Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Many of us cannot fully understand the deep sense of patriotism of those who voluntarily experienced facing death in fulfillment of their pledge to defend a nation. Many of us cannot understand why patriots rise when what they have fought for was betrayed. Many of us cannot fully understand how it feels to be in the cold and in the brink of danger for a cause that seldom a few knows - how to appreciate facing death. Maybe because many tend to remain deaf and dumb as there were only a few who have undergone such experience, survived and dared to continue the struggle.

Ramon J. Farolan in his column in PDI once said that, historical articles will tell us that there exists a special place in every country’s epoch that changes the course of its history. A place where boys turns into men . A place where patriots once stood to their ground bravely facing death willingly embracing the supreme sacrifice to defend a piece of land where the survival or a downfall of a nation depends. The Fort of Masada in Israel is one of such place. It is considered sacred by its military, Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Moshe Dayan, initiated the practice of holding the swearing-in ceremony of soldiers who have completed their Tironut (IDF basic training) on top of Masada. The ceremony ends with the declaration: "Masada shall not fall again."

In Philippine History,Tirad Pass can be compared to Masada, where the young and patriotic Filipino General by the name of Gregorio Del Pilar, the rear guard of Aguinaldo's retreating forces stood his ground with a handful of men in his command. They bravely face death to defend the Pass, to protect the retreating short lived Philippine Republic. "Americans fell upon the flank and rear of the outnumbered defenders, killing or wounding some 52 of the 60 Filipinos. Among the dead was General del Pilar, shot through the neck at the height or end of the struggle (depending upon which eye-witness account is to be believed). The Americans lost 30 dead and 9 wounded, most of which resulted from the repelled frontal assault. Despite nearly total annihilation, however, the Filipinos held off the Americans long enough for Aguinaldo to escape".

In modern day history, we have this to say - the symbol of this patriotic deed was somewhere in Mindanao when the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the guise of a peace agreement almost wiped out a Battalion in Pata Island, one of the biggest island in Jolo. The MNLF aided by foreign armaments tried to establish a separate state of MINSUPALA, the military then has to retake the island to re-assert Philippine sovereignty.

In his writings, "Troubled Decades in the Eye of the Storm", MGen. Delfin Castro have this to say:

"When the water was ebbing, the small corral island became bigger and bigger and the gap closer to the beachhead. At 1500H, we heard COL CANIESO shouting through his megaphone, "31st this is the right time!" The tide had turned to its minimum height but we could still see water infront of us. After ten rounds of 60mm mortar bombardment of the proposed entry site by our mortar squad together along with us at the corrals, Alfa Company on the left and Hotel Company at the right facing the beachhead prepared for attack. Bravo Company would be staying behind as Reserve. Somebody at the back shouted our battlecry, "CHARGE!" but everybody reacted with hesitations. We all knew death was upon us! It would be suicide! As I looked behind, all eyes were on me. Thinking, we had to hurry up! I do not know until now what came into me but my prayers at that moment were total submission to God. I kept on praying the Act of Contrition over and over again as we ran in intermittent zigzag towards the beachhead. Pfc Mariano Reyes, who was near me, was very protective. He kept on pulling me down every time he heard bullets whizzing. I scolded him to stop doing so because I was starting to lose my nerve. Whenever I happened to look back, I could see my men falling down to the ground. I pleaded very deeply from Him to protect them. I did not know that my men were just dodging bullets and would stand up later to follow me. What if nobody followed me? I have written in my graduation book annual, "To conquer death you only have to die!" I told my men earlier, "Kung mamamatay rin tayo bakit natin ipapakita na tayo ay taray-taray", no pun intended 33IB. We really never showed that we were cowering in fear. I am very proud of my men in Alfa Company. Let the crew in the temper boats and retired LTGEN CANIESO, who are eyewitnesses to all of these, come out and attest to our defining moment! x x x"

On Valentine's Day of that year, 32nd IB came and replaced us at 1330H from our position. Many troops came pouring in. LTGEN FORTUNATO ABAT '51, who was the CGPA at that time, visited the massacre site. He talked to us. I remember GEN LUGA telling us the reason why he was pulling us out of Pata Island. He told us that he did not want anymore our battalion to incur more casualties. We had enough. We were already becoming careless and aggressive. Lastly, we were being blinded by our desire to get instant revenge. Away from the group of generals, COL CANIESO told me by saying but I know he was referring to the troops, "We need you alive not dead!"

Still in the island and later back to the mainland, seeing familiar faces was very soothing for me. I saw the Jolo Boys in the rescue: LIEUTENANTS LIM USMA'78, PURUGGANAN '78, ABELIA '79, ARADANAS '79, BAMBAO '79, CALALANG '79 (+), DELA CRUZ '79, DELLOSA '79, PANGILINAN '79, PALMEA '79, PERALTA '79, VALENTIN '79, BOLO '80, FRANCISCO '80, MENDOZA '80, NOBLE '80, PASAMBA '80, SUGON '80, and YANO '80. Then, an Acting Battalion Commander by the name of COL ABRAHAM MAGHARI, with a new set of staff, arrived and took over 31st IB.

Back at my company CP at Indanan, LT GONGORA and I wrote LTC OLAY, who was in Australia, an extensive letter narrating to him the massacre. We told him how we wished he was there. Perhaps, different things might have happened. I learned later that the Pata Island Massacre occurred on the exact date of GENERAL OLAY's 37th birthday! The news became the worst birthday present he had in his lifetime.

The Pata Island Massacre will go down in the AFP history as its worst debacle. This is the encounter that has the highest number of casualty, specifically on KIAs".

The men of the 31 and the 32 IB, however, never let Pata fall. If there is a place solemn such as Masada in Israel or Tirad Pass during the Fil-am War, it is no other than Pata Island in modern day history. Maybe, now we can appreaciate why patriots stood their ground when others failed.

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