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Sergeant (Geronimo) Suplemento (Read 8036 times)
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Sergeant (Geronimo) Suplemento
Oct 12th, 2013, 6:00am
 
I just got this story from Jaime Manzano, son of Lt. Col. Narciso Manzano of 14th Engineers.

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We were sitting at a lawn and garden reception set up for the large crowd of guests invited to celebrate the 100th birthday of old man Jose P. Laurel.  He had been senator and, most significantly, puppet President of the islands during the Japanese occupation.  It was a distinguished table - the then senator's son who bore his name and was a candidate for the presidency, my cousin, Mita Pardo de Tavera, minister of social services, Mr. Virata, a distinguished economist and ex-minister of the treasury, and myself.

I was a "saleng pusa" (tagalog, meaning "the cat is included").  The term is used by older siblings to allow a younger brother to play in a competitive game, but whose participation didn't count.  In tag, for example, the child can run with the crowd, but is never caught.  Its a form of babysitting.  My cousin was invited, and I was there more as a spectator than a participant.

It was an impressive gathering.  The guests were from distinguished, well-to-do families, and they looked it.  Both the men and the women were in traditional garb made of a fine pineapple fibre, light, airy, and delicately embroidered.  The conversation was polite, and personal just as one would expect in an extended family.

At an appropriate moment, we all retired to a large reception hall for the ceremony honoring the deceased senator.  Speakers took the podium to recall the man and his deeds as a father, friend, and political leader.  One speaker caught my attention.  He chose to refer to the senator's decision to take on the mantel of President during the Japanese occupation.  He spoke about the attempted assassination of the senator just before he took the oath of office.  My ears perked up.  I had more than a casual memory of the incident.

The speaker used the incident to illustrate how the then president-to-be had a generous and forgiving spirit.  When the gunman had been identified and captured, Laurel, while still recovering from his wounds, asked that nothing be done to the man, that he be forgiven and allowed to go unpunished.  The dramatic moment took place when the speaker said that the man was still alive and in the audience, and he gestured to have the man stand.

It was not the man who shot Laurel.

I knew the triggerman, and this man, smiling to the applause of the attendees, was an imposter.  Sergeant Suplemento shot Laurel according to plan as approved by prominent Filipinos who had organized to resist the Japanese occupation.  Among them was my father.

Sergeant Suplemento was a Philippine Scout in the U.S. Army.  This body of fighting men were essentially the Filipino equivalent of the British Gurkhas of Nepal.  They were professionals in every meaning of the word.  I grew up with them in Fort McKinley, now Bonifacio, where my father, Col. N.L. Manzano commanded company C of the 14th Engineers, Philippine Scouts, Regulars in the U.S. Army.  This band of fighting men wore the uniform with pride, and gave their total loyalty to their officers and the United States to whom they had sworn allegiance.

.Suplemento was a man to remember.  He was taller and bigger boned than most Filipinos.  As such, he commanded respect from his peers for sheer size and strength.  Besides, he had achieved the rank of sergeant, not a small accomplishment to those of the old army that was small, volunteer, professional, and where promotion was more a function of ability than mortality or seniority.  He was also a good looking man which was problematic, I was told, in the post where a fair share of women sought diversion from a loosely enforced moral code.

Suplemento's father had been a tailor, as was Suplemento.  He conducted a side business making the G.I. uniforms of his peer Scouts more formfitting.  My father busted Suplemento down to private one time because the uniforms he fashioned did not conform to Army regulations.  Apparently, Suplemento made the trousers wider and buckled higher up on the waist.  On inspection, Dad noticed the peculiar way in which the starched and knife-edged pants stood out inches from the knee and to the ground.  They were more "zooty" than what my Dad considered acceptable.  In a rage, he was decided to bounce Suplemento out of the service, but relented.  Instead, he busted Suplemento down to private, and required him to change all the uniforms he had sold to meet regulations.  He then transferred Suplemento out of his company.

But Suplemento's inherent ability could not go unrecognized.  He rose quickly to his former rank in his new company.  To his credit, he never held being busted against my father.  Actually, he virtually worshipped Dad, and I benefited from it.  He treated me as if I were a junior officer, even though I was but a child.

One could not help but notice that the palm side of Suplemento's right hand was a sheet of scar tissue.  When he saluted, he cupped his hand in the shape of a "C" because he couldn't open it fully.  I asked him what had happened.  He told me that it was the result of an accident that occurred while training new recruits.  He was instructing them on how to use a hand grenade and accidentally pulled the pin.  He chose to hold on to it while being surrounded by recruits.  The trigger charge went off.  The grenade was the type used only for training and did not hold the normal explosive charge.  The trigger, however, was sufficiently powerful to damage his hand, but not blow it off.  He spoke of the incident matter-of-factly.

