Former 1LT Cipriano Drapesa in the Philippine Army recounts his military career in the early Cold War, and his political career after leaving the service. He discusses his training and various deployments both domestically and internationally across Asia until 1968.
Retired 1LT Cipriano Drapesa in the Philippine Army recounts his military career in the early Cold War, and his political career after leaving the service. He discusses his training and various deployments both domestically and internationally across Asia until 1968. His experiences reveal the complexities of civil-military relations in Cold War Philippines and the military’s engagement with Huk rebels and Moro separatists. These reflections also raise various social issues of gender, socioeconomic status, and social mobility. He further shares his experiences working with the military leadership, some of whom assumed political offices in later years. He too, would pursue a political career after discharge from the military, until 1989. Drapesa’s views of the various Cold War powers also challenges the traditional ideological divide the era is characterized by; and he draws parallels between, and highlights continuities in, the politics of the Philippines during the Cold War and after.
Drapesa begins by recalling his early experiences as a wartime guerrilla, which opened opportunities for him to further his education postwar, which he later abandoned to join the military. Originally trained as a ranger and special forces operator, he moved from various deployments from Crame to Luzon, and later, into the Korean and Vietnam Wars, for which he also received military decorations. During his years as a soldier, he was involved in skirmishes with the Huk rebels in “war zones” across the Philippines after the Japanese Occupation. Though the Philippine military was hostile towards the Huks, Drapesa personally tried to prevent violence against Huk detainees, unlike his superiors.
He displays partial sympathy to Huk members, whom he suggests adopted an anti-government stance because of the state’s failure to recognize them as wartime freedom fighters due to their Communist leanings. Further, he notes the real economic pressures that drove such resistance between the landowning class and the plantation workers, who became a support base for the Huks. He is also mindful of his positionality, given his middle-class background.
The military’s use of violence against Huk detainees also alienated the authorities from the community and damaged civil-military relations. The military also used force against suspected Huk sympathizers, even if they did not have any ideological commitment to Communism. Finally, Drapesa mentions how these socioeconomic pressures shaped social realities: families preferred to have daughters over sons so that they may find employment in the cabaret, which catered to men from the Philippine Army, Police Constabulary and Huk forces alike.
Ending his military career in 1968, Drapesa entered politics as a councilor, serving a six-year term, and another 8 as a municipal secretary. These postings allowed him to work on various social issues, including animal husbandry. He assesses the leadership and achievements of Philippine leaders, in particular president Ramos, whom he had personal rapport with from his military days, and president Magsaysay, whom he finds was somewhat successful in rehabilitating the poor relations between the Philippine military and citizenry. Drapesa’s concluding remarks on the Cold War Powers also transcends the Cold War divide — in acknowledging the Russians to be kind and the Chinese to be egalitarian, while simultaneously being accepting of the CIA’s presence in the Philippines, even having personal relations with an operative. Drapesa’s experiences show that Asia’s experiences of the Cold War cannot be reductively understood through the lens of ideological bipolarity.
Interview with 1Lt. Cipriano Drapesa with Veronica Sison last 17 February 2020 at Drapesa’s residence, Balangobong, Binalonan, Pangasinan, Luzon
Veronica: Good afternoon. I am Veronica Sison and I will be interviewing Cipriano Drapesa. Today is February 17, 2020. Can you please state your full name?
Respondent: Cipriano G. Drapesa
V: Where did you study?
R: I spent my elementary days here. We were the last batch of grade 7 in San Manuel, Pangasinan. Before I went to Manila to pursue my college… because of the second world war, I was a guerilla. I was awarded with educational benefits (from his compensation as a guerilla during the second world war). I took Aeronautic engineering until my third year. I didn’t finish my degree. After that, I went to the National Radio school and Technology. I took the Marine and Radio aircraft operator. I met a friend in Quiapo, he told me “I am with the air force. Do you want to join the airforce too?” When I took my clearance from the Police Constabulary, they also invited me to join the PC; that’s why I got assigned to Crame. Five months later, there was a vacancy in Sulu. I volunteered to be assigned to Sulu under the southern command PC. My uncle used to be the head of the command, Colonel Tiburcio. He asked me to stay there. He said “Why would you go to the warzone?” That’s why I stayed in Zamboanga around 1949-50. My stay there coincides with the change of command. The Area-zone was disbanded. I was sent back to Luzon, and straight to the 12BCT. That’s where I met my colleague Lt. Colonel. Rafael Sagala. He became one of the Philippine Army Commanders. He is smart, my child. He graduated from Ateneo. I went to Korea around 1950-1951 under the 20BCT. On May 1951, from May 18-25 coincidentally Ramos was not there. He was vacationing in Tokyo. Col. Batello, our executive commander led the reconnaissance company in L300 [instead of Ramos]. There was a firefight in the evening, I was the scout leader of the reconnaissance company. Because of that [encounter], I was given one military-merit medal.
