LONG WALK TO FREEDOM: A FIL-AM VET SHARES MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR II
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA, JUNE 10, 2010 (PHNO) Written by Quirico V. Cadang in collaboration and with a foreword by Lee Quesada.
This story is about the escape to freedom from the savageries and brutal acts by Japanese soldiers when the imperialist army took control of the little town of Paete, Laguna in the Philippines during the Pacific world war of 1942.
Quirico V. Cadang (photo above, left) now 84, is a retired Sergeant in the United States Armed Forces-Far East (USAFFE). After the war he was with the elite Presidential Guard Battalion "A" Company in Malacañang Palace until his honorable discharge from the army. He now lives in retirement with his wife Myrna in San Pablo, California.
Ret. Sergeant Cadang is the surviving member of a group of 14 young men from the town of Paete, all escapees from a Japanese 'training camp'. The young men individually took their own long walks to freedom after being lured by the Japanese forces by a political propaganda to further their education but instead they were being trained to be a imperialist soldier. All 13 boys, barely in their teens have passed on now. Quirico is the only one left to share his own story, his walk to freedom.
He asked to start his story with a prayer for all soldiers fighting in wars today: "Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us. Bless them and their families as they perform the selfless acts trying to bring true peace to the world and bring them home safe to their anxious and waiting loved ones. Amen."
Introduction to the World (Pacific) War of 1942 to 1946:
[Photo at left – The Pacific War Council as photographed on 12 October 1942. Pictured are Franklin D. Roosevelt (of the USA, seated), and standing, from left to right, Owen Dixon (Australia), Leighton McCarthy (Ontario, Canada), Walter Nash (New Zealand), Viscount Halifax (Great Britain), T. V. Soong (Republic of China), Alexander Loudon (Dutch) and Manuel L. Quezon (President of the Philippine Commonwealth). K. S. Digvijaysinhji of India was not included in the photo] (Source, from Wikipedia)
The Commonwealth of the Philippines was the political designation of the Philippines from 1935 to 1946 when the country was a commonwealth with the United States. Before 1935, the Philippines was an insular area with non-commonwealth status, and before that, it had been a U.S. territory.
When the Philippine Commonwealth Army was created in 1935, the Philippines already felt the threat of war with Japan. On July 26, 1941, the United States Armed Forces-Far East (USAFFE) was created and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, thereafter ordered the Philippine Commonwealth Army to the service of the US Armed Forces. With this army along with the Philippine Scouts and the many groups of guerrillas all over the Philippine islands, were also some 200,000 Filipinos who served under the United States military command fighting the Japanese in World War II.
Fall of Bataan & Corregidor
[Photo at right - Thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war (POWs) at Malinta
Island in Corregidor were eventually marched from Bataan Island to the Japanese concentration camp in Capaz, Tarlac, recorded in history as the "Death March".]
During the Battle of the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur used Corregidor as Allied headquarters. It was also the temporary location of the government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. On December 30, 1941, outside the Malinta Tunnel, President Manuel L. Quezon and Vice-President Sergio Osmeña were inaugurated for a second term.
The Battle of Bataan represented the most intense phase of Imperial Japan's invasion of the Philippines during World War II. The capture of the Philippine Islands was crucial to Japan's effort to control the Southwest Pacific, seize the resource-rich Dutch East Indies, and protect its Southeast Asia flank. It was the largest surrender in American and Filipino military history, and was the largest American surrender since the American Revolution.
In April 1942, the Japanese with their heavy artillery bombarded Bataan Peninsula where the American forces were already weakened by shortage of military supplies, food and water. Bataan fell. In the hopelessness of the American position, President Roosevelt ordered to either continue the battle or arrange a term of surrender. In Corregidor, General MacArthur elected to continue the battle against the Japanese offensive. But in May that year, Corregidor fell, too.
