World War II in the Pacific officially ended 75 years ago in August 1945 when the United States of America dropped its atomic bombs first in Hiroshima and the second and final bomb in Nagasaki, Japan. Yet it took the Philippine government thru the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) almost 75 years after the war to recognize one of the Filipino heroes of the war in Palawan.
On April 21, 2017 during the event dubbed “A Salute to Valor: Palawan Liberation” at the Palawan Convention Center at the Legend Hotel, organized by the Palawan Liberation Task Force (composed of the Provincial Government of Palawan, City Government of Puerto Princesa, Puerto Princesa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Palawan Tourism Council, Filipino and American Memorial Endowment, Palawan Special Battalion World War II Memorial Museum, and Rajah Travel Corporation), Lt. Gen. Ernesto G. Carolina, AFP (Ret.) conferred a posthumous award to 1st Lt. Francisco F. Ponce de Leon 0-22918 INF as a World War II hero.
The Award was contained in a Plaque of Recognition and a posthumous Certificate of Recognition signed by Gen. Carolina in his capacity as Administrator of the PVAO. The awardee 1stLt. Ponce de Leon died 35 years ago in May 1983.
In the PVAO’s recognition document, Ponce de Leon’s heroism was described as follows:
Lt. Ponce de Leon joined the resistance movement on October 1, 1943 and was assigned to Military Police Unit, Palawan Special Battalion as a Junior Officer. With the capture of Japanese soldiers in the course of operations, a prisoner of war camp was established and Lt. Ponce de Leon was one of the principal staff of the unit.
His unit participated in several combat operations against the Japanese troops and Filipino collaborators, the most prominent of which was the ambush of two truckloads of Japanese soldiers on food foraging mission, killing about 40 of them but without any guerilla casualty.
He was reverted to inactive status as the war (was ending) on April 9, 1945.
The recognition described Lt. Ponce de Leon’s contribution and gallantry during the war as having “made a lasting and indelible mark in Philippine military history” and that “his selfless sacrifices for the love of country will serve as guiding inspiration to the Filipinos to uphold the value of our race and to protect and fight for our nation’s freedom whatever may be the cost.” Gen. Carolina said that the Recognition is being made “in grateful appreciation and recognition of his services and honorable performance of duties during World War II.
As no member of the Ponce de Leon family was able to attend the April 21st, 2017 awarding rites, a simple ceremony was held at the Ponce de Leon Garden Resort last January 18, 2018 presided by Vice Governor Victoriano Dennis M. Socrates, PPC Councilor Matthew Mendoza, Ms. Sweet Mata of the Office of the Governor and members of the Palawan Liberation Task Force. The posthumous award, including two medals of valor, was received by Mildred Ponce de Leon- Lardizabal, eldest daughter of Lt. Ponce de Leon and Palawan 1st District Board Member David Francis P. Ponce de Leon, grandson of the war hero.
During the war, Lt. Ponce de Leon was a senior law student at the Philippine Law School and was just married to his second wife Maria Herrera Abadiano of Barrio Rizal in Magsaysay, Cuyo Island. At war end in 1945, Lt. Ponce de Leon resumed his law studies and then passed the 1946 bar examinations. After a brief law practice in Cuyo, he transferred with his family to Puerto Princesa upon his appointment as special counsel and later as assistant provincial fiscal of Palawan, becoming in 1962 the first Palaweño provincial fiscal of Palawan. The following year he was elected as Palawan’s Vice Governor serving also as acting governor on several occasions. He retired from politics in 1968 but remained in government as senior adviser of then-Senator Ramon V. Mitra. Lt. Ponce de Leon is remembered as the first president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Palawan and was the founding president of the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO) in 1974, serving the cooperative as president for 9 years until his death in 1983. He is now considered the “Father of Paleco”. He also served as president of the Philippine Veterans Association, Palawan for over 20 years.
Lt. Ponce de Leon is the father of former 1st District Congressman David A. Ponce de Leon who also served as Palawan Vice Governor for 9 years and as acting governor on many occasions. Lt. Ponce de Leon’s grandson David Francis is now a member of Palawan’s provincial board representing the 1st district of the province.