Former President Fidel V. Ramos led the commemoration of the 68th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War with a short program honoring the surviving veterans of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea.
The event, which was held at the PEFTOK Korean War Memorial Hall in Fort Bonifacio last June 24.
Joining the former President during the commemoration were South Korean Ambassador Han Dong-Man with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as guest of honor.
During the short program, Ramos thanked the South Korean government for putting up the PEFTOK War Memorial Hall.
“The South Korean government put up the facility,” Ramos said. “The AFP and the DND have been maintaining the facilities. The point is this: It is a product of teamwork. Teamwork in the United Nations, US, Philippines, South Korea and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). I was with the Southeast Asian team during the Korean War.”
Citing recent events, Ramos, who was a lieutenant when he fought in the Korean War, expressed hope that peace will finally be attained in the Korean Peninsula. The Korean War ended with an armistice, not a formal peace treaty.
“I hope this will all lead to the reunification of North and South Korea, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
For his part, the South Korean ambassador expressed his gratitude to the veterans of Korean War.
“They are all heroes,” Han emphasized.
He also focused on the price paid to secure the independence of his country.
“I noticed at the entrance of this museum the words ‘Freedom is not free,’” he said. “That is true. South Korea would not be enjoying democracy without the great sacrifice of the Filipino Korean War veterans.”
Defense Secretary Lorenzana also paid tribute to the Filipino veterans of the Korean War.
“We are gathered here today to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Korean War and to remember the courage and gallantry shown in action by our PEFTOK veterans during that war,” Lorenzana said. “Unfortunately, this is one of the least mentioned episodes of our country’s history.”
“When South Korea was attacked by the North, I am proud to say that we Filipinos were the first among our Asian brothers to lend a helping hand to our Korean brethren,” Lorenzana added.
He noted that the PEFTOK was the fourth largest military contingent under the United Nations Command during the Korean War.
“This Memorial Hall where we stand today is a testament to valor and sacrifices of our PEFTOK soldiers,” the Defense Secretary said. “This was built by the South Korean government on land made available by the Defense department in appreciation for the gallant Filipino soldiers who volunteered to join the expeditionary force to South Korea from 1950 to 1955.”
“It is our responsibility to see to it that the lessons and the values we have learned from the Korean War will be passed on to the next generations,” he added. “Let us teach them the value of valor and the importance of lending a hand to brothers who are in need.”
The Philippines send five battalions to the Korean Peninsula. These were the 2nd, 10th 14th, 19th and 20th Battalion Combat Teams (BCT), with a total strength of more than 7,000, including attached artillery batteries and support troops.
The last unit to serve in the Korean peninsula under the United Nations Command was the 2nd BCT, which was known as the “Black Lions.”
The unit arrived in Korea roughly five months after active hostilities in the Korean peninsula officially ended on July 27, 1953.
Advanced elements of 2nd BCT, about 500 men,” arrived in Korea on December with the rest of the unit arriving four months later on April 1954.
Col. Uldarico Baclagon explained in his book “Military History of the Philippines” that the Philippine government felt that there was still a necessity of sending troops to Korea and maintain the PEFTOK.
The armistice that was declared on July 27, 1953 was just a truce. It was not a peace treaty and there was a prevailing suspicion that fighting could still erupt at any time. When this fact was coupled with the reality that the United Nations had never rescinded the Security Council Resolution calling on member states to aid South Korea, the Philippine government felt it was still duty bound to send troops.
Thus, it was the fate of the Black Lions to spend a year along the 38th Parallel, the line that divided the Korean Peninsula into its northern and southern halves.
The 2nd BCT was among the first Army units already organized when the Philippine Republic was established in July 4, 1946.
According to Cesar Pobre, author of the book “Filipinos in the Korean War,” the 2nd BCT was descended from the 11th Infantry Regiment of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines, Northern Luzon (USAFIP, NL). The 11th Infantry was one of the five guerrilla organizations in the Philippines during World War 2 that was of regimental size.
“It was this Filipino guerrilla force that not only liberated Northern Luzon but destroyed the Japanese armed forces in the Philippines led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita,” wrote Pobre.
“The 11th Infantry distinguished itself by almost singlehandedly liberating the province of Cagayan, except for the capital of Tuguegarao, which was too heavily defended by the Japanese to be captured.”
After the war, the 11th Infantry was made the nucleus of the Philippine Army and was given the honor of being the Army unit to lead the parade on inauguration of the new Philippine republic in 1946.
The 11th Infantry was later designated as the 22nd Regiment of the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, which Pobre described as one of the four major units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at that time.
Thus, it was the fate of the “Black Lions” to be involved at the onset of the campaign to deal with rebellion staged by the Huks in May 1947.
In 1948, it was designated the 2nd Infantry Battalion and in 1950, it became known as the 2nd BCT. Because of its past as a guerrilla unit in Northern Luzon, “a number of Igorots” were assigned to the unit.
For six years, the 2nd BCT was in the forefront in the anti-Huk campaign in Central and Southern Luzon. Thus, it earned the monicker as the “Fightingest Unit” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The Black Lions was pulled out of the Huk campaign and sent to the hills of Marikina for rest, reorganization and additional training when it was chosen to relieve the 14th BCT in Korea.
Though the fighting in Korea was winding down, the 2nd BCT did not let up on their training.
For 14 weeks, the soldiers of the 2nd BCT learned what was needed to survive in the tough conditions of the Korean peninsula. They knew and lived the military adage of “train hard, fight easy.”
As one, they knew battlefields were unpredictable. Unfortunately for the men of the 2nd BCT, it turned out that even simulated battlefields can also lead to gruesome surprises.
On the last day of a scheduled two-day training exercise in Marikina, tragedy struck on March 25, 1954. A mortar round fell short of its intended target and hit a machine gun crew, killing two soldiers and wounding three others. According to Pobre’s book, the two soldiers who were killed in the training accident were Staff Sgt. Salvador Anggaco of Kalinga, Mountain Province, one of the Igorots who joined the battalion, and Private First Class Lamberto Bautista.
Only one member of the crew escaped unscathed. He was PFC Ponciano Bernardino. According to Pobre’s book, Anggaco, who was the squad leader, replaced Bernardino as the gunner of the machine gun. Since Bernardino had nothing else to do, he moved “six yards to the rear.” After Bernardino moved away, the mortar round “landed and exploded just two feet from Anggaco.”
It was not the first time that units assigned to the PEFTOK had suffered training casualties. Pobre noted that the 14th BCT had one soldier killed and two others wounded while training in Marikina.
Baclagon wrote that a few weeks after the training accident on April 12, 1954, the entire 2nd BCT had left the Philippines and arrived in Sasebo, Japan where the men were “issued clothing and supplies and were briefed on the situation in Korea.”
Once all the units assigned to the 2nd BCT arrived in the port city of Pusan in South Korea, the “Black Lions” were sent to man the former camp of the 14th BCT in Yanggu Valley.
Though the armistice had been signed, the soldiers of the “Black Lions” could not afford to put their guard down. Based on the experience of the Filipinos who had been in Korea before them, night was a dangerous time.
And the “Black Lions” were proven right. Small skirmishes between UN and North Korean forces did occur. Fortunately, these incidents were not enough to reignite the Korean War.
Despite the armistice, one Filipino soldier was killed by a land mine and six others were wounded during the time the 2nd BCT was deployed in Korea. The last Filipino soldier to die in Korea was Private First Class Anselmo Opiana, according to Pobre.
Baclagon explained the significance of the Philippine participation in the Korean War: “By sending our troops to fight side by side with the troops of other nations in the pursuance of a United Nations mandate to keep the peace in Korea, our country has proven to the whole world that it intends to honor international commitments. By fighting over freezing snow and rough Korean terrain, shedding Filipino blood and sacrificing Filipino lives, our troops have demonstrated their dedication to the soldierly virtues of courage, honor, and devotions to duty.”
Today, the country’s peacekeeping tradition continues. The Philippines have sent soldiers, sailors, airmen and policemen to various hot spots throughout the globe. These hotspots include the Congo, where Filipino pilots flew fighter jets in support of UN operations and civic action operations in Vietnam in the 1960s. Other operations included sending Filipino peacekeepers to East Timor and other hot spots in Southeast Asia, the Balkans, Sudan and the Golan Heights.