By Col. Cesar P. Pobre (Ret.), PhD, MNSA
Acting President, Veterans Federation of the Philippines
Once again, on the observance of the Veterans Week and anniversary of the Araw ng Kagitingan, we, Filipinos take time to remember and pay homage to the Filipino veterans.
We do so to express our sincere respect for their martyrdom to the cause of freedom of the Motherland.
And, we do so in adoration of their exemplary display of the Filipino fighting tradition of valor and fortitude, the tradition from which, I suppose, this review in honor of the veterans got inspired – Kagitingan ng mga beterano, pundasyon ng nagkakaisang Pilipino (gallantry of veterans is the foundation of Filipino unity).
Worth noting in this respect is that as a result of the policy of divide-and-rule pursued by the Philippine colonial masters, Spain and the United States of America, our country became so fragmented or divided that at times, in some places, differences or hostilities would turn bitter and bloody. It is for this reason that we have to re-unite, one in all and all in one, so that we can resolve problems and other pressing national concerns. As the proverb says, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
As regards the Veterans Federation of the Philippines, of which I am the Acting President, let me tell you about what it is. Basically, the Veterans Federation of the Philippines, or VFP, for short, is created by law (RA No. 2640, 18 June 1960), as a corporate body under the control and supervision of the Secretary of National Defense. It is mandated to get all the Filipino veterans organizations under its roof and render utmost care and benefits to Filipino veterans and their surviving spouses and orphans. More specifically, the VFP’s major tasks are:
Provide support for the material and moral well-being of Filipino veterans; devise ways and means of making the patriotic sacrifices and heroic deeds of Filipino veterans a part and parcel of public memory, and, persuade independent veterans organizations to affiliate and be members of the VFP.
The aim is to unite all the Filipino veterans organizations under the VFP so that they can be extended the same rights and privileges that the members in good standing are entitled to. In short, the VFP has been entrusted to look after what the veterans need: to be cared for and to be remembered.
Let me recall with you some of the many historically significant events which brought about the Filipino fighting tradition of valor and fortitude or what this review in honor of the veterans refers to, as Kagitingan ng mga beterano.
The Battle of Mactan. On April 27, 1521. After boldly ignoring Magellan’s ultimatum that he “Obey the King of Spain, pay us tribute, or else”, Lapulapu then prepared to do the battle for freedom. In the ensuring encounter, he and his fighters made short work of and routed Magellan and his soldiers. Said Filipino historian Carlos Quirino of the incident: “What is undeniable is that the first battle of freedom in the Philippines was won by the ancestors of present-day Filipinos.”
The Battle of Quingua (now Plaridel, Bulacan) during the Philippine-American War. In the conflict, Philippine Revolutionary Army General Gregorio Del Pilar and his troops not only repelled the American force with heavy losses but also killed their commander, Colonel John Stotsenberg (for whom Fort Stotsenberg, now Clark Field, was named after). Nicknamed the Boy General because of his youth, Gregorio Del Pilar was only 24 years old when he and his men fought unto death to protect President Aguinaldo’s rear in Tirad Pass, a few miles to the north of Bessang Pass.
The Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941. The invasion commander, General Homma, was given 50 days to conquer the Philippines. However, in view of the strong resistance of the Filipino and American defenders, it took him five months instead to accomplish his mission. His conquest was made synonymous with the fall of Bataan where the Fil-American forces had concentrated to do battle for defense. Bataan yielded because adequate and sustained support was not forthcoming, even as disease and starvation were debilitating and sapping the physical and psychological stamina of the defenders.
Undoubtedly, it was a harrowing, agonizing experience for them. For even immediately after their surrender, what were now the prisoners of war (POW) were made to walk some 50 miles under the sweltering heat of the summer sun to San Fernando, Pampanga.
Denied food and water, the weak and sick marchers tried to reach the packs of food and water offered by civilians on the roadside, only to be bayoneted by irate Japanese guards, and their personal effects – rings, watches, fountain pens – confiscated or looted.
From San Fernando, the POWs were transported by train to Capas, Tarlac. The train ride could have been relaxing were it not for the fact that they were jampacked into closed steel boxcars which became oven-like under the heat of the tropical sun.
That was not all, for they had yet to walk a dozen or so kilometers from the Capas station to reach their final destination, Camp O’Donnell. There, in Camp O’Donnell, the POWs were housed, like sardines in shanties. Since they had very little food and water to get by, more deaths could only be the inevitable outcome. Thus, in July 1942, when the POW death rate reached 334 a day, the release particularly of the sick internees began.
Regular resistance might have ended with the fall of Bataan and Corregidor subsequently, but their fall would be marked by the formation of a more definite shape of the guerrilla resistance movement, as more Filipinos from virtually all walks of life ran to the hills, as it were, stood to be counted, come what may, no matter the cost, fighting the guerrilla way.