[Photo at left - Japanese soldiers take down the American Flag at the Old Spanish Flagpole in Corregidor Island]
The 'Death March' non-stop, which lasted nearly a week from the Bataan Peninsula to the prison camps in Tarlac involving the forcible transfer of 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese in the Philippines was characterized by wide-ranging physical abuse and murder and resulted in very high fatalities inflicted upon the prisoners and civilians along the route by Japanese imperialism.
Beheadings, cutting of throats and casual shootings were the more common actions of Japanese war atrocities— compared to instances of bayonet stabbing, rape, disembowelment, rifle butt beating and a deliberate refusal to allow the prisoners food or water while keeping them continually marching in tropical heat. Falling down or inability to continue moving was tantamount to a death sentence, as was any degree of protest. Such acts were properly depicted in top box-office Philippine war movies during the black and white era of films.
After the war, every year on April 9, the captured soldiers are honored on 'Araw ng Kagitingan' ("Day of Valor"), also known as the "Bataan Day", which is a national holiday in the Philippines. During the 1980–1990s, the Boy Scouts of America [Philippine troop] would reenact this march every 2 years along a portion of the initial route in Bataan taken by the soldiers. The march was about 10 kilometers in length.
After the Fall of Corregidor, when General McArthur left for Australia with the promise, “I shall Return”, his army commander, Lt. General Wainwright said: “We are surrendering in sorrow but not in shame”.
Two Years Later: "I HAVE RETURNED!"
Gen Douglas 'All-Starz' MacArthur true to his promise, landed at the Red Beach of Palo, Leyte on October 1944 with his soldiers (photo at left).
He was one of only five men ever to rise to the rank of general of the army in the history of the U.S. Army. He was also the only man to become a field marshal in the Philippine Army.
On January 1, 1942, as Field Marshall, MacArthur was offered and accepted a payment of $500,000 ($7.4 million in current value) from President Quezon of the Philippines as payment for his pre-war services.
Philippines became a personal matter for MacArthur and insisted it was a moral obligation of the U.S. to liberate the Filipino people as soon as possible.
The Leyte invasion was the largest amphibious operation mounted by American and Allied forces to date in the Pacific naval theater.
[Photo at left from Wikipedia: Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Manila in 1945. He was 84 years old when he died at Walter Reed Army Hospital and was laid to rest in Norfolk, Va.]
After Corregidor fell in May that year, Gen. MacArthur left the Philippines for Australia. At that time the Japanese already controlled everything from Burma to the Aleutians and threatened Australia. American forces were fighting a desperate fight on land, sea and air. The U.S. Marines began the long road back fighting in the tropical Hell of Guadalcanal. The combined mighty armies of the U.S. and Australia forced their way through the jungles of New Guinea. Each month, the American power and might grew and they took on the Japanese at Tarawa, Peleliu, Biak, Saipan and Guam. Then, finally, America was ready to redeem MacArthur’s pledge to the people of the Philippines.
With U.S. Army troops still fighting, MacArthur landed at Red Beach in Palo, Leyte and via radio broadcast, he addressed the people of the Philippines:
“I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil– soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed, to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.” (Source Wikipedia)
Much fighting remained, but the landing at Leyte began the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese imperialists.
My Long Walk to Freedom
[From the book of Eugenio Quesada, ‘Paete’ (1953): Let our children and grandchildren remember that April 6, 1945 was a day of Martyrdom in Paete and at the same time a day of mourning and prayer for those ‘who fell during the night' in the name of liberty.]
[Photo at left – the Paete Catholic Church built during the early Spanish period (1646). All the religious images found here were hand-carved and/or painted by the resident artisans of Paete since the time of our ancestors]
My name is Quirico, V. Cadang. I am now 84 years old. I am fondly called 'Amang' Rico by my fellow Paetenians, young and old. The word 'Amang' is Paete's polite referral of respect and love for an older man. I am married to Myrna (nee Afuang), also a native of Paete. We have 6 children. From oldest: Julita C. Soriano, a nurse; Rodolfo Cadang, a doctor; Einstein Cadang, an Electrical Engineer; Carmelita Cadang, a Business Administration graduate; Evangeline C. Umali, also a Business Admin graduate; and the youngest, Leonilo Cadang, a Computer Technologist.
