A walk through history at the AFP Museum

Rick Olivares

Posted at Jan 31 2016 03:14 PM

A walk through history at the AFP Museum 1
The AFP Museum is located in the same complex as the AFP Theater in Camp Aguinaldo. Photo provided by author

I rectified an error. I visited the Armed Forces of the Philippines Museum in Camp Aguinaldo. It wasn’t until a couple of days ago when I wondered if we had our own military museum. I’ve been to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, the Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania, the Musee d’la Armee in Paris, and the Imperial War Museum in London.

Locally, I’ve been to the museum at Corregidor and the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite. So when I called Colonel Alfred Burgos of the Philippine Army to inquire if we had a military museum, imagine my surprise and elation upon learning that we had, not one, but three — the AFP Museum, the Army Museum at Fort Bonifacio, and the Air Force Museum close to Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The AFP Museum will be celebrating its 20th year this November. Located in the same complex as the AFP Theater, the museum consists of two floors and the adjacent Kagitingan Park. The first floor is a run through the various eras of the development of the Philippine military, while the upper floor exhibits displays on the four branches of the armed forces. Kagitingan Park is where one can find mothballed military vehicles and weapons dating from the post-World War II years to recent times.

Here are a few features that I liked from my visit:

1. The two letters of Mabini to Aguinaldo

A walk through history at the AFP Museum 2
Photo provided by author

The Sublime Paralytic, Apolinario Mabini, served as legal adviser and as prime minister to Aguinaldo. During the Philippine-American War, a pair of letters written by Mabini to Aguinaldo tell of the temperamental and controversial General Antonio Luna.

The first was dated February 28, 1899 where he related that Luna had renounced his position of Director of War Operations because Aguinaldo failed to penalize errant officials who refused to obey him.

The second, written a few days later on March 6, reported the abusive manner of Luna where he issued a circular stating that he would execute anyone who refused to obey his orders. Mabini also disclosed that Luna had indeed shot someone in Bocaue, Bulacan without a hearing.

It should be noted that three months later, on March 5, Luna and an aide would be assassinated in Cabanatuan.

There are also handwritten letters by Katipunan General Tomas Mascardo from requisitioning supplies to a request for a military burial for a fallen comrade.

2. The picture of Gregorio del Pilar and his men

A walk through history at the AFP Museum 3
Photo provided by author

It is a powerful picture where the boy general and his men, grim looks and all, posed for a photo. The picture doesn’t have a caption that says where the picture was taken. Were these men the ones he took up with him to Tirad Pass? And in the lower right of the photo is a young boy with a rifle. Was he the troop mascot? Or back then did we also employ boy soldiers?

If only dead men could tell their tales.

3. The Wall of Heroes

A walk through history at the AFP Museum 4
Photo provided by author

On this wall are the pictures and stories of 40 men all who were awarded the Medal of Valor for bravery of the highest order. Among the decorated men are Lt. Commander Jesus Villamor who during the initial Japanese attack on the Philippines went up to the skies and shot down an enemy fighter despite the overwhelming odds.

There are the stories of men like Marine Private Nestor Acero, Army Captain Hilario Estrella, and Lt. Bartolome Bacarro to name a few who fought overwhelming odds to save fellow soldiers or to fight their way out of ambushes. Some like Army Private Ian Paquit paid the ultimate sacrifice and were awarded posthumously.

The one controversial addition here is the late former president Ferdinand Marcos. If you look at his medals, he is more bemedalled than even American hero Audie Murphy. The controversy began when the strongman’s former army commanders said that he never participated in those encounters or battles for which he was supposedly awarded a medal. Furthermore, American researchers also found no mention of his name in any orders of battle.

4. Remember Erlinda and the British Bren Gun Carrier

A walk through history at the AFP Museum 5
Photo provided by author

During the Battle of Bataan, United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) units commandeered the British vehicle bound for Hong Kong when war broke out in the Philippines. The slogan of “Remember Erlinda” spurred on defenders after a Filipina woman named “Erlinda” was murdered and raped by invading Japanese soldiers.

The particular exhibit depicts USAFFE soldiers in positions of hardship while even using their helmets to cook food and rice. The slogan is scrawled in the carrier.

5. The Battling Bastards of Bataan

A walk through history at the AFP Museum 6
Photo provided by author

A whole wall is dedicated to the USAFFE men who held off the Japanese long enough to upset their timetable for the conquest of East Asia.

6. Original wartime newspapers

There are several newspapers all throughout the museum from the Mulig Pagsilag newspaper that reported on the 13th anniversary celebration of the death of Jose Rizal to the pro-Japanese propaganda newspaper The Sunday Tribune that recounted the various military disasters of the allies to the Sun Telegraph that announced the end of World War II following Japan’s surrender.

What I wish the museum curator would add are interactive exhibits that also make use of video, sound effects or sound bites from key people in history. Maybe even the playing of war documentaries pertinent to our history. It is an incredible walk through history but I wish there's more. The museum could use more material on the revolts against Spanish rule and the Katipunan.

It might not be as impressive as the exhibits in other war museums that I’ve been to in the United States or Europe but I had a great time at the AFP Museum. It was a most enjoyable and made me feel proud of my country.

The AFP Museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Entrance is free.