Last Saturday, at the Ayala Museum in Makati, the Filipinas Heritage Library hosted a lecture on the “Legacy of Bataan” by Ms. Cecilia I. Gaerlan, Executive Director of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society which is US-based.
Essentially, her thrust which is directed principally to a US audience, as she bemoans the fact, was the dwindling interest over the Philippine theater of World War II as reflected in, or if at all the very scant mention of it, in American annals of that war.
To be precise about it, it is in the US where, what otherwise would have been a well earned continuing national attention, the memory of Filipino participation in Bataan has never been adequately documented and Bataan itself is now nearly totally obliterated, even as history.
For the greatest part, Ms. Gaerlan points out that WWII is portrayed as almost an exclusively American war, neglecting the massive role played by the Filipinos in Bataan and Corregidor, in the resistance movement as well as in the final liquidation of that war in the Philippines. Of course, the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) was led and officered almost exclusively by Americans, after all we were then still a Commonwealth of the United States.
But whenever Bataan is cited in historical readings and writings in the US, the unchallenged impression that it has created of Bataan as an otherwise indispensable episode of American history was that it was an all-American affair.
She pointed out that “7/8” of those who fought in and came out of Bataan, and as a matter of fact, of the ensuing resistance movement, were Filipinos. Memorials, unless these are enunciated in the Philippines by Filipinos, do short change that epic participation.
Ms. Gaerlan personally feels that neglect because her father was a Bataan veteran. As were a handful in the audience, representing a sprinkle of the fast disappearing breed of our gallant elders.
Her organization aims to revive a continuing interest and maintain the memory of Bataan as an enduring legacy. “The Filipino side of that story,” as she puts it, is the very animus of Ms. Gaerlan’s advocacy.
She wishes to also highlight the creation of the 1st and 2nd Filipino Regiment in the US as directed by Pres. F.D. Roosevelt in response to a clamor by Filipinos in America to join the war effort.
In comparison, much more recognition has been devoted to and written about Japanese Americans….the Nisei…who were organized into the 442nd Infantry Regiment who saw action in Europe.
The 1st & 2nd Filipino Regiments’ role in the Liberation of the Philippine deserve to be accentuated and preserved, for they did play an unheralded but very prominent participation. Moreover, upon their return to the US, they brought along with them war brides thus increasing the Filipino female immigrant population of the US. (It seems, according to some quarters, that the term ‘Pinoy’ first came into common use as a description of these US-based WWII Filipino troops.) And as an apt reward for their war services, they qualified for US citizenship. But that is an entirely different story that requires another telling.
PAIN OVER RESCISSION ACT
Ms. Gaerlan’s other concern, which unequivocally evinced a touch of some bitterness, was the pain and controversy caused by President Truman signing into law the Rescission Act of 1946 by which US Congress retroactively annulled the promised benefits to Filipino soldiers who fought in that war, the open rationale being that the US government had already given the Philippines $200,000,000.00 after the war.
Many other reasons have been advanced and they include: US funds were diverted instead to assist Japan’s rehabilitation; or fiscal constraints were imposed upon resources needed at the onset of the Cold War.
But whatever conclusions have so far been advanced must remain tentative until definitive and confirmatory evidence is produced from US Congressional records about the debates and discussions that attended the passage of that law.
I had the opportunity to sidle up to Prof. Ricardo T. Jose, PhD, who happened to have been in the audience. Prof. Jose is the UP historian whose discipline is devoted to the Philippine military with emphasis on WWII.
He is likewise of the opinion that the matter of the Rescission Act requires historically definitive research which can only be done by delving through the archives of the US Congressional Library.
He also pointed out that at the time of the discussions and debates, old Philippine hands in the US Congress had already passed the scene. He meant the Tydings, and the McDuffies, that crowd of legislators who marshalled the creation of the Philippine Commonwealth.
UNEASY SUSPICION OVER THE 'ESCOLTA GUERILLAS'
I am unable to shake off the uneasy suspicion that the unwritten background of the Rescission Act may find resonance in the very number of claims from so-called veterans that ballooned beyond the officially registered USAFFE Filipino soldiers in Bataan and Corregidor.
