HIGHLIGHTS

  • On March 17, 1959 Father HOA and his weary flock arrived at Binh Hung, the remote place on the southernmost Camau Peninsula where they had permission to settle.
  • The fighting spirit of the little band earned government recognition as a Village Self-Defense Corps, qualifying it for military aid.
  • As military commander without rank for Hai Yen Special Sector, the priest worked closely with Buddhist and Cao-Daist leaders—whose adherents were most numerous in the area—to promote security measures in villages.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his extraordinary valor in defense of freedom, strengthening among a beleaguered people the resolution to resist tyranny.”

 CITATION

Escaping in late 1950 and early 1951 from Communist persecution of Roman Catholics in Kwangtung Province in South China, Father AUGUSTINE NGUYEN LAC HOA and 2,100 of his parishioners lived precariously for eight years in Cambodia. In 1956, the priest searched in 25 countries for a more permanent solution for his people but found only sympathy and no answer to their problem. Forced again to move by communist guerrilla harassment and finally Cambodian recognition of Communist China, many of the stateless refugees sought sanctuary on their own in the new Republic of South Vietnam. A few who could afford the long voyage left for Taiwan. Learning from the priest of their plight, the government of South Vietnam offered to the remaining 450 facilities to migrate, citizenship and a homestead.

On March 17, 1959 Father HOA and his weary flock arrived at Binh Hung, the remote place on the southernmost Camau Peninsula where they had permission to settle. Swampy, mosquito-infested and imperiled by guerrillas entrenched in surrounding mangrove forests, it was barely habitable, but the land was fertile and fish were plentiful in waterways crisscrossing the delta.

In three months of relentless toil that spared no adult or child, a village was raised above the flooded land and the first rice crop planted. The guerilla-wise priest, himself a former soldier, also drilled every man to be an aggressive fighter. When the Viet Cong struck, the villagers fought back, armed only with fishing knives and wooden staves. With the few weapons then supplied by the government, the defenders suffered losses but never defeat in the frequent raids and ambushes that followed. Father HOA taught them no battle could be won by standing still; day and night patrols moved out learning every place for ambush or hiding and engaging the enemy on his own ground.

The fighting spirit of the little band earned government recognition as a Village Self-Defense Corps, qualifying it for military aid. Refugee Chinese Nationalist soldiers, Montagnards from the central highlands, Nung from the north, and local Vietnamese were recruited to join the defenders. Urgently needed supplies began to arrive regularly by helicopter. Government agencies, Catholic Relief Services, CARE and others helped. In three years, Vietnamese moving in from outlying farms for protection swelled the population of the village and adjoining hamlets to over 1,500.

As military commander without rank for Hai Yen Special Sector, the priest worked closely with Buddhist and Cao-Daist leaders—whose adherents were most numerous in the area—to promote security measures in villages. Though the Viet Cong were not eliminated, his Corps of Sea Swallows—by late 1963 numbering more than 1,000—extended relative security over 200 square kilometers to 18,000 inhabitants.

This year, when the military command was given to regular army officers, Father HOA welcomed the change. Now 56, he devotes his energies to his spiritual duties and schools, and serves as adviser-chaplain to the Sea Swallows, admonishing any who tire of the long struggle: “For our freedom, if we are tired, we cannot be free.”

In electing Father AUGUSTINE NGUYEN LAC HOA to receive the 1964 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his extraordinary valor in defense of freedom, strengthening among a beleaguered people the resolution to resist tyranny.

 RESPONSE

There are wonderful surprises that come our way, at one time or another, in our life. And to me this prestigious award is the greatest and most wonderful surprise of all.

I am here today to receive this great honor of the Magsaysay Award, not on my behalf, but on behalf of the men and women who have fought, and are still fighting, under the insignia of the Sea Swallows. The great benefit of this Award will go to the Sea Swallows who are enduring great hardships to maintain tranquility and security for the thousands of inhabitants in our swampy area. But the glory of this Award should go to no one else but 203 Sea Swallows who have offered their lives voluntarily to the cause of freedom and justice for all.

