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Magdalo boys address a historical distortion

/ 12:11 AM November 30, 2015

AFP CHIEF of Staff Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri writes to inform us that the proposal to rename Camp Eldridge in Laguna as Camp Gen. Macario Sakay is now awaiting approval in the office of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and would be implemented at the soonest possible time.

It was on Iriberri’s initiative, when he was commanding general of the Philippine Army, that the proposal was first undertaken in recognition of the sacrifices of General Sakay and his fellow freedom fighters in the struggle for Philippine independence.

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We appreciate his prompt and positive response.

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Recently, two young lawmakers from the Magdalo party list filed House Bill No. 6242 designating Sept. 3 as the new “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor), replacing April 9 which marks the surrender in Bataan of Filipino and American forces on that day in 1942. It was the largest capitulation of a US-led military force in American history. This was followed a month later by the Fall of Corregidor. Both events are remembered on a single day, April 9, which in 1987 became known as Araw ng Kagitingan. In recent years, the ambassadors of Japan and the United States, along with the Philippine president, get together on Mount Samat to honor the memory of those who died in the conflict.

The two Magdalo lawmakers are Rep. Gary C. Alejano, PMA Class 1995 and a batchmate of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, and Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo, PMA Class 1999.

Why Sept. 3 instead of April 9?

According to Alejano and Acedillo, Sept. 3, 1896, was the day of the Battle of Imus, “the first big battle of the Philippine Revolution, which the Filipinos won”; and Sept. 3, 1945, was the day Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander of the Japanese forces in the Philippines, surrendered at Camp John Hay in Baguio City.

In his book, “Victory in Northern Luzon,” Col. Cesar Pobre, a leading chronicler of Philippine military history, tells the story of how Filipino resistance groups in Northern Luzon came together to become a single fighting force, the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines, Northern Luzon (USAFIP, NL). Much of the credit for the defeat of Japanese forces in the Cordillera region, which led to Yamashita’s surrender, goes to the Filipino guerrilla fighters who bore the brunt of battle under very difficult conditions. In the words of Gen. Ernesto Carolina, Philippine Veterans Affairs Office administrator, “Their triumph is the redemption of Bataan, literally and figuratively.”

Alejano and Acedillo called for a change in our tradition of commemorating the nation’s darkest hours rather than remembering its finest moments. They added, “The country’s military victories, carved by blood on the pages of history, should be given due respect and recognition.”

Through the years, each time the nation marked the Fall of Bataan with solemn rituals extolling our fallen heroes, I have often wondered why we do so on a day of defeat instead of focusing on the victories we can be truly proud of. It is true that in remembering Bataan and Corregidor, we do so to honor the memory of our brave soldiers who fell during those dark days of the Pacific War. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the event being commemorated was a defeat, a defeat against numerically inferior enemy forces at that.

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For the benefit of younger generations, let me add a last page on the saga of Bataan, because it did not end with the surrender of 78,000 Filipino and American soldiers. Bataan is also a story of the betrayal of Filipino veterans who fought alongside their American allies with loyalty and determination.

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In 1940, we were a commonwealth of the United States. We had no quarrel with Japan or the Japanese people.

Unfortunately there were US armed forces stationed in the Philippines, and when the United States and Japan were unable to resolve their differences over a number of issues, war became inevitable. Filipinos were taken in to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States during the conflict that took place.

Legally as citizens of a US commonwealth, Filipinos were American nationals entitled to all benefits afforded those serving the US armed forces. However, when victory was achieved and the war ended, the US Congress passed a law, “The Rescission Act of 1946” declaring that “the service of Filipinos shall not be deemed to be or to have been served in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof.” This effectively stripped Filipinos of their recognition as US veterans and blew away whatever benefits they may have been entitled to.

More than 60 years later, under US President Barack Obama, a new law was passed granting certain payments to eligible persons who served in the US armed forces during World War II, to include Filipino veterans. If the eligible person was not a citizen of the United States, he was granted $9,000. For a citizen of the United States, the amount was $15,000. Considering the length of time it took for the new law to be passed, it would seem that the US Congress waited until many of the Filipino veterans had passed away before enacting the law.

So much for our steadfast devotion to Uncle Sam and the red, white and blue. By the way, the United States does not observe Bataan Day as a national holiday. Rightly so because it was a day of defeat. In fact, very few Americans know what Bataan and Corregidor was all about, or where these places are located.

Let us continue to honor the valor and the bravery of the Filipino soldier. But perhaps what is needed is to refocus our attention on battlefield victories, on our achievements as a nation, rather than dwelling on the tragedies of the past.

My own choice would be the Battle of Bessang Pass in Northern Luzon, on June 14, 1945. A marker of the Philippine Historical Committee reads: “The Battle spearheaded by the 121st Infantry, USAFIP, NL, was conceded by American military authorities as one of the most terrible and incredibly difficult battles of the entire war and hastened the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces under Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita.”

We commend the Magdalo boys for their actions aimed at correcting a historical distortion. It is an important step in the continuing search for the truth.

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TAGS: Camp Eldridge, Camp Gen. Macario Sakay, Gen. Hernando Iriberri, Magdalo, nation, news, Philippine history
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