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                                                                              USS RIZAL

 

The photo has nothing to do with the US military buildup two years ago in the Persian Gulf. This ship was already cruising the high seas long before Saddam Hussein was born in 1937in the town of Tikrit. It was never part of  Admiral George Dewey’s flotilla. But what makes this 1919 picture of a destroyer relevant and interesting to Filipinos is, it provokes inquiries to our colonial past under the United States. Much more so the US Navy named her after our national hero, Dr Jose Rizal. Why Rizal?  Were there no deserving Americans?

 

When Dewey was victorious in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 2, 1898, it nailed down a decaying colonial empire, putting an end to Spain’s rank as minor world power. It marked a new era in American history flirting with imperialism to gain foothold in Asia to acquire a portion of lucrative trade and commerce of Southeast Asian markets dominated by Europeans .In short, it transformed America overnight as an emerging military, naval commercial power to watch.

 

In the acquisition of territories, commerce, consequently followed the flag and America was ready to venture in Asian markets lay waiting for American goods with the Philippines as distribution center in the region.  Except for Mark Twain and his Isolationist friends, there were rallying words that are music to American ears: Manifest Destiny.

 

With Aguinaldo’s capture in Palanan, Isabela, Apolinario  Mabini getting exiled in Guam, Miguel Malvar finally decided to quit fighting as  the last Filipino general to surrender, President Roosevelt proclaimed in 1902 the termination of hostilities a state of belligerency  that American historians referred to as the  Philippine Insurrection.  Pacification and transition to peace and order finally settled but still Filipinos were reluctant to participate in national, provincial and local government set up by the Americans. It took several years to entice Filipinos to the civil service until the American showed genuine promise of preparing the citizens for self-government that highlighted when American Governor General Francis Burton Harrison proclaimed his administration’s policy of “Philippines for the Filipinos”.

 

The story of overseas Filipinos that we noticed as a booming business lately, started when migrant workers were allowed to go to the pineapple plantations of Hawaii and the farmlands of California in the early 1900. In comparison of the change of colonial masters, the Americans were much different from the Spanish. They were more interested in education and the study of politics and government. However, while the teaching of English was “shoved” to our throats there was no complaint or protest. It proved to the amazement and surprise for Americans that Filipinos can be “Americanized” but not American.

 

The excitement and fascination of working for Uncle Sam seems undeterred. We want to be a part of the American Dream. In the fifties, sixties and seventies, arguably, we supplied America not just doctors and nurses. Had it not for termination of our bilateral defense treaty phasing out Sangley Point in Cavite, Navy Yard in Zambales and Clark Airbase in Angeles, Pampanga, the long waiting list of applicants can provide the US Navy Recruiting Office a 50 year supply of recruits.  

 

The first twenty years under America was an era dominated by the political careers, ambition and rivalry of Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena. Starting from 1904 it was a period when Filipinos were allowed to form political parties, sing their national anthem and wave the present Philippine flag. A transition period was a condition required for the grant of  independence known as the Jones Act was passed by the US Congress 1916. Then in February 1935 the Philippine Constitution was proclaimed followed by the Tydings McDuffie Act promising the grant of independence within ten years.

 

Going back to the picture, this US destroyer is a symbol of American power. Christened the USS RIZAL, it was built in California and saw its maiden voyage visiting the ports of Japan, China, the Philippines and Guam. Unlike other US Navy vessel, majority of the crew manning USS RIZAL were Filipinos. Returning to California in 1930, it was decommissioned and in 1931 it was scrapped for good.

 

The Philippine Government shouldered the expenses for the construction of USS RIZAL and was donated to the US Navy. In return for the Philippine gift, the US Navy named the 1060ton destroyer after Dr. Jose Rizal. I cannot find any rationale why the members of the Philippine Legislature appropriated such amount of money to build a ship only to be donated. Even though the ship will bear the name of Rizal, the issue of priority is highly debatable if not questionable on the wisdom and leadership of Quezon, Osmena, Paredes, Roxas, Quirino and other ardent nationalists?

 

If Rizal would have his way, he would have preferred the money to be spent for education or for economic development. Can we blame the action of the men of the past with the values of today? YOU BE THE JUDGE.

