October 12, 2019
THE Pied Piper of Manila is dead. Love him or hate him, people agree that when Carlos Celdran, who died in Madrid last Tuesday, walked the streets of Manila to tell its stories, the city became ever more colorful. And you would love it despite its flaws.
I was not always a fan of his opinions, his antics, his bravado. Yet, as years went by, in my rare interactions with him, he turned out to be a very sweet and thoughtful guy willing to lend his voice to advocacies that didn’t always sit well with the privileged class to which he belonged. From marching successfully in saving the plaza of Barangay Krus na Ligas, to leading many of us in our fight to save the skyline of the Rizal national landmark from commercialism, Carlos was there with us fighting for our heritage.
One of his greatest achievements was to stage the very first Manila Biennale in February 2018 when he transformed his beloved Intramuros into an art gallery in which the masters and budding artists shared the stage. All in commemoration of one historical fact: That in February 1945, Manila became the second most destroyed Allied city in the world during World War 2. It’s a celebration of our creativity to remember how once upon a time we were destroyed.
Not only was the Battle for Manila forgotten by many. Through the years, the perspective about its history also changed. Immediately after the war, people thought that the American artillery shelling that destroyed Manila was necessary to defeat the Japanese enemy. The Americans were thought to be liberators. When I started teaching history though, my view was that Americans should also be blamed for the terrible destruction and for taking too much of the credit from our guerrillas for the national liberation.
And then, the Battle of Marawi happened. From May 23 to Oct. 23, 2017, troops from the Joint Task Force Marawi fought the Islamic State (IS)-inspired terrorists of the Maute group who wanted to establish a caliphate in Mindanao. When it ended, our Armed Forces were hailed as liberators by the entire nation, and the destruction of the city a collateral damage to a necessary battle to save the people’s way of life. But because of the slow and complicated process of rebuilding Marawi, some people actually began questioning the necessity of its destruction and the efforts and heroism of our soldiers. Why destroy a whole city just to quell a few terrorists?
Last October 1, a forum was hosted by National Artist F. Sionil Jose at the De La Salle University libraries. Present was Lt. Col. Samuel G. Yunque who was the commander of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion (1SRB) when the Battle of Marawi began. Yunque told how he and his men were chasing elements from the communist New People’s Army (NPA) when they were asked to terminate their mission and proceed to the city. After walking 40 kilometers of hard terrain, they were informed of their mission: rescue some men trapped inside the war zone. If caught, these men could be brutally executed. Also, they wanted to recover their fellow soldiers killed in action so their loved ones could grieve for them and bury them. It was mission impossible but they were entrusted to do it. Before commencing their mission, Yunque told his men, “Isa lang ang layunin ng misyong ito: Iligtas ang ating mga kasamahan na ngayon ay nasa bingit ng kamatayan anuman ang maging kapalit nito sa atin. Walang iwanan hanggang kamatayan.” (This mission has only one aim: To save our fellow soldiers who are on the brink of death, whatever the cost to us. No man left behind unto death.)
The story of how they, within two weeks of the battle, rescued 16 soldiers, recovered the four bodies killed in action and two immobilized tanks was excitingly and masterfully told in a book titled No Man Left Behind by retired Capt. Phil Fortuno, Ph.D., who was also present at the forum.
I asked Lt. Col. Yunque what if the soldiers would be blamed for the destruction of Marawi. He replied, “Walang ibang gusto mag-succeed ang rehabilitation ng Marawi kundi ang soldiers (Nobody wants the rehabilitation of Marawi to succeed more than the soldiers), …so we can show the world that we can rise up again after that devastation…. the Battle of Marawi was the next most devastating urban operations after the Battle of Manila. …Marawi should be remembered as the victory of the Filipino people, not to destroy Marawi but to secure it. …We have a message that the [IS] cannot take our lands in the Phiippines.”
Fortuno added, “I believe professor, hindi natatakot ang sundalo sa (soldiers are not afraid of the) judgment of history. …From the very start, the soldiers did their best, they gave their all.”
That’s why the work of people like Carlos Celdran and Phil Fortuno in telling the stories of heroes and soldiers like Lt. Col. Yunque and his men are important. And they should be repeatedly told so they are not forgotten by the future stakeholders of the country — the young. Ang kasaysayan at ang nagsasaysay ay mahalaga rin sa bayan. (History, and the historian who recount it, are also important to the nation.)
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