US Navy: Anchor of US-Philippines relations

Buddy Gomez — Cyberbuddy

Posted at Mar 31 2021 10:40 PM

The story of the mightiest naval force on earth may not be complete without, in the least, acknowledging its historical Filipino content.

Perhaps more than any other American institution, it is the US Navy that is not only most familiar with its Philippine territorial possession, once acquired by armed conquest; and profoundly intimate with the country’s national character and its people. The US Navy has also enjoyed and maintained the longest interest and involvement with the islands in terms strategic utility, military alliance and the earliest direct employment of its nationals.

The history of Filipino nationals of the past, and of today’s Fil-Am US citizens within the US Navy ranks, are all in acknowledgment of services and contributions of Filipino participation. It is noteworthy that President Joe Biden, then as presidential candidate, said: “Whether fighting in our armed forces or fighting to advance social justice across the US, Filipino-Americans have enriched and strengthened every aspect of our country.”

Might I be permitted to add a mutual sentimental attachment, too? And why not?

The past 120 years stand witness to the progression of such an engagement and relationship. From Cavite navy yard labor in May of 1898, to gunboat coastal guides and machinists to boiler room firemen beginning in the very late 19th century; from mess attendants, stewards and storekeepers, thereafter; and then to sailors, petty officers and ensigns up to today’s active and retired navy pilots, destroyer and aircraft carrier captains and admirals. They are a source of Filipino pride and ought to be. The most outstanding among them will be featured in this series. Indeed, the Filipino in the US Navy is quite a story!

And before all of them, there were a handful of ‘Manilamen’ who had long settled in the Louisiana bayous having enlisted in the US Navy during the War of 1812 and as well, joined the Union Navy during the Civil War!

In fact, in 1842, the very first American exploration/reconnaissance of the Pacific Ocean, a fleet of six vessels with experts in botany, horticulture, minerology, etc. under the command of Lt. Charles Wilkes stayed a few days in the islands mostly in Manila Bay and the Sulu seas. That would qualify for a genuine Naval Intelligence sortie, would it not?

Here is another bit of what I would characterize as indispensable trivia, for purposes of our series of cyberchats starting this week. I have a hunch that many Naval scholars may have missed this item. Of course every graduate of the US Naval Academy is expected to be familiar with Alfred Thayer Mahan , the ‘exponent of sea power.’ He is the author of the seminal work (1890) on naval strategy:

“The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.” Mahan was known to have been much in touch with then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt and Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, both being behind-the-scenes moving spirits of American expansionism. But, what was Alfred Thayer Mahan doing in Manila? He had visited twice, years before finishing his magnum opus. Coincidentally, Mahan’s biographer wrote in relation to the news that Commodore George Dewey had sank Admiral Patricio Montojo’s ageing fleet (May 1) in Manila Bay: “In 1898 he did not need to consult an atlas to locate Manila. He knew its tremendous value as entry point to the Far East.”

And of course, opening and prepping up Manila for American occupation and possession was a US Navy ‘mission accomplished’ in compliance with Washington DC orders, a consequence of the Spanish-American War.

The first 60 days of American military presence in the Philippines was under the US Navy’s exclusive command. The Army Gen. Wesley Merritt’s contingent of infantry and cavalry landed in June 30, 1898. Therefore, the Filipino’s initial contact and introduction to America and the Americans, at least in the Cavite and Manila southern environs, was through the U.S. Navy. And by virtue of Sangley Point in Cavite (and Subic Bay in Zambales), US Navy became a remarkable source of foreign employment and opportunities for able-bodied Filipinos.

There was a span of time when Filipino men enlisting in the U.S. Navy were predominantly relegated to galley duties as mess attendants and stewards. That is common knowledge. But that is not how it all began. Almost simultaneously with the organization of the famed Philippine Scouts as US auxiliaries, the US Navy also had a need for locally sourced assistance for maritime patrols, coastal shipping inspections, supplies and mail deliveries, and of course, yard labor. Gunboat commanders needed the services of boatmen skilled in navigating through shoals and hazardous tides as coastal guides, and later, even for boiler room duties such as machinists and firemen.

From these earliest of recruits evolved the irrefutable ‘Filipino content’ in the annals of the US Navy. It will be worthwhile tracing its historical beginnings. Upon this richly rewarding endeavor, I will embark in the weeks ahead. I am also wishing that, perhaps, this series could possibly whet some scholarly appetites in the form of post-graduate theses relevant to the role of the US Navy in the pacification and administration of America’s only colony and to what extent was this Philippine engagement a learning and enhancement experience for the US Navy.

While most knowledgeable Filipinos, and history buffs among them, are familiar with Philippine Scout Sgt. Jose Calugas, who was conferred the Congressional Medal of Honor for his WWII Bataan heroism, hardly anyone may have even heard of an earlier recipient. A Filipino national in the service of the US Navy.
106 years ago (April 1, 1915), US Navy Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo Trinidad was conferred the highest military award for valor of the United States: “for extraordinary heroism and intrepidity in saving the lives of two shipmates that occurred during a boiler explosion on board the USS San Diego in the Gulf of Baja California (La Paz, Mexico) on January 21, 1915. He also suffered physical injuries while saving his shipmates.”

Telesforo Trinidad personified “ship and shipmates above self.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.