Express Week

WWII Vet Espiridion Villanueva, 1925-2014

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February 26 would have marked the 59th wedding anniversary of Espiridion and Evangeline (Bajada) Villanueva. 

 

Espiridion Villanueva, originally from Barrio Caliling, Banwa, Negros Occidental, born December 14, 1925, passed away on February 14 after a lingering illness.  The man noted for his generous and gentle nature and goodwill lived at the Harborview Apartments with wife Vangie, and was not far from New Jersey-based son Espiridion Jr., daughter Agnes and her spouse Robert Polidario, and three of their ten grandchildren. He also leaves behind Geoneline and spouse Bonifacio Abantao, and Meyline and spouse Rusim Veras, all of Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.

Vangie and Espiridion, known to friends as Jun, met through friends in Bacolod, he a student at the University of Negros Occidental–Recoletos, later graduating with a degree in Accounting, and she at the La Consolacion College. 

Says Vangie, “What I will always remember is his goodness and kindness. He was also shy (mahiyain).” 

She recounted how, without fanfare or anxiety, they resolved to adopt 14 of their nephews and nieces in the Philippines, supporting them with his income as an accountant.

 

Fight for Equity 

In 2009, Mr. Villanueva was among those veterans featured by the SINAG/ American Society of Philippine Photographers in a tribute mounted with the Philippine Consulate in New York, under Consul General Cecilia Rebong and Deputy Consul General Millie Thomeczek, for the whole month of June. The landmark photo exhibit entitled Sonata for Our Heroes: Unsung Filipino WWII Veterans, directed by Rene Ner and Robert Perez de Tagle, and later staged at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC, was notable for its collaboration of photographers in Manila, California, and the Northeast US, presenting veterans residing in those areas. This was after the passing of the equity benefits to these veterans as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law in February 2009. 

Nestor Enriquez, a trustee of the Filipino American National Historical Society and the president of its New Jersey chapter, knew Mr. Villanueva from this campaign for equity participated in by the Philippine American Veterans Organization, or PAVO. Enriquez spoke of Mr. Villanueva’s background, joining the 76th Medical Company in Kawayan, Negros Occidental on February 8, 1943, as described by Mr. Villanueva as part of the FANHS-NJ’s Pamana Oral History Project begun in 2007. 

Mr. Villanueva survived malaria in the jungle; he would much later immigrate to the United States with his wife, and for years, along with other WWII veterans, continued fighting for equity in a struggle that culminated in 2009, or 63 years after the Rescission Act. He was a member of the original Knights of Rizal that included his fellow guerrilla from Negros, Jose Genito, and other veterans such as Jose Red and the late Fred Diaz and Col. Mariano Aureus. 

Mr. Enriquez continued, “He was among the few that knew about the submarines landing in Kabankalan, Negros several times in the middle of the night, right under scope of the Japanese patrols. These brought supplies delivered to the guerrillas, marked with MacArthur’s ‘I shall return’.”

Fr. Alex Ver presided over the final service for Mr. Villanueva at the February 17, 2014 viewing at a Jersey City funeral home, attended by Deputy Consul General Zaldy Patron, fellow Harborview residents, community leaders such as Enriquez and Linda Mayo, and family and friends. 

We will miss him.

 

 

Writer, editor and events organizer Robert P. De Tagle can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Filipino Express

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