US Congress and even President Truman may have been so overwhelmed by the obvious unconscionable inflation of “war heroes” craving for compensation. Enlistment for inclusion in the roster for “backpay” compensation became a cottage industry immediately upon the Liberation of Manila.
The unadulterated truth may never be known but could be gleaned from stories about the monumental scam referred to as the “Escolta Guerillas.” To what extent the existence and discovery of such scams contribute to the passage of the Rescission Act deserves to be unearthed.
In a manner of speaking, did legitimate soldiers and guerillas suffer from non-recognition and neglect because of the criminal greed of some “guerilla leaders?”
'YOU'LL NEVER KNOW'
As a prelude to the lecture, while the audience was beginning to form, Ms. Gaerlan provided some well-chosen priming up background music, as part of the lecture itself.
For the older folks, the music definitely evoked nostalgia. Song hits during the war that became very familiar to me during “Liberation” days, such as ”You’ll Never Know” which I suspect was the version sang by British songbird Vera Lynn and the Andrews Sisters’ “In the Mood.”
(I was a disc-jockey at radio DZMT/Manila times in my very early twenties.) Not quite so maudlin as to cause my eyes to well, but indeed ‘music hath charm.’ “You’ll Never Know” hit me good, right in the solar plexus that went up my throat!
THE MUSEUM'S BATAAN CONNECTION
An incidental personal musing to Saturday’s lecture was that the venue, the Ayala Museum itself, originally organized as Filipinas Foundation, Inc. has an uncanny connection to Bataan and Corregidor.
A decorated WW II veteran’s (along with his wife’s) benevolent foresight finds fruition in the Museum and the Filipinas Heritage Library. They were the founders and funders. That veteran is a Manila-born mestizo by the name of Joseph R. McMicking, son of the first Filipino Sheriff of Manila, Iloilo-born Jose McMicking of Fil-Hispano Scottish ancestry who later on became General Manager of the Insular Life. He married into the Zobel de Ayala family and is acknowledged to be responsible for the revival of the family fortunes virtually dissipated as a consequence of the war.
Hardly even remembered today, Joe McMicking is the visionary and principal executive that planned and created Makati as the Philippines’ central business district with the country’s most desirable residential subdivisions. (Sorry, but I cannot resist emphatically interjecting that the infamous Jojo Binay, the cornered and much accused Vice President and ex-Mayor of Makati did not contribute anything to the development of Makati. He is in fact a beneficiary of McMicking’s creation. As everybody acknowledges, Binay profited handsomely from Makati. Many, even alleging, criminally!)
At the onset of WW II, Joe McMicking was called to active duty as a pilot/instructor in the fledgling Philippine Army Air Corps (now the Philippine Air Force). And at war’s end, a Colonel, absorbed into the US Army. He was in Bataan and soon after transferred to Corregidor from where he was to join the MacArthur exodus to Australia as the only Filipino member of that senior staff. He was also in Red Beach, Palo Leyte on October 20, 1944 with MacArthur’s promised return.
And speaking of a further Bataan involvement, he had a younger brother who was with the Philippine Army/USAFFE in Bataan and survived that fateful march from Mariveles, Zambales to Camp O’Donnell, Tarlac in April of 1942. Alfred McMicking was still a bachelor and was not to see the liberation of Manila. He perished in that gory gruesome massacre in Ermita and Malate, along with McMicking matriarch, Dona Angelina, sisters Helen and Mrs. Consuelo M. Hall, mother of Roderick Hall and Consuelo M. McHugh who are both active in local observances of Wartime Philippines memorials. Rod Hall has donated his personal WW II Library to the Filipinas Heritage Library.
I have always thought that in the pantheon of Philippine business leaders and nation builders that include the likes of Teodoro Yangco, Toribio Teodoro, Gonzalo Puyat, etc., Joseph R. McMicking--JRM, as he was referred to in office memos and by subordinates--must likewise be enrolled. His story is interesting, poignant and inspiring. It must be told. Someday, within our lifetime!
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