R: My documents are here. This when I was a sergeant major in Vietnam [*shows his document*]
R: After 1951, many were assigned to Manila ROTC instruction. That’s where I studied when there was a vacancy for schooling in the reserve commission. I passed my requirement, then in four years I got promoted as 1st lieutenant. In the year 1966-68, the Vietnam war happened. I was assigned as sergeant major of the security battalion. Long enough, we were able to accomplish a lot in the administrative and social [duties]. The Philippines and the US had an agreement that we will not be used in an actual war, instead we will only serve as a security convoy for the US Army engineers whenever they build bridges and roads in Vietnam. Because of that, I was awarded another military merit medal, then I earned another medal from the Department of Social Welfare. After that, in 1968, I decided to retire after my 21 years of military service, including my World War 2 services.
And then, I met then Mayor Ramon Guico Sr, the father of Monching, I was invited to become his private secretary within the period of 4 months, during the national election. Back then a councilor’s term was 6 years. I also ran as a councilor, and I won. I served for 6 years in the municipal council. After my term, I said I don’t want to continue anymore. Mayor Guico Sr. invited me to re-run again, but I refused. He said “Alright, if you want, you take the municipal secretary position for now.” I accepted his offer as the new municipal secretary. I served for around 8 years, my child. I had so many roles, “you can head the Cattle Research Association in Binalonan” he said. We were ranked no. 1 in the entire region because I was also sent to study in Los Banos for 2 semesters. I took animal husbandry. That was in 1968. It was good. We were housed in Los Banos. There were three of us who came from the first military command.
V: What were your memories when you were training to become a soldier?
R: I trained as a ranger, I also trained for the special forces. There was a directive from the head that we must undergo further training in the special forces. There was a warzone in the first military area back then. I think there were five of us who were the pioneering class/first graduates of the special forces in the first military area. We were the first batch who practiced “new close” instruction.
V: What is a warzone?
R: War zone means territories exposed to the possibility of attack from the Philippine enemies. Philippine enemies were the Hukbo (the Huks/HMB) now the NPA (New People’s Army). Later on, they were replaced. Yes, the Huks, they had a good name, although they ambushed us despite the close talk [implying ceasefire] …
After 1989, I don’t want to run again. Mayor Guico said he personally chose me as his running mate, as the Vice Mayor. I did not have money at that time. I declined his offer. When the campaign period began, I went to the US and became an American citizen. I took my children with me. Although we have 8 children, they were distributed in different nations, my child. Two are in Australia, two are in Canada, one in London, one in the US and one in Saudi.
V: After the Japanese occupation, were you still scared?
R: There was nothing to worry about, my child, it was better. After the war, national aid was there. From what happened in Japan, when King Hirohito surrendered, everything became really peaceful., except the war in the Philippines between the government and the rebel forces. The rebels were the present-day NPA.
V: Where was your first assignment?
R: I was first assigned to Camp Crame. I was in the motor maintenance section. I was assigned there despite my mechanical engineering degree, perhaps because of the airplane. I was working there for a month when they asked me to become an instructor for “electricity” (circuits) I think after five months in Crame, the majority of them were sent to Zamboanga. they all came from Crame.
V: What was the situation in Zamboanga before? Why were you sent there? What was the conflict about?
R: That was the headquarters of the Southern Mindanao Zone. Yes, in Sulu, my child. The Moros, they were really good guerilla fighters. They will not fight you from a distance, they will lure you to come closer, close enough to attack you using their “itak” [sword]; that’s their weapon.