I did not have a college education. My youngest son, Leonilo, taught me how to use the computer when I retired at 75. He said it would help us save on our telephone bills. Not only that, because now I am far away from my beloved town but everyday I am living joyfully with my 'kababayans' (townmates) in our virtual town on the Internet at www.paete.org. I am writing this story under the guidance of Paetenian online journalist Lee Quesada via an email chat.
At age 14, my father and mother died and left me orphaned. I continued to live in Paete honing the skills my parents taught me as a very young boy, at the same time pursued my high school education.
At age 21, after the war I became a Sergeant (162640) in the Heavy Weapons Co. of the 1st Anderson Battalion Guerrilla with other Paetenians who are Capt. Ilana Baisas, Lt. Timoteo 'Tiyong Ingot' Cajumban, a second Timoteo Cajumban, 'Tiyong Panghi' who was a Corporal, Sgt. Marcelo Pagalanan and Cpl. Florencio Quesada. In November 1945, before the Battalion disbanded, I felt very honored to be transferred to the most elite Presidential Guard Battalion "A" company under Capt. Victor Gomez CO and First Lt. Antero Villarin, Ex-O, in Malacañang Palace. I served there until my honorable discharge from the Army.
Upon retirement, I became involved volunteering my services to the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) of 2007 which was championed by Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA) and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, HR 760.
Congressman and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Mike Honda (D-CA) also reaffirmed his commitment to this bill. It was also the late Ret. Col. Francisco Quesada who patiently and persistently lobbied for this Equity bill in the U.S. Congress until it became an act in 2007.
With my wife by my side, (photo at left) I actively work with the Filipinos for Affirmative Action (FAA) here in my local community restoring recognition, dignity and equal status to Filipino WWII veterans, The FAA helped found the National Network for Veterans Equity (NNVE) in 1990, then in late 2006 the NAFVE worked to pass the Equity bill.
On July 2005, the Board of Supervisors in the City of San Francisco issued to me a Certificate of Honor “In recognition of courage, service and continued perseverance in the long battle for full equity for Filipino World War 2 veterans”.
Lee Quesada, in one of her emails to me quoted what her uncle has written in his book: "In Paete, most young men growing up, pretty well schooled themselves by birthright in the actual skills of carpentry, woodcarving, farming, and fishing."
In those days before the war, my hometown beautifully and quietly lies between the largest lake in the province of Laguna and the bountiful farming hills of the verdant Sierra Madre mountains. When I was just a toddler, like many other boys born in Paete, I was already working, honing skills naturally born to us from the artisan genes of our fathers and grandfathers such as woodcarving, farming and fishing. We did not think much of higher education because we normally did not have the resources and money to go to the city for a college education. These skills that our forefathers 'birth-righted' to us seem to exist in every baby born in Paete.
Even under the Japanese occupation, Paete was an enviable town of peace and plenty compared to other places. Practically everybody had its own homes, farmland, woodcarving and carpentry workshops. Paete continued our centuries-old tradition in carving and painting that produced masterpieces housed today as statues, pulpits, murals and bas relief in churches, palaces and museums all over the world-- among them the St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, the Mission Dolorosa in San Francisco, the San Cayetano Church in Mexico, the St. Joseph's shrine in Sta. Cruz, California, various churches in the Philippines and the Ayala Museum in Makati, Philippines. In 2005, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo proclaimed Paete as the 'Woodcarving Capital of the Philippines'.
Paetenians are naturally simple and happy people. We were calm even under the Japanese occupation because we knew when things came to worst we could easily and hastily move up to our own small farms up the hills of the Sierra Madre where we can craftily build light material houses with bamboo for our temporary shelter.
