Reflections on the Filipino soldier » Manila Bulletin News

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By J. Art D. Brion

J. Art D. Brion

With the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, television once again feasts on scenes of soldiers, their weapons and the armaments of war. In straight lines, these soldiers parade on the screen to the beat of martial music, all of them young, strong, and vigorous. TV shows them on their way to battle, their training and discipline shining through their guarded crouching walk with rifles cocked and eyes and ears alert. From recent past scenes that we wish would not happen again, we saw their final stance as their lives ebbed – stiff and grotesque, disfigured by wounds, some of them with unvoiced shouts still frozen in their open lips. Grim, to be sure, but the soldier’s constant companion is the specter of death.

This is the Filipino soldier who is now in Marawi City, risking all – his life, his future, and the family welfare that only he can best provide – so that the rest of us can live in relative peace in the comfort of our homes.

The tale of the Filipino soldier is an old one. They were already there as local militias at the time of the datus who headed our early barangays.  They were the warriors who, under Lapu-Lapu, resisted the coming Spaniards and killed Ferdinand Magellan in Mactan in 1521.

Filipinos served in the local Spanish military and in the Guardia Civil as recruited “Indian natives.” They first served under Philippine colors in the Philippine Revolutionary Army of 1897 under General Ricarte, but before then, they were the revolutionaries of Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan.

When the Americans came in 1898, the struggle against Spain became a fight against the Americans in the Philippine-American War. With American victory and colonization, the Filipino soldier became a member of the American-led Philippine Constabulary, schooled at the Philippine Constabulary Academy that eventually became the Philippine Military Academy.

The National Defense Act of 1935 saw the establishment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Thus, the Filipino soldier began to formally serve his own nation, albeit at the time still a Commonwealth of the United States. It was in this role and as absorbed members of the US Army in the Far East (USAFFE) that the Filipino soldier entered the Second World War.

In 1942, the battles of Bataan and Corregidor raged and the Filipino soldier reached new heights in his heroism. Some of the present generation of Filipinos can still relate to these deeds because their grandfathers, fathers, or other kin died there or were in the firing lines.

The present generation may only associate with the name “Villamor” with the Air Base and golf course in Pasay City, but to the generation before them, Jesus Villamor is a revered war hero.  Together with five other Filipino pilots and flying only their outdated Boeing P-26 training planes, he valiantly engaged Japanese Zeros in Philippine skies during the opening stages of World War II.  Of the four enemy planes they shot down, Jesus Villamor accounted for two.

World War II was a war of many heroes.  The Filipino soldier showed his mettle in the against-the-odds battles of Bataan and Corregidor, in the guerrilla war against the Japanese invaders, in the street-to-street fighting in the liberation of Manila, and in the series of battles in the liberation of the Philippines.  It would require more than this Reflection to recite them all.

In the Korean War that followed World War II, the Filipino soldier again took part when the country sent the 10th Battalion Combat Team (10th BCT) as its contribution to the United Nations pacification efforts. We have aptly memorialized the heroism of the Filipino soldier in the Korean War through a street bordering Camps Crame and Aguinaldo – the Col. Bonny Serrano Avenue.

Colonel Bonny Serrano was a 2nd lieutenant when he emerged as the most decorated Filipino soldier in the Korean War. Together with his troops whose strength was then already depleted, Col. Serrano swam the icy Yalu River in winter.  The attack, led by his five-man commando team, resulted in the capture of 77 North Korean soldiers and the successful penetration by American forces of the enemy lines.

Another hero, this time in the fight against the NPA insurgents, is the legendary 2nd Lt. Jose Bandong of the 24th Infantry Battalion, who died saving his men from certain death on April 10, 1992, in the boundaries of Sagada and Bontoc.  After his platoon’s ambush and at the point of being overwhelmed, he ordered his men to withdraw while he stayed and engaged the enemy in a holding action.  His final order to the troops manning the artillery was: Fire on my position.”

The legend of 2nd Lt. Bandong caught the public’s attention once again during the congressional inquiry on the infamous and still controversial Mamasapano massacre. Forty-four Special Action Forces (the Fallen 44) died in this encounter, their calls for help allegedly falling on the unhearing ears of our highest officials and of the surrounding forces waiting for clearance to be allowed to help.

The massacre resulted from an operation against a Malaysian terrorist and ranking Bangsamoro members at Mamasapano, Maguindanao.  Separately from the main attack force, a blocking force of 36 SAF troops was constituted and deployed in a corn field to cover the exit of the main force.

At daylight, the SAF blocking force saw Moro forces around them and a fire fight ensued.  The blocking force ended up trapped in a corn field without significant cover. With only 300 rounds of ammunition each in a day-long battle and with no coming supplies and reinforcements, the outcome was inevitable.

Controversy plagued the incident after the lone survivor disclosed that they called for reinforcement and waited for hours but none came.  Questions about lines of command arose as one led directly to the then suspended PNP chief (who should not have been in the chain of command) and to the President.

All these come to mind as our troops again march to battle in Marawi City.  Fortunately this time and unlike in Mamasapano, President Duterte (who cut short his foreign travel when the Marawi emergency arose) maintains a direct line of command with his troops and has even gone to neighboring Iligan City to personally assure them that they enjoy the full force and support of the Philippine government.  He has even visited the dead and the wounded.

Through the years, the Filipino soldier has always come through for us and has always been ready to sacrifice his life so that the nation can be secure and its people can live in peace. The least that we (particularly those who simply want to get into the act through their publicity-oriented statements) can do for our soldiers is to give them our fullest, focused, and fortified support.

Now is not the time to quibble over legal niceties and to engage in the flawed logic of attributing to President Duterte’s martial law the perceived faults of a previous martial law declaration, made by a different administration, in another time, and under a different Constitution. These thoughtless acts only dishonor the Filipino soldier and demean his selfless sacrifice. The soldier does not forget and neither should we – that the life of the nation is at stake and its survival must come first.

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