[Pinoy voices] The Filipino warriors rememberedI was on my way to Daejeon to give a leadership seminar to the officers of a community of Filipino workers. On the train, an elderly Korean lady, maybe in her late 70s, asked my friends and me, “Eodiseo osyeosseoyo?” (“Where are you from?”), maybe because she noticed we were speaking in Tagalog, so we introduced ourselves as Filipinos. She then started thanking us, the Filipinos, for helping Korea during the Korean War. She started recounting stories about the Filipino soldiers who came to fight during those turbulent years. She said that Koreans are indebted to us, the Filipinos.
On another occasion, I met an elderly Korean priest in his early 80s who was originally from North Korea but had to escape during the war and managed to come to South Korea. On his way to the South, he met a Filipino soldier. They became good friends, and with the soldier, he smoked his first cigar.
Honestly, before I came to Korea I never knew about the heroism and gallantry of the Filipino soldiers who participated in and sacrificed their lives during the Korean War. I had never heard any of my history teachers lecturing about this in my classes or my grandparents telling me stories about it. I believe other Filipinos as well as Koreans, especially the members of the younger generation, are as ignorant as I regarding this historic act of heroism by our Filipino soldiers and the 60 years of friendship between the Philippines and Korea.
My encounters with these Koreans made me want to discover more about these unsung, unrecognized and underappreciated heroes. Some day, I promised myself, I will meet them in person and listen to their stories.
The Philippines was among the first countries to respond to the United Nations’ call for aid when South Korea was invaded in 1950. A send-off rally for the 10th BCT (Brigade Combat Team) was held at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on Sept. 2, 1950. The Philippine flag was handed to Col. Mariano Azurin, the commanding officer of the battalion. The book “The Fighting Tenth” by Mariano Manawis quotes His Excellency, President Elpidio Quirino, during his send-off speech as saying: “Today, we begin to write a wonderful page in our history. Many of you have fought on our own soil to secure our freedom. You now go forth to a foreign land to fight for the preservation of that freedom.” The gallant soldiers left Philippine soil on Sept. 15, 1950, and landed at Busan on Sept.19, 1950.
Last year, Korea and the Philippines launched a year-long celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Philippines-Korea Bilateral Relations. One of the highlights of the launch was a screening of the movie “The Forgotten War,” directed by Carlo Cruz. This movie intensified my desire to meet veterans of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea.
Months later, I met some of the PEFTOK veterans over several occasions. I had such an inspiring encounter with these brave and courageous men. Despite their age, they were excited as they shared their difficult yet inspiring fights, against all odds - the cold winter, lonely Christmas, homesickness and death.
Col. Francisco Tamondong from Pangasinan, born in 1923, was part of the 10th BCT. He was at the prime of his youth when he joined the battle. He left his family behind because he was ready to fulfill the call of duty. He was literally one of the first overseas Filipino warriors in Korea, because he, along with two other soldiers, belonged to the first group of fighters, who first came by ship and brought 17 tanks to be used for the war. When I asked him what sustained his courage and allowed him to go on with the fight, he said, with teary eyes and a trembling voice, “Whenever I looked at the Philippine flag, I thought about my country. Then I regained my courage and the strength to continue the fight.”
Col. Jovencio Dominguez, born in 1931 and also from Pangasinan, belonged to the 19th BCT. He was only 19 years old when he joined the troupe sent to Korea. His motto, “He who does not learn to obey does not hope to command,” served as his inspiration. So despite his homesickness, he managed to fight. “Letters from family and friends,” he said, “sustained our morale .?.?. So all of us were always excited to see if there was mail for us.” Prayer was also a great help, he said. With the spiritual guidance of their chaplain, they were strengthened.
Maj. Maximo Young, born in 1922 in Cebu, belonged to the 10th BCT. With joy and excitement, he talked about how they picked apples, plums and chestnuts to feed themselves. He also remembered how Korean children treated them. “As we began to immerse ourselves in the Korean way of life, we could see children who, regardless of their age, never showed any fear or indifference to us soldiers. Perhaps, though they were young, they already knew that we were defending them from [communist] aggressors.”
When I asked them about their wish for the future, all of them said that they wished that more people, especially the young generation of Koreans and Filipinos, could be made aware of this important part of history, and that the ties, friendship and collaboration between the two countries could become stronger so that the long-standing relationship would not go to waste.
These are just some of the revealing and memorable accounts of the gallant and chivalrous men who faced death to defend South Korea from communism. They deserve our heartfelt recognition and appreciation. As Korea and the Philippines celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War this year, may we recall the memories of the past with gratitude in our hearts, and look forward to a better, more peaceful future between the two countries.
*The author is a professor of the Catholic University of Korea and a member of the Phil-RPG.
By Emely Dicolen-Abagat