By Jun Elias
The Philippine Star
SAN FERNANDO CITY, La Union ,Philippines – Jose Baliton Nisperos was awarded the US Congressional Medal of Honor almost 100 years ago on Nov. 25, 1912 for single-handedly repelling Islamic rebels in Basilan on Sept. 24, 1911.
The Philippine Scouts corporal was the first Asian and Filipino to receive the highest military decoration of the United States government.
The Philippines was an American territory and the Philippine Scouts a division of the US Army at the time.
Nisperos was medically discharged from the US Army because of the severity of his wounds and given a pension of $55 per month.
He died in 1922 after a long illness at the age of 34. He was buried in an ordinary grave in the Lingsat public cemetery.
Last Friday, Nisperos’ remains were exhumed from the ordinary grave and placed in an area at the same public cemetery where the “great sons and daughters” of La Union are buried. He was given full military honors.
Commander Frank Hilliard led the US Veterans Multi-organizational Honor Guard.
The La Union police gave him a 21-gun salute.
Speaking at the burial, San Fernando City Mayor Pablo Ortega said he only learned of Nisperos’ heroism in an article in The STAR quoting an official from the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society.
“Today, we recognize and atone for lack of awareness and knowledge of a very significant fact of local history – that the first Filipino and also the first Asian recipient of US Congressional Medal of Honor for Valor was an Ilocano from our place,” he said.
Maria Delilah Viduya Turzar, great granddaughter of Nisperos, said they are sad because the US Congressional Medal of Honor of her Lolo Jose is missing.
“I’ve been tracing his award and medal for about 32 years,” she said.
It was allegedly auctioned off in Manila last year at a price of $1,110, she added.
Turzar called on the buyer to return the medal because the name of Nisperos is engraved at the back.
The buyer is believed to be already abroad, she added.
A relative took the medal with a promise to help them process documents and evidence to claim benefits from the US government, Turzar said.
Phillip Garcia, Philippine Scouts Heritage Society 2nd vice president, said Nisperos’ descendants badly needed the medal to prove their claim because his wife and three daughters, who are all dead, were not given benefits.
On Sept. 24, 1911, a large group of Moro rebels armed with bolos and spears ambushed Nisperos and his unit, the 34th Company in Lapurap, Basilan.
The unit of Nisperos suffered a handful of casualties.
However, Nisperos fought the rebels using only one hand since his left hand was badly wounded and he received several spear wounds on his body.
The rebels retreated to the hills, and the 34th Company Philippine Scouts was spared from total annihilation.
For his gallant action, bravery, and valor in the battlefield, Nisperos was awarded the US Congressional Medal of Honor on Nov. 25, 1912.
Nisperos was born in Barangay Tanqui in San Fernando City, La Union on Dec. 30, 1887.
Present at the burial of Nisperos were Director Jonathan Skelly, who represented US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr., La Union Gov. Manuel Ortega and other local officials, American and Filipino war veterans, police officials and personnel, and Nisperos’ relatives.