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A supreme valor and sacrifice

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - September 27, 2015 - 10:00am

Heneral Luna is a phenomenal hit to many of us. It seemed to have touched the very core of our being, leaving us with many questions unanswered. There are many facts and stories in our history, our culture and in the Filipinos that needs to be clarified to get a deeper understanding of our identity, of who we really are. I’m glad this movie has sparked in many of us Filipinos our sense of nationalism and patriotism. It is definitely a good start for this new generation. My hat’s off to the producers, director, scriptwriter and to all the cast and crew of this ‘epic’ movie.

After watching the movie, I realized how ignorant I am of our history. The present textbooks don’t really cover the important truths of our history which is important for every citizen to ponder on. A careful review into our past particularly about our noble heroes became my call for the day.

As I looked through the memoirs of my late grandfather Benito Soliven (who was the representative of the Ilocos-Cagayan district in 1928), I saw that he delivered a speech when the remains of General Gregorio del Pilar was brought to the National Museum on December 2, 1930.

In his speech, my grandfather said: “In March of last year, 1929, three decades after the memorable battle of Tirad Pass, there were found and exhumed by Gov. Quirolgico near the highest peak of the Cordillera, on the mountain trail leading to Cervantes, the bones of General Gregorio H. del Pilar, youngest and most picturesque of Filipino heroes. Fully appreciating the high importance of the find, President Manuel L. Quezon unhesitatingly sponsored a Joint Resolution of the Philippine Legislature, whereby a National Committee was created to formally investigate the identity of these mortal remains. And the Committee, ably headed by Director Teodoro Kalaw, after eight months of painstaking investigation and most careful study, which included a laborious trip to the spot where the hero had fallen in battle, unanimously concluded and declared that these bones were those of General Gregorio H. del Pilar. Through Joint Resolution No. 6, the Philippine Legislature officially ratified the findings of the Committee, and a law has been passed providing that a monument be erected on the spot where the hero died, thus preserving its glorious memory forever.

These events have turned the gaze of the nation to the mountain fastnesses of the north, where one of the most glorious episodes of our struggle for freedom was enacted. And the story has been retold with epic grandeur, how General del Pilar stood with his valiant soldiers on the steep and solitary mountain pass of Tirad, determined to repel the invader, or fight and die like men. Their brave stand against overwhelming odds has been fittingly compared by American contemporary writers to that of Leonidas and his Spartans at Thermopylae, and that of the embattled Afridis at Dargai Ridge.

Even now we are thrilled with the account of their courage. But the death of Del Pilar is something more than a soldier’s death. It was the sublime protest of a patriot against the decree of adverse fate. He had yearned for death when he saw that all was lost for the Republic. He had wished for it when long before the battle of Tirad, he proposed to meet the pursuing army after the disaster at Caloocan. He felt its obsession when at midnight on the bank of the river at Aringay he woke up his soldiers and pointedly asked them this question: “Brothers, which do you prefer, to die fighting or to flee from cowards?” Only superior orders prevented him then from turning around to face the victorious invader and certain death. And it must been with fierce joy that he welcomed the order to meet the foe at Tirad Pass. And so, just before the battle, on that fateful morning of December 2, he wrote on his diary the following words, which were an offering and a prophecy: I succumb to the terrible destiny that annihilates me and my valiant men; but I am glad that I die fighting for my beloved country.

It was one of the darkest hours of our history. Battle after battle had been lost, though valiantly fought. Luna, our ablest general was dead. Our armies were disorganized and dispersed. The president of the Republic was retreating over the mountains, with only a few faithful followers about him. Del Pilar could not bear to see the misfortune of his country. He was one of those men of iron who could not yield to the foe. Like Bonifacio, like Luna, he could accept no compromise.

I shall not discuss the general wisdom of such stern, unbending attitude. But I say that men like these are worthy of our admiration. The country may always rely on them in moments of need and in times of great emergencies, for they would fight to the death with madly devotion and true heroism.

Thus did General Del Pilar hold the pursuer at bay. From morning till noon he repelled charge after charge, he tenaciously held on with his handful of men through the heat and agony of battle, till he himself fell dead among his slain soldiers. And well chosen and most fitting was the place where he offered the sacrifice of his life. It was on the mountain summit, overlooking the plains and the shores of his Country, a massive and tremendous altar, built as it were for Titans, caressed by the rolling clouds of morning, lighted by the stars of dusk. It was a glorious death. Del Pilar would not and did not survive defeat. As he had told his soldiers at Aringay, he preferred to die fighting than to die a coward’s death in flight. It was the patriot’s proud defiance of death. It was the supreme challenge of valor to fate.

The story of Del Pilar has a peculiar lesson for the youths of our land. He died when only 24, at an age when life looks so rosy, when love is so ardently cherished, when the future appears so bright. Like our other generals, he could have avoided death, and could have waited to enjoy the benefits of peace. That he had ambition and unusual ability had been demonstrated by his rapid rise to fame. He was one of the foremost national figures at an age when other men are just beginning to get their bearings in life. That he loved and was beloved was shown in a most pathetic fashion by the lock of hair of his bride and her handkerchief pressed to his heart when he died. But he preferred to sacrifice his young life, his love, his future, entirely and absolutely, without reservations, for his beloved country.

May the youths of our land be like him willing to consecrate their lives to the cause of their Country, and like him be ready to sacrifice on the altar of freedom their youth with all its joys and rosy promises, when the exigencies of the hour so demand. May they ever look up to the shining example of patriotism and unselfishness set up by the martyr of Tirad Pass, the model of youth.”

 

ACIRC ARINGAY AS I BATTLE BENITO SOLIVEN DEATH DEL DEL PILAR GENERAL GREGORIO H PILAR TIRAD PASS
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