 

Sir Jose Sison Luzadas, KGOR

Education Chair, and Special Asst

Knights of Rizal, Canada Region

 

More on USS Rizal and other Philippine related USN man of war.

 

Julio “Jay” Ereñeta was born only in the Philippines about 4 years after Jose Rizal was executed.

 He served in the US Navy from 1919-1949 and left remarkable records in the History of the Filipinos in the US Navy. His son wrote:

 Jay achieved several modest "firsts" as a Filipino in 
the U.S. Navy. A native of the Philippine Islands serving during the time (1920s, 1930s, 1940s) when Filipinos were largely limited to service as Stewards/Mess Attendants, he is probably the first Filipino radio operator (March 1919) in the U.S. Navy. He later graduated from Navy Radio School (Great Lakes), 1920-1921. He was classmate and became life long friend of radio/TV personality, Arthur “Red” Godfrey when they attended the Navy Radio School at Great Lakes.  Among his first ship was the old wooden warship, USS HARTFORD (Admiral Farragut’s flagship at the civil war battle of Mobile Bay, 1864)He first flew aircrew man in a Navy F5L Seaplane of USS WRIGHT (AZ-1) at Newport, Rhode Island in August 1922 even before aircraft carrier, USS LANGLEY (CV-1) had 
launched and recovered her first aircraft. From 1921-1923 he served in coal burning battleship, USS FLORIDA (BB-30). By 1924 he was transferred to the Asiatic Fleet where he served briefly in minelayer USS RIZAL (DM-14) in Philippine waters.
 
Chief Warrant Officer Ereñeta is recognized as one of the oldest living veteran. He is still in good health and events are still accurately in his 103 year mind.
 
Jose Rizal martyrdom gave rise to the short Philippine independence. The Spanish rule was on the decline when Americans came to Manila. Looming across the Manila sunset,  were foreign navy ready to take over Spanish domination as German, English, Dutch, and Japanese fleets gathered in the mouth of Manila Harbor. Yes, even the Japanese but the stronger German fleet had the edge and had started minor interference to the US Asiatic fleet. When the Royal Navy sided silently with her American cousin, it discouraged possible German intention prompted Admiral Dewey testing the first American venture in the Philippines.
 

History will tell us that the sinking of the USS Panay, 12 December 1937

U.S.S. Panay was one of five small, shoal-draft river gunboats that had been built about ten years earlier, primarily for patrolling the Yangtze in order to protect American commerce and American nationals during the Chinese civil war. They were used to being fired upon (and seldom hit) by irresponsible guerrilla bands of Chinese, but what happened to Panay was deliberately planned by responsible Japanese officers.

On 21 November 1937, when Japanese forces were approaching Nanking, Chiang Kai-shek's foreign office notified the American Embassy that it must prepare to evacuate. The Ambassador and most of the personnel left next day in U.S.S. Luzon; the rest stuck it out for another week, when they decided to depart in Panay. 

 Mr. Grew, who remembered the Maine, at first, expected his country to declare war. But the promptness and apparent sincerity with which the Japanese government and people apologized and expressed their readiness to make what reparation they could, turned away wrath. The Japanese official inquiry resulted in the face-saving explanation that the attack was all a mistake; ships emblazoned with American flags had been mistaken for Chinese at 600 yards' range; it was just too bad. A United States naval Court of Inquiry at Shanghai brought out unmistakable evidence that the sinking was deliberate. But the United States government was so anxious to avoid war that it accepted the "mistake" theory, together with an indemnity. When it did so, a sigh of relief passed over the length and breadth of America. In a Gallup poll conducted during the second week of January 1937, 70 per cent of the American voters who were interviewed and had an opinion on the subject favored a policy of complete withdrawal from China -- Asiatic Fleet, Marines, missionaries, medical missions, and all.

Excerpts from "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II" Volume 3: "The Rising Sun in the Pacific" (pages 16-18) by Samuel Eliot Morison

Apparently no American except Mr. Grew remembered the Maine. Just few years later the Japanese bombed Pear Harbor and the Philippines were invaded,

The USS Philippine Sea fired the first Tomahawk missile that signaled the first shot of the first Middle East crisis.