I still remember his death in 1980. I remember the Manila Times front page picture of Jose Lingad’s lifeless body riddled by an assassin’s bullet—the Philippines’ first political casualty who had defiantly opposed the then-Marcos dictatorship. I remember being crestfallen hearing the news and wishing that I had had the chance to get to know him better. But in that one instant, gone was this bold and courageous politician who had once injected hope to a fragile Filipino psyche. It would be three years later that the world would reverberate with shock waves over Senator Benigno Aquino’s implausible assassination at the Manila Airport tarmac.
Jose B. Lingad of Lubao, Pampanga always intrigued me. At age 33, Mr. Lingad was elected governor of Pampanga in 1947; he groomed and mentored President Diosdado Macapagal; he served as Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Customs Commissioner, and Secretary of Labor. His last hurrah was again running, at the request of Senator Benigno Aquino, for the governorship of his province almost three decades after having served in the same position. Then he was silenced forever. But he was much more than a political figure to me. As fate would have it, Mr. Lingad and I were inexorably linked through a common bond—my father.
More correctly, I was linked through the filial bond both men once had in Bataan in 1942. They were the ultimate heroes for the United States and the Commonwealth of the Philippines during World War II: he an infamous guerilla leader and my father a United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) officer hunted down by the enemy.
I came across correspondence between both friends written in early 1951, as then-Pampanga Governor Lingad acknowledged: The hectic struggle that put us together seems only yesterday. Thank God we have survived such trials. I want to let you know that I have not forgotten those days. Sharing common fears and a common ideal make a closer friendship. …
Papa is 97-years-old now, a man weighed down with advancing age. He has had more physical limitations now and the young officer he once was is a fading memory. In 1951, Capt. Pineda of the Philippine Air Force was assigned to the Liaison Squadron at Fernando Air Base. He and my mother had conceived their second son in late 1950 and, in their desire to baptize this son, he reached out to the old friend he had met in Limay, Bataan, in 1942 at the “HQ II Phil. Corps.” Papa and Governor Lingad had become close friends there, bunkmates at the height of the war.
Papa wrote to his friend, We slept in one native bunk … same blanket, same mosquito net. It was there that we ate two straight meals each day, sometimes under the point of death because of the constant bombing during meal time. … Those were the days when our hearts became stronger & our mind (sic) began to think deeper. In the last phase of our stay there, we swore never to surrender to the Japanese in case of defeat.
I like to think that these were two noble warriors who served their country, the United States, with great courage under fire. The United States granted the Philippines its first independence a few years later, on July 4, 1946, but for over 40 years, the Philippines was a commonwealth of the United States.
Papa himself was there when Bataan fell in April 1942 and I remember his stories serving under General George Parker. At the height of the heavy bombardment between the defenders and the enemy, he recounted the miscalculations their own artillery had made and the tragic losses of friendly volleys hitting their own front lines, the masses of Filipino and American infantry who perished at their own hands. He had wanted to run close to the front lines to warn the soldiers and I sensed his frustration as he spoke.
It was rare that he even talked about that war. He had walked the early stages of the Bataan Death March only to escape just as quickly, and I now understand why. A promise made between two gallant soldiers: We swore never to surrender to the Japanese in case of defeat.
He doesn’t talk much about that experience now. Lately he doesn’t really talk much about anything. But he once gave me a painting and it’s been sitting in our den all this time. It’s a nondescript oil painting and the only reason I’ve kept it was his remark about the painting—how it reminded him of the lake he escaped to during that march. Parang yung ilog na tinalunan namin sa Death March was his description of that painting. His jump into the lake was followed by rapid rifle fire from his Japanese captors. Thankfully, those shots never hit the mark. Papa was extremely lucky. By my standards, that painting is a solid keeper.
My sister has taken the task of pursuing Papa’s Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, but she’s struggling with the VA because they can’t even get Manila VA to forward my father’s records to Seattle.
The Manila VA recently informed us that our father’s military records were lost. In any event, an investigation is ongoing as it seems that the Manila VA office has decided not to disburse the residual funds apparently owed to our father. It’s unsettling that that office cannot even respect the integrity of a man who risked his life for the freedom of Americans and Filipinos.
It’s still unresolved after about a year of monitoring. My sister’s main contact at the VA in Seattle was also recently reassigned to Colorado and she now has a new VA staffer to deal with, and everything is back to square one.
We siblings don’t tell our father about these challenges with the VA system. Best we try and keep him relaxed because he’s already gone through so much. Sometimes I wonder why veterans of the war in the Philippines get questioned inordinately about their service in the Pacific stage. When it comes to these veterans trying to secure their well-earned benefits, it’s as if the Philippines was an alien territory and never annexed to the United States between 1899 through 1946.
I also wonder why an act of Congress is always necessary in order to acknowledge the services performed by these heroes of the second world war. But why are they—aging veterans like my father—pawns in this crazy setting? Is it that confusing that the Philippines was a U.S. commonwealth during that era? It hardly seems fair that they’ve honorably served, yet don’t appear to deserve the benefits of their military service.
It makes one also wonder about the same veterans who are Philippine citizens now and what they received in return. And, on a more personal front, I’ve often wondered about Mr. Lingad. I really wish I had known him better. You see, I was that second son of then-Capt. and Mrs. Emiliano Pineda, and then-Gov. Jose Lingad was the baptismal godfather I never knew. I searched for Jose Lingad through the internet the other day and discovered that his service in the Guerilla Outfit during the war was so revered that, had he not been victimized by an untimely political mudslinging in 1951, he might have been appointed Secretary of Defense during President Quirino’s era. That position, if you recall, was filled ably by then-Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay, who was to later succeed Quirino as the next president. My father had the distinct honor knowing Pepe Lingad personally and I believe they influenced each other in a positive way.
If my godfather was still around, I would take the next flight to the Philippines and tell him about the good friend he bunked with in Bataan in 1942, how he now needed his help in Seattle and what he could do to help out. I’m sure he would come through for this old friend. I wonder if our family might have better luck contacting the Defense Office in the Philippines to secure our father’s military records.