As for myself, I am only a simple priest who tries to do his duty in administering to the people of my area. Normally, a priest would simply administer to the spiritual needs of his flock. But in the area where we are, we have to do more.

There are those who have suggested that we should be like the early Christians?to allow ourselves to be killed for our faith. But experience has taught us that communism does not allow us the luxury of martyrdom. Yes, I can tell you from personal experience. I have tried. I spent over 12 months in their jails. The god-hating communists are not satisfied by merely taking our bodies?what they want is our souls.

Fighting really is the minor part of the struggle against communism. The most important part is the struggle for the minds, the hearts, and the souls of the people?all people, especially the communists. And it is precisely on this premise that your great President Magsaysay was able to defeat the Hukbalahap rebellion.

Many have asked me, if that is the case, why are we not winning in Vietnam? My answer is simple. The misplacement of the order of importance. The Magsaysay Way is: winning the people first, winning the war second. I am afraid in Vietnam today the order is reversed.

I can talk plainly like this because I am a soldier as well as a priest. Weapons are important. Fighting is necessary in order to protect the people from being physically harmed by the armed communists. But arms are useful only for defensive purposes. Our offence is to rely solely on winning the people, because as soon as the people understand what communism means, and as soon as they have faith in our ability to protect them, and as soon as they have confidence in our integrity, the battle is won.

When fought as a conventional war, we really have no chance to win. How can we explain to a mother when her child is burned by napalm? And how can we expect a young man to fight for us when his aged father was killed by artillery fire? Indeed, how can we claim to be with the people when we burn their homes simply because those houses happen to be in the Viet Cong controlled territory?

You may say that it is easy for me as a priest to think of love above war, but facts have proved that love is the only way for us to win. It is the only way for us to survive.

In conclusion, I want to extend our deep, deep appreciation for the great honor and benefit you have bestowed upon us. May God bless the people of the Philippines. It is my sincere hope that you will continue to promote the Magsaysay Way, the only way that the world can be peaceful and free.

 BIOGRAPHY

In his mature years to become a priest militant in defense of freedom, AUGUSTINE NGUYEN LAC HOA was born in the village of Chuc San, Fang Cheng Hsien, near the Gulf of Tongking and the Vietnam border in Kwangtung Province, China on August 28, 1908. The eldest son of a Cantonese fisherman, he was named YUN LOC-FA, or in Mandarin YUAN LO-HUA. Under his father’s tutelage he acquired his first skill of handling small boats. Graduating from middle school at the age of 15, he returned to help his father in fishing but, after twice losing his way at sea, decided to become a priest. That fall he entered Saint Therese Seminary for diocesan priests at Pakhoi, where he studied for four years. In 1927 he was sent to the Pontifical College in Penang, Malaya, to complete his formal training for the priesthood. In the winter of 1933 he returned to Pakhoi to teach at Saint Therese Seminary and serve as helper to the parish priest. Ordained on July 17, 1935 in Hong Kong, he returned again to Pakhoi to teach at the Seminary until January 1937 when he was sent to Suikai Hsien on the Luichow Peninsula as assistant to the parish priest.

There Father YUN found himself serving as curate in a district controlled by Wong Lo-dai, a former schoolmate who had become a notorious South China river pirate. Soon after his arrival, when one of the pirate’s men took a fancy to his bicycle and confiscated it, the priest protested and told the thief to take him to the presence of Wong Lo-dai. Recalling their school days Wong Lo-dai feted Father YUN and asked him to stay a week. The priest demurred to avoid anxiety on the part of the parish and the authorities but left the following day with Wong Lo-dai’s assurance of personal safety for himself and his parishioners. Later Father YUN admitted three of the pirate chieftain’s sons into his Holy Trinity School, keeping their identities secret at their father’s request.

In the spring of 1939, when China was at the lowest ebb in her struggle against the Japanese, the National Government conscripted the eldest sons of every family into the army to fight the invaders. Being an eldest son Father YUN was one of the draftees and, there being no chaplain system in the Chinese army, his religious career was involuntarily suspended when he was inducted as a private in the regular combat ranks. A week later when interviewing officers found him educated, he was sent to Toc San in the nearby mountains for special guerrilla training which would qualify him as an officer.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)