In the interim, the war against the Japanese and the Battle of Manila had began. The town of Paete was already deserted. Practically everyone sought refuge in different parts of the Sierra Madre mountains.
One night in March 1945, the people of Paete from their mountain hiding places saw the whole town of Paete on fire. The Japanese was burning the town! Paete was reduced to ashes.
What remained standing was the basic infrastructure of the Catholic church. The church was built in the 1600s by Paete natives, under the supervision of a Spanish friar using adobe bricks and mixture of egg white and other native materials used as 'cement' and with intricate 'retablo' construction materials and techniques to preserve against earthquakes. It probably remained standing after the burning of the town because of the large murals of St. Christopher, 'Christ Carrier' and Patron of Travelers that was painted by artisan sons of Paete on the wall that almost reached the ceiling. It had to be retouched after the war and remains on the wall until today: guardian and protector of the church..
During the Japanese occupation the Paete catholic church served as a dungeon and torture house to many of the town's inhabitants. The prisoners claimed to be subjected to unspeakable pain and atrocities. Dozens were killed, and hundreds sustained physical, emotional and mental wounds.
And, here, I begin to share my story......
My escape to freedom takes me back on October 1941, when Paete Mayor Luciano B. Ac-Ac, a retired school teacher (term of office from 1940 - 1944) was ordered to recruit young men for a Japanese project. The Mayor, ay nanawagan kung sino at voluntario na magpatala sa isang projecto ng mga Hapon na diumano ay 'training' o pagtuturo ng ibat ibang hanap buhay patungo sa kaunlaran ng bayan. The Japanese army lured the young men of Paete with a propaganda promise of training all young men to be technicians with good pay and future promotions. This is, of course a big lie. Instead, they needed us to be trained forcibly as soldiers to join their army for the war against the American forces. Under the invading Japanese occupation, we all knew that pretty soon the American forces, under Gen. Douglas 'All-Starz' MacArthur would come to the rescue; we just never knew when exactly.
The town mayor's son, Damaso was the first young man lured by the Japanese. It was because of Damaso why I was recruited, too. I became one of the 14 young men from Paete who were enticed and fell under the control of the Japanese forces already occupying our town. The 14 were: 1. Damaso Ac-Ac, 2. Cirilo Afuang, 3. Teodoro Africano, 4. Jose Bayocot, 5. Emeterio Cadang, 6. Bonifacio Calabig, 7. Doming Ugalde, 8. Leon (Loly) Kagahastian, 9. Marcelo Pagalanan, 10. Eliseo Pagalanan, 11. Pedro Ugalde, 12. Eusebio Cagandahan, 13. Zoilo Fadul, Jr and 14. myself, Quirico Cadang.
We were first taken to Sta, Cruz, the capital city of Laguna where we met more recruits from other towns of Laguna. There were about 200 young men there. Then we were all transported by truckloads to a so-called 'training camp' which was at Fort McKinley (now Fort Bonifacio) in the town of Tagig (now city of Taguig, Rizal). At first we were taught how to drive army trucks and taught how to repair them. Soon enough we were given rifles and taught how to fire and how to march like Japanese soldiers. We found out later that we were going to be assigned as watchers at Japanese-designated outposts. But, as if by divine providence, before I was given an assignment, I had an accident and broke my collar bone which required me to be hospitalized. I was in a hospital not far from the training barracks for 4 months, where I met a co-Paetenian, 'Amang' Eling (Cirilo Afuang), who was also hospitalized due to malaria. Amang Eling and I quietly decided and started to plan our escape from the Japanese barracks training camp. Our point of destination was towards Metro Manila.
The training barracks at Fort McKinley was near the Pasig River which connects Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay. The river stretches for 25 kilometers and divides Metro Manila into two. Its major tributaries are the Marikina River and San Juan River both in Rizal province.
