? What was his role in the fight for freedom?

Sakay was born in Tondo, Manila, in 1870. He grew up with his mother earning a living as a blacksmith, an occasional tailor, and an actor in street plays. After joining the Katipunan movement of Andres Bonifacio, he led his followers in skirmishes against Spanish forces establishing his headquarters in the Marikina-Montalban area. He continued the fight for freedom against the new colonizer waging an effective guerrilla campaign against US forces. Vowing that he and his men would not cut their hair until freedom was achieved, Sakay kept his hair long and this became a symbol of resistance. The “Sakay look” (long-haired and unkempt) was used by the Americans to portray him more as a bandit and not a freedom fighter. So successful were his exploits that the Americans resorted to “hamletting” (concentrating villagers in one location for more effective control) in areas where Sakay had strong mass support.

In 1906, Sakay decided to accept an offer of amnesty from US authorities. Instead, upon his surrender, he was disarmed and arrested. Accused of being a bandit under the Brigandage Act of 1902, he was sentenced to death in September 1907. Four years ago, as part of the continuing effort to rectify distortions in our military history, then AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri issued orders renaming Camp Eldridge in Los Baños, Laguna, to Camp General Macario Sakay. We must keep alive his example of love of country and devotion to the ideals of freedom.

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