MANILA, Philippines?When the 500-peso bank note was first issued in 1987, my late father, Johnny Villasanta, noted with pride that here at last was a tribute to the Filipino soldier who fought in the Korean War (1950-53), and who helped rebuild and protect Korea between 1954 and 1955.
The reverse side of the original bank note was replete with Korean War imagery: Benigno ?Ninoy? Aquino Jr. in war correspondent garb, his portable typewriter inscribed with his initials.
Also reproduced was one of the many stories he wrote for The Manila Times while covering the 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT), the first of five BCTs comprising the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (Peftok).
But as my father?who was also a war correspondent in the Korean War for the Evening News?noted with disappointment, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas had selected a story written by Ninoy that glorified the American instead of the Filipino fighting man.
The Ninoy story was headlined, ?1st Cav knifes through 38th Parallel.?
The 1st Cav is the United States 1st Cavalry Division, one of seven US Army divisions that fought in the Korean War.
The 1st Cav also took part in the Liberation of the Philippines in 1945, and helped wrest Manila from the Japanese Occupation forces. But the 1st Cav is an American unit.
My father felt the BSP should have chosen a story about the 10th BCT, which was the unit that both he and Ninoy covered. Ninoy wrote extensively about the 10th BCT and I have photocopies of some of his stories that were published by the Manila Times.
?Troops given big send-off,? (Sept. 3, 1950); ?Ojeda leads Xth in heroic assault; Filipinos gain glory? (April 17, 1951) and ?PI Xth recrosses ?38; Ojeda recalls retreat; morale up? (April 13, 1951) are but a few of the stories that Ninoy wrote about our boys that the Times published. [Then Col. Dionisio Ojeda was the 10th BCT?s commander.]
The BSP could have selected any one of these stories, or indeed any of the many other stories about the Filipinos that Ninoy wrote, when it designed the 500-peso bank note.
My father believed that this could only have happened because, regrettably, BSP historians know precious little about our country?s involvement in the Korean War.
What made the BSP?s choice of the 1st Cavalry story all the more perplexing to my father is that ironically Ninoy wrote hardly any stories about the US Army in Korea.
A check through the old issues of the Times will bear this out.
Due for redesign
The P500 bank note is now 20 years old. It was redesigned in 2002 and is probably due for another redesign.
If this is the case, I would like to suggest that the BSP replace the story about the 1st Cavalry with one that honors the Filipino 10th BCT.
The ?Fighting Tenth? fought magnificently in the greatest battle of the Korean War?the Communist Chinese Spring Offensive, April 1951.
The excellence of the Filipino as a fighting man was proven at the famous Battle of Yuldong on April 23, 1951.
At the village of Yuldong in North Korea, the 900 men of the 10th BCT withstood the massive night attack of a 40,000-man Chinese army and, in so doing, helped prevent the total collapse of the western front of the United Nations Command (UNC).
The 10th BCT was one of the few UNC units on the western front not to have been overrun in the first hours of the immense Chinese assault. The Americans, South Koreans, British, Turks and Puerto Ricans all gave way before the Chinese attack.
But not the Filipinos who took up their hasty defensive positions only the day before the Chinese attack.
Unlike the doomed zoo
Comparisons with the historic Battle of Thermopylae and its famous 300 are tempting, but unlike the doomed 300, the survivors of our 900 lived to fight again another day.
(Thermopylae is the pass in central Greece where 300 Spartan warriors held back a massive invading Persian army in one of history?s famous last stands. The Persians succeeded in taking the pass but sustained disproportionately high losses. And the extraordinary bravery of the small force of Spartans bought time for the Greeks who went on to defeat the Persians.
The performance of the defenders at the Battle of Thermopylae has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.)
The 10th BCT was among the units that spearheaded the ferocious UNC counterattack that finally forced the communists to negotiate an armistice to end fighting in the Korean War.
Recognizing the great defensive victory won by the 10th BCT at Yuldong will not only honor the men of this battalion, and the four other BCTs (the 20th, 19th, 14th and 2nd) that served in Korea, but will also pay tribute to all Filipinos.
The Filipino deserves to be honored for volunteering to fight for democracy in Korea. We were the first Asian country and the third United Nations member country to send combat troops to defend South Korea.
Over 110 Filipinos died in this ?Forgotten War? that saved South Korea from being conquered by North Korea and Communist China. More than 400 Filipinos were wounded, some disfigured for life or mentally damaged.
Of the 7,150 officers and men who served in Korea, only about 2,000 are alive today. Many of these heroes remain poor, and their number decreases every month.
There will be no Filipino Korean War veteran left alive by 2040. By then, the youngest will be 103 years old.
Only two monuments
Only two monuments in the entire country pay homage to the Philippines? forgotten role in the Korean War: The Korean War Memorial Pylon at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and the Marikorea Monument in Marikina (built in 2005).
The 500-peso bank note can be considered the third monument to Filipino greatness in the Korean War.
Let the 500-peso bank note be an accurate reflection of our history by making it completely, and proudly, Filipino.