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War, peace and valor

/ 12:02 AM April 09, 2014

We tend to think of valor in terms of courage in the battlefield, recognized with medals and rituals and, in the Philippines, an “Araw ng Kagitingan.”

But I’ve also been thinking of the original commemoration of April 9, Bataan Day.  At one time, people talked about remembering the Fall of Bataan, but there were complaints that we think too much of our history in terms of “falls” and defeats (the Fall of Corregidor was the other well-known one).

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I agree that it’s better to think of Bataan and Corregidor in terms of “kagitingan,” loosely translated as valor. There is something, too, about the valor not being the kind depicted in movies—men jumping out of trenches and running into enemy fire.

No, Bataan and Corregidor spoke of a different kind of courage, of keeping one’s dignity even after surrender, of endurance, and, not sufficiently written and spoken about, of camaraderie.

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History is written by the victors, and last I checked, we were on the winning side with World War II. But the books I’ve seen about that dark chapter in our nation’s history tend to deal with US soldiers rather than Filipinos defending the Philippines.

War resistance

Lately, too, I’ve wondered if we should not be thinking of valor outside the battlefield. Last year at a conference marking Andres Bonifacio’s birth sesquicentennial, some papers dealt less with Katipunan leaders than with the support that allowed the revolution to progress. There were the many women who were part of the underground. There were entire communities, like Krus na Ligas, now part of the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

There has been some interest among historians at UP about everyday life during the Japanese occupation.  Angelito Nunag, a history graduate now doing anthropology, wrote about life in Tondo during that period, and I remember stories of both valor and treachery.

I have written about a Chinese vice consul, Clement Mok, who was executed along with other consulate officials for resisting the Japanese. His son, Fred, now retired in the United States, e-mailed me stories about how the local Chinese-Filipino community had also taken part in the resistance, but the stories that touched me most were about families who provided comfort to those who would be killed by the Japanese.

We see too many war memorials put up here to honor Japanese soldiers killed in the Philippines. I find that almost sacrilegious because they were the invading forces. In contrast, we do not see memorials for some of the Japanese occupiers who did sympathize with Filipinos. I remember reading about a Japanese medical director at St. Luke’s hospital, who was known for his kindness to the staff and to patients (but I cannot track down the title of the book).

UP anthropologist Nestor Castro tells me, too, about Kano Tadao, a Japanese anthropologist. Tadao went around the Philippines, perhaps originally to gather information that the Imperial Army could use, but he later became sympathetic to Filipinos. He disappeared during the war, and one theory is that he was executed by fellow Japanese.

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Time helps heal wounds, and we are now seeing more stories from other parts of the world about how people showed a different kind of valor during World War II, helping “the enemy” not for collaboration but for humanitarian reasons. These are mainly stories about how the Jews, who had become The Enemy all over Europe, were given refuge and shelter. The Philippines did its share under the Quezon presidency, offering asylum to Jews escaping persecution.

Closer in history we have the martial law period, and many stories of kindness among soldiers and police looking the other way even when they knew of “subversive” activity. In the anthology “Tibak” there are stories of prison guards who performed acts of kindness—and, I think, valor, given the risks that they took.

Jolo

With the Bangsamoro peace agreement signed, I’m hoping that with time, we will have an excellent opportunity to think not in terms of victors and defeat because the winners are not just the Philippine government or the Bangsamoro rebel forces, but the nation as a whole.  And here, historians should be thinking of reconstructing the long history of blood conflicts, looking for valor on all sides.

A good place to start is the Jolo battles of 1973. Last September I wrote about how we need to focus on martial law’s impact on Muslim Mindanao.  I mentioned how the “invasion” of Jolo by Ferdinand Marcos’ military forces, one that led to the town almost completely obliterated, is not remembered at all in the Philippines, mainly because we had a heavily censored press at that time.

Fr. Tony de Castro wrote me to say he grew up in Jolo and remembers that even before 1973, the town was already heavily militarized—and his memory is that it was the Moro National Liberation Front that entered the town.  “It is therefore inaccurate, to say the least, that the town was ‘burned to the ground’ by ‘Marcos soldiers.’  In that kind of exchange of firepower, it was inevitable that fires would be started (80 percent of the town would end up razed…).”

I responded to Father Tony, saying that my information about Marcos’ soldiers being responsible for the burning of Jolo had been provided by a classmate—I was in UP at that time—from Jolo. She was in Manila studying in 1973 but had gotten reports from her family. She was Christian but did not blame the MNLF for the destruction.

I did promise Father Tony that I would look for more information about Jolo. It turned out to be a difficult task because our local libraries had incomplete subscriptions of foreign magazines like Time, Newsweek and Far Eastern Economic Review, which would have carried reports on the armed conflicts in the Philippines that had been censored in the local media. It was as if the 1970s had never existed.

What I did find on the Internet were postings by residents of Jolo during that difficult period. You can google Mucha Sim Arquiza and her participation in a social memory project of the people of Sulu. Mucha Sim does not actually blame any “side” but talks about the anguish generated by the aerial bombardment (which would have been done by the Marcos military) and the damage to communities, and to people’s lives.

Memories of war are always difficult to reconstruct. Each story is told from a different perspective, out of different circumstances.

A graduate student of mine studying in Amsterdam finally tracked down a Time article, “War of Suppression” 2/12/73), on Marcos’ war on the New People’s Army and the Muslim rebels.  You can feel the tension reading about both sides waiting for new attacks, and of army and naval shelling. Time correspondent David Aikman wrote about Tausug rebels with “no shortage of machine guns”: “They dart through the coconut groves in twos and threes, always covering each other and ready to pick up the body and weapon of a fallen comrade.”

What struck me most was the last paragraph of the report: “For all its fierceness, the conflict seems to be governed by an almost anachronistic chivalry on both sides.”  Col. Alfonso Alcoseba, a ground force commander, is quoted as saying: “These people are gentlemen on the battlefield. They don’t mutilate or desecrate the dead.”

Alas, that chivalry was to disappear in many subsequent battles. But with peace now being waged in the South, we must find out what exactly happened, honoring the dead by keeping alive the memories of valor in and out of battlefields.

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E-mail: mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, Araw ng Kagitingan, Bangsamoro, Bataan Day, Chinese-Filipino community, Clement Mok, David Aikman, Fall of Bataan, Fall of Corregidor, Ferdinand Marcos, Fr. Tony de Castro, Jolo, Kano Tadao, Muslim Mindanao, Muslim rebels, Nestor Castro, New People’s Army, Tausug rebels, UP anthropologist
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