Category Archives: Philippines

Afghanistan as “University of Jihad”

From Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century, by Christian Caryl (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle Loc. 6410-6454:

The mujahideen struggle against the Soviets—a struggle that ultimately ended with a humiliating retreat for the forces of Moscow—filled Muslims around the world with pride. This glorious victory seemed to many a confirmation of what the Islamists had been arguing all along: with God’s help, anything is possible. (The Quran is replete with verses promising victory to those who are faithful to God.) The triumph of the Afghan jihad inspired Muslims in a general way, but it gave particular impetus to the more militant strains of Islamist thought. The full psychological impact is hard to quantify, of course. One of the most concrete effects can be seen in the later journeys of the non-Afghans who personally participated in the war against the Soviets. Garlanded by their participation in the glamorous Afghan jihad, the Afghan Arabs and their fellow Islamist internationalists personally embodied the message of armed resistance to the infidels and the apostates. Not for nothing would Afghanistan in the 1980s come to be known as the “University of Jihad.”

Inevitably, however, Azzam’s very success as a leader and religious thinker inspired competition. Another Arab who made the pilgrimage to Peshawar was Ayman al-Zawahiri, who arrived in Pakistan in 1985. Trained as a doctor and a religious scholar, he was an alumnus of the Muslim Brotherhood who had been imprisoned after the killing of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Though professing eagerness to help the Afghans in their jihad against the Soviets, he spent much of his time in Pakistan on Egyptian affairs. He soon became the leader of a new group of Egyptian radicals that dubbed itself the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Azzam was soon complaining to his associates that the Egyptians were gaining influence over his protégé Bin Laden, who was already becoming a lodestar of the jihadi movement. There is much speculation, indeed, that Zawahiri and his confederates orchestrated the killing of Azzam as part of a plot to take over control of his organization.

But the nascent al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad were not the only ones bent on extending the Afghan war to the rest of the world. Another group of Egyptian radicals, mercilessly persecuted by the government at home, set up operations in Peshawar and in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad in the mid-1980s. This was al-Gamaa al-Islamia, the Islamic Group, which had engineered the assassination of Sadat. One of the group’s most prominent figures in its exile was Mohammed Shawki Islambouli, the brother of Sadat’s killer. Its religious leader was Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the “blind sheikh,” who had also studied under Azzam and ultimately played a key role in the MAK after Azzam’s death. He established close relations with Bin Laden and Hekmatyar. In 1990 Abdel-Rahmen traveled to the United States, where his preaching inspired a group of young Muslim radicals to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993. Later in the 1990s, al-Gamaa al-Islamia launched a series of assassinations and terrorist attacks across Egypt that culminated in the Luxor attack of 1997, in which the group’s operatives massacred 62 people (mostly foreign tourists).

After Azzam’s death, Bin Laden and Zawahiri—the latter often characterized, with some justification, as the “brains” of al-Qaeda—presided over a remarkable expansion of global jihadist aspirations. Afghanistan-trained holy warriors dispersed to the four winds. They fought in Bosnia and Chechnya and lent support to the Islamist regime in the Sudan (where members of the Islamist camp had first joined the cabinet back in 1979). Muslim Filipinos returned home from the training camps in Afghanistan to found a revolutionary jihadi organization of their own, which they called Abu Sayyaf.

In Indonesia a veteran of the Afghan jihad named Jaffar Umar Thalib founded Laskar Jihad, a terror group that aimed to form an Islamic state in a far-flung corner of that sprawling country. Another Indonesian by the name of Riduan Isamuddin arrived in Afghanistan in 1988, where he also sought close ties to Bin Laden. Under the nom de guerre of Hambali, he later gained notoriety for his work as the operations chief of the Jemaah Islamiah, Indonesia’s most prominent militant Islamist organization. Aspiring to create a caliphate unifying the Muslim populations of Southeast Asia, he orchestrated a series of terrorist attacks that included the notorious Bali nightclub bombing of 2002, which took the lives of 202 people. Veterans of the conflict in Afghanistan also played an incendiary role in the brutal Algerian civil war that scourged that country in the 1990s, after the secular government annulled the results of an election won by Islamists. As many as 200,000 Algerians died in the fighting, which dragged on for years.