Amang 'Eling' and I sneaked out of the camp at dusk around 8 o'clock in the evening. From behind the hospital, we waited quietly and patiently to hear the sounds of the 'trambia' (railroad train) en route to the city. We were able to pinpoint where the train was coming from and where it was going. Then we started our dogged long walk tracing the railway route towards the direction of downtown Manila (Metro Manila). We persisted through the dark, hot and humid night and continued on which seemed to be an endless railway trek on foot from Taguig to Metro Manila. Finally we found ourselves at Calye Calero near the Manila Times building. We looked for the house of another Paetenian, Amang Joaquin Afuang and his wife 'Inang' Ilang. I stayed with them for a few months until one day I met Paete lawyer, Atty. Juan Calabig who promised to protect me and convinced me to go home to Paete.
We went to Pasig City first, where we boarded the ‘casco’ (a flat-bottomed boat) via Laguna de Bay. Bago kami dumating sa ‘wawa’ (lakeshore) ng Paete ay sinalubong na kami ng mga bankerong taga-Paete at doon sa tapat ng’ Ilog-tuyo’ (dry river) kami lumunsad.
We were welcomed by Paetenians with their boats and they landed us at the front of 'Ilog Tuyo'.
Sa pagitan ng Pakil at Paete, sa ‘Humarap’, kina Amang Pablo 'Sabadista' Baldemor ako dinala na naroon ang tatlo kong pinsan. Ilang araw at nalaman ko na may isang ‘takas’ (escapee) din na ‘Kano’ (American) na itinatago doon. His name was Cpl Goitev Neigam, asawa ng isang taga San Antonio. Noong malaman noong ‘Kano’ sa pamamagitan ng radio receiver na may dadating na submarino sa Infanta, Quezon ay nakiusap siya na ihatid namin siya doon. Nong kami ay paalis na ay noon ko nalaman na marami pa pala kaming kasama tulad nina, Inang Ilana Baisas isang nurse, si Inang Josefa Liwag, nurse din na taga Pakil, at isang nurse na taga Sa Antonio na si Elisabeth, at ibapa. Ito ang umpisa ng aking pagiging guerillia in the 1st Anderson Battalion at dahilan sa pagiging Fil-Am WWII veteran.
I was finally taken to a place called 'Humarap' between Paete and neighboring town of Pakil where I was rejoined by my 3 cousins. From there, we all went to help transport an American soldier, also an escapee and husband of a Filipina from San Antonio, Laguna. He asked our help to go to the coast of Infanta, Quezon where the U.S. submarine boat was to arrive with humanitarian goods and military arms for soldiers helping as volunteers to fight the Japanese army.
It was here in Infanta, Quezon where my life as a soldier started. I worked as witness and participant in unloading tons of arms, ammo, food and medicines from the U.S. submarine that came to the coast of Barrio Masaga.
Sa buong panahon ng mga araw na pagsubok sa akin ay malalim ang aking walang hintong panalangin sa Panginoong Diyos at buo ang aking paniniwala na hindi ako mapapasama.
During the whole time of the war, I was in endless solemn prayers to the Lord that with my faith in Him, I would always be spared from dangers that actually surrounded me. Those months of January, February, March and April 1945 were the most trying and saddest times in the history of Paete and of my life. Many actual events are yet deep memories in my mind. I still find it difficult to put into words the way my entire experience actually happened. So dramatically and emotionally, they remain a vivid memory and I have no strength of mind to spell out in the gory and horrid words that described them.
At this time of my life, I still keep frequent thoughts of my 13 comrades. Everyone in my ‘escapee group’ have passed on. When Leon (Loly) Kagahastian, the brother of the late Col. Leopoldo (Polding) Kagahastian, the husband of Cresencia Quesada, left this world on June 10, 2007, I was the only one left.
Today, I am grateful to Lee, for her help in this publication of this sharing. It brings a warm feeling and big relief in my heart that I am able to unload this memories of war which I have been trying to unleash from my heart since I was a very young man. I hope and pray that our young Paetenians will continue to honor and accept those who volunteer to fight a just war. In my humble opinion, World War II was a justified war. I was proud and honor to be part of it. And in today's world, justified wars or not, I pray that the new world that is here now will be less hateful, less money-and-power greedy and that wars will never become violent like the wars of my generation.
