Visiting Corregidor

April 18, 2011
April is the month we honor what we Filipinos call “Kagitingan” of those who fought against the Japanese during the Second World War. I’m not surprised that the day (April 9) just passed like an ordinary day. We live in a world where such commemoration is no longer an integral part of our society. If we had live through the terror of that war – we would remember these dates for sure.
The Mile Long barracks

I brought myself to Corregidor to reflect on this part of our history. I don’t spend as much time studying our history during WWII compared to 16th to 19th Filipino history, which I study with much dedication (or so I think). For some reason I can’t explain, mid 1900’s appeals to me less, but of course this does not mean that it means less. The events of WWII here in our land deserves to be read and meditated upon. That war was as crucial as the revolution of 1896.

A vet and his son. This former marine served in the Korean war not in the pacific, "I was too young but I wouldnt mind", he said. Fine chaps from the state of Kentucky.

For a very reasonable fee, Suncruise Tours, will take you to Corregidor; give you an incredibly informative tour and unlimited food for lunch, now that’s not a bad deal at all!

48 kilometers west of Manila, the boat ride was fast, smooth and air-conditioned, now this is good for those who don’t want to deal with the heat. What really surprised me was how knowledgeable the tour guides are – yes, they probably have been doing this for years but still, it’s nice to know that you’re listening to people that really knows what they’re talking about. I’m done with those tour guides that resorts to historical “what-if’s” and badly researched but appealing lectures to sell their gigs.

Deserted buildings in the island where you can sense death and suffering.
The American flag of Corregidor

There were a lot of old foreigners on board. There were even some Japanese (they spoke no English). Just by looking at some of them I know they were there, or somewhere, in the thick of battle, fighting their guts out. I could just imagine the horrors they’ve witnessed. It must be tough to go back to a place where friends and people you know died. I wonder if walking around the island was a healing experience for them – this could very well be the case.

The island is considered by many as a place for forgiveness and acceptance. Believe it or not there’s shrine in the island dedicated to the Japanese dead. A sign that things are back to normal – nations that once fought eachother are friends once again. An American tourist, in his 30’s, remarked “we’re too forgiving!” after the tour guide took the crowd to the Japanese shrine where a huge monument of  a Japanese goddess stands. Forgiving is a liberating experience but we can’t blame those who haven’t come to terms with losing their loveones. My father still holds grudge against the Japanese. I’ve also heard of Filipino families, whose lovones were brutalize by Americans and local guerilla soldiers. Who can blame them if they still detest those who committed atrocities against family members. Old wounds sometimes don’t heal.

One of the first things I noticed is how stunning the island is – aside from the floating rubbish that reaches its shore, the island is still a tropical escape not far from Manila. Its black volcanic sands and rocky coast provides a scenic, historic adventure. There’s no longer any barrio in the islands (there was once a lively fishing village called Sn Jose).

I was told that all the people that I see around are employees. The place employs quite a number of people. The grounds, the museum, shrines (Pacific War Memorial, Filipino Heroes Memorial and Japanese Peace Garde) are very well maintained – all of these made feel that the money I spent was very well worth it.

The Malinta Channel

You could see Manila, Cavite and Bataan at some vantage point like the lighthouse in the old Spanish plaza. It was such an incredible sight but going up to the tower requires a little physical flexibility, its good exercise. Near the old plaza one could see a metal poll, where anAmrican flag is hoisted, this war booty was taken from defeated Spanish ship.

Noticeable around the structure are the scars the bullets and bombs left in the island. I heard from somewhere that Corregidor is the second most bombed placed on earth. Heavily bombed as was Poland, I was thinking that the bombers, the Japanese and then the Americans, were not only trying to demolish the defense of the Rock but sink the whole island!

One could literally smell death in some of the dark abandoned quarters that managed to survive heavy bombardment. The batteries had been riddled and disfigured by bullets, bombs and shrapnel’s. You start to picture how the men defended Corregidor for weeks without yielding to the enemy – I’m sure, a quick surrender had crossed the defenders mind a million times – it was the easier option. Touring the island made me understand how resilient they choose to be.

Where McArthur made his buh-bye for now

An American civilian officer describes what it was like taking refuge in the island while it was under assault, “under bomb and shell with our soldiers and sailors…where men were down to the ultimate realities of life, where all of us lived daily with death”.

There are four islands in this part of Manila bay, Corregidor is the biggest. The other islands are: El Fraile, Caballo and Carabao. These three were all fortified, converted as virtual batteries. The geography, had been divided into four areas by the Yankees:  Topside (where almost all social activities were), Middleside (was for some quarters, hospitals and schools), Bottomside (site of the old Fishing barrio of Sn. Jose) and Tailside (where there was once an airstrip).

Much of the restoration here were accomplished with American funding and expertise.

Charles Morris an American historian describes Corregidor and its surrounding islands during the time of the Battle of Manila Bay: “ The entrance is 12 miles wide on the south and almost midway rise the rocky island of Corregidor and Caballo. Corregidor was strongly fortified, armed with heavy modern guns and equipped with searchlights that would have enabled competent defenders to render entering it a hazardous feat. The channel on the north is called Boca Chica and Boca Grande is on the south”.

They say that the whole island is haunted but I wont mind staying here for a night!

The significance of the islands to the mainland’s survival, even before the war with Japan, can be discovered in numerous historical text. It was always the first to defend the capital. Assault were also launched by intruders from this rocky island. From the attack initiated by the famous Chinese pirate, the British take over and the Dutch harassments, Corregidor not only witnessed history but it was an integral part of the events that shaped our history.

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