Sixty-five years after they participated in a dangerous operation against a notorious Hukbalahap leader in Laguna, Catanduanes’ first hero, Master Sergeant Francisco Molina Camacho, and his partner, Cpl. Weene Martillana, will be honored soon with a new marker to rise along the highway beside the UP Open University campus in Los Baños.
The “Walang Iwanan” Valor Monument for the two Medal of Valor awardees was proposed recently by the 403rd (Laguna) Ready Reserve “KAAGAPAY” Battalion, together with the Operations Research Center Philippine Army (ORCPA) and the Los Baños municipal government to commemorate the heroism of the duo exhibited during an encounter with Huk forces in barangay Maahas on Dec. 20, 1955 at the vicinity of what is now the UPLB main gate.
In a May 28, 2021 online consultation with the UP Open University, the UPLB Management Team and the 4403rd RRBN and its partners agreed to endorse the final site for approval by the UP Board of Regents.
A site inspection was done on June 4, with UPLB Vice Chancellor for Community Matters Roberto Cereno and one of the honoree’s son, Fernando Camacho, in attendance along with the proponents and a DPWH representative to ensure that it would not be adversely affected by future DPWH developments in the area.
It was suggested that a UP artist, preferably Dr. Gigi Alfonso, to do the monument as she is the only one authorized, beside Dr. Jose Abueva, to sculpt monuments in UP.
The Los Baños LGU has expressed its desire that the monument, which will be a tourist attraction, be long-lasting and most resilient to the elements over time.
Earlier, Camacho had written UP Diliman President Danilo Concepcion to plead for his support in the restoration of the memorial at a portion of UPOU’s vacant lot outside the perimeter fence.
He informed the official that the government had erected a memorial near the scene of the encounter but it was demolished during the construction of the South Supermarket.
It may be recalled that in Aug. 14, 2015, provincial leaders and the Catanduanes police unveiled a bust of MSgt. Camacho in front of the flagpole of Camp Francisco Camacho during the 114th Police Service Anniversary.
According to one of the hero’s three sons, his father was born on Oct. 7, 1924 to Pio Camacho and Aurelia Molina of Virac, most probably in barangay Cabihian.
Adventurous, talented and with great ambition, the young Camacho left the island in search of fortune and landed with the Philippine Army, becoming a member of the First Scout Ranger Regiment. He married Expectacion Vargas Sacris at Loreto Church in Sampaloc Manila, with the union producing three sons: Francisco Jr., Federico and Fernando.
Known for his independence, self-reliance and quick action, MSgt. Camacho was handpicked by then unit commander Col. Ernesto Mata to execute “Operation Secret”, an intelligence mission to neutralize notorious Huk commander Eddie Villapando, then sowing terror in Cavite, Laguna and Batangas.
Official accounts described the mission as too dangerous that every step required prudence and precision. Camacho and Cpl. Weene Martillana, posing as civilians, succeeded in befriending Villapando and his bodyguards.
On Dec. 20, 1955, Camacho and Martillana were with Villapando and two bodyguards on aboard an owner-type jeep cruising along the highway between San Pablo City and Calauan town in Laguna when the crucial encounter took place in Maahas right in front of the gate of the now International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
With Camacho at the wheel, he stopped the jeep to check a little “engine trouble.” As he alighted from the vehicle, Martillana followed to “assist.”
As the seconds ticked away, silence descended upon the group until after pre-arranged code signals, “Malamig, ano?” and “Oo nga,” the two commandos grabbed two submachine guns from the hood of the jeep and opened fire at the rebels, instantly killing two, Villapando one of them.
The other bodyguard was seriously wounded but, before succumbing to the wounds, was able to fire back at Camacho who died later in a hospital.
“It was a great loss for the family (but) a victory for democracy,” Fernando said during the 2015 inauguration of the bust, with the family suffering great financial loss that her mother was forced to leave them under the care of her aging mother so she could work at the women’s correctional facility in Mandaluyong.
“Kami ay tunay na naging salat sa materyal na pangangailangan ngunit itoý sinuklian ng papuri at karangal na siksik, liglig at umaapaw na hindi matutumbasan ng salapi at material na bagay,” he stressed.
Fernando remembers being saluted by Army officers and policemen at Camp Crame on account of his father being a hero.
Two days after the Laguna clash, President Ramon Magsaysay issued General Order No. 672 awarding the Medal of Valor to MSgt. Camacho (posthumous) and Cpl. Martillana, for distinguishing themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty. At the time, they were the only enlisted personnel to receive the very rare award that is equivalent to the US Congressional Medal of Valor.
He bared that on the spot where Msgt. Camacho fell, a marker was erected to honor his gallantry and patriotism. He, his mom and uncle Demetrio last visited the marker in 1992.
“Nakakalungkot isipin na ang marker ay sinira nang itayo ang South Supermarket, neglecting its reconstruction or restoration,” Fernando said as he thanked the PNP and the provincial leadership for bestowing the honor and recognition on his father.
Two movies were made about the two scout rangers and Villapando’s criminal exploits, he said.
“The death of Villapando and any terrorist is not the end of insurgency in our country,” he pointed out, urging everyone to be vigilant because the battle is not only fought with guns and bullets, with the enemy using deceit, money, influence, terrorism and false propaganda.