Curator Of Grievances

by Juan L. Mercado

Historian Horacio de la Costa, SJ, once noted that, as a nation, we celebrate our defeats as victories. Wednesday’s nationwide Araw ng Kagitingan rites underscore this insight.

Day of Valor pivots around a ceremony at Mount Samat in Bataan. In 1942, 76,000 half-starved Filipino and American soldiers surrendered there—after delaying Japan’s thrust in Southeast Asia by three months.

“Bataan has fallen,” said a broadcast from Malinta Tunnel in beleaguered Corregidor. “Men are not made of impervious steel. The flesh must yield at last, endurance melts away, and the end of the battle must come…. But the spirit that made it stand cannot fall!”

Then Capt. Salvador P. Lopez wrote that text. “SP” later became foreign secretary, then, University of the Philippines president. Who remembers today?

An Inquirer feature queried a jeepney driver, a second year college engineering student and a stall vendor. They hemmed, then hawed, why April 9 is a national holiday.

“I am playing Dota with friends,” the student said. He knew little of history, let alone the “Death March.” Why should he care?

“Isn’t Araw about easing traffic?” a jeepney driver wondered.

And Bataan drew a blank stare from the vendor.

Indeed, “the memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from.” Eight out of 10 students barely recall Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., or why he was gunned down, surveys show.

“We have little collective memory of the past,” former Ateneo University president

Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, told a Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship conference. “We tend to live in a perpetual present. Thus, we cannot see well into the future.”

The Death March saw prisoners of war (POWs) forced to trek 148 kilometers from Bataan to Tarlac. An estimated 2,500-10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American POWs did not make it. At the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the remains of 32,268 Death March veterans are interred.

Remember President Sergio Osmeña? One of his finest moments came during the government-in-Washington exile. The 1935 Constitution mandated that TB-wracked President Manuel Quezon’s term would lapse on Dec. 30, 1943. Quezon dug in. US President Franklin Roosevelt stayed aloof from a “local issue.” Ask US Congress to suspend succession, until after the invaders were ousted, Don Sergio proposed. Congress agreed on Nov. 10. Osmeña gave up much to ensure unity.

Then, there was Philippine Scout Sgt. Jose Calugas who also doubled as cook. On Jan. 6, 1942, enemy fire battered Filipino-American troops at the critical Layac junction in Bataan, says the sparse citation that came with the Medal of Honor. Calugas “ran 1,000 yards across a shell swept area,” manned a howitzer “by himself, and fired effectively.” Although his position was under constant heavy enemy fire, his shelling shattered advancing armored vehicles. Calugas survived the Death March. Upon release from concentration camp, he joined the underground resistance.

Flying obsolete P-26 planes, pilots Jesus Villamor, Cesar Basa, Salvador Manlunas and three others, from the 6th Pursuit Squadron, challenged a flight of 54 Japanese bombers and Zeroes. The grit of these men is recalled today by the sprawling Villamor Air Base, with Manlunas Street running alongside. And Basa Air Base is in Floridablanca, Pampanga.

Then, there were the heels.

Makabayang Katipunan ng mga Pilipino (Makapili) was formed in November 1944 to aid the invaders. The Makapilis turned informers and torturers. In October 1947, the Supreme Court found Makapili Julio Garcia guilty of treason and sentenced him to life. Amnesty later spared other collaborators.

Doing research at the US National Archives, in July 1985, University of South Wales Prof. Alfred McCoy “came across US Army records that discredited Ferdinand Marcos’ claims to heroism in World War II.” Thereafter, the records anchored a New York Times series, by Seymour Hersh, that debunked Marcos’ war medals.

Follow-up Times reports, by Jeff Gerth and Joel Brinkley, revealed US Army records stating: Services given by Marcos and 23 others, to the 1st Cavalry Division in 1945, were “of limited military value…. At no time did the Army recognize that any unit, designating itself as Maharlika, ever existed as a guerrilla force in the years of Japanese occupation 1942 to 1945.”

“The immensity of Mr. Marcos’ claim that Maharlika served the entire Luzon was absurd,” reviewing officer Capt. Elbert Curtis wrote. The United States shredded Marcos’ claims regarding Maharlika. President Aquino scuppered House Resolution 1135 which urged a Libingan burial for Marcos.

Across town, some of 9,541 Marcos victims received last month their second $1,000-check awarded by the US District Court of Hawaii which found Marcos “liable for systematic torture, summary executions and disappearances.” Walter Dacumos was one of those who got a check, writes Inquirer’s Ceres Doyo, also  a victim. He recalled how then 2Lt. Panfilo Lacson stepped on his chest. “Inapakan ako sa dibdib (He stepped on my chest). I was given the water cure. I was in detention with Ricky Lee (who became a  scriptwriter). He vomited blood and so did I.”

And what will he do with his P50,000? “I will buy myself a good bed,” he said softly without batting an eyelash.”

Araw ng Kagitingan rites matter. Because “we forget at the cost of betrayal.” Amnesia over past crimes “reflects a weak sense of the nation and of the common good,” Sociologist John Carroll writes in “A Nation in Denial.” “Unless (the country reaffirms) those values, it may be condemned to forever wander in the valueless power plays among the elite.”

Who said “remembering with undiminished intensity over time does not make us curators of our ancestors’ grievances”?

It buttresses against corrosive national amnesia.


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