Been busy the past few weeks. Things I do now eats up a lot of my time. I no longer get to travel much. So I usually (even with friends) pass up travel opportunities. Budget is tight and there are far more important things to be concerned with is my alibi these days. But there are exemptions, of course, invitations I can’t say no to. Like this request from a brother who wanted to see Corregidor. He wanted to see it before going back stateside. This year being his last tour of duty with US military he wanted to visit what he calls the “Rock”. He’s been to Hawaii’s Pearl Harbour, so I guess this completes his pilgrimage of sorts.
He’s as crazy as I am when it comes to history but his expertise is in the American part of our history. He believes America brought us closer to the ideals political democracy. We don’t agree on a lot of issues, obviously, but this passion for the past has brought us closer. We tolerate each others’ opinions and we enjoy debating over a cup of coffee (we can literally go straight for 4-5 hours discussing historical items, this is our version of “catching up” with lost time!).
We woke up around 5 am and started preparing for the trip. We commuted to Manila and was in the Sun cruises compound before 7 am. Since we don’t have reservations, we were what people there called “chance passengers”. We have to wait for people to cancel or not show up. It was a “full tour” a staffer told me. So I was a bit worried that we might not get on a boat to Corregidor. The first time I went to Corregidor they accommodated more tourist because the boat they used was bigger. This time it was much smaller. I was told that during weekdays Sun cruises only utilize these boats. Since there’s only one tour during weekdays, tourist crowds the first and only tour.
The boat had a mix of foreign tourist on board. Aside from Americans, there were a lot of Japanese. At first I thought that these people would stir clear from Corregidor, they got beaten here pretty bad, but then I realize that their the kind of people that would go and pay their respects to their war dead regardless where the place is. I remember that small cemetery in Muntinlupa where there are Japanese regularly making the pilgrim to that isolated small garden. I can’t help but admire these people. They have good memory when it comes to their national history. We won and forgot about our heroes, they lose but never forgot about the sacrifice of their young men. We can learn something from them.
I thought I’m going to have to talk a lot about what happened in Corregidor. Not the case. Turns out that what I know is not even half of what my brother knows about the battle of Corregidor and Bataan (pronounced Bat’an by Americans). So the tour guide became the tourist in Corregidor. Aside from showing him the Spanish Navy’s battleship mast that was made into a flag pole for the stars and stripes near the old Spanish lighthouse, I hardly contributed any new information to my brother!
The suffering the defenders of Corregidor went through was unimaginable. Being part of the tour makes you respect more what those brave soldiers did. Corregidor and Bataan were the last to be surrendered to the Japanese. The island was where Quezon was inaugurated for his second term (him and Erap were the only presidents that had been sworn to office outside Manila). The Malinta Tunnel became bomb shelter, hospital and residence. The network of tunnels inside Malinta is extensive. So much history in such a small piece island. Just imagine 4000 Japanese men died during the American take over. Most of them refusing to surrender were burned alive.
It was only in the 1980’s that the location of the Japanese graves was revealed to the Japanese government. For some reason, the location of the mass grave was withheld from the Japanese until that decade. Why the Philippine and American government concealed that location is a mystery. The Japanese was allowed to construct a garden for their dead near where their soldiers were collectively buried. The Japanese visitors can be seen here offering prayers and incense to a stone goddess about 8 to 10 feet tall.
As me and my brother continued exchanging historical anecdotes we often found ourselves pausing to reflect on some interesting places that catches our attention. Like this gunnery where Japanese letters are etched on the wall. We took photos of it as he wanted his Japanese wife to see it. I was reminded that the island is still surrounded by explosive ammo. I think it was last year when the current President requested help in disposing these dangerous cache of ammo. He made that request to Obama while he was in the White House.
The island is now densely forested. It is as if nature is taking the island back. According to the tour guides, the islands were reforested because almost all of its trees were struck down by bombs. I’m sure Corregidor must be one of the most bombed place in world history. How soldierssurvive the