Ties that bind

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Ties that bind
The flag of the United States is lowered while the flag of the Philippines is raised during independence ceremonies, July 4, 1946.
Malacañang Presidential Museum and Library

The 4th of July

When politicians and diplomats say the ties between the Philippines and the United States are “long, deep and historic,” they are paying more than just lip service to these countries.

The period of American colonization of the Philippines lasted 48 years, from cession of the Philippines to the US by Spain in 1898 to US recognition of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946. Filipinos also used to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, until it was changed to June 12 under the Macapagal administration. The Fourth of July is now Philippine-American Friendship Day.

A n e w s p a p e r clipping on my greatgrandfather’s visit to the US from the Philippines after 27 years.

In last year’s  243rd Fourth of July celebration at the Makati Shangri-La, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said, “She (America) is the larger image of ourselves as we are her smaller image, and we care for her as we hope she cares for us.”

Geopolitics and history have bound the Philippines and the US not just through shared wars and battles and political  and trade pacts — but also through the veins that run in many of their people. These ties are veins that throb, and they pulsate to make politics meaningful.

My grandparents Col. Nazario Mayor and Mary Loudon with their youngest daughter Lorraine during her 18th birthday in 1964

The clan on both my paternal and maternal sides are bound by these ties. On my paternal side, the Mayor family tree is deeply and forever rooted in my great-grandfather, the late Thomas Loudon of Carbondale, Illinois. He chose to live in the Philippines and die in the Philippines, in the beautiful island of Palawan where he built a home after the Spanish-American War. He could have returned to Illinois after the war, but he was smitten by Palawan — and a Filipina named Cornelia (my grandmother Mary was one of their three daughters). A widower by the time World War II broke out, he could again have abandoned the Philippines, but he stayed and was incarcerated with other Americans at UST. He was later buried in his beloved Palawan — the home he chose for the rest of his life and beyond. Unfortunately, however, we have no record of where his remains lie.

After studying at the St. Theresa’s College in San Marcelino, Manila where she was an interna, my grandmother Mary was sent to the US for further studies. There, during a party of the Filipino-American students association in Kansas, she met Romblon-born Nazario Mayor, who once served in the US Army (the Philippines was a US colony at the time) and was taking up engineering at the University of Kansas.

My great-grandfather Thomas Loudon (second from left) with his brothers Rexford, John and Cyrus.

Mary accepted Nazario’s marriage proposal on one condition: that he take her back to the Philippines. And he did. She took him home to her beloved Palawan, and they made their home on the islet of Bugsuk. Even before Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure declared it so, Palawan was already a paradise for Mary.  My late father Frank was their third child. The others being Nellie, Bobby, Mary Anne, Coney, Buddy and later, Lorraine, who was born after World War II.

My grandfather shed blood on the altar of freedom, fighting side by side with  both American and Philippine troops in the first and second world wars. Growing up, I remember my Grandpa Zario’s room was wallpapered with medals, including the Purple Heart. But it was only recently, through the works of American authors like Steve Moore and Douglas Campbell writing about the POWs in Palawan, that I realized the extent of my grandfather’s valor. I am in awe of his uncommon valor and almost blind patriotism.

Grandpa Zario, according to Campbell’s book Eight Survived (a book on the survivors of the USS Flier, the only downed World War II submariners to survive and evade capture by swimming over to Palawan), was willing to give up everything for love of country.

“When the Japanese attacked Manila, Mayor left Bugsuk and boarded a ship headed for the battle lines… He left Bugsuk and later wrote a letter to (his wife) Mary, which she read to the children one night at supper. Their father told them he was being hunted by the Japanese. If the enemy came after Mary and the children, he wrote, he would not surrender to free them because to do so would jeopardize the resistance movement,” Campbell wrote.

Palawan is actually one of the many islands that figured prominently during World War II. On Dec. 14, 1944, 139 American prisoners were herded by Japanese forces into a trench in what is now known as Puerto Princesa’s Plaza Cuartel. Gasoline was poured into the trench and then set ablaze. By digging through the sides of the trench and then jumping off a cliff, 11 soldiers survived the inferno. Many of them sought refuge in the home of my Grandpa Zario and Grandma Mary — who were not afraid to hide them from the enemy.

Mary reciprocated Nazario’s devotion in full measure and held the fort while he was fighting for his country. When he became a guerilla leader during World War II, my grandfather, according to the book Eight Survived,  left his home in Bugsuk when the Japanese attacked Manila. He boarded a ship headed for the battle lines. A Japanese plane bombed the ship, which was traveling close to the coast off the northern Palawan island of Araceli, and my grandfather survived by swimming ashore. He made his way back to Bugsuk, but soon received orders to report to Brookespoint to recruit guerillas.

My grandfather died at age 92 on Valentine’s Day in 1993. He was interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. He and my grandmother, who died in 1967, were symbols of the ties that bound not only the Philippines and the US as countries, but the ties that embraced their peoples and made them one.

Happy Philippine-American Friendship Day to my fellow Filipinos, and Happy 244th Fourth of July to our American friends and relatives. *


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