THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

Personal note: Today marks the 7th year of my third kidney. In 2015, I underwent transplant surgery after my regular organ started to malfunction some months earlier. The most important function of our kidneys is to filter waste products and excess sodium and water from the blood, and help eliminate them from our body. It also assists in regulating blood pressure and red blood cell production, so one can appreciate the need for well-functioning kidneys. The first signs of trouble are usually increasing creatinine levels coupled with declining hemoglobin readings. These are the early warning alarm bells that should be heeded before things get out of hand.

Incidentally, I have dubbed my third kidney “Francis.” Just as the Holy Father in Rome has given new life and hope for the Church, my friend “Francis” has also provided me with a new lease on life as well as hope for a few more years of quality living. We are grateful to the Almighty for His continued blessings during our stay on this earth.

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We remember and honor the valiant stand of Filipino soldiers fighting alongside American GIs in Bataan during the early days of the Pacific War. It is a national holiday, with the President in attendance in ceremonies on Mt. Samat with representatives of the United States and Japan in a display of friendship and reconciliation among former foes. It is also actually a day of defeat and surrender.

There are other days that should deserve our remembrance, our attention and perhaps even some commemoration. One such day was a Sunday morning in the month of September, 1901. We were fighting a new colonial power that had just paid Spain $20 million for our country, just after we had overthrown Spanish rule. The action that merits our consideration occurred in the town of Balangiga, Samar province. A detailed account of what took place is found in “The Ordeal of Samar” by Joseph L. Schott. On Sunday morning, Sept. 28, 1901, some 500 Filipino freedom fighters gathered inside the town church, some dressed in women’s clothing, waiting for a signal to attack. The US garrison force of Company C, 9th Infantry, occupying the town center, was led by Capt. Thomas Connell, a graduate of West Point, class of 1894.

When mess call was sounded, the troops leisurely moved toward the mess area, leaving their arms behind. As the soldiers were having breakfast, the town police chief Pedro Sanchez grabbed a sentry’s rifle and fired it. Immediately the church bells started ringing; the church doors opened and out came rebels brandishing bolos and other improvised weapons, such as picks and shovels. It was combat at close quarters – bolos versus Krag rifles. The only advantage held by the rebels, aside from numbers, was the element of surprise coupled with complacency on the part of the enemy.

An hour later, the town plaza was a scene of spilled blood and scattered body parts. Of the 76 members of Company C, 48 officers and men were slain in the attack. In no other single action during the Philippine American War did US forces suffer so many casualties. US press reports called the Balangiga engagement “one of the worst tragedies in American military annals.” The Minneapolis Journal of Sept. 30, 1901, carried a front-page story: “Butchered with bolos. Company of US troops almost annihilated. Over 40 slaughtered.” The Salt Lake City Herald of the same date had: “Terrible defeat at hand of Filipinos” as one of its headlines.

Reprisal was swift and after the “kill and burn” Samar campaign of Brig. General Jacob Smith, US troops took away the church bells of Balangiga and shipped them home. Americans argue that the bells were part of the spoils of war, paid for with the blood of their soldiers. Filipinos, too, paid a terrible price for a war not of our making. Theirs was a war of conquest; ours, a fight for freedom.

If we are to honor the sacrifices of our heroes, the Battle of Balangiga deserves prominence and attention in our history books, to remind our people of the heroism and courage showed by our fighters in the struggle for freedom.

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In December 2018, some 117 years after the bells of Balangiga were taken away by US forces, the bells were returned to the Philippines, bringing to a satisfying conclusion one of the issues that was a source of friction in Philippine-US relations. While a lot of people helped in making the return possible, two individuals deserve much of the credit. President Rodrigo Duterte, in his 2017 State of the Nation address, using forceful and straightforward language, called for the return of the bells. Others before him brought up the same subject in polite, diplomatic discourse. And of course, this was answered with polite, diplomatic actions, usually in note verbales that ended up nowhere.

The other individual was US Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis, whose personal initiatives and actions in monitoring the return of the bells led to the fulfillment of promises made to president Duterte during the 2017 ASEAN Summit in Manila.



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