V: What is your opinion of Kangleon? The leadership of Kangleon and Magsaysay.
R: He is dedicated to serving the Philippines. He is a statesman and also a good leader. He is very brave according to his war records. I think there will be nobody who can equal his services during World War 2 in his region, Visayas.
I like to serve with people with dedication and loyalty to the nation, like Magsaysay. He was a very great leader. He likes to serve the Filipino people. Whenever a PC commits mistakes, he’d discharge them right away. Outright dismissal from the service, only to show to the people that the civilian is over the military. Unlike the usual practice that sometimes military commanders are above the civilians. But you can never maintain camaraderie between the Armed forces to… that of the civilian if you cannot show kindness and dedication to all people, especially to the peace-loving people of barangay. Magsaysay is one of them. And I don’t know what caused his death. Although I have the humor as good as your suspicion. *[Hearsays like he was killed by the CIA]. The other cause of thinking is politically motivated. *
V: Who was his adversary?
R: I don’t like to mention, my child. Yes, Recto and another person, Cabangbang from Bohol. Cabangbang is also a private licensed pilot, he’s very familiar with airplanes and the vice president at that time was Carlos Garcia.
V: What’s the difference between a Huk, PC, and a soldier?
R: I have also read so much literature about the non-recognitions of the guerillas in Tarlac and in Pampanga. The reason for that anak, I think it might be possible but you know [that] these hacienderos have so much divided love towards the Filipino people, towards their workers. That’s why there was a law that mandated the government to partition their haciendas and give them to (the landowners/occupants) to the people who are tilling the sugarcane plantations. But the hacienderos were like that. Sometimes I think time will also give the truth that the Aquinos and Cojuangcos are very different from other rich people. They are very different anak. That’s why because of politics and the US Army gave a leeway, so they will have a nice political arrangement with the government (given that leniency) so that guerillas will not be recognized from Pampanga, Pangasinan.
V: Where did you read the book about the Huks? Was it required?
R: Sometimes anak, letters about the Huk, a booklet. It’s a complete one.
Because in some instances when we were given the privilege to become American citizens, it was denied to the many Huk units in Tarlac and Pangasinan. But they are guerilla members. But because of that reason that they are workers in the hacienda. Do you remember this anak? I think you were still too young when there was a massacre of 18 or 36 members of the Armed Forces who died in the Hacienda Luisita. Because one is protecting the hacienda, who was a former member of the guerilla unit and worker in the hacienda and they ambushed the military. It was painful, so many people were massacred in the hospital. They were attacked during the night. That’s the present problem faced by our nation. Until now, they are bringing… There was a move anak, to ouster Duterte in power. This event came again when the senator Trillanes became a member of the ouster movement of Duterte administration. Isn’t it like that, my child? Trillanes is very vocal. Isn’t it similar to what they did in Makati [siege] back then? They incurred numerous casualties, and also civilians. He was imprisoned, my child.
V: What were your duties during your first assignment in Nueva Ecija?
R: [Patrolling, my child. I was assigned with the George company, the nearest town in Nueva Ecija just east of Mount. Arayat. Every time we go out to patrol in San Antonio, we often clash [with the Huks]. Whenever soldiers are not around, the Huks usually bathe in the Rio Chico/Chico river. I think around one platoon, there were so many of them. One time, a fighter plane from the Airforce spotted them bathing in the river. The plane dove and realized they didn’t go to the river (?) and they were wearing white. The fighter plane paused and strafed them, they continuously strafed them in the river. Many were killed. Good thing we were not there, although were pretty close to Arayat.
V: How was your relationship with the community? Were they nice?
R: They were nice if you treated them well. I made a joke, my child. At that time, I was a young bachelor; there was a cabaret there. Cabaret was everybody’s place. The Huk leader, the Huks and Soldiers compete for the prettiest lady there.
V: Who do you compete with? Fellow soldiers or a Huk?
R: No one died. No firefights within the perimeter of the cabaret.
V: Firefight was not allowed in the cabaret.
V: Other form of fireshot? I can sense … a different kind of firefight was happening.
