What it takes to remember Catanduanes’s foremost hero
posted 18-Mar-2011  ·  
1,262 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

It’s been 44 years now since I last saw Paya. It was then summer of l967 when our high school batch in Virac would break up and cease to be one big class. In that length of time I may have committed, as a former military intelligence analyst-turned-defense journalist, a grave lapse in my military writing career for failing to devote even a little time to dig into Philippine Army files for details about the inspiring story of Paya’s famous father, the late Army Sgt. Francisco M. Camacho Sr. Paya is Francisco Jr., one of three male siblings orphaned in their young years when the senior Camacho met his tragic fate in the Hukbalahap-infested Laguna in December l954. The Catandungeno enlistedman was on a combat assignment in Calauan town when his Scout Ranger unit figured in a close-fire shootout with the notorious Huk leader Eddie Villapando that led to the latter’s death and three of his men. Sgt. Camacho himself was wounded fatally, his death though duly recorded not ordinary by any circumstance. It was loss of life that produced an authentic hero.

----

In the grades and in high school, I remembered little about the late Sgt. Camacho, although Paya and brother Freddie (now deceased) were my close barkadas and school mates in Virac. From the two, I could hardly squeeze any dazzling tale about their father and the significance of the latter’s worthy sacrifice. So with the widow Mrs. Expectacion Camacho and the third son Ding, an ex-seminarian, whom I occasionally meet in Francia in Virac. Maybe it was out of the high sense of Bicolano humility that the family has chosen until now to speak less about the exploits of Sgt. Camacho whose name has been included in the very short list of Filipino soldiers awarded the highest military decoration—the Medal of Valor. The family received the honor no less from the illustrious President Ramon Magsaysay on Christmas Day of l954.

-----

A week ago, with some former classmates, I met Paya, more than four decades after our Virac class broke up. He hosted a simple merienda in his American-style house inside a posh village in the hills of Antipolo. He flew in from Germany where he now lives with his Sorsogueno wife. It would have been a perfect chance where I could know more about his father, but the tete a tete produced not much. The day’s topic was more about that graduation week in that summer of ‘67 made very unique by a seniors’ prom held at 3:00 o’clock of a very humid afternoon. It was our final school social where the boys showed up awkward in stiff khaki pants and white polos and the girls showing more unease with their gaw-gaw-soaked pleated green skirts. We can only recall that the boys did not mind doing the sweet dances in their school uniforms as they were more interested with whispering sweet goodbyes to the girls, something that our over-strict teachers were on guard against.

----

Paya bid us goodbye after the merienda, with me still feeling the scantiness in not having learned more from the son himself and namesake of the fallen Sgt. Camacho. From high school, it was Paya among us all who had the best start when he entered the Philippine Military Academy sans the hassles of the qualifying exam. It was a privileged entry into the premier military institution in the country accorded only to sons of Medal of Valor recipients. Years later I would learn that he quit the PMA in the plebe year, only to go back to the military later as an Air Force enlisted man. In l974 in Jolo, he fought in battles with the Muslim rebels. Fate, however, must have intervened: that only one of the Camachos could lay claim on the extraordinary combat honors.

-----

Back home from that merienda reunion I found myself in a probing mood. A quick research told me something I missed when I was in military reporting. In Philippine military history, only 41 soldiers are in the list of awardees of the Medal of Valor, 18 of them enlisted personnel (Sgt. Camacho is listed no. 7) and the rest, officers. So remarkable a list, except that it includes some officers known for their expertise in coup d’etat and sadly one Maj. Ferdinand Marcos whose supposed spurious claim to the award has remained an unsettled part of Philippine history.

-----

From the Internet, I got to know this brief incident account of Sgt Camacho of the US-based Defense Talk Global Defense and Military Portal:

"At the height of the communist-inspired Hukbalahap movement, two Scout Rangers, Master Sergeant Francisco M. Camacho and Corporal Weene Martillana, were sent on a dangerous mission to get, dead or alive, Huk commander Eddie Villapando, whose feats had placed a blot on the records of the military in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite. Too dangerous was the mission that every step required prudence and precision.
The two soldiers, posing as civilians, succeeded in befriending Villapando and his bodyguards. On Dec. 20, 1955, Camacho and Martillana were with Villapando and two bodyguards on aboard an owner-type jeep cruising along the highway between San Pablo City and Calauan town in Laguna. With Camacho at the wheel, he stopped the jeep to check a little "engine trouble." As he alighted from the vehicle, Martillana followed to "assist." As the seconds ticked away, silence descended upon the group until after pre-arranged code signals, "Malamig, ano [Cold, isn't it]?" and "Oo nga [That's right]," the two commandos grabbed two submachine guns from the hood of the jeep and opened fire at the rebels, instantly killing two, Villapando one of them. The other bodyguard was seriously wounded but, before succumbing to the wounds, was able to fire back at Camacho who died later in a hospital."

-----

There was nothing more that I need to know about this story of a true Catandungeño hero, but I’m a little sad that our local chroniclers, journalists and historians, if there are, could be missing like me an important item in the history of the province. It seems we are more interested in the greatness of our politicians, not the real heroes.

-----

ROSULO welcomes your comments via email: rosmanlangit@yahoo.com

0 comments
new to catanduanestribune.com?
connect with us to leave a comment.
connect thru
Cancel
Cancel
Cancel
home home album photo album blogs blogs