Second of a series on “US Navy: Anchor of US-Philippines Relations”


From the Cavite navy yard, through gunboats and boiler rooms; through galleys and storerooms to the captain’s wheelhouse; to admiralties and on to the Pentagon! Such is the range of the story we will try to cover this weekend.


How did that all happen? 


The American pacification of the newly acquired territory—the Philippine Islands—would not have happened with the relative ease by which it did; or, put differently, President McKinley’s “Benevolent Assimilation” might have taken a much longer and certainly a bloodier route had it not been for the assistance of local hires which eventually evolved into uniformed and armed auxiliaries. Indeed, there are objectives in wars’ aftermath that could not be achieved by occupying soldiers alone. 




Such is the raison d’etre for the recruitment and organization of the Philippine Scouts, about which much literature, both academic and journalistic, have been written. Unfortunately, such relation almost excludes the US Navy’s role in the utilization of local auxiliaries. I surmise a transactional relationship as it may have began, but this did develop towards becoming organizational components of the U.S. military. And so, upon recommendation borne of the US Navy’s Philippine situation, President William McKinley issued an Executive Order on April 5, 1901, creating the “Insular Force of the U.S. Navy” formalizing an already existing corps. It authorized the Secretary of the Navy, John D. Long, to enlist “up to 500 natives of the Philippines (and of Guam).” By 1906, as the Philippine-American War skirmishes winded down, “there were 285 Filipinos… in the Insular Force” (Naval History Blog.)




It is with this Insular Force of the U.S Navy that in 1910, a young man of twenty, Telesforo de la Cruz Trinidad, enlisted. He was from a then newly formed municipality in Capiz (now a part of Aklan) named after the first US President, George Washington. New Washington, which is also the birthplace of the Philippines’ beloved Cardinal Jaime Sin. As a Filipino national, Trinidad served during World War I and WW II, retiring in 1945 and lived in Imus, Cavite until he passed on at the age of 77.





Fireman 2nd Class Telesforo C. Trinidad holds the distinction of being the first and only Asian-American/Filipino in the US Navy to have been conferred America’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. The citation of April 1, 1915 reads: “For extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession at the time of the boiler explosion on board the U.S.S. San Diego, 21 January 1915. Trinidad was driven out of fireroom No. 2 by the explosion, but at once returned and picked up R.E. Daly, fireman second class, whom he saw injured, and proceeded to bring him out. While coming into No. 4 fireroom, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in No. 3 fireroom, but without consideration for his own safety, passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from No. 3 fireroom. Trinidad was himself burned about the face by the blast from the explosion in No. 3 fireroom.”


As already announced, there is now waging a campaign for the US Navy to name a combatant ship in his honor. Such honor is viewed likewise both as recognition and celebration of the tens of thousands Filipinos and Filipino-Americans who have served in the US Navy. 


The numbers are never constant, what with retirements as well as recent promotees. My last count, however, showed at least 6 Filipino-Americans have achieved flag officer rank (Admirals), four of them women!; and about four dozen (Navy) captains, one of whom served as the first and so far the only Fil-Am to command a nuclear-powered Aircraft Carrier with a complement of some 3,000 personnel. (I will share some of what I know about this gentleman next week.)


Standing out among such stalwarts is Rear Admiral Victorino G. Mercado (Ret.), not just for himself but also as part of a tri-generational record of exemplary service and performance in the US Navy which consisted of his father, himself and his son. (Three generations of naval service – BootCamp4Me)


He was one of the highest-ranking (2-star) Filipino-Americans in the US Navy. He is probably the most outstanding Filipino-American today in terms of combined military and non-political government service. After retiring in 2018, he was called to serve in a senior government position at the Pentagon as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities (requiring Senate confirmation). 


His father, Victorino R. Mercado of Barrio Janopol, Tanauan in Batangas joined the US Navy in 1953 as an enlisted sailor, a stewardsman, a class to which Filipinos were admitted in the US. Navy, historically. By dint of hard work and ambition, he retired as Master Chief Petty Officer which is the highest non-commissioned rank. While stationed in Norfolk Virginia, starting a family ( with wife, Socorro Guerrero, also of Tanauan, Batangas), son Vic was born in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital.


Adm. Mercado is a 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science, and holds a master’s degree in systems technology in Joint Command, Control and Communications from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. (He has a lengthy very impressive record of achievements and assignments available in the internet.)


His son, Daniel (Lt.jg) is also a graduate of Annapolis, Class of 2011 and has recently retired to pursue an MBA. He served as a naval flight officer and had combat deployment on board the USS CARL VINSON with flying missions in the Iraqi and Syrian operations. He also graduated from Top Gun (reminiscent of Tom Cruise) training officially known as the USN Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program.


God-driven providence creates moments that hail heroes like Telesforo Trinidad, but there is no way predicting when comes another! 


With the example of Admiral Victorino G. Mercado, however, as an inspiring beacon, the horizon of Filipino-Americans in the US Navy remains clear. “The future is looking bright,” says the Admiral. “I am indebted to, and stand on the shoulders, of a generation of Filipino Sailors who enlisted in the 50s…..through their example I found my own opportunity.” Just as the current dozens of Filipino-American men and women who are training to be naval officers in Annapolis find the Mercado story equally inspiring, worthy of emulation.




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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Tomas ‘Buddy’ Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN’s (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.


In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.


During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.


After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.


He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.


Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.