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Notes for Army chief Gen. Eduardo M. Año

/ 12:07 AM November 02, 2015

RECUPERATING FROM surgery during the past few weeks gave me time to dwell on some issues that reflect our attitudes and values as a people.

The recent spectacular success of the film “Heneral Luna” is an indication that more and more of our people are interested in learning about Philippine history, in particular, about our heroes and our leaders. Perhaps, it is part of our search for truth—not as the colonizers have so often twisted it to serve their own purposes, but as we ourselves discover, going through this long and difficult journey.

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A case in point are two military leaders who fought in the revolution against Spain and later carried out resistance against a new colonizer bent on depriving us of the fruits of victory over the earlier master. They were born a week apart in October 1866, one in Batac, Ilocos Norte, and the other in Binondo, Manila.

General Artemio Ricarte

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The Tejeros Convention of March 22, 1897, elected Artemio Ricarte as captain general of the Filipino Army. By virtue of his election to this position, Ricarte is considered the “Father of the Philippine Army.” He served as its commanding general from March 22, 1897 to Jan. 22, 1899.

Although lacking presence or charisma, Ricarte had a reputation as a vicious and deadly fighter who adopted as his nom de guerre “Vibora” (Viper).

Born in Batac, Ilocos Norte, Ricarte graduated from Letran College with a bachelor’s degree. He was preparing for a teaching career when he joined the Katipunan instead in the fight for independence. The struggle for freedom continued until he was captured by US forces. In 1901, he and Apolinario Mabini were exiled to Guam. Upon their return, Ricarte refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the United States and was barred from setting foot in the Philippines.

As a stowaway on a Chinese vessel, he landed in Manila and immediately met with former colleagues in the continuation of the fight for independence. A year later, he was captured by constabulary agents and spent six years in Bilibid prison. Upon his release, he again refused to sign an oath of allegiance and he was deported to Hong Kong.

From Hong Kong he moved to Japan where he spent almost 30 years, until the start of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. He was flown back to the country and remained here for the rest of the war. He died in Ifugao province on July 31, 1945, from the effects of dysentery.

General Antonio Luna

Born in Binondo, Manila on Oct. 29, 1866, Antonio Luna was the youngest of seven children of Joaquin Luna from Badoc, Ilocos Norte, and Laureana Ancheta of La Union. It was Antonio Luna who recommended to President Emilio Aguinaldo the issuance of a presidential decree establishing the Academia Militar, forerunner of today’s Philippine Military Academy. He was considered by many as the most brilliant of Filipino military officers during the war against Spain and the United States. He succeeded Gen. Artemio Ricarte as captain general of the Filipino Army from January to June 1899.

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General Luna was known as a strict disciplinarian and his temper alienated many of the soldiers who served under him but maintained their respective regional loyalties, indicating a lack of national consciousness. A unit formed by Luna was known as the Luna Sharpshooters. They became famous for their fighting prowess, and usually spearheaded attacks in major battles of the Philippine-American War. They would be responsible for the death of Gen. Henry Lawton, the highest-ranking American casualty during the war.

As had happened in the past, leaders like Luna would be assassinated by fellow Filipinos. This time his killers belonged to a pro-autonomy clique that favored collaboration with the Americans as against continuing the struggle for independence. Included in the plot were officers who Luna had dismissed and insulted. His death was a decisive factor in the losing campaign against US forces.

To Luna’s credit, Americans spoke of him with admiration. Col. Frederick Funston who captured Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela, said of Luna: “He was the ablest and most aggressive leader of the Filipino Republic.” Generals James Franklin Bell and Robert Hughes considered Luna “the only General the Filipino Army had.”

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My question is, how do we honor these two gentlemen who served the nation and our people with great distinction and sacrifice?

In the case of General Ricarte, not a single major installation of the Army is named after him, a man who is considered the patriarch of the organization, a man who chose exile from his beloved land rather than sign an oath of allegiance to a foreign power. I understand a room in the Army Officers’ Club is named after Ricarte. Surely, he deserves more than just a room. In the case of the Philippine Navy, they honored him by naming one of their latest ships, the BRP Artemio Ricarte.

Is it because some people consider Ricarte a traitor for collaborating with the Japanese? We had people who collaborated with the Spaniards—and with the Americans while the fight for Philippine Independence was still going on, and some of them are referred to as Illustrados. They, too, should be classified as collaborators.

But the national verdict on Ricarte is already in. Ricarte’s remains are buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. His home in Batac City is now a historical shrine—the Ricarte National Shrine.

The same can be said of the “Fiery General,” Antonio Luna. Not a single major installation of the Army is named after him. For a soldier who was bestowed the highest compliment by his American foes as the “only General the Filipino Army had,” there is little sign of honor and remembrance. There is a Camp General Antonio Luna in Limay, Bataan, that is the site of the government arsenal; but this is not an Army installation. It belongs to the Department of National Defense and is run by

Marine Gen. Jonathan Martir. Surely, Antonio Luna deserves better treatment by the Army.

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I bring all these to the attention of Gen. Eduardo Año, commanding general of the Philippine Army. In October 2016, we shall commemorate the Sesquicentennial (150th) birth anniversary of Ricarte and Luna. Now is the time to prepare for these events and to show how a grateful nation appreciates their sacrifices.

General Año will retire in October 2017. He may even be the next AFP chief of staff when Gen. Hernando Iriberri leaves the service next year. One of General Año’s solid accomplishments that contributed to his rise in the Army was the capture last year of Benito Tiamzon, chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines, along with his wife, Wilma, the party’s secretary general.

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