There were hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who fought under the American flag in World War II. Hundreds of them from our town of Paete. Sadly, only a few are still alive when in the year 2008 the United States congress passed a law signed by President Barack Obama granting the recognition and a little compensation exclusively for the Filipino veterans. I know that there are still some war vets from Paete who are still alive and has benefited from the enactment of this law.
For me, I hope to spend my last days in our beloved town of Paete.
BACK TO THE FUTURE: My recent visit to my hometown - April 2010
[Photo at left taken during my visit to my native town of Paete taken at Tom and Cia (nee Afurong) Altamero's retirement house in the new national highway. From left standing, Me (Quirico Cadang) with Tom. Seated from left a niece and Cia.]
Last Easter, I went back home to Paete after many years. I expected the big change after many decades but how the town is today, I could not have imagined. No longer the loosely habitable and lazy landscape of a town I grew up in. My parents, those days, in their small farm, like many others, grew the sweetest 'lanzones'... the unique fruit that made Paete "famous for sweet lanzones". The town today is severely squeezed by wall-to-wall high-rise and modern concrete houses. Such modern trend of industrialization has pushed the once vibrant farming and fishing jobs in the background. The town river has dried up and the lake is polluted, no longer the crystal waters I remembered. Also, I was very sad to see squatters of homelessness lining the sidestreets of the new modern highways. The town has expanded uplands, to the hills of the mountain. There are new villages called 'Papatahan' and 'Alutay' both fertile areas in the Sierra Madre hills of Paete.
I have been to 'papatahan and 'alutay' so many times after the war. As president of a most elite club of old Paete, the Bolero Club in the 1970s, I took charge in the construction of 'Tatlong Krus' being our project at that time as a memorial to soldiers killed in the wars. With the seed money given by a Paetenian from Manila, who was the grandson of first Paete Mayor, Juan 'Adong' Quesada, Mr. Virgilio Q. Pantaleon donated the amount of P7,000,00. Additional P2,000.00 was contribution by each Bolero Club member and other friends who helped. Tatlong Krus today is a popular tourist spot in Paete after the huge renovation and modernization initiated by the Paete Mayors and completed during the admins of incumbent Mayor Emmanuel Cadayona. It is now called 'Tatlong Krus Park'. (Photo at right - Tatlong Krus, today.)
THE EQUITY BILL FOR FILIPINO WAR II VETERANS
From a book written by Col. Francisco (Kits) Quesada (photo at left) with permission, I am honored to share and quote: “Historically, in war and peace, the unpretentious town of Paete produced countless unsung heroes and martyrs. Their gallant exploits have almost been left untold and unrecorded. Those who deserved mention are: Dr. Ariston “Iton” Baet and Henio "Kabayo" who were tortured, beheaded by the Japanese because they refused to talk and they denied the Japanese enemy what they wanted to know. Mayor Luciano Ac-Ac suffered supreme punishment because he concealed the whereabouts of 14 escapees, the young men who were lured to be, what the Japanese promised, “Young Military Workers of Future Republic”. Later these coerced youth, and I was one of them, escaped and joined the underground guerrillas.”
I will never forget Ret. Col. Francisco Quesada. Ang gusto niyang tawag ko sa kanya ay ‘Kits’ and he always called me ‘Ric’. Marahil ay kung wala siya ay wala akong anak na doctor. (He wanted me to call him "Kits" and he always called me "Ric". If not for his deep passion for all Fil-Am Veterans' causes, I would not have a son today who is a doctor.)
