MANILA, Philippines – What was the encounter at the “Battle of Pinaglabanan?” all about? What happened at Tirad Pass? Who was the combat award recipient after whom Boni Serrano Ave. in Quezon City is named?
For many young Filipinos today, the realities of these significant events in Philippine history have been tragically lost–not just in translation, but because of the dearth of efforts to preserve them, or at the very least, to recount them to the next generation.
This is what the Buhay na Kasaysayan Association (BNKA) wishes to change.
BNKA is a group of hobbyists and history enthusiasts who aim to reenact significant military battles in the Philippines with authenticity and factual details. By compiling and reproducing the actual military uniforms, insignias, and weaponry used by Filipino soldiers at the birth of the nation, Buhay na Kasaysayan hopes to kindle and enflame a strong sense of patriotism in the Filipino youth.
It seems an arduous, thankless task, given how blasé most Filipinos seem to be about our country’s history. But Engr. Perry Javier thinks there is much to be learned and admired in our past. “We are promoting past heroes because [they] experienced more difficulty and hardship than our current heroes. Past heroes … had the guts to stand out, to change history, to retake our lost freedom, [to give us the] peace we enjoy today. They risked their lives and their loved ones.”
If we are to use Javier’s standards on the personalities touted as modern Filipino heroes, it seems they would fall far short of the mark. “Nowadays Filipinos count athletes, like Manny Pacquiao, among modern-day heroes since they bring honor and prestige to the country. But the BNK honors greater heroes, like soldiers and martyrs. They don’t have big salaries, they get no rewards or recognition, but still, they are brave enough to stand up for what is right. They risk not only their lives, but also the lives of their loved ones, while defending the freedom which we currently enjoy. For us, they are the true heroes of our land.”
Javier is one of only seven current members of the all-male BNKA. Originally called Mga Bayaning Walang Sugat Society, it was founded in June 2005 by Ray, Teddy and Manny Ortega, sons of Bataan Death March survivor Col. Antonio Ortega. The idea was actually inspired by Fourth of July celebrations in the Fort MacArthur Museum in San Pedro, California. They wanted to form a Filipino re-enactment group portraying Philippine history and culture, because none existed then. Ray focused on uniforms and equipment, and Teddy worked on membership, organization and events.
Today, the members of BNKA are in Manila and California, sharing their research and conducting reenactments, exhibits, and lectures, and performing honor guard duties.
One member, Mike Hoff, isn’t even Filipino. He came to the Philippines to meet his wife over eight years ago. Before then, all he knew of the Philippines was Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection.
“I was totally ignorant of my country’s century-old relationship with the Philippines,” Hoff confides. “But I developed a deep love and admiration for the country and her people,” he adds.
“I was awestruck when my wife told me about Jose Rizal. He reminded me so much of Benjamin Franklin. My admiration for Rizal soon became as deep and committed as the devotion I had for Franklin and other American heroes, because Rizal’s struggle for liberty was no less meaningful than that of my own founding fathers.”
Because of their limited membership so far, Perry says, all they can do are simple reenactments, like color guards, dressing in old military attire. “We cannot do large reenactments like those [done by] reenactment groups in the US, Europe, China. But we participate in cosplay events where people can see us.”
The BNKA has seen that all they need to do is to awaken a dormant interest and use means that are innovative, entertaining and educational to further their cause. People see the BNKA members in their accurate costumes, armed with their Mausers, bolos and salakots, and are drawn to them.
Another member, Selwyn Alojipan, recounts that Filipinos and foreigners recognize the costumes and uniforms as historical representations of a bygone era. “They realize that these costumes are part of Philippine history, which they’ve only read about in books. The uniforms are colorful and formal, and are accompanied by realistic swords, knives, pistols, rifles, and cannons. Most people want to have their pictures taken with us when we’re in our uniforms. They are happy to see something they only expect in period movies or old photos. From there, we try to [engage them] by sharing interesting historical and cultural facts about the birth of the Philippine Republic.”
It’s a start, and indeed only a small part of what BNKA does.
Selwyn says the group coordinates closely with the UP Department of Military Science and Tactics (UP DMST), and the UP Corps of Cadets. They’ve also joined events organized by local toy collectors, model makers, hobbyists, cosplayers, science fiction and fantasy fans, history enthusiasts, military aficionados, and airsoft players.
In the US, their activities include participation in honor guard ceremonies as Katipuneros and WWII Philippine Army and Philippine Scouts, and honor guard duties for the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society in Washington. Perry adds: “We hold mock battles and parades. We’ve held Philippine Independence Day and Rizal Day celebrations in cooperation with the Philippine Consulate of Los Angeles and the Knights of Rizal. We’ve also initiated Veterans Day celebrations, including the Commemoration of Bataan and of Corregidor. Recently we engaged in a reenactment of the Battle of Bataan against Japanese reenactors.”
Currently, the BNKA focuses on the 1898 Philippine Revolution, the Spanish-American War, and the Philippine-American War. In the future, they hope to do reenactments of other periods: the early Spanish conquests; Moro and Chinese pirate and slaving raids; the British occupation of Manila; expeditionary forces to Korea and Vietnam.
As if their current activities weren’t extensive enough, they hope to expand their repertoire to theater presentations too.
Some of the members are descended from WWII veterans, like the Ortega brothers. One member, Abner Luna, is the grandson of Gen. Antonio Luna. Another member is a descendant of Katipunan General Tinio of Ilocos. But hero or none in your family tree, anybody is welcome to join BNKA.They welcome women, mestizos, Americans, and Japanese, too. All you need is your own accurate period costume. Says Selwyn, “We will assist anyone who wants to produce, procure, or develop any historically accurate and authentic costumes in any era of Philippine history, culture, or geography.”
Email BNKA at firstname.lastname@example.org. They also have an active message board, the Philippine History and Reenactors Forum (http://pinoyhistory.proboards22.com), and e-group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BNKasaysayan). Visit the BNK-US website at http://www.bnksociety.org/.