PALO, Leyte - The death of a Korean War veteran here offered a rare chance for South Korean soldiers who are helping in post -"Yolanda" reconstruction, to honour a Filipino comrade-in-arms who fought for their country in the 1950s conflict.
The moving and emotional funeral service for Technical Sgt. Pedro Pedrosa at Palo Cathedral here last week became an impromptu celebration of his life as his family and soldiers from both countries traded speeches and anecdotes, a reflection of the close relationship between the two wartime allies.
The 89-year-old Pedrosa, who died on April 15 of respiratory failure, was a member of the 19th Battalion Combat Team of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (Peftok), the Philippine Army contingent of the United Nations forces that came to the aid of South Korea when it was invaded by communist North Korea, supported by China and the Soviet Union, in 1950.
The war ended in 1953 in a permanently divided Korea, a democratic south and communist north.
"If my father were alive today, he would be happy to see his Korean comrades present here today," said Anastacia Petra P. Esquilona, the late veteran's 50-year-old daughter.
"My country would not have reached its present state of development if not for the sacrifice of Mr. Pedrosa and the other brave Filipino Korean War veterans," said Col. Lee Chulwon, commander of the Republic of Korea Joint Support Group, known as Araw.
Lee and his group of more than 200 soldiers in the Araw group, which arrived here in December last year, are the only ones remaining of the many foreign military groups that came to help in the reconstruction of the communities that were destroyed by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
The young Korean conscripts made up of engineers and carpenters this week took time out from repairing damaged schoolhouses to build Pedrosa's final resting place at Palo Cemetery, a concrete tomb of brick, mortar and granite.
But while the visiting Korean military pulled out all the stops in honoring Pedrosa, not one local government official showed up during his wake and funeral.
"It is all lip service. They say they care for our veterans, but they do nothing," said Rolando, Pedrosa's eldest son who came home empty-handed after he went to the office of Palo Mayor Remedios Petilla to ask for a Philippine flag to use in his father's wake.
"Although I am sad, I feel very honoured and fortunate to have witnessed Mr. Pedrosa's funeral," said Sgt. Hwang Jaekyun, a 22-year-old South Korean soldier who acts as the group's interpreter.