CLARK FREEPORT—Sergeant Dominador Figuracion, 92, begged off from talking about the Fall of Bataan to the Japanese Imperial Army on April 9, 1942, and how he and some 70,000 Filipino and American soldiers had been forced to march to a concentration camp in Tarlac.
Around 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers perished during the Death March. About 26,000 of the 50,000 Filipino prisoners of war at Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac died of dengue, malaria, dysentery or starvation when this was closed in January 1943, according to historical accounts.
Instead, in a room filled with war veterans on Saturday, Figuracion, garbed in his military uniform, declared: “The Philippine Scouts (PS) is not a Boy Scouts organization.”
This mistake, he said, diminishes or erases the role the PS made in defending freedom during World War II.
Historian Chris Schaefer wrote: “In 1901, the United States Army organized the Philippine Scouts to combat insurgents and bandit groups in the islands, and when the insurgency was over the Scouts became the US Army’s front line troops in the Pacific.”
Schaefer said the PS bore the brunt of the Japanese attack on the Philippines at the outset of World War II. “Survivors of the Battle of Bataan, to a man, describe the Philippine Scouts as the backbone of the American defense there,” he said.
Figuracion came all the way from his Lakewood City home in Washington to set the record straight—a matter that he said meant a lot to him, his few surviving comrades, fallen soldiers and their relatives.
The event marked the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society’s (PSHS) 28th annual reunion, the first to be held in the Philippines.
On Saturday in this free port, the reunion was hosted by PSHS’s Fort MacKinley chapter that was cofounded by Philip Garcia and led by Jojo Dy.
Surviving members have dwindled to between 60 and 70, said Jose Calugas Jr., PSHS president.
MacArthur’s elite troops
Rhode Island Senator John Patterson and PS officers founded the PSHS in 1989 to preserve the history and legacy of what they call outstanding soldiers.
“Not too many people know about the PS. Some thought them to be Boy Scouts. They were the elite soldiers of (US General Douglas) MacArthur. They were American-trained, disciplined, good marksmen,” Calugas said.
As in the United States, there has also been a lack of recognition for the PS in their native country.
“The museum of the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] has not mentioned the PS,” said Donald Plata, who documented the exploits of PS in the film, “Forgotten Soldiers.”
This was because the AFP might have “considered them Americans,” Plata said.
Schaefer, in a report on the PSHS website, provided the context:
“After the surrender of Japan in August 1945, the US made good on its previous commitments and granted the Philippines full independence on July 4, 1946. At that point the Philippine Scouts held a unique status in US military history: They were soldiers in the regular US Army, combat veterans at that, but now they were citizens of a foreign country. To solve the dilemma, the United States offered the Philippine Scouts full US citizenship.”
Not a citizenship issue
Schaefer said most of the surviving Scouts accepted the offer and the US Army transferred them to other units to finish their military careers. He said in 1946, President Harry Truman disbanded the unit.
Citizenship should not be an issue, said Figuracion whose father, Juan, signed up in the early batches of the PS.
“I followed my father’s footstep. We were then under the US. You have to get involved. The Japanese were invading the Philippines,” he said. “I took my US citizenship on Nov. 10, 1946, because the Philippines was in ruins, the socialists and communists were harassing us in Pampanga and the US was where the jobs were.” He joined Boeing.
“I love this country. Every year I come here,” Figuracion said.
“The truth is, we did suffer much. I should never forget. We tried our very best. We are brothers. This togetherness and solidarity [between Filipino and American soldiers] should be passed on to the next generations,” he said.
The PS is credited with delaying the advance of Japanese troops to the last stronghold of the Allied Forces in the Pacific.
The 26th Cavalry Regiment, to which Figuracion belonged, had a distinguished record. Backed artillery, it attacked the Japanese during initial landings at Lingayen Gulf, said retired Colonel John Olson, PSHS historian emeritus, in an account posted on its website.
In the withdrawal to Bataan, the regiment served as rear guard, becoming the last to reach the peninsula with only 200 of 600 troops alive, Figuracion said.
Members of the regiment, he said, were the last to charge the enemy on horseback, sending the Japanese fleeing the defense line in Abucay, Bataan.
Half of the PS units were killed in Bataan. Some escaped the O’Donnell and Cabanatuan camps and led guerrilla forces. They later rejoined the PS to liberate Manila.
Capt. Felipe Fernandez, 96, attended the reunion but refused to talk about the war “because some wounds have not healed.” He talked about Fort Stotsenburg (Clark Air Base) as a pasture for horses.
He was on the verge of tears when he recounted that for lack of food during the Japanese onslaught, the PS butchered their horses, including his own, Mike.
"documentary by film-maker Donald Plata. The film, we hope, will go a long way in really elevating knowledge about the Scouts. It has received outstanding reviews and was shown at the WW2 museum in New Orleans recently. Several of our Scout veterans are featured in the film, which was narrated by Lou Diamond Philips, also of Philippine descent. I cannot overstate how impressive I found this film to be. When I think back 17 years ago to my first reunion which was in Ft. Lewis, WA, the idea of a documentary film of this quality would have been a dream. Donald and others have put so much effort into this film which tells such an important story and does it in such an inspiring way. It would be wonderful if the film could continue to reach the widest audience possible."