'Kits' was the No.1 advocate of the Filipino WWII veterans Equity bill in the US Congress for a long time until it became an Act in 2007. He wrote many papers lambasting the US House & Senate for their indifference and discrimination towards the Filipino vets. He tirelessly lobbied for the Equity bill and worked closely with Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA) up to the time he and his wife, Lourdes retired in Las Vegas. When he died, I lost a very humble friend. Because of him my oldest son is now a successful doctor benefited by the Fil-Am Vets Equity benefits for Filipino soldiers which I received as a result of Col. Kits’ persistent and tireless efforts.
The last time we talked was when he and his wife invited my wife and me to attend a Sunday mass at their parish in Las Vegas. After the mass, ay masaya kaming tumuloy sa New Orleans Hotel and Casino para mananghali. Muli akong nagpasalamat sa tulong niya sa aking anak na nagging doctor na pero sabi niya, "Ric, ako ay masaya pag nabalitaan ko na tagumpay ang aking mga natulungan, pero hindi mo utang na loob sa akin yon" Tapos napansin ko na nagbago ang boses niya ng sabihin nya "Ric, life must go on, alam mo ba na pinatawad ko na yong mga dumukot at pumaslang sa mga intellectual na mga taga Paete?”
The last time we talked was when he and his wife invited me and my wife to lunch in New Orleans Hotel Casino. I reiterated my appreciation and gratitude for all his help to me and my son. He said, "Ric It makes me very happy everytime I hear that all those I helped came out victorious, but you don't owe me anything at all, as veterans we are all deserving of such beneficial returns. Then, I noticed his voice became somewhat emotional when he said, "Ric, life must go on, you know I have to tell you that I was already able to forgive those who kidnapped and killed the 'intellectuals' of Paete, including my father, my uncles and my cousins.
[PHNO NOTES: Sources of reference for this article are from The book 'Paete' by Dr. Eugenio Quesada; From the 12 Essays of Juan 'Juanito' Quesada, Jr - Paete: The Once and Future Village; The Web site of the Municipality of Paete; 'Freedom at Dawn' by Col. Francisco (Kits) Quesada; The Personal Notes About Paete and its People of Sancho Madridejos and Lee Quesada's war library files]
RELATED STORY: A passionate advocate for Fil-Am War Vets, 62-year-old veteran photographer Rick Rocamora
A fight that Rocamora follows with his lens.
The 18,000 Filipino veterans still alive today—12,000 in the Philippines and 6,000 here—continue to fight to get back that recognition of their service and rightful compensation. This is the fight that Rocamora follows with his lens.
His book, which has gained thoughtful praise from legislators, artists and journalists, features no embellished photos or inflammatory captions to get the message across. It simply opens to somber faces staring back at the camera, their most intimate stories told by their eyes. (To see some of the photos included in the book, visit http://wppdocumentaryphotography.blogspot.com or click to Snapshots on this website.
“I cannot look at these photos without holding back tears,” said lawyer Lourdes Tancinco, chair of the Veterans Equity Center (VEC) in San Francisco, California.
Also a familiar name in veterans’ equity advocacy, Tancinco credits Rocamora with her involvement in the cause. It was the photographer who asked her if she would be open to holding a free legal clinic at her office near Powell Street where the veterans often congregate.
Journey of discovery
But as he flew across America, it was the height of martial law in the Philippines and the tensions traveled across the Pacific to touch the hearts of Filipinos here.
In one anti-Marcos rally at the Union Square in San Francisco, Rocamora met Maryknoll priest Edward Gerlock, whom Marcos had ordered deported to the United States for his opposition to the dictatorship.
Rocamora, a student activist in his UP days, immediately hit it off with Gerlock. In 1985, the priest gave Rocamora a gift that would eventually lead him from the pharmaceutical industry to photography—a Nikon film camera.
It has been literally a journey for Rocamora since then. At first he used the camera on leisurely trips, but his travels became a journey of discovery and documentation in places like Nicaragua, Cuba, South Africa, and the Philippines.
He remembers being first published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1986, while he was still toying with photography. He quit his corporate job in 1990 and went full-time as a social documentary photographer.
