‘Alcaraz’ reminds us of the Commodore
SUBIC BAY – I have not set foot on the deck of BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF 16), the latest Hamilton-class cutter of the Philippine Navy, but watching its televised arrival in this naval base I felt proud of the warship and its crew of 88, six of them smart female.
One indicator, to me, of the morale and state of discipline of a military team is the way they stand and wear their uniform. The crew of BRP Alcaraz, commanded by Capt. Ernesto Baldovino (PMA 91), passes this criterion with flying colors.
After that, it is easy appreciating this latest addition to our naval force outfitted with upgraded armaments, and to be proud of it. Never mind that the 378-foot-long former US Coast Guard cutter bought and refurbished at a cost of P620 million is 46 years old.
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VOYAGE HOME: After leaving Charleston, South Carolina, last June 10, it stopped at Mayport, Florida, for speed trials and to test-fire its 76 mm automatic cannon. It proceeded to cross over to the Pacific via the 80-km Panama Canal, and then called on the US naval ports of San Diego, Pearl Harbor and Guam.
It entered Philippine waters in Casiguran, tested the seas off Batanes and made the traditional “sail past” in Bolinao where a school of dolphins suddenly sprung from the waves as in a happy welcome. It docked in this former US naval base last Sunday.
If I sound somewhat fond of the navy’s newest warship it is partly because it carries the name of Commodore Ramon Alcaraz, an esteemed elder with whom I had the privilege of collaborating when we were forced to flee to California during the dark days of Marcosian martial rule.
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COMMODORE’S CANNON: In the 1980s, I published in the San Francisco Bay Area an oppositionist FilAm paper flagged The Filipino Times. Fellow board members were Commodore Alcaraz, former Manila Mayor Tony Villegas, businessman Maning Leelin, and New York-based Luz MacArthur.
Alcaraz was a slight man (compared to Villegas) with impressive bearing and precise language. He came with Leelin to our meetings in San Francisco or we joined them in Orange County, Southern California, where they did business. Villegas drove all the way from Reno, Nevada.
But on the main, I remember Alcaraz, who owned Commodore Drug, as the officer who openly disagreed with and criticized his commander-in-chief President Ferdinand Marcos.
When martial rule was declared in 1972, the headstrong Alcaraz was hauled off by the Presidential Security Group reportedly for mounting cannon on his balcony aimed in the direction of Malacañang!
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WAR EXPLOITS: Alcaraz was born Aug. 31, 1915. He died June 25, 2009, in Orange County, by which time I was already back in Manila.
Here is part of an Official Gazette backgrounder (edited) on Alcaraz, a member of the pioneer 1940 class of the Philippine Military Academy and whom President Noynoy Aquino called a naval war hero:
“After graduation, Alcaraz joined the Off Shore Patrol (the forerunner of today’s Navy) of the Philippine Army and became the captain of the Q-112 Abra, a motor torpedo boat. He saw action during World War II under the direct command of Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur.
“Among his missions was the scuttling and sinking of 15 ships in the Pasig River so they would not be capture by the enemy. His most famous exploit was when his Q-112 shot down three Japanese Zero planes off Bataan on Jan. 17, 1942, preventing their bombing shore targets. MacArthur personally decorated him with the Silver Star for his heroism.”
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MARINE ORGANIZER: The Gazette account recalls: “After the war, Alcaraz rejoined the OSP to modernize and strengthen what became the Navy. In 1950, he was sent to the United States to study the setup of the US Marines. He returned to organize the Philippine Marine Corps.
“In 1964, Alcaraz was appointed head of the Naval Operations Force. In February of 1965 he found a way to foil smugglers’ tactics and achieved record busts that year. After Marcos won the 1965 presidential election, he met with Alcaraz whose achievements had impressed him.
“However, Alcaraz later found himself out of favor with Marcos because, according to writer Alfred McCoy, days after his inauguration ‘Marcos met secretly with smuggler king Bocalan and agreed to restrain the navy patrols for a share of the profits.’
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ULTIMATUM: “On Jan. 11, 1966, in a Malacañang broadcast, Alcaraz’s name came up in the list of ‘notoriously corrupt’ officials. He did not stand for this and, in a speech during a change of command ceremony, the Commodore criticized the national defense policy.
“Alcaraz was given an ultimatum: retire or be demoted. He replied: ‘You can reduce me to Apprentice Seaman… I don’t care. My father was a farmer, I can go back to being a farmer.’
“Weeks later, an exposé of Rep. Rogaciano Mercado forced Marcos to settle. In a session of the House defense committee, Alcaraz proclaimed his vindication and again criticized defense policies. He left the witness stand amidst applause and signed his retirement papers.
“The commodore was arrested by the Presidential Security Group on Nov. 15, 1972, for interrogation. Feeling threatened, Alcaraz left the country with his daughter to live in the US.”
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CAMI BALITAAN: Olongapo City Mayor Rolen C. Paulino will be the guest of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) at its weekly forum tomorrow at its Bale Balita (House of News) in the Clark Freezone. He became the first Capampangan-speaking mayor of Olongapo after scoring a major upset against the Gordons who had ruled the former US Navy town for more than 50 years.
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