A fighter to the end
She had a surname that suited not just her personality but also her role in history. Simeona Punsalan Tapang may have taken the nom de guerre of “Commander Guerrero,” but “tapang” (brave) certainly suited her.
She passed away Wednesday at the age of 93 after years of illness. And while she recovered her status as a living veteran only recently, thereby qualifying to start receiving a regular pension, “Lola Mameng” lived much of her life after World War II in obscurity.
The sad truth is that when people talk about the role of “veterans” in great conflicts, women seldom figure in their imagination. For decades, for instance, Filipino schoolchildren labored under the impression that the revolution against Spain and later against the United States was fought by men, and men only. But later scholarship unearthed the names and stories not only of many women who provided shelter, food and medical care to wounded Katipuneros, but also of actual Katipuneras who took their place among their male comrades in the trenches or risked their lives as couriers and spies.
When we look back on World War II, our thoughts usually turn to the Filipino and American soldiers who held out in Corregidor and Bataan and then went on the punishing Death March. Then we remember the guerrillas who kept up their relentless campaign against the Japanese until Gen. Douglas MacArthur “returned” with the American forces.
But all too often, we forget about the nurses, spies and ordinary women who risked their lives to minister to the soldiers in Corregidor and Bataan; we overlook the women who, like their mothers in the Katipunan, took their place among the men in the guerrilla movement.
* * *
Among them was Commander Guerrero who fought alongside her husband Pablo, who was killed in 1949.
There was another dimension to Tapang’s battles. Before the Japanese invasion, she worked as an organizer for the Katipunang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Pilipinas (National Assembly of Farmers in the Philippines), a precursor of the communist-led Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (the Huks, or People’s Army against the Japanese). Her communist affiliation must have marked her as a “dangerous” personality for she was soon imprisoned by the Japanese. Upon her release, she joined the Apalit Squadron 104, described by Tonette Orejas, the Inquirer correspondent in Central Luzon, as “one of the [Huks’] strongest squadrons.”
Huk leader Luis Taruc described Tapang as “a big-bodied woman with a man’s strength, fond of wearing a man’s clothes. She became adept at handling an automatic rifle and would command on the firing line.”
Before ill health overtook her, Tapang remained active in the Huk cause, seeking and fighting for social justice. She told interviewers: “The revolution did not begin and end with World War II.” She also told journalists, who wanted to know if she had any more wishes, that she hoped “the government would help all our surviving comrades.”
And so we mourn and pay tribute to another woman leader who, by her death and her life, showed all of us the many dimensions of a woman’s journey.
* * *
Too often, Filipinos seem willing to believe the worst of Filipinos, especially of Filipino government agencies. So when a foreign firm, which had long enjoyed a cozy relationship with authorities charged with issuing and printing Philippine passports, began badmouthing a local government-owned printing facility that is now authorized to print passports, too many people believed their claims.
Previously, Philippine passports were printed by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, which in turn subcontracted the passport contract with a foreign firm and its suppliers. Certainly, this posed an anomalous situation, not to mention a security nightmare. So last year, when a serious backlog in passport production led to an outcry and protests from travelers, particularly from overseas workers who had tight deadlines to meet, the Department of Foreign Affairs entered into a service level agreement (SLA) with the APO Production Unit Inc., a government-controlled corporation and one of three recognized government printers.
In July 2014, APO opened its new security printing facility at the LIMA Technology Center in Malvar, Batangas, a high-security printing facility designed specifically to “provide accountable forms and high security printing services for the national government and its agencies.”
* * *
As for claims that APO has no track record in printing security documents, APO chair Mila Alora said the firm currently produces the excise stamps for the Bureau of Internal Revenue and maintains the Internal Revenue Stamp Information System, a security software that tracks and traces tobacco products.
APO has also been servicing the various printing needs of the DFA since 2013, providing technical support for the Document Management System of the DFA’s Office for Consular Affairs.
The new ePassport to be produced by APO, said Alora, will be produced following steps “to ensure full compliance with government procurement policies and standards set by international organizations like the International Civil Aviation Organization.” Despite all the security features incorporated into the ePassports, the unit price will be kept at present levels, she said.
With the printing of passports “end to end” done by a single, secure government printing facility, Alora said the Filipino public should rest easy that passports would now be fully secure and “proudly in Filipino hands.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.