He has gone back to the Philippines in recent years to document the lives of children in Manila’s jails and the environmental devastation at the Marcopper mining sites. He is at present working on a project documenting the lives of Filipinos working and living abroad.
Back in the Bay Area, Rocamora also got busy documenting the lives of Muslims after the 9/11 attacks, and the Indian-Americans who are changing the face of technology in the country. In 2003, he and San Francisco Chronicle photographer Kim Komenich, a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, founded the San Francisco Exposure Gallery, which features “timely and issues-based” exhibits of both budding and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers.
Rocamora’s vast work has been shown in solo and group exhibits at the Smithsonian, Museum of Photographic Arts, Center for Photographic Arts, Jewish Museum, Gorman Museum, San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, San Francisco Airport Commission Gallery, Oakland Museum, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Los Angeles, University of California-Santa Barbara, San Francisco State University, Manila Town Heritage Gallery, and the US embassies in London and Tokyo.
Using his camera, Filipino-American photographer Rick Rocamora gives outsiders a glimpse of the struggles of Filipino World War II veterans – from how hard they cling to their hard-earned medals to how hard they also try to survive America’s toughest neighborhoods.
With his photo-documentary book titled “Filipino World War II Soldiers: America’s Second-class Veterans," the 62-year-old Rocamora expounds on the fight of Filipino veterans for equal treatment from the US government.
“They (veterans) arrived in the US at the juncture of my career change. I saw the need to document their lives while they wait for equity, not only as photo-documentarian, but more so as a Filipino," the award-winning photographer told GMANews.TV.
The Fil-Am photographer will have a book signing activity at the Fil Arts Fair in San Pedro, California on September 15. The event is part of a book tour which includes San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Las Vegas, and Boston.
“It is an event covered by the media that gives a good light to efforts of Filipinos and Filipino organizations for their support of the veterans struggle for justice and equity. The event is about our heroes and about who we are as a community," he said.
Aside from pictures, Rocamora’s book contains a foreword by US Congressman Bob Filner and well-known photographer Kim Komenich, an essay by US-based Filipino journalist Rene P. Ciria-Cruz, historical anecdotes, and a chronology of events.
With such powerful visual and textual content, many critics have lauded the project and Rocamora's approach to photography.
Sandra Phillips, senior curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, said Rocamora focuses on the people he wants readers to look at and think about – the neglected Filipino soldiers who fought alongside the American soldiers during World War II in the Pacific.
“Rocamora reminds us, in these quiet and dignified pictures, of the value and integrity of these people, and of their strong sense of community which sustains them, even as they suffer from careless neglect," she said.
Sheila S. Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at the Columbia University, said the photos show how the dignity of these soldiers is “undiminished."
“They seem unbowed by the humiliations they had suffered in America, hopeful, despite all that they had been through here, that they will get the justice they deserve. The pictures—and the stories—in this book will break your heart," said Coronel.
Retired US Army Major General Antonio Taguba described the book as “an incredible study in courage and inspiration."
Rocamora said the book was published in May 2009. It was launched at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. last July.
During the launching, embassy officials presented him with a certificate of recognition. Philippine Ambassador to the United States Willy Gaa commended him for “taking on the challenge of documenting (the) veterans’ long and arduous fight."
“Filipinos and Filipino-Americans should not forget the unjust treatment that our heroes received from the country they shed blood and lost limbs for during the war. That our heroes sacrificed so much, waiting to be treated as equals," said Rocamora.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 aims to correct the injustice suffered by Filipino veterans. Under this law, they should receive a tax-free, one-time $9,000 (for non-US citizens) or $15,000 (for US citizens) non-service connected compensation.
Many Filipino veterans, however, have yet to receive the lump sum benefit. Many others are hoping that the US government would grant them citizenship. - GMANews.TV
[Please visit Rocamora's website: http://wppdocumentaryphotography.blogspot.com or click to Snapshots on this website]
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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