Colonel Bonny Serrano Avenue is a 4.3 kilometer road starts from the east end of the Katipunan Avenue intersection and stretches to the west end at Pinaglabanan in San Juan City. The road was built in 1901 to allow employees of the Carriedo Water System (now the Metropolitan Waterworks Sewerage System) to follow the route of the pumping station at the eastern Mariquina River to water reservoir at El Deposito, in San Juan del Monte. The road was first named Carretera de Santolan (Santolan Road), after the many Santol Trees (Cotton Fruit Tree, Sandoricum koetjape) that grew along the route; however in the 1990s, the street was renamed as the Bonny Serrano Avenue after the Korean War hero, Colonel Venancio “Bonny” Serrano.
The road also became strategic to the military with the construction of the North-South Circumferential Road (now the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, EDSA for short) in the 1930s, with the Philippine Army’s Camp Murphy (now Camp Emilio Aguinaldo) and the Philippine Constabulary’s Camp Rafael Cramé at the opposing corners of the intersection of Carretera de Santolan and the highway. So the decision to rename the road after a distinguished soldier would be the proper choice.
Colonel Venancio “Bonny” Merioles Serrano (1922-1970), was born in the island of Masbate, and was the son of the World War II (1939-1945) hero, Captain Conrado Serrano, who died in the Battle of Bataan (January 7 to April 9, 1942). After the war, Serrano followed his father’s footsteps, by training in Camp Fort Bragg, USA. In the Korean War, Serrano was Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK), under the 10th BCT Tank Co Motorized; in which he served from 1950 to 1955.As a lieutenant then, Serrano is most noted for the 1950 November 5 Battle of Yalu River, where he led a five-man all-Filipino commando team on a winter night raid, swimming across the frigid waters to capture 77 North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) and Chinese Army supporters. And for his exploits during and after the war, Serrano garnered 48 medals, including the Medal of Valor. After his death, Serrano was buried at Loyola Memorial Park, in Marikina City. And years after the military camp in Masbate was renamed as Camp Bonny Serrano, and the Philippine Navy fast attack craft was christened the BRP Boni Serrano (PC-111) in 1996.
The Korean War started with the 1950 invasion of Republic of Korea (South Korea) by the Communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), with the support of Chinese and Soviet Union troops. The United Nations Command (UNC) mobilized 21 countries to intervene in the war, with the Philippines sending the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK), comprised of 7,420 military and medical personnel; which is comprised of five battalions:
2nd Battalion Combat Team / The Peacemakers / April to May 1954
10th Battalion Combat Team / Motorized / September 1950 to September 1951
14th Battalion Combat Team / The Avengers / March 1953 to April 1954
19th Battalion Combat Team / Bloodhounds / April 1952 to March 1953
20th Battalion Combat Team / We Lead / April 1951 to May 1952
As the first Philippine contingent, the 10th Battalion Combat Team Motorized arrived in Korean on board the USNS Sgt. Sylvester Antolak (T-AP-192), on September 19, 1950. The 10th BCT held the motto of “Steady . . . On,” which reflected how the military unit held its own against overwhelming numbers, as well as the biting Korean winter, something no one in the contingent had ever experienced.
Aside from the Battle of Yalu Bridge, the 10th BCT Motorized distinguished itself in the 1951 April 22-23, Battle of Yultong. The 900-man Filipino unit faced 40,000 Chinese soldiers of 44th Division People’s Volunteer Army, as they attacked the US 65th Infantry Division, which the 10th BCT was a part of. Cut off for any other support, the 10th BCT was ordered to retreat, but they decided to hold their ground. In the end, the 10th BCT was able to repel the Chinese military, suffering only 12 killed and 38 wounded; while the Chinese unit loss more than 500 personnel. For their bravery, the 10th BCT was conferred the U.S. Gallantry Award; while its commanding officer, Captain Conrado D. Yap, was posthumously honored with the Philippine Medal of Valor, the U.S.A. Distinguished Service Cross, and the South Korean TAEGEUK Order of Military Merit, for giving up his life while holding off the Chinese and rescuing his men.
From its tour on 1950 to 1951, the 10th BCT Motorize sustained 43 casualties killed in action, 9 missing in action (with 6 lost during the Battle of Yulting), and 58 captured. In that tour, the 10th BCT saw more victories, such as the 1950 November 11 battles of towns of Miudong and Singye, as well as the July 1951 Battle of Taejo River. And for members of the 10th BCT killed in action, they were first buried in Busan, South Korean, before being shipped home on October 1951. And for the overall 7,420 personnel of the PEFTOK forces, only 116 were killed in action, while 313 were wounded in action.
News reports of Serrano’s exploits and the 10th BCT Motorized captured the nation’s attention, and the hype was capitalized by the local film industry. So right after the October 1950 Battle of Yultong, Premier Productions released the September 1951 “10th Battalion sa 38th Parallel, Korea” by the future National Artist for Film Gerardo de León (born Gerardo Ilagan, 1913-1981). LVN Studios answered back with its bio-pic of Serrano, with the 1952 film “Korea,” which was directed by future National Artist for Film Lamberto Vera Avellana (1915-1991), with screenplay by then journalist and future senator, Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Lampa Aquino Jr. (1932-1983), and Jaime de la Rosa (born Tomas de la Rosa, 1921-1992) playing Serrano. The next films about PEFTOK were the 1954 “Batalyon Pilipino sa Korea” by Carlos Vander Tolosa (1902-1966), and the 1956 “Lagablab sa Silangan” (Fire in the East) by Constancio T. Villamar. Because of all the hype, the now-Captain Serrano was the toast of the town upon his return from duty, and ended up marrying the actress Cora Real.
Despite the changing of the name of Santolan Road to Bonny Serrano Avenue, there was not recognition of the Philippines of the sacrifice of the PEFTOK in the ensuing decades after the Korean War. So in 2005, the PVAI (PEFTOK Veterans Association) erected a small monument in Marikina Heights, where some of the veterans retired. This would be the first official Philippine monument to the brave men and women of the PEFTOK.
In 2010, the Philippine and South Korean governments unveiled the Filipino-Korean Soldier Monument in Luneta Park, Manila, in celebration of the 60 years of Philippine-Korean diplomatic relations since 1949, as well as the 60th anniversary of the Korean War and the PEFTOK intervention. The sculpture was created by Juan Sajid de Leon Imao (born 1971), along with the nearby abstract “Soul Waves,” which represents the lives lost between Filipinos and Koreans in World War II. However, this is not the first monument commissioned by Koreans, to commemorate their relationship with the Filipinos, and express their gratitude for the service the PEFTOK had given. So in 2004, the Korea Freedom League commissioned Imao to create the 12.19 meter tall (40 feet) statue of the hero, Lapu-Lapu, entitled “The Sentinel of Freedom,” which is also in Luneta Park.
In 2012, the Philippine and South Korean governments, in coordination with the PVAI, unveiled the Korean War Memorial Hall, in the City of Taguig. The memorial hall is a museum to the PEFTOK, and was inaugurated by President Fidel Valdez Ramos (born 1928), who was also a veteran of the Korean War under the 20th BCT. In the memorial grounds, there is a large polished black granite marker, which says “Freedom is not Free.”
On November 7, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (Super Typhoon Yolanda) struck the Philippines, causing massive destruction on the Eastern Visayas islands of Leyte and Samar. On November 8, the South Korean government sent a 540-men Araw contingent to help in the search and rescue, treatment of survivors, and the rebuilding of the area. The Korean team stayed until December 2014, with 300 more volunteers joining by June 2014. While in the island of Leyte, the Korean and Filipino workers created the Philippine-Korean Friendship Park, in the Municipality of Palo, Leyte. Aside from sculptures of cooperation and celebrations, there is a Korean Veteran Memorial with a statue of a Filipino soldier looking up to the sky. On a rock in the park, it is etched “We Repaid Your Sacrifices of Blood, With Our Sweat Drops.”
The latest monument to the PEFTOK is the War Monument to the Philippine Armed Forces, unveiled in the Korean City of Goyang in 2017.
And in several Korean War monuments in South Korea, there are markers that commemorate the PEFTOK. In the UN Memorial Cemetery, in the City of Busan, there is a market of the PVAI that is made of granite, with a brass plaque. From the makeshift cemetery during the war, the United Nations started building the memorial in 1964, and completed it in 1968.
In 1994, the War Memorial of Korea was erected in the Yongsan-dong district of the capitol city of Seoul. The Philippine marker is made of polished black granite, with a golden wreath.
As of this writing, many of the Korean War veterans have passed away, and never do the masses remember the gallantry that these men have shown. So each time you pass by Bonny Serrano Avenue, take time to reflect on the bravery of the PEFTOK.