R: Whoever gets there first. The entire cabaret is reserved for whoever gets there first. But according to my Bicolano friends, it was considered bad luck if their wives would give birth to a baby boy. They want their child to be a baby girl.
R: So she could work in the cabaret. When I was in Camp Crame, I always kept a pistol inside my pocket… *pauses*
V: Have you met a Huk? How was the encounter?
R: Yes, my child. Sometimes I act as their protector. Back then, it was used as evidence…there was a prize money given to soldiers who can bring home the head of a commander or leader or a member of the Huk unit. In my end, whenever we capture one, I don’t want to hurt her/him anymore.
V: What do you do? Do you usually talk to them?
R: Those who surrendered or were captured, they were sent back to the camp. They were punched by the authorities. That’s the reason why people were scared of the authorities, especially the Nenita unit under Valeriano’s command whose flag has skull marks. They usually capture five or ten Huks, just because they want to avenge…. they torture, punch [beat] the Huks until they die.
V: Because I read that even if you’re not a Huk, if you were a suspected sympathizer, they will ransack the entire community, even the innocent… then imagine Valeriano was taken to Vietnam?
R: Yes, my child. Until, later on, when the command was changed, and Magsaysay became the new secretary of defense. Like what I said earlier, whenever the soldiers and civilians clash, you always side with the civilian. The mentality of the soldiers was changed under Magsaysay. Numerous soldiers were discharged without so much hearing.
V: In your opinion, was he successful in solving the problem?
R: [ If he stayed long enough, he could have made the entire military relationship with the civilians a success. During his time, there were numerous civilians who wanted to befriend the military unlike Castaneda’s leadership. Castaneda was a tough fighter. He’s into mass killing…. For me, well I must have killed a lot too. But I was designated to patrol… the official patrol was… what was the name of this, the war history of the Filipino people in Korea. It was compiled in the UN headquarters but I was really preparing and I put it in one folder, my child, to include the bravery... Unlike this, which is already through-copy. But when you go to Aguinaldo, if you don’t have a record yet, you can just pay 200 pesos for two copies then they will furnish it for you.]
V: If you visit a community or did you live with the community? How was your interaction with the locals? What were the grounds for dismissal?
R: In the beginning if you haven’t seen the product of public relations with the civilians, the commander replied, “time will decide for you.” To other company commanders or officials, when they suspect someone and beat him to death, there won't be any investigation. If there was no serious misconduct involved, the official will be spared, sometimes given the peso fare to go home. But there were also instances when Huks were able to kill at least a soldier, they [soldiers] have the tendency to ransack the community, take all the chickens, pigs. Have you heard about that, my child? Pitiful civilians... They were raising pigs and chickens only to be forcefully taken by these soldiers… I don’t understand, my child. That is the reason why Huks multiplied in Tarlac and Pampanga, mainly because of the brutal operation conducted by the Valeriano unit. Similarly, they were the (main) reason why people hated the government. Yes, you can’t blame them, after all they (Valeriano) massacred their people. Sometimes they use a sack of rice to put five or six heads (of the murdered Huks/sympathizers) before they transfer them to the camp. Media men were crazy about it- it will make good news headlines. But my leadership is different. Good thing my wife back then did not complain much about the situation. It’s because we owned a parcel of land back then- since her father was a teacher. When I took her to the US, I didn’t make her work because the law in the US states that if one member of the family works, either man or woman, the partner will still receive a pension.
V: Sir what was your opinion of the US? Were you okay with them despite the presence of the CIA in the Philippines?
R: Yes, of course. On my end, I grew up in a middle-class family, but we’re well-off compared to other people in the community. I spend a lot of money.
V: What was your opinion of China during the Huk rebellion? Do you think they were involved with the Huks?
R: The problem about China, they were very good people. They wanted to mingle with people only if you do not disgrace or do something against their business.
V: But in general, what was your opinion of Mao? Even Russia? The Soviets?
R: Very good people. Likewise (to Russia), but they’re communist, my child. They are not as independent as the Filipino people or America. They have democracy in the form of communism although, at present there are a lot of communists visiting the country like the Chinese. But the hearsay back then, similar to our situation, Chinese form communities and they will work in a hacienda or government lands. Like that. Whatever they earn, they divide it, share-a-like, there’s no room for greediness.
V: Are you okay with that?
R: Me? Well, if you’re good enough.
V: Other people they work harder than you, but you will have the same share?
R: Of course not, it’s not fair. Bigger share awaits those who work hard for it. Just like here, we are very liberal sometimes. If we work hard enough, we will be given incentives. If youre given an incentive, you can ask for more money and [you] go on a vacation. That’s the reason why we have so many Chinese visitors from the mainland. But in my head, Chinese are more disciplined than the Filipinos, like Japan or South Korea. Back then, life was really hard in South Korea. Now they live a better life there.
Last time, there were Korean visitors here, like a religious organization. They were looking for someone (a resident of Urdaneta and Binalonan) who have visited Korea. I was the oldest there. Nobody from the community has gone to Korea well except President Ramos. But [ Ramos or the Korean group] is actually a Christian. Whenever President Ramos arrives, the police convoy will follow. Here he is! He’s showing off. Yes, my child. I appreciate him so much. Back when he was the president, he told me, “So long as I’m the president here, Draper…” Draper is my name in the military. “Visit Malacanang and you will be a special guest here. Just imagine a president who is _____ in Malacanang palace. Always assist Draper, he’s a close friend.” Every time they host trainings or fun runs in Asingan (*President Ramos hometown), they always invite me.
V: Do you believe that Huks were communists?
R: The issue had grown bigger; they were not sufficiently acknowledged as second world war guerillas. That the truth, my child. They fought the Japanese forces but were denied the accolade or the appreciation of the American and Filipino people. Anyone who has suffered the same fate will rebel, right?
V: But you’re not a communist, you just respond to how they treated you?
R: Because they are now, their leaders are committed to the communist government. Even the Chinese government it is the same, just the same as socialistic form of the government. The government of America is also like that, imperialism, everything. If the leader or someone at the top of the command have the communist leaning, you will be also a communist under his regime. Isn’t that the case, my child? Don’t you believe the master?
V: Well, that’s the case. But do you perceive Russians as good people?]
R: Yes, they are very kind.
V: What about the US? Aren’t they rude?
R: Yes, my child. Trump was the only barbaric American according to the news…
V: Were you able to meet Lansdale?
R: Who? No, I didn’t.
V: Who among the CIA were you able to meet here in the Philippines?
R: There’s a religious leader in Urdaneta, just like a real brother/sister to me. We held our membership in the region, her husband worked for the Air Force in Saudi. When he came home, he brought his credentials with him that he’s a bonafide CIA. But the catch here, sometimes it is misused- the term CIA. Just like the news headlines about the termination of the VFA agreement, the Visiting Forces. Most of the newspapers are like that…
V: Are you in favor of the VFA or not?
R: Well to me, there are many reasons that it is likely for the good of the Filipino people and it has its own bad consequences too. Just imagine how many dollars, million of dollars [was] given to us by the US government for the improvement of our security. But the difference, in exchange… I think you’ll also upset my child, the two senators back then, they have communist leanings. They were attacking those people behind the punishment of Senator Leila. She was imprisoned. They said De Lima was not tried by the court. They planted all the evidence to make her appear as the drug queen. But for me, little girl, I read the newspaper everyday.—|interrupted.|
V: Oh, has it arrived? Thank you, grandpa. I will visit you again, after my US trip.
Interviewer: Veronica Sison
Interviewee: Cipriano G. Drapesa
The term “Hacienda” means plantation in Tagalog, and “Hacienderos” refers to plantation workers, who became a major support base for the Huks.
Mr Drapesa is referring to the Hacienda Luisita Massacre in 2004, when farm laborers organized a strike at the Luisita sugar plantation in the Philippines, protesting for higher wages. See: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/world/asia/15phils.html
What socioeconomic realities/conflicts existed underneath the Cold War tensions Drapesa mentions?
What emotions characterize the lived experiences of Philippine society during the Cold War?
How significant was ideology in driving Cold War conflict in the Philippines? What other motivations can we observe in the Huk Rebellion?
Consider the various identities and clashes of identity at play in the Philippines’ navigation of the Cold War.
How does Drapesa’s testimony challenge traditional understandings of the Cold War and its hot extensions in Asia?