We hope you already read our post about “those gallant Igorots” during World War II. And that you also watched the video documentary about some of these Igorot heroes. We plead guilty to prematurely judging the video but we don’t feel too bad (maybe just a bit hehe) because our critique prompted its producers to come to its defense and so we got to learn that the documentary is really more about the 66th Infantry Battalion.
Now, why are we digging back those old posts? Well it’s because they are related to this story about Major Dennis Molintas, Sr. — an Igorot World War II hero and the man who headed the 66th Infantry Battalion. Thanks to our good friend, Danilova Molintas for sharing this article with us.
Remembering the late Dennis Molintas Sr.*
A short memoir by his grandson, Daniel R. Molintas
If our family has a measure of insanity, his “flavor” would be labeled these days as manic-obsessive.
My grandfather, Dennis Molintas Sr., was obsessed with the abrupt, full scale, instantaneous north-to-south disruption of the Mountain Trail. His files on the movement of the 66th Infantry Battalion, USFIL-NL movements in World War II (which eventually burned along with his house in 2003) indicate that he monitored enemy deployments and maneuvers on a weekly basis, even years before the actual days of reckoning. The same held true for enemy deployments in Lepanto and Mankayan, Benguet.
Yet, like all heroes, he made mistakes. My Lola Nanang says that Igorot troops defending the homeland had missed out the double-layered nature of the Lepanto pillboxes. And this cost them heavily.
But he made up for such shortcomings with personal valor, and honor, and loyalty to his men. They felt this and reciprocated with personal loyalty to him.
Later in his retired years, he transferred this obsessiveness to cleanliness and orderliness. His house and garden in Betag, La Trinidad was the epitome of spic and span. Being at heart an agriculturist a simple man, and really just a reluctant hero—one of the first Ibalois sent by the American colonizers to the University of the Philippines in Los Baños to study—his garden was always in perfect order.
He was serious, too; too serious, some say. He would challenge hecklers to a duel. Daddy often joked that politicians of this day would, more effectively, heckle back with (preferably green) jokes. In truth, my lolo was like many Ibalois—serious and pikon.
But he was more than just the product of his times. And he was not just an “American boy” that the today’s leftists would view him as. For sure, he was more broadminded than a mere American puppet. When I first went to Sagada, Mt. Province in the late 1970s, in the half-days of electricity, the mayor there joked that Benguet people normally feared going deep into the northwest for fear of the buso, headhunters. But Lolo Tatang was fearless and for sure, not a xenophobe. He had been there, well before I set foot on that once-feared and misunderstood place.
Yet Lolo had a sense of humor, even in dark times. I recall reading a 66th infantry communiqué wherein he suggests that guerrillas order the loyal-yet-conflicted barrio people to beat up enemy informers who were disguised-as-66 th Infantry guerrilla men and “dutifully” turn them over to the Japanese garrisons as “captured 66th” guerrillas (!) This was Machiavellian, practical, protective of the barrio people, and subversively funny, all at the same time.
Some people today take Lolo to task for fighting against the Japanese, and for being harsh against enemy collaborators. They say he allowed the Igorots to fight a war that was not their own. World War II, they point out, was a colonizers’ scramble for power and resources.
But what these people do not take into consideration is that Lolo lived at a time where there was no instantaneous communication, there were few newspapers, and only a lot of whispered news of the Rape of Nanking (where some 300,000 Chinese people were raped and killed by Japanese soldiers, an event that remains a thorn in relations between China and Japan today), and of rapes and killings of fellow Filipinos in the lowlands. What they forget is that Japanese troops landed first on the shores of Lingayen Gulf—too close to Igorotlandia—and that the Filipinos were left by their Americans masters to fight off the Japanese invaders by themselves. And that the final battles against Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita were fought deep in the heart of Igorotlandia.
Lolo Tatang was very much a conservationist and ecologist, way ahead of his time. He practiced organic farming in the 1960s, well before the fad. When he spoke of the environment and ecology, he often waxed nostalgic. His contemporary ex-Baguio Mayor Virginia de Guia still voices the same sentiments.
Lolo Tatang was also a staunch guard of the old school, in terms of honor and integrity. When questioned by Daddy, the ever-rebellious son, as to why he did not bend the rules even a little, when in contrast, even army sergeants were amassing wealth, he replied: “I want you to be able to look at anyone STRAIGHT IN THE EYE.”
The old man Governor Alfredo G. Lamen (yes, the famous Lamen who walked up to Congress in g-string in response to Carlos P. Romulo’s declaration that Igorots were not Filipinos) who was his partner-in-office as Governor and Vice for the old Mountain Province acknowledged to me, when I met him, that honesty was Lolo’s flaw. This is why he died a poor man.
Yet Lolo was extravagant with easy money. Gifts from Chinese friends who were grateful for the outcome of the war were “returned to the people” via the John Hay slot machines: he would play, win and just let the folk there literally scramble over his winnings. (Although this is also interpretable as a total lack of entrepreneurial skills.)
He was popular in his day, very popular. People of the older generation still remember him. And they hail from unexpected places, too. My sister Dominque was surprised when she met the old owner of the Robinson complex: yes, he knew Lolo. Michael Keon Sr. also told me that he had read the 66th dispatches at Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur’s Australian HQ. (Keon claims to have been old-school Quirino’s spy on Roxas, Mac Arthur’s boy).
Through the years and across the states of consciousness, Lolo’s hand reaches out to bless me.
As the eldest male of our family, I have not inherited any sort of material wealth from him. But my Lolo did hand down to me a great legacy: the value of education, of books and of pure learning. And the understanding—that in the midst of the outrageousness of life and of the cynicism of modern times—some things, like honesty and valor, have to be absolute and untransactionable.
There are other legacies:
Lolo fought the Japanese, but he tried to understand their culture. He had a book on Japanese culture. This attempt to see things in a broader view is, indeed, heroic, when seen in the context of what he personally had to go through during World War II: He was hunted by the Japanese, his father was tortured by Japanese soldiers, his aunt went insane because of psy-war (she was tied to a burning hut, but let free), and he had to see the two captured American Colonels who had appointed him—Arthur Noble and Martin Moses—executed by beheading in full public view at the Baguio Plaza.
He tried to understand the war, even while it was still going on. Among his files I found very thick and scholarly British texts on the diplomatic origins of World War I, a book by Lord John Maynard Keynes explaining the economic causes of World War II, novels by a Jewish-Austrian exile, and others. Clearly, something not to be expected from a man of “action”. In these too, we see that Lolo was truly a great man.
These days, it would be hard to understand Lolo. It was only when viewing his UP Los Banos graduation class album that I realized that this was a generational matter. Lolo was not alone in the values he upheld. These values were shared by many of his generation—an entire generation of Filipinos who dreamed of Philippine independence.
My lolo is reflected in the lolos and lolas of all families in this nation. If you research on Filipino music, arts, architecture, literature, science and law you will find many creators of these classics belong to Lolo Tatang’s generation. They all shared virtually the same values.
Regrettably, war also brought out the worst in Filipinos. After the war and independence, things seem to have steadily gone downhill. Today’s generations of politicians are, for sure, more opportunistic. This is why I write this piece. Hopefully, by remembering the greatness of their lolos and lolas, young Cordillerans and Filipinos today will be similarly inspired.
(*Major of the 66th Infantry Battalion, United States Forces in the Philippines-Northern Luzon, first governor of the old Mt. Province and of the newly-created Benguet Province in 1966, Filipino hero)
NOTE: This article was originally published in the Baguio Yearbook 2006, a project spearheaded by Jack Cariño and Chi Balmaceda-Guttierez.