In Central Asia, still other alumni of the “University of Jihad” joined forces with the Islamists in the former Central Asian republic of Tajikistan, fighting on their side against ex-Communist secularists in another bloody civil war that tore that country apart in the 1990s. One of the men who participated on the Islamist side in that conflict went by the nom du guerre of Juma Namangani. Born in the Soviet Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, he had fought in an elite paratrooper unit on Moscow’s side during the war in Afghanistan. The experience had radicalized him, transforming him into a zealous holy warrior. He was among the founders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, arguably the first transnational Islamist guerrilla group to emerge from the former USSR. His soldiers fought on al-Qaeda’s side in post-9/11 Afghanistan. In this way, too, Moscow’s 1979 intervention in Afghanistan unleashed surprising demons.

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Telling Omissions in Pacific Theater War Reporting

From Lost in Shangri-La, by Mitchell Zuckoff (HarperCollins, 2011), pp. 234–236:

Even when far back from enemy lines, standard practice among reporters in war zones was to painstakingly record, and then publish, the names and hometowns of servicemen and -women. That way, their families and friends back home could enjoy the acknowledgment of their loved ones’ courage, as well as the reflected glory of knowing someone involved in the war effort. “Names are news,” as the saying went. Publishers encouraged the practice for commercial reasons as much as journalistic ones: printing a local person’s name in the newspaper generated loyalty among readers and encouraged the purchase of extra copies, for posterity.

With one glaring, categorical exception, the reporters covering the Gremlin Special crash faithfully followed this practice. They published the names and hometowns of the survivors and the crash victims, and also the chaplains who flew over the valley for funeral rites, the planners in Hollandia, and the crew of the 311 supply plane. They included the names of not only the pilot, copilot, and radio operator but also the flight engineer, Sergeant Anson Macy of Jacksonville, Florida, and the cargo crew.

But as obvious as the reporters’ obsession with Margaret [Hastings, the only female survivor] was their tendency to overlook the 1st Recon paratroopers of Filipino descent. That oversight came despite the fact that all but Rammy Ramirez were natives or residents of the United States, and all were full-fledged members of the U.S. Army. When speaking with reporters by walkie-talkie, [Capt] Walter and [Lt] McCollom repeatedly tried to draw attention to the enlisted paratroopers, particularly the heroic jump by [Sgt] Bulatao and [Cpl] Ramirez into death-defying terrain, and their life-and-limb-saving ministrations to [Cpl] Hastings and [Sgt] Decker.

Yet in one story after another, the medics and paratroopers received little or no credit. Sometimes they appeared anonymously, as in one typical mention: “Two Filipino medics laden with supplies also were dropped by parachute.”

To his credit, Ralph Morton of The Associated Press eventually devoted some ink to the enlisted men of the 1st Recon, as did the [Chicago] Tribune‘s Walter Simmons, who focused most on Sergeant Alfred Baylon. Simmons’s interest in “the stocky, cigar-smoking” Baylon was piqued by the fact that the sergeant hailed from Chicago and had previously worked as an orderly in the city’s Garfield Park Community Hospital.

When the supply plane dropped news clippings about the events in Shangri-La, Walter reacted angrily in his journal to how little acclaim his men received. “So few reporters have given my men the credit due them and are always bringing in outsiders for credit. I certainly hope that when I get out of here I can give the credit to those who deserve it and [to] my enlisted men, who made possible the rescue of these people. It has definitely been no cake party jumping into unexplored country and climbing mountains over the damnest trails ever seen. No complaining, but just slugging along, doing their job.”

As the paratroopers’ leader, Walter received glowing mentions in the press reports. Reporters gave him the title of “rescue chief,” as Ralph Morton put it, presumably to distinguish him from the native chiefs. But throughout the mission reporters used his unloved given name, “Cecil.” And they routinely added an “s” to his last name, calling him “Walters.”

