Keynote Address delivered in the symposium entitled “Images of Valor and Victory” in observance of Philippine Veterans Week held at Tejeros Hall, AFP Commissioned Officers Club, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City on March 21, 2012
Beterano: Tagasulong ng Tunay at Walang Humpay na Pagbabago
(The Veterans: Catalysts of Genuine and Continuing Change)
Celestina P. Boncan, Ph.D.
President, Philippine Historical Association
Associate Professor, University of the Philippines Manila
First of all, I would like to thank the Technical Working Committee for this year’s observance of Araw ng Kagitingan and Philippine Veterans Week for the invitation to give the keynote address.
I consider this invitation a privilege for it is one that is given to a few. More than a privilege, it is a great honor to speak about our country’s veterans, they who have been given the singular opportunity among everyone else to demonstrate valor and fortitude in the name of country, flag and people. Indeed, this invitation becomes all the more meaningful because this keynote address takes place in the presence of our FilipinoVeterans.
Fascination with the Military Uniform
While I was writing this keynote address, while I was in the middle of composing my thoughts, I recalled an instance in my childhood days. That event was when my father brought me to watch a pass-in review but which I cannot now exactly remember when and where. I recall watching a lot of men in uniform marching in unison. I recall also that I liked very much the military uniforms that I saw. Eventually, my first experience in wearing some sort of military uniform was in the early 1970s. That was when the YCAP (Youth Civic Action Program) was made a part of the high school curriculum.
Probably, my fascination with the military uniform was because of stories that my father used to tell me about his ROTC days when he was in U.P. High School before the war. He says that the ROTC training was held at the U.P. Field which is now where the National Bureau of Investigation and the World Health Organization are located. He also relates that oftentimes he and his batch mates were joined by a younger student who eventually made a career in the military after the war. This young student rose to become Chief of the Philippine Constabulary and then Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In 1992 he became President of the Republic of the Philippines. We all know this person, His Excellency Former President Fidel V. Ramos.
One other reason for my fascination with the military uniform may be heredity. No, my great grandfather is not a Filipino veteran. But yes, he is a veteran but of another country. My great grandfather was a Spaniard, a Guardia Civil second class, the type who was very much feared and despised by many Filipinos during the period of Spanish rule. He arrived in the Philippines in 1889 and was stationed in the province of Tayabas (now the Province of Quezon). He did not go back to Spain after his four-year tour of duty in the Philippines. The reason is because he already sired a daughter with a native woman from the town of Tiaong, also in Tayabas. They had three more children; one of them was my grandfather. Even in his old age, my great grandfather never went back to Spain. His tombstone is still there in our town of Catanauan, Quezon.
Young and Unprepared
From my father’s stories of ROTC training and from my own years of study of the history of our country, I have come to know that the life of the man in uniform had never been easy; it was, in everything else, difficult.
In the last century or so, our countrymen wore the military uniform three times --- from 1896 to 1898 to fight for independence against a colonial power; from 1899 to 1907 to defend a republican government from the imperialist designs of a foreign power coming from the other side of the Pacific Ocean; from 1941 to 1945 to preserve the country’s freedom from the occupation army of a rising Asian power.
In all three instances, the defenders of our country --- the Filipino men in uniform --- were young, unprepared, pitted against the gargantuan arsenal of firepower and munitions and a seemingly unlimited stockpile of food and medicine of the enemy. Many of our veterans did not volunteer. Many of them did not offer to leave their family and homes. Many of them did not go to war because they loved to fight. It was just that when the call to arms rang in defense of country, flag and people, they responded.
Witness the travails of Andres Bonifacio in his attempts to assault Manila (Intramuros) in the last days of August of 1896. Without much guns and presumably no cannons the nearest points of Manila that he and his men attacked were San Juan and Santa Mesa; otherwise, they were confined to skirmishes in other towns to the east of Manila like Taguig, Pateros and Pasig. By November of 1896 he faced more stiff opposition from the Spanish Army which had been doubly strengthened due to the arrival of re-enforcements from Spain.
Witness also the dilemma that Emilio Aguinaldo faced when he resumed the Revolution in 1898. Although his revolutionary generals were scattered all over the major provinces of Luzon and the Visayas, like Manuel Tinio in the Ilocos and Vicente Lukban in Samar, there were still pockets of resistance everywhere. For example, it took all of one year before the Spanish garrison in Baler surrendered.
Aguinaldo’s predicament increased a hundredfold in 1899 when a new enemy emerged. Large contingents of American troops began arriving in the country to implement America’s right of cession over the Philippines as stipulated by the Treaty of Paris of 1898. By 1900, Aguinaldo had to order his men to engage in guerrilla warfare to save on ammunition. By 1901, Aguinaldo’s revolutionary generals were either captured or had surrendered. He himself was relentlessly pursued by American troops who crossed the rice fields of Bulacan, the swamps of Candaba, the hilly terrain of the Cordillera Range and the deep forests of the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Witness as well the plight of Philippine Scouts and USAFFE forces who found themselves boxed in, with nowhere to go, in Bataan in 1942. War Plan Orange called for a retreat to Bataan where defending forces were to regroup and hold out until relief arrives from the United States. But the much awaited relief never arrived in the succeeding months of 1942. Daily bombardment by the enemy air force compelled the USAFFE leadership to surrender the majority of the soldiers in early April while remaining forces tried to hold out in Corregidor. In the end, they, too, surrendered in the following month.
It is true that when our Filipino veterans went to the field of battle, it was at a time when a lot of them were not yet out of their adolescence. War snatched from them the innocence of youth. And as they marched to war, they did so with not many weapons. But there was one thing we can say that our Filipino veterans had in abundance --- courage, bravery, bravado, valor, gallantry, tenacity, fortitude. Despite all odds, they came to the defense of country, flag and people.
To our men in uniform, to our Filipino veterans, we say “Thank You.”
Catalysts of Genuine Change and Continuity
In his message in last year’s celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan, His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III said “our generation has a lot to learn from our veterans.” President Aquino was referring to their courage and love of country because he said “we would do well to emulate the spirit of service that they exhibited.”
Categorizing our Filipino veterans as icons of fortitude, exemplars of heroism, and images of valor seem to portray them as being caught in the quagmire of the past and, therefore, of no use anymore to the present. But that is not so and should never be so.
It is true that the battles that our Filipino Veterans fought have long been over. But it is not to say that there are no more battles to be won today. In fact, the battles of the present are in many ways as enormous and as herculean as the 1896 Revolution, the Philippine-American War and the Pacific War of the Second World War. For example, today, Filipinos do not speak as a nation; they speak with many voices, in fact, too many. For example, today, many Filipinos find themselves losing hope due to the lack of even the basic, rudimentary means with which to give themselves a decent life even if nearly every bone and sinew in the body have been stretched out in the daily grind to earn a living. For example, today, many Filipinos do not enjoy the “physical” sense of country as they are far from the beautiful shores of our beloved Philippines, doomed to view the country, their family and friends from afar.
But beyond emulating the spirit of service exhibited by the Filipino Veterans, I dare say let us make the Filipino Veterans true catalysts of change and continuity that our present generation, adults and the youth alike, need.
The dictionary defines catalyst, in reference to chemistry, as “a substance that initiates or accelerates a chemical reaction.” In social science, catalyst is something or someone that causes an important event to happen. To re-enforce this idea, a catalyst in the context of social science is something or someone that enables and inspires others to take action that brings about measurable impact and outcome.
At the prime of their youth, our Filipino Veterans were catalysts of change. They caused an important event to happen when they answered the call to arms --- a war broke out in 1896 to fight for the country’s freedom; a war broke out in 1899 to defend a recently proclaimed independence; a war broke out in 1941 to safeguard a forthcoming nation.
Even as our people proclaimed their independence more than a hundred years ago and reaffirmed this independence from time to time, there is still a great need at the present time to assert the importance of good citizenship and community development. And in this regard, I say that nowhere can we find better teachers of civics and government than our Filipino Veterans.
Our Filipino Veterans know the essential ideas of governance. They know the responsibilities and understand the organization of government. They know the importance of the rule of law. They know the reason behind establishing limits on those who govern and are governed. They know the imperatives of promoting the common good. Isn’t it that in the past they defended with their lives the very blueprints of our nationhood?
The Filipino Veterans make good teachers of geography. They understand the world around us in spatial terms. In the wars and battles that they fought, they made and used various types of maps and other geographic representations. In times of peace, they can easily process geographic information for more beneficial use of the land.
The Filipino Veterans are excellent storytellers for they have many stories to tell. Their stories will never run out of style because they speak of daring, heroism, and gallantry.
Let us include the Filipino Veterans in the centers of discussion. Let us engage them in debate so that we may get their insights and theories. Let us hear from them their stories. Let us get other people to act in concert with them. Let us formulate visions of tomorrow with them. Let us empower them so that we can capture the lessons that they have learned. Let us measure our success as a people by their valor and fortitude.
Let our Filipino Veterans provide the moral fiber “so that our people may grow and be like the molave, strong and resilient, unafraid of the raging flood, the lightning or the storm, confident of its own strength,” to quote Manuel L. Quezon, the defiant President of the Philippine Commonwealth.
I am proud to say that the Philippine Historical Association has taken the lead among the other historical associations in bringing honor and recognition to the men in uniform. This symposium entitled “Images of Valor and Victory” is one of the flagship projects of the Philippine Historical Association. We wholeheartedly thank the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office for being our partner in this endeavor and for making this symposium a regular activity in the observance of Philippine Veterans Week. In this regard, let us have more of this symposium outside of the walls of Camp Aguinaldo. Let us bring the good news of this symposium to our schools. Let us produce teaching materials on our Filipino Veterans. In all these undertakings, we shall have only one objective --- so that our countrymen shall never forget the service and sacrifice of our Filipino Veterans.
Allow me to end this keynote address with this statement. “Today, I stand in the midst of patriots, our Filipino Veterans.”