Sunday, February 01, 2015

Standing on the shoulders of warriors

"IN his weekend communique, Gen. Douglas MacArthur included the dramatic story of non-Christian Igorot native tribesmen who --- in an offensive over rough, matted terrain --- mounted U.S. tanks like so many half-nude jockeys to direct American drivers inside.

When the attack was over,” MacArthur wrote, “the remnants of the tanks and of the Igorots were still there; but the 20th Japanese Infantry Regiment was completely annihilated; when you tell that story, stand in tribute to those gallant Igorots.” This was how Time Magazine reported about the Bataan Battle in March  1942.

We take comfort again in the idea of the "gallant Igorots" after 13 of them died in a skirmish over the weekend in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Thirteen of the 42 Special Action Force officers, or roughly one-third of those who perished were from the Cordilleras.

Like Time,  when we tell the story, we have to stand in tribute to those gallant Igorots because there is no other way. The other stories: Why and how they died are something to be debated for the next weeks. Even what to call the incident is a question of heroes: misencounter, battle, ambush, trap, bounty hunting. All of these diminish those who died.

This being the time of selfies, yes, even in time of war, we saw videos from both sides, the SAF and the MILF and BIFF during the time of the incident. In one of the videos from the MILF, they were more relaxed, sniping and then chatting then sniping again. We cannot understand what they were saying but we grasped one Tagalog phrase, malayo pa ang umaga. Meaning the dawn is still far away. Meaning, this will take time.

Meanwhile, the video from the BFF was more of hell-fire shooting, losing bullets and one young SAF apparently injured and taking the video as a last resort selfie.  You can see a mixture of fear and courage in the SAF video.

And that is nothing to take away their gallantry. As a character from the popular TV series, A Game of Thrones, had it: "Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?' 'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.”

“Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They're just braver five minutes longer," said the late US President Ronald Reagan.

But the battle went on for eight hours. That is an extra pack of heroism going there.

Senior Police Superintendent Jesus Cambay, the former Baguio City Police Chief, said that many police recruits would rather join the SAF rather than the regular police force because of the idea of the Igorot warrior.

The Cordillerans repulsed the Spaniards for three centuries. We knew of the beheadings, ambush and strategies made by the Igorot warriors on these Spaniards who tried to invade in search of gold. But we also knew about Spanish officers who showed cruelty to subdue but were later driven off as well. By the time the Filipinos started the KKK, the Igorots in G-strings were among those who joined the Malolos Republic, having helped start the Candon Republic months before.

We also heard the stories of the gallant Igorot soldiers in the World War II and how  they nailed the coffin on the Japanese forces in Benguet and Ifugao.

Let us not say that these gallant Igorots died in vain. “Nobody who says, ‘I told you so’ has ever been, or will ever be, a hero," said Ursula Le Guin.

We are all keyboard warriors now, as one journalist said.  And we are just basking in the sacrifices of these gallant Igorots. To them, we offer our respect.


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