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Filipino 1st Recon Battalion (Special) in New Guinea

From Lost in Shangri-La, by Mitchell Zuckoff (HarperCollins, 2011), pp. 141–142:

In November 1944, Earl Walter and sixty-six jump-qualified members of the 5217th Reconnaissance Battalion were sweating out the war in “strategic reserve,” stuck in steamy but peaceful Hollandia [now Jayapura], Dutch New Guinea. The closest thing to excitement came when their battalion was renamed the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion (Special), known as the 1st Recon. The new name did nothing to change their idle fate. Neither did Walter’s promotion from lieutenant to captain.

As months passed, Allied forces under General MacArthur kept busy retaking the islands of the Philippines—one after another, from Leyte to Luzon, Palawan to Mindanao. As the fight progressed, paratroopers from the 503rd and 511th regiments carried out their dangerous and heroic missions on Corregidor and Luzon.

All the while, Walter and his men yearned to get out of the heat of Hollandia and into the fire of war. Their battalion’s devil-may-care motto of Bahala na! a phrase from the Tagalog dialect of the Philippines that can be translated as “Come what may!” [also compared to Inshallah] The more time passed without a mission, the more it seemed like a taunt. The problem, as Walter and his men saw it, was that nothing came their way.

While awaiting orders in Hollandia—some eighteen hundred miles southeast of Manila—Walter’s men pressed him for news. With families and roots in the Philippines, they wanted the honor and the satisfaction of driving the enemy from their homeland. They craved payback for more than two years of Japanese occupation. They wanted revenge for the Bataan Death March of 1942, during which Japanese troops killed or brutalized thousands of captured Filipino and American soldiers along a forced hundred-mile march to a prison camp. Newspapers had detailed the atrocities, fueling a combustible mix of fear and hatred of the Japanese, perhaps nowhere more so than among the men in Walter’s unit. One of them, Corporal Camilo “Rammy” Ramirez, had experienced the horrors of Bataan firsthand before making a daring escape.

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Philippine Basques and World War II

From Basques in the Philippines, by Marciano R. de Borja (U. Nevada Press, 2012), pp. 109-111:

On March 31, 1937, Franco launched the military offensive against Bizkaia. The air force—whose core group was composed of German and Italian pilots—pounded the cities of Eibar, Durango, Gernika, Zornotza, Mungia, and Bilbao, causing hundreds of deaths. As depicted in the famous painting of Pablo Picasso, Gernika was razed. In fact, the town had no military installations and was not sheltering combatants. It became a prime target because it was the place where the fueros of the Basques were traditionally renewed by the Spanish monarchs. It was therefore a symbol of Basque autonomy. The destruction of Gernika was meant to crush the Basque spirit of resistance. The Basque residents in the Philippines were divided. Those from Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa loathed Franco, while those from Navarre backed him. In fact, Navarre was the first province in Spain to throw its support to Franco and supplied troops to the nationalist cause. One of Franco’s able military commanders, General Emilio Mola, was Navarrese.

When the Spanish civil war broke out in 1936, Basque exiles like Saturnina de Uriarte and Estanislao Garovilla settled in Cebu and established the most important fish-canning factory in the country, the Cebu Fishing Corporation. Uriarte was pre­viously a partner in Garovilla Hermanos y Compañia, a canning factory in Bermeo (Bizkaia). Basque philanthropists such as Marino de Gamboa and Manuel María de Ynchausti, and companies, like Aldecoa-Erquiaga and Company, extended assistance to Basque refugees.

Although the Basques in the Philippines were concerned about the Spanish civil war, they were more preoccupied with the imminent war in the Pacific. Japan had invaded China in 1939 [sic!; actually many times in many places, but full-scale warfare commenced in 1937—J.], and its relations with the United States had become antagonistic and bellicose. The Philippine Commonwealth government under President Manuel L. Quezon hired General Douglas MacArthur, the newly retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army, as field marshal to prepare the Philippine defense in the event of war.

On December 8, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and destroyed by the Japanese Imperial Navy. Days after, Manila was declared an open city to spare it from destruction. The American air force bases in Clark (Pampanga) and Iba (Zambales) in central Luzon were destroyed. The Japanese forces entered Manila on January 2, 1942, without a fight. The combined American and Filipino forces defended Bataan in a last-ditch effort to halt the Japanese advances. On April 9, Bataan fell, and Japan became the new colonial master of the Philippines. But the resistance movement continued.

During the war, Spaniards, including the Basques, were viewed with suspicion and hostility by many Filipinos. Some Spaniards collaborated outright with the Japanese and openly rejoiced over the initial defeat of the Americans, believing naively that the Japanese would return the Philippines to Spain. All the castilas (Spaniards), therefore, became the target of resentment and were vilified as the “Fifth Column,” a derogatory term meaning opportunists, potential traitors, and outright collaborationists. In fact, assets of Basque families and companies, such as Aboitiz, Ayala, Elizalde, were frozen by the Philippine Commonwealth government, although they supported the American military. For instance, the vessels of La Naviera, a shipping firm partly owned by the Aboitiz and Company, were put at the disposition of the American forces. Aboitiz and Company was singled out because it had had a Japanese director on its board and exported large quantities of copra to Japan in the 1930s, obviously used to fuel Japan’s war machine.

The hatred against the Spaniards was further exacerbated by the fact that General Francisco Franco, the caudillo (supreme ruler) of Spain, sent a congratulatory message to the Japanese command immediately after the fall of Corregidor and Bataan. Spain was one of the eleven nations aligned with the Axis powers that recognized the puppet government established by the Japanese military forces in the Philippines.

Most Basques were fiercely opposed to the Japanese occupation. Many Basque families, like the Elizaldes, the Luzurriagas, and the Legarretas, contributed indirectly and directly to the Philippine guerrilla movement. Others, like the Uriartes, the Bilbaos, and the Elordis, joined the resistance movement in Negros and the Visayas region.

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Basque Pioneers in the Philippines

From Basques in the Philippines, by Marciano R. de Borja (U. Nevada Press, 2012), pp. 40-41:

Discussions of the outstanding Basque missionaries in the Philippines commonly start with reference to the apostolic work of Saint Francis Xavier, a Navarrese and a famous Jesuit missionary, on the island of Mindanao. Standard Philippine history books, however, do not contain any reference to Saint Francis Xavier’s exploits, since the veracity of his travel and missionary work in Mindanao has yet to be confirmed.

What is certain is that the first Spanish cleric, Fray Pedro de Valderrama, arrived in the islands during the Magellan expedition in March 1521. (There were supposed to be two clerics, but the other, a Frenchman, was left on the coast of Brazil.) His achievement was obviously limited. Although he celebrated the first Catholic mass and officiated the first baptisms, the seeds of Christianity never took root. The impact of the new religion on the natives probably dissipated right after the departure of the remnants of the Magellan expedition. The same thing happened with following Spanish expeditions.

It was only after the successful expedition of Legazpi and Urdaneta [both Basques] in 1565 that the Catholic Church was permanently established in the archipelago, starting in Cebu. As previously described, Urdaneta brought with him to the Philippines a contingent of fellow Augustinian missionaries, all of whom were Basques. Andrés de Aguirre, Pedro de Gamboa, Diego de Herrera, and Martín de Rada. Actually, Lorenzo Jiménez, a non-Basque, was also enlisted by Urdaneta, but he died in the port of Navidad before the expedition disembarked. Thus the Basques became the real pioneers in preaching the gospel and teaching catechism in the archipelago.

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Fate of Basque Ethnicity in the Philippines

From Basques in the Philippines, by Marciano R. de Borja (U. Nevada Press, 2012), pp. 138-139:

Today most Filipinos are very familiar with two things related to Basque culture, though without knowing it—chorizo de Bilbao, a kind of sausage, and jai alai. At the same time, the Basque legacy in the Philippines is perhaps manifested most obvi­ously in the number of Basque place-names. Many of Manila’s streets still have Basque names, though many more have been erased and changed in recent years for the sake of modernization and nationalism. The most obvious example is Avenida Azcárraga, which was renamed Claro M. Recto Avenue in honor of the great Filipino nationalist and senator. Among the surviving Basque street names are Ayala, Arlegui, Barrengoa, Bilbao, Gaztambide, Ozcariz, Elizondo, Guernica, Durango, Echague, Goiti, and Mendiola. In Makati, the posh residential and business enclaves are called Legazpi, Salcedo, and Urdaneta.

The current map of the Philippines is still replete with provinces, towns, and cities that bear Basque names, such as Anda, Arteche, Azpeita, Lavezares, Legazpi, Loyola, Mondragon, Nueva Vizcaya, Oroquieta, Oteiza, Pamplona, Urbistondo, Urdaneta, Zarraga, and Zumarraga.

The Basques’ outstanding achievements and the high status enjoyed by their de­scendants in contemporary Philippine society must be considered against the back­ drop of the future of Basque-Philippine identity. We should first answer the follow­ing questions: How do Basque descendants view their ethnicity? Do they still regard themselves as unique? To what extent have they assimilated into the local culture?

The new generation of Basque descendants have little contact with the Basque Country. Some are still proud of their Basque heritage, although compared to their counterparts in Latin America, they are fast losing their ethnic consciousness, if in fact it is not already lost. This is in part a function of the vast distance that separates the Philippines and the Basque Country, as well as a function of the limited number of Basque settlers in the Philippines at any time. Such demographic paucity makes it impossible for a strong Basque-Philippine culture and identity to flourish. Except for some articles that are published occasionally about a few families of Basque origin, many third- and fourth-generation Basques lack ethnic awareness and are oblivious to their roots. And even when they are vaguely aware of their origins, they lack a deeper knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of things Basques. Only a handful have ever been to the Basque Country. As Andoni F. Aboitiz, a fourth-generation Basque has said: “We really think of ourselves as Filipinos first and of Basque descent second.” Even if some descendants are proud of their Basque roots, they seem to prefer not to talk about them. As Robert Laxalt, an American novelist of Basque origin, has observed: “Reticence has always been the deeper mark of the Basque character.”

Intermarriage is another factor that has weakened the Basques’ ethnicity. Al­though it was often the practice for newly arrived Basques during the nineteenth century to marry among themselves, succeeding generations did not follow suit. Many took Spanish and American spouses, while others married mestizos and Malay Filipinos. The Ayala family, example, has practically lost its Basqueness, ex­cept for its name, and that could still be lost since the current heirs of the Ayala clan carry the surname “Zobel.” The most Basque among the present Basque-Filipinos today seem to be the Aboitizes. Looking at their family tree, it is evident that inter­marriage with other Basques has been encouraged. A majority of the Aboitiz clan carry a second Basque name such as Arrizaleta, Luzurriaga, Mendieta, Moraza, Mendezona, Ugarte, Uriarte, and Yrastorza.

In the Philippines, there is no equivalent of the eusko etxea, or Basque center, that is maintained by Basque descendants in Latin America and the American West (par­ticularly in the states of California, Idaho, and Nevada). The United States also has the NABO (North American Basque Organizations, Inc.), the umbrella organization that oversees nearly thirty Basque clubs and provides them with common cause and activity. There is also an Argentinian FEVA (Federación de las Entidades Vascas de la Argentina, or Federation of Basque Entities of Argentina), which links more than sixty Basque centers and institutions. In the Philippines, there is not a single Basque club at present.

Philippine Basque descendants no longer speak Euskara. The predominance of regional languages, such as Ilonggo, Bicolano, and Cebuano; the promotion of Fili­pino, the Tagalog-based national language; and the strong influence of American culture with a corresponding extensive use of English in education, business, and government in the Philippines have together wreaked havoc on the vestiges of Spanish tradition, not to mention the Basque one. The Spanish language, which was still dominant among the Philippine elite during the American occupation, slowly waned in influence. By the 1960s, Spanish lost its premier status, and, although it was included as an official language in the 1973 Philippine constitution, its decline was irreversible. It was finally eliminated as an official language in 1987.

Even as an academic subject, Spanish has dwindled to nothing. Constituting twenty-four required units in the school system in the early 1950s, it was demoted to twelve units in the 1980s. It was subsequently abolished as a requirement. Many Basque descendants today cannot even speak Spanish—considered the language of the aristocracy and landed gentry in the Philippines—let alone Basque.

The new generation is simply too assimilated to the mainstream of Philippine society and culture.

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Hawai‘i Chinese Baseball Team at the Far Eastern Games, 1915

From The Barnstorming Hawaiian Travelers: A Multiethnic Baseball Team Tours the Mainland, 1912-1916, by Joel S. Franks (McFarland, 2012), Kindle Loc. 2220-2242:

Luck Yee told readers that China needed a baseball team to represent it adequately at the Far Eastern games. Thus, sports-minded Chinese authorities went to Hawai’i for help because they knew that “a Chinese baseball team” had made several successful journeys to the American mainland. Furthermore, “Manila people” were anxious to see a Chinese Hawaiian team in action.

The son of a Chinese immigrant father and a native-born Hawaiian mother, Luck Yee described the trip westward as pleasant. He said that he and his teammates would climb on deck to do some warming up. However, “It was a queer experience to get out there the first time, throwing the ball while the ship was dipping and rolling. All the boys, except one or two, held conferences with the sharks and other fishes for a day or more, and then were well, ate heartily and slept nicely.”

Luck Yee had generally kind things to say about Japan. After 11 days at sea, the Chinese Hawaiian ballplayers reached Yokohama. Upon arrival, the team roamed by foot the city’s streets because they could not communicate with the “jinrikisha men.” Eventually, they ate at a Chinese restaurant and spent the night at the Hotel De France. The team seemed to like “Tokio” more. There, they took an “enjoyable” ricksha trek around the city. “Wherever we stopped the people would gather around us wonderingly. We had a hard time trying to obtain information from the policemen. All we could get out of them was a shake of the head.”

Luck Yee expressed less warmth for China. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, the Hawaiians noted the Sampras harboring “poor women, carrying children on their backs and rowing the boats too. Some of them had clothes that were tattered and worn out – poor miserable things. They were hungry creatures.” Before actually setting foot on Hong Kong the Hawaiians were accosted by a disagreeable Chinese customs official, according to Luck Yee. The pitcher claimed this bureaucrat “had the hauteur of an absolute ruler of the place.” He searched the players’ trunks for opium, firearms, and cartridges, and his arrogance, Luck Yee stressed, almost led “to blows.”

Still, Hong Kong merchants entertained the visitors. Luck Yee recalled that during one feast put on by local merchants, “beautifully dressed girls” sang for the players. However, the Hawaiians could not understand the lyrics of what the entertainers were singing until the young women sang Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” and the “famous Tipperary.”

A motorcade greeted the Chinese Hawaiian ballplayers upon their arrival in Manila. They were then driven to the local YMCA where they stayed. Unable to practice for the 26 days they were ship-bound, Luck Yee and his teammates tried to work out in Manila their first day. The Chinese Hawaiians drew a large crowd to their practice – a crowd that included several opposing players. However, the weather was so hot they decided to do something else with their time after 15 minutes of exercise.

The Manila sporting press, Luck Yee complained, generally “knock[ed] us” before the Chinese Hawaiians took the field. Luck Yee conceded that there was one “contrarian” among the local sportswriters who praised the visitors. Luck Yee wrote, “It was fun to see them jeer at each other through the columns of their respective papers. The more they knocked the harder we played.”

Even though the team played effectively, the Manila sportswriters continued to scoff, maintaining that the Hawaiians were more lucky than good. Still, the visitors drew well – hefty crowds of as many as 10,000. Luck Yee reported proudly that the team tied the “much touted” Manila nine and then savaged another nine of hometown heroes, 10-0. The Manila press started to change its tune, while the city’s Chinese community invited the Hawaiians to a dinner.

Returning to China, the Hawaiians were feted by Chinese President Yuan Shi Kai. The ballplayers received “little mementoes.” However, political trouble was brewing for the President and the Hawaiians were feeling sorry for Yuan Shi Kai. Luck Yee asserted, “Wonderful indeed must be that man who will eventually lead 500,000,000 countrymen.”

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