Who’s this WW2 Palawan hero that took 75 years to be recognized?

World War II in the Pacific had officially ended 75 years ago in August 1945. But the Philippine government took almost 75 years through the Philippine Veterans Office (PVAO) to recognize 1st Lt. Francisco F. Ponce de Leon, one of the Filipino heroes of the war in Palawan.

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), the event dubbed as “A Salute to Valor: Palawan Liberation” happened on April 21, 2017 at the Palawan Convention Center at the Legend Hotel, Lt. Gen. Ernesto G. Carolina, AFP (Ret.) conferred a posthumous award to late 1st Lt. Francisco F. Ponce de Leon 0-22918 INF as a World War II hero.

The PVAO’s recognition document describes Ponce de Leon’s heroism 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 award was presented in a Plaque of Recognition and a posthumous Certificate of Recognition signed by Gen. Carolina in his capacity as Administrator of the PVAO. 1stLt. Ponce de Leon, the awardee died 35 years ago in May 1983.

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.”

A simple ceremony was held at the Ponce de Leon Garden Resort on 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 ceremony was held since there are no any family members of Ponce de Leon were able in the last year’s recognition. This time, the recognition 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.

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