Scouts' Honor

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Days before his trip to Greece, First Class Scout Roberto Corpus Castor requested his mother Virginia to buy a bigger house for their family once she gets enough money. He did not say where the money would come from, but his wish would come true.

Castor, 14, was part of the 24-member Philippine delegation to the 11th World Scout Jamboree held in Marathon, Greece in 1963. The entire team, together with 28 other passengers and eight crew members of the United Arab Airlines Flight 869, died when the plane crashed into the Arabian Sea near Santa Cruz, India in the early morning of July 28, 1963.

Just three days earlier, the team had paid a courtesy call on then-President Diosdado Macapagal in Malaca?ang.

At the Manila airport just before the flight to Hong Kong, Roberto shared a piece of cake with his mother before giving her a farewell kiss and hug. Donning their uniforms and a salakot, the scouts waved their white handkerchiefs while the KLM plane was taking off. The group took a connecting flight to Athens, Greece with stopovers in Bangkok, Thailand and Bombay, India, on July 27, 1963.

Castor, now 92, recalled that the following morning, her three-year-old daughter Josephine told her that Kuya Bontsie (Roberto's nickname) is dead. The mother ignored her daughter's words since they were busy preparing for church. She also knew that her son would be coming back in two weeks' time once the 52-nation jamboree was over.

A few hours after hearing those ominous words, Castor and husband Tomas heard from family friend and Roberto's mentor, renowned sculptor and future National Artist Guillermo Tolentino. The group's plane, Tolentino informed them, had been reported missing. This was soon confirmed by the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP) National Headquarters.

Interviewed 48 years after that tragic day, Castor recounted how she was in total shock after hearing from both Tolentino and the BSP. "I felt like heaven fell on me," she said. Her 91-year-old husband added: "Hindi ko siya makausap noon. Iyak siya nang iyak. Dasal siya nang dasal [I couldn't talk to her. She kept wailing and praying over and over again]." He had hoped his son would survive the crash like journalist Nestor Mata once did. Mata was the lone survivor in the 1957 crash of the aircraft Mt. Pinatubo in Mt. Manunggal in Cebu that killed then-President Ramon Magsaysay and other high-ranking politicians and reporters.

The cause of the 1963 crash hasn't been determined conclusively. Flight Safety Foundation, an international organization that advocates aviation safety, wrote in its website that it was "probably caused by the loss of control while turning in severe (atmospheric) turbulence and heavy rain."

President Macapagal, Pope Paul VI, Indonesian President Sukarno and Indian President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan expressed condolences to the bereaved families. The government chartered a plane to take the scouts' fathers to India for them to be present during the search and retrieval operations being done by the Indian navy. The elder Castor's optimism about his son's chances of survival dissipated when he saw the waters where the plane crashed.

The bodies found were badly charred and mutilated. Only the remains of boy scouts Castor, Henry Chuatoco, Jose Delgado, Librado Fernandez, and Ascario Tuason, Jr. were identified. Their caskets were not opened even during the necrological services and burial. Castor remembered fainting while holding Roberto's casket when it arrived from India after three days of search and retrieval operations.

Castor said he recognized his son's body through the secret pocket in his khaki pants. This was where his wife had slipped US$200 for their son's pocket money. The remains of the 24 scouts were buried at the Ala-Ala Mausoleum in Manila North Cemetery, courtesy of then-Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas.

Castor said she had initially disapproved of Roberto's participation in the jamboree because it was too costly. The P4,400 they would need for the flight could have been used for his college education, Castor said. But her husband persuaded her to let their son go. A former Boy Scout himself during the Commonwealth era, the elder Castor said letting their son join the Jamboree would be an act of service to the nation. As if to prove that, Roberto and the other boys from the Philippine delegation practiced their routines and individual talent presentations for long hours every day for a month at the BSP headquarters in Manila.

Roberto started scouting as a student of Ramon Magsaysay Elementary School in Quezon City, and continued on during his days at the E. Rodriguez, Jr. High School, his rank rising steadily through the years. Castor said his son once joined a Mt. Makiling camping without their knowledge. "We only knew about it through his friends," he said. Castor recalled with a hearty laugh that one time, his wife even brought a mosquito net for their son.

The couple described Roberto as mature-thinking, hardworking, and loving to his seven siblings (he is the second eldest in the family). They said he never got a failing mark in any of his classes. Roberto, who would have turned 62 last April 28, wanted to enter the Philippine Army.

The Castor family received around P140,000 in insurance money. And as Roberto had wished before his death, the family used it to buy a bigger house in Retiro, Quezon City, where they live to this day. Curiously, the house they bought had dividers designed with fleur-de-lis, the flower found in Boy Scout insignias. This, according to Castor, goes to show that her son still has a spiritual connection with them. The couple also attribute their long life to Roberto's youthful spirit.

In 1988, then-President Corazon Aquino designated July 28 of every year as Scout Memorial Day. Even if the Castor couple has long accepted their son's tragic death, this gesture heartened them. Having a street in Quezon City renamed after her son has also helped, said Castor. "Nakakagaan ng loob [It makes me feel good]," she said. It's a feeling constantly reinforced by the words of her son's high school principal, Juanita Reyes: "If I am going to die the way your son did, I'm willing to die even right now."

Mark Pere Madrona, 20, is an editor for a book publishing company in Quezon City. He earned his degree in Journalism from UP Diliman in 2010 (cum laude) and is currently pursuing a Masters in History. His other write-ups can be accessed at http://rightonthemark.

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