Taguba Has Filipinos Lauding The Rise of Their Native Son
By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 17, 2004; Page A17
MANILA -- Minutes after Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba took his seat before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday morning to answer questions about his investigation of Iraqi prison abuse, Lucia Taguba's telephone rang. It was her cousin next door.
"Cousin Antonio's on television!" Lily Taguba exclaimed.
Lucia said she clicked on CNN and there was Antonio, solemn and handsome in his Army general's uniform. "We were so proud," she said. She, seven family members and a maid watched till the hearing's end, just before midnight.
This was history for Filipinos, with one of their own playing a pivotal role in uncovering the story of prisoner abuse in Iraq. Taguba's testimony elaborated on his 6,000-page report that revealed a wide range of abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of U.S. soldiers and intelligence operatives at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
Taguba, born here in 1950, moved with his family to Hawaii when he was 11. He graduated from high school in 1968, earned a history degree at Idaho State University in 1972 and then joined the Army, rising through the ranks. He is only the second Filipino American to reach the rank of general in the U.S. Army.
Taguba's appearance had a special resonance in the Philippines, where many feel a special connection to the United States, their former colonizer. This is a country where schoolchildren learn how Gen. Douglas MacArthur liberated the islands from the Japanese during World War II.
And there was a poignant irony in Taguba's role in discussing prisoner abuse. His father, Tomas, now 85, was a Philippine Scout during World War II, fighting alongside U.S. forces. Tomas Taguba survived a Japanese prisoner of war camp and escaped during the Bataan Death March, during which about 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war endured great suffering and thousands died in captivity. He joined the underground, relatives said, and in 1945 enlisted in the U.S. Army. He retired in 1962 with the rank of sergeant.
On Tuesday, Antonio Taguba told the Senate panel that "lack of discipline, no training whatsoever and no supervision" contributed to the abuse and that military police guards should not have been placed under the command of military intelligence.
"It takes a lot of guts before you can do such a report," said Lily Taguba, 54, who lives in the Manila neighborhood of Sampaloc, where freshly washed laundry hung in front of houses fringed by bougainvillea. She sat on a low couch in her living room, near her personal computer, which allowed her to catch the hearing on the Internet.
Until they moved to join their father stationed in Hawaii, Antonio, his two brothers, five sisters, mother and grandmother lived in a wooden house on that site. Tomas was frequently away with the Army, Lucia said. There was a vegetable garden and banana tree on the side, and an open area where the children played batintero, a form of tag. Lucia, now 65, baby-sat for young Antonio when she was a teenager. He was quiet, a devoted student who read so much he needed "high-grade" glasses, she recalled.
Lucia said she was brought to Manila from the poor northern province of Cagayan when she was 7 by Tomas and his wife, Maria, because her parents wanted her to have a better life. She said Antonio takes after his father, recalling that Tomas "had a strong character. He knew what was right and what was wrong, especially in the military."
Part of that came from a deeply religious background, Lucia said. Staunch Roman Catholics, the entire family, led by Maria, prayed together, kneeling on the floor. "Oh, my knees!" Lucia recalled. "You could not sleep unless you said two rosaries."
In the Philippines, where the news this past week has focused on a presidential election and fears of destabilization, Antonio Taguba was the main reason anyone paid attention to the reports of prison abuse.
"Fil-Am General's Stars Shine," said one headline.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba was born in Manila in 1950 and lived there until age 11.
(Larry Downing -- Reuters)