(News feature dispatch of Philippine News and Features, October 19, 1996.)

PALO, Leyte (Bankaw News/PNF) -- After the commemoration two years ago of the 50th anniversary of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Leyte Landing, described as "most profligate," this year's 52nd anniversary on Oct. 20 promises to be dull.

As in the past, representatives of the United States and Japan, the main protagonists of the war in Leyte 52 years ago, have been invited to the event. The two nations' flags, along with those of Australia and the Philippines, will be raised again in fitting ceremonies at the MacArthur Park in Barangay Candahug, this town.

The speeches, as usual, will extol the might of the American army in the defense of freedom and democracy and back-pat the Filipino war veterans for their supporting role in the Leyte war.

But the relevant lessons of the Leyte event may once more be missed -- the mistake of honoring the foreign "liberators" and their chosen Filipino buddies, but ignoring the valiant local guerrillas who made the Leyte Landing possible with less cost in American lives.

General MacArthur's landing in Leyte fulfilled his famous "I shall return" promise to the Filipinos after he escaped from Corregidor to Australia in 1942. His arrival was followed by the Battle for Leyte Gulf, and the decisive victory of the Allied Forces here was the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

Outlived relevance

For all practical purposes, however, the Leyte Landing celebration and its unabashed glorification of the Americans as "big brothers" seem to have outlived its relevance and usefulness.

"Instead of an annual affair, perhaps we should have one big celebration every ten years," said Valeriano Abello, the Boy Scout hero of the Leyte Landing, who gave this suggestion in 1994, on the 50th anniversary.

Drummed up as the Pacific equivalent of the observance of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Europe, the 50th anniversary was attended by President Ramos and some national leaders and ambassadors from many nations. But it was snubbed by the more important national leaders.

US President Bill Clinton attended the Normandy celebration instead. The highest ranking foreign guest here was US Defense Secretary William Perry.

Unaccounted funds

The national government alloted some P100 million for the 1994 affair. Much of the money went to the repair of the San Juanico Bridge, which connects the islands of Leyte and Samar. One year later, however, the repaired bridge again showed signs of deterioration.

The provincial government had alloted a P5-million counterpart fund, but to this day the fund has not been accounted for, despite persistent clamor from the public aired through the local media.

Unrecognized hero

At the 1994 rites, President Ramos conferred posthumous Philippine Legion of Honor recognition to former President Sergio Osmeña and the late diplomat Carlos P. Romulo for their spectator roles at the Leyte Landing. Retired General Rafael Ileto also got a similar recognition as a soldier who landed in Samar then.

But a fitting recognition continues to elude the late Major Alejandro Balderian, the leader of the guerrilla group that successfully harassed the Japanese military in northeastern Leyte and prepared the area for MacArthur's arrival.

Balderian's superior, the late Col. Ruperto Kangleon, was also conferred posthumously the Philippine Legion of Honor and promoted to brigadier-general by President Ramos.

Many Filipino veterans had wished Balderian would be honored during the 1994 rites. But local political maneuverings allegedly dashed their hope.

Then Gov. Leopoldo Petilla was positioning his wife Remedios, now the governor, to succeed him. But her potential rival was the then vice-governor, Aurelio Menzon, son-in-law of Balderian, whom Remedios beat in the 1995 election.

Local watchers opined that a recognition for Balderian in 1994 could have given Menzon political mileage, so Petilla allegedly blocked the move.

Shabby treatment

The 1994 affair also reenacted the events 50 years before, wherein the Americans were wined and dined as liberators. The Filipino veterans were relegated to being background cheerers.

"Tagapakpak la kami (We were there to clap our hands)," bitterly recalled Jeremias Acebedo, 75, a veteran from Palo, who recently died.

Practically ignored, the Filipino veterans were not all served meals, and they had to walk long distances and stand in line for hours. Despite their age, wobbly legs, and failing health, they were exposed to the same harsh elements they went through during the war. Many of them went home dejected.

It may not have dawned on these veterans that many of today's politicians and public officials want the Filipinos to remain American underlings. Who knows, some of them may be given posthumous Philippine Legion of Honor recognition, perhaps during the 2044 centennial celebration, for preserving the existing inequitable social system.

- Rolando Borrinaga / Bankaw News / Philippine News Features