The war against Japan started, which is a whole different story.  After the fall of Bataan, the Death March, and concentration in Camp Cabanatuan, my father was released.   If you were sick enough, the Japanese let Filipino prisoners free to "return home to die."  Well, Dad wasn't sick, but he was released, so he started organizing espionage cells in Manila.

One of Dad's cells was composed of prominent politicians and Filipino families.  They operated clandestinely, gathered intelligence, and, through my Dad, had it transmitted to Australia.  But these men were not inclined to remain patient and craved action.  They wanted to do more.  They decided to embark on a plan of political assassinations.  The first target chosen was the then senator Laurel.

Laurel had been collaborating with the Japanese.  At the time of the decision to have him assassinated, he had just agreed to be the designated President of the Japanese occupation government.  His assassination was intended to discourage further collaboration with the hated regime.

Sergeant Suplemento had been hired by my father to be the guard of the residential compound in which we lived.  His physical presence was reassuring to the residents.  I remember that he carried a billy club that he had carved himself.  Suplemento was not a man to fool with.

Well, once the decision was taken to shoot Laurel, my father went about procuring the necessary Colt .45 automatic and ammunition.  There was a black market for weapons then, as there was for virtually every other commodity in Manila - then, and now..  Together with the group of prominent Filipinos, the decision was taken to assassinate Laurel while he played golf at the Wak Wak Golf Club.  He played every week with the same foursome, some of whom were actually members of my Dad's espionage group, and were party to the planned assassination.

The plan was for Suplemento to bicycle out to the golf club and to shoot Laurel at the second or third tee.  He had a picture of Laurel with him so that he could identify him.  When the foursome arrived at the designated tee, those in the know distanced themselves from Laurel so as not to get in the field of fire.

But nothing happened.

Suplemento kept looking at the picture to identify Laurel.  He was uncertain as to who was Laurel.  He actually took aim several times at other members of the foursome, among them being those who were part of the assassination plot.  He chose to track the group as they went ahead with their game.  Those in the foursome in the know thought something had gone wrong.  So they continued with their game, to some extent relieved that the moment of presumed danger had past.

Suplemento finally determined which of the group was Laurel about half way through the round.  He fired three or four shots at Laurel, each of which hit Laurel in the torso.  Suplemento was a dead shot.  He then hopped on his bicycle and peddled home.

Any one of the bullets that hit Laurel could have killed him.  After all, the weapon was a Colt .45, a massive slug that had actually been adopted by the U.S. Army so as to knock a man down even if it hit him in the hand.  During the Philippine insurrection, the Moro "juramentados" of the southern islands, the same ones now in rebellion, could not be brought down with the smaller bore revolver then used by the army.  The Colt.45 was the answer.

Well, imagine being hit in the torso three or four times with such a slug.  The fact that Laurel lived is a testament to his physical health, and the quality of emergency care he received from his Filipino surgeons.  In retrospect, my Dad was relieved that Laurel's death did not occur.  He told me, in his 80's, that it would have burdened his conscience.

Suplemento blended into the background after the attempted assassination, and I never saw or heard from him again.  That is until much later after I had migrated to the U.S. and begun my career in the U.S. federal service.  Suplemento had traveled to Washington on a short visit.  He was a "mustang" now, a term used to identify a man who had moved from the enlisted ranks to becoming an officer.  He was older, and his once vigorous physique was giving away to advancing age.  In thinking back, I recall that his skin was slightly jaundiced, and his eyes seemed to be dulled by drink.  Like some men whose life had peaked in the war, there was a hint of melancholy and nostalgia in the bravado and front he then projected.  We shook hands, and searched for the old friendship we had had.  It was there, but only fleetingly.  We parted.

My father worried about Suplemento.  Apparently, after the end of the war, Suplemento was offered and received a commission in the Army.  I sense that he may never have gotten above the rank of first lieutenant, which may have galled him.  He had been one of the best-of-the-best of the soldiers in the Philippine Scouts.  My father had heard that Suplemento had taken to drink in a serious way.  Dad thought that Suplemento might brag in a moment of self-aggrandizement, that it was he who had shot Laurel.  Given the vengeful and violent nature of Filipino politics, and specifically attributed to those of Cavite, those loyal to Laurel's memory might well have had Suplemento shot.

Suplemento is dead now.  So is Laurel who lived to be senator and candidate for president after the war.  So is my father, who lived in hope that the Filipino people might gain a government good enough to serve them well.  And so are those who made up Dad's espionage cell who, at in the height of their faculties, acted in what they thought was best for their country.

Jaime L. Manzano
Federal Senior Executive and Foreign Service Officer (Retired)
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