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by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

Through Ms. Celia Cloma Flaugier, Admiral Cloma’s daughter and our family friend, I initially got involved in helping the Admiral write his memoir or autobiography. He was then 91 years old. Only three weeks earlier his wife, Luz, passed away. But on his 92nd birthday anniversary, on 18 September 1996, the Admiral died.

So I was morally compelled to lead the huge effort to write his biography. I had the valued assistance of sociology researcher Arnold P. Alamon, and then Professor Ma. Oliva Z. Domingo, my colleague in the Center for Leadership, Citizenship and Democracy in the U.P. National College of Public Administration and Governance.  Published in 1999, our biography of Admiral Cloma runs 203 pages with a lot of endnotes, a full bibliography, and an album of photographs.

Boholano Admiral Tomas Cloma’s first claim to fame was being the Father of Maritime Education in the Philippines as the founder of Philippine Maritime Colleges (PMI) which he expanded to be the nation’s largest in maritime education.


His second claim to fame in Philippine his­tory and international relations was his discovery and continuous occupation of Freedomland from 1947 and his ownership claim to it before the whole world in May 1956. The Philippines’ subsequent claim to Freedomland since 1974 is based on Cloma’s involuntary cession of his rights to the Government under the martial law re­gime of President Marcos.

Freedomland is the name Cloma gave to “a group of islands, islets, atolls, reefs, shoals, fishing grounds and… adjacent waters, with a total area of 64,976 square miles….” located from 100 to 300 miles west of the island-province of Palawan in western Philippines. The islands of Freedomland are not offshore islands of the Asiatic mainland. They are within the 200-mile limit of Philippine sovereignty.

In 1971, the Philippine Government acknowledged Cloma’s discovery and occupation of Freedomland and his original claim of ownership made in 1956. In that year the Government established garrisons in three of its islands and gave “protected status: to the Govern­ment of Freedomland” headed by Chief of State Tomas Cloma.

In December 1974, the Government forcibly took over Freedomland from Cloma and Associates while Cloma was still under house arrest after spending days in prison at Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary in Quezon City.

The Government described Freedomland—which it renamed the Kalayaan (Freedom) Islands—as a group of 53 islands within the national territory and the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone in terms of the In­ternational Law of the Sea.

The islands and seas of Freedomland are regarded by a number of countries in Asia as part of the so-called Spratly Islands or the Spratlys, actually a vast area of islets, reefs, shoals and rocky outcrops in the South China Sea. In whole or in part, the Spratlys are being claimed by Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, and Taiwan.


On the one hand, the Philippines claims Freedomland as belonging exclusively to its na­tional territory and denies it is a part of the Spratlys. On the other, she asserts that the Spratlys are part of Freedomland/Kalayaan and within the Philippine territory. [Source. Admiral Tomas Cloma: Father of Maritime Education and Discoverer of Freedomland/Kalayaan Islands. By Jose V. Abueva, Arnold P. Alamon, Ma. Oliva Z. Domingo. pp. 33-34.]


Cloma’s initial concerns were-simpler and even mundane. It was his original intention to utilize the islands’ resources for business. He wanted to put up a fish cannery and an ice plant for his fishing ventures. He also wanted to sell the sizable guano deposits on the islands.

However, apart from these practical motives, Tomas would be driven by a sense of idealism and romanti­cism. Not everybody gets the opportunity, he contem­plated, to build a society anew according to his personal ideals and principles. He would plan to establish a new nation and government “of peace and tranquility, de­void of sham, violence and cutthroat living, such as what has cursed the old established nations.”



Lessons of Admiral Cloma’s life. As the Admiral lay in bed in his last days, his daughter-in-law, Lydia, asked him: “What else have you not accomplished, Tatay?” “The blessings of God!” he confided.

As if he had planned it, Tomas Cloma died on 18 September 1996, his 92nd birthday anniversary. Sym­bolizing the nation’s gratitude to a modern hero, the Vice Admiral was given military honors. Commodore Aquino came to represent the Philippine Navy. A horse-drawn carriage escorted by a platoon of soldiers carried the old man’s body to his resting place beside Nanay Luz at La Loma. As the bugler sounded the first notes of the “Taps,” honor guards fired their rifles into the air, breaking the silence of noon.


The country lost a remarkable leader but he left les­sons he had learned in a long lifetime. He proved that it is possible to rise above one’s poverty and obscurity and take hold of one’s destiny. He had struggled mightily against many obstacles and contingencies and succeeded.

One’s fate is not fixed and unchangeable. Life’s prob­lems can be turned into opportunities. Challenges can be overcome and in doing so one can build one’s self-confidence and capacity to meet more challenges to turn to one’s advantage.

One need not long be a victim of unfavorable cir­cumstances because new and favorable circumstances can be created. Or circumstances can change with time without one’s effort.

Character and knowledge are capital for success in business and in life generally, and Tomas endeavored to build both through schooling and experience. Vision, hard work, patience, and perseverance are also indis­pensable ingredients for success.

As the line in Matud Nila, the cherished love song, goes, “Damgo ug pagsalig sa gugtna mo” (“dreaming and trusting in your love, beloved” or “dreaming and trusting in God’s blessings”). It can also mean dreaming and trusting in one’s own ability to succeed. Tomas courted fate with big dreams and full trust and confi­dence in himself and his capabilities, and he made it.

Value freedom, human dignity, and honor as primor­dial values. Above all have faith in God who, alas, we often take for granted.

Aim to serve the country and help people, especially the poor. Life has many opportunities for doing so. Discipline, industry, and frugality are not the only virtues to cultivate.

No matter how important and urgent work and busi­ness may be, wife and family, especially children grow­ing up, need a father’s attention and continual demon­strations of his love.


In the long run, parental love and affection, freely given, may be more important in instilling love and car­ing among sons and daughters.

Inherited wealth is a mixed blessing. To get their share of it, the children can turn on each other.

Once more, recall that Cloma’s PMI Colleges have already turned out some 100,000 seamen who navigate the world’s seas and oceans, with many more yet to come in the future. For this, the Admiral has left his mark as the country’s Father of Maritime Education.

As the discoverer of Freedomland, his original claim to the islands and seas around them was the basis of the Philippines’ own claim to sovereignty over them. Some­day their great potential for oil, natural gas, minerals, and fisheries may be realized and he will be remembered by admiring countrymen.

Behind and around these two notable achievements is his instructive, inspiring, and interesting life story. This is Tomas Cloma’s enduring legacy to the nation.

Not bad for a poor teenager who left home in Panglao, Bohol in 1919 and came to Manila to follow his dream.

Through his grandson, Bingczar Cloma Manglicmot, Tomas Cloma gave this advice:

To be successful, you must plan. You must not only plan but believe in your plans, in yourself. Before you are able to believe, you must dream…I would not come to this point in my life where I’m reading about myself in the history books of our elementary students, if I did not dream.

When I was young, I would see Cebu from where I was standing. I would always dream that one day I would reach that place. I would be successful on that island.

Yet, I have gone way beyond and made it in Ma­nila.”

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