At an early age, Filipinos are taught about the “Boy General” Gregorio del Pilar and the Battle of Tirad Pass. Filipino elementary students got to read about this era in Philippine history known as the Philippine-American War. Del Pilar has been known as a symbol of heroic resistance to American colonization. He fought with 60 men against a much superior US force. To younger folks, that’s kind of the equivalent of Leonidas and his brave 300 defending Thermopylae against the advancing Persian army.
Gregorio del Pilar exemplified tremendous courage amid overwhelming odds that favored the enemy. “What I do is done for my beloved country. No sacrifice can be too great,” he wrote in his journal on the eve of the Battle of Tirad Pass. Del Pilar died in that battle, his body reportedly stripped of his personal belongings. He was not buried until after three days.
It is therefore such a great irony that the name “Gregorio del Pilar” is used by institutions and objects that are glaring reminders of US colonialism.
Fort Gregorio del Pilar is home to the Philippine Military Academy whose graduates become officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Majority of these officers have embraced increased US military presence and intervention in the country. Lately, the AFP has supported the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation which will allow the US to put up facilities inside PH facilities and preposition their war materiel in these facilities. The same officers believe that AFP modernization can only be achieved if the country hangs on to the coat-tails of Uncle Sam. Not surprising since the PMA, ironically, follows the tradition of the US Military Academy.
The US Hamilton-class cutter acquired by the Philippines under the Excess Defense Articles and Foreign Assistance Act was named BRP Gregorio del Pilar. The ship was first used in 1967 during the Vietnam war. Prior to being transferred to the Philippine Navy, the ship was stripped of most of its high-tech equipment. The cost of maintaining the ship is greater than the acquisition cost, according the budget hearings of the Philippine Congress.
“Gregorio del Pilar” the ship is a prime example of how neo-colonial relations work. The Philippines constantly depends on the US for military aid, while the US provides us with second-hand equipment to keep our armed forces backward and constantly dependent on US support. The Vietnam War era ship is a glaring reminder of how the US puts one over us in the name of “special relations” and “friendship”. The US has no real intention of modernizing the AFP because it keeps our country dependent on US military aid. This is the leverage used by the US to gain the approval of one-sided military pacts like the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation set to be signed during US President Barack Obama’s visit on April 28-29.
The meaning and significance of del Pilar has been lost on the present and past neo-colonial puppet governments. The current and future generations of Filipino youth should reclaim “Gregorio del Pilar” as a symbol of heroic resistance to US imperialism. Del Pilar reminds us that it is our duty to oppose foreign intervention, even if the odds are not in our favor. Instead of following the colonial tradition set by the US Military Academy, cadets at the PMA should study and emulate del Pilar’s nationalist and anti-colonial stand.
As del Pilar had shown, one is never too young to stand up for national sovereignty.