BRP Ramon Alcaraz – a tribute to a WW II hero

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - August 12, 2013 - 12:00am

Welcome to the Philippines, BRP Ramon Alcaraz. I’m glad this Administration has begun its work on upgrading our navy vessels and equipment. Although it may not be the most sophisticated and state-of-the-art warship, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz is better than nothing.

As it entered the Philippine territorial waters in the early morning of August 2, 2013, spectators couldn’t help but feel a surge of pride. She was like a hero coming from a distant sea. Thirty fishing bancas in Aurora province surrounded her before she went on to Bolinao to meet her sistership the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar. After which she was escorted by about 30 civilian vessels all the way to Subic Bay where she was met by the President of the Republic on August 6.

What exactly is BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16)? It is a 45-year old ship that was acquired from the US Coast Guard to beef up the Navy’s maritime domain awareness. It is manned by 88 officers and enlisted personnel. The BRP Alcaraz, affectionately called “Monching” by the Navy, is the second warship acquired from the US. The first was the BRP Gregorio del Pilar which was commissioned in 2011.

From 1968 to 2012, BRP Alcaraz was known as USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716) and served the US Coast Guard as a high endurance cutter. It was decommissioned on March 30, 2012 and was acquired by the Philippines under the Excess Defense Articles and the Foreign Assistance Act.

BRP Alcaraz is a 3,250 ton frigate equipped with two 3,000 horsepower diesel engines that could attain longer sustainable speed of more than 15 knots. The ship has also two 18,000 horsepower gas turbines that could propel the ship at a speed of more than 25 knots in emergency situations. The BRP Alcaraz has a flight deck and an extendable hangar that could accommodate a helicopter for an extensive maritime patrol.

Please allow me to indulge myself on the BRP Alcaraz because like my late father Max Soliven, I am fond of warships. Another reason for writing about this is because the hero of the story Ramon Alcaraz was very close to me. He was Tito Monching to me but my father enjoyed calling him “Commodore”. He was one of my guardians while I was a student in Los Angeles, USA. He took good care of me almost like a father along with his wife Tita Conching (who owned the famous Commodore Drugs).

He would tell me stories of his feat during WW2. I would listen endlessly in awe and basked in the wisdom of this man and his vivid descriptions of the glorious past of the Philippines. While sitting at his beautiful home overlooking Orange County, he would record our conversations in video (which he did to all his guests). Young as I was I saw him enjoy picking on my brains about the sentiments I had about our country. When I visited him in 2007, he showed me all his journals and memoirs impressively stored in his latest Apple computer. He was fun, loving but most important of all a fighter our country should be proud of. He was an officer and a gentleman.

So, why did the President choose Ramon Alcaraz? Who was Commodore Ramon Alcaraz?

In his fourth SONA, the President spoke about Commodore Ramon Alcaraz. He said, “Our country has never lacked for people prepared to take a stand and fight for our country regardless of the enormity of the challenges before them. There is the courage of Commodore Ramon Alcaraz during the Second World War. In a small wooden Q-Boat, he took on nine Japanese Zero fighters — then considered among the most modern planes; three of these, he shot down. In fact, he would have continued fighting had he not received an order from his superiors to surrender. This type of bravery is what our soldiers display every day as they patrol our most remote mountains and our farthest islands; soldiers who continuously bear the distance from their families, who proudly stand their ground against anyone who challenges our sovereignty.”

Commodore Ramon Alcaraz was one of the first graduates of the elite Philippine Military Academy, the West Point of the Philippines, on March 1940, just before the start of World War II.

After graduation he joined Offshore Patrol (OSP), which is the forerunner of the Philippine Navy today. Commodore Ramon “Monching” Alcaraz commanded one of the Philippine Offshore Patrol’s Q-Boat. He was the captain of Q-112 Abra during WW2 which shot down 3 Japanese aircrafts in Manila Bay facing Bataan and Corregidor under the direct command of Field Marshall Douglas MacArthur. He was immediately promoted and decorated on the spot by General MacArthur in Corregidor for his heroism and gallantry in action in January 1942.

When Ramon Magsaysay was Secretary of Defense of the Philippines, he sent Alcaraz to study the organization of the United States Marine Corps in America. His report led to the establishment of the 1st Marine Company that grew into the Philippine Marine Corps of today.

Story has it that in spite of his achievements, Alcaraz found himself out of favor with then President Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos refused to name him as a Rear Admiral despite his seniority in rank and instead named Commodore Dioscoro Papa as the PN Chief. This was probably due to the fact that Alcaraz knew how Marcos allegedly made deals with smugglers and restrained Navy patrols for share of profits in the sixties. Alcaraz criticized the National Defense policy during the Marcos regime which perhaps led to his arrest during Martial Law. He later retired from the service and went to the United States to form an opposition to Marcos instead. He became a stalwart of the Movement for a Free Philippines (MFP).

By the way, he publicly declared that if a foreign nation would ever attack and occupy the Philippines, he said the attack would be all over in 48 hours despite a gallant defense by our AFP.  I hope our AFP defense team today is prepared, just in case anyone decides to invade us!


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