Too Many Descendants of American “Deserters” in Asia

by Bobby Reyes

“Children of War” | Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons by John Schiller

Part VI of “Melting Pot” Series

Ernesto Gange is a Filipino-American community leader in Pennsylvania. He co-chaired in the 1970s to the 1990s an Asian-American Task Force that aided children abandoned by their respective father, who was either an American military man or a bureaucrat. The abandoned children were called the Amerasians. More often than not, the American fathers did not provide any “spousal” (sic) benefits or aid to the child or children they fathered. Perhaps to the fathers that deserted their child or children, “AWOL” meant, “Abandonment Without Leave.”

“Apo Ernie,” as many of his good friends called him, was also the first Filipino-American member of the Pearl S. Buck Foundation’s Board of Trustees. When he retired from the PSBF, Apo Ernie recommended Richard Rillera to replace him. And the Foundation Board approved Mr. Rillera’s nomination. Mr. Rillera took over the Philippine Daily Mirror in 2019 as executive editor aside from writing his Cornerstone column. Perhaps, he can write in his column a special report on the efforts of the PSBF in bringing success to the United States some of the Amerasian children.

Perhaps the best-unknown, but most-sensational, case of the unrecognized and abandoned Filipino children involved those of the alleged offspring of the celebrated American military great that commanded the US Expeditionary Force in Europe during WWI. As I mentioned in Part V of this series, Gen. John J. Pershing is considered one of the Top Ten military greats of the United States. But it seemed that General Pershing, called the affectionate army moniker of “Black Jack,” made it in five cards. He needed that many to escape a charge of “unbecoming a gentleman and an officer.” Men in uniform called him “Black Jack” due to his service with a black regiment early in his career. The moniker had come to signify his stern bearing and rigid discipline. His determination and dedication had gained him the respect and admiration of his men, if not their affection.

“Filipinos coined a colloquial term for it, Hangang pier lamang — meaning, the “marriage” (or relationship) was good only up to the port of exit …”

It appears from public records that General Pershing and some of his men took advantage of the so-called “Filipino Marriage” allegedly valid only for the duration of the American servicemen’s assignment in the Philippines. Filipinos coined a colloquial term for it, Hangang pier lamang — meaning, the “marriage” (or relationship) was good only up to the port of exit since there was no air transport at that time (when they made the idiomatic expression.)

And it seems that the soldiers that served under General Pershing in Zamboanga and the entire island of Mindanao, their affection for him followed by their emulation of his (the general’s) fondness for beautiful Filipino women. It was probably the result of the time-memorialized phrase, Like a boss, like subordinates.

“The report, titled Filipino Spouse is Pershing’s Undoing, is about a wave of scandal concerning United States army officers’ relations with local women in Mindanao.”

A story was published by the San Francisco Call, Vol. 101, Number 20, 20 December 1906. It reported a “scandal” involving General Pershing and his amorous adventures (or misadventures) in what is now-Zamboanga City while he was the military governor of Mindanao. Also mentioned were at least 50 similar cases of romantic American military men entering a “Filipino marriage” a la “Black Jack” Pershing allegedly.

The report, titled Filipino Spouse is Pershing’s Undoing, is about a wave of scandal concerning United States army officers’ relations with local women in Mindanao. The military brass allegedly opposed General Pershing’s confirmation hearing of his promotion from Brigadier General to Major General after an investigation revealed he did not disclose a “Filipino marriage” while on duty in the Philippines.

According to the report, Pershing “contracted” marriage with a Filipina named Joaquina Bondoy Ignacio, who allegedly bore him two children. One of the children died of cholera in 1902. The other, named Petronilla, was four-and-a-half years old, who lived with her mother. At that time, Pershing was married to Frances Warren, a daughter of Sen. Francis E. Warren of Wyoming.

The relationship between Pershing and Joaquina “began in 1900 in Zamboanga, where they lived together almost openly. Joaquina declared that Petronilla was born in 1902 and that Pershing is her father.” Joaquina became the legal wife of William Shinn, a “clerk in the Moro government headquarters.” The report continued that Shinn “claims that agents of Pershing approached Joaquina and offered $50 a month as hush money, which she refused to accept, saying that Pershing had always been good to her and that she would not expose him.”

A Manila newspaper broke the news about their relationship.

Enter John Shinn III of Los Angeles, CA

In the late 1990s, I met a fellow Atenean alumnus, John Shinn III, in one of the All-Ateneo Alumni Association gatherings. I represented the Ateneo de Manila College of Law alumni. John was an alumnus of the Ateneo de Zamboanga. In short, John and I became friends, and we often discussed his clan members’ claim of their rightful share of General Pershing’s “fame and fortune.”

I wish to temporarily end this discussion about General Pershing’s alleged “marriage” to Joaquina Bondoy Ignacio, John Shinn III’s great-grandmother. My Ateneo buddy said that their supposed “great-grandfather” in the person of William Shinn was apparently “coerced (and probably “bribed”) by General Pershing into being the latter’s version of a ‘fall guy.” And thus saved the general from a court-martial and his rank. And ergo, America’s role during World War I could have taken a different historical narrative.

Mr. Rillera likes my suggestion of having John Shinn III tell his family’s biological connection to General Pershing, perhaps in a live interview at the “PinoyLife” webcast program. Hopefully, this column will generate a lot of attention to the proposed interview. Perhaps, this will have almost all Filipino American eyes and ears riveted to the televised event and its re-runs.

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2 comments

kenny shinn April 7, 2021 - 12:26 am

The Story article about Lola Joaquina (Bondoy Ignacio) is accurate. when i was a kid in Zamboanga City, I used to go with my grandma, Lourdes Atilano Shinn to visit the grave of my grandpa John Ignacio Shinn Sr., at the Baliwasan cemetery. Each time, we have to make a stop to light a candle for a little grave (of Petronilla),and grandma told me she was a sister of grandpa. john Shinn III which mentioned is my older brother.

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kenny shinn April 7, 2021 - 12:27 am

The Story article about Lola Joaquina (Bondoy Ignacio) is accurate. when i was a kid in Zamboanga City, I used to go with my grandma, Lourdes Atilano Shinn to visit the grave of my grandpa John Ignacio Shinn Sr., at the Baliwasan cemetery. Each time, we have to make a stop to light a candle for a little grave (of Petronilla),and grandma told me she was a sister of grandpa. john Shinn III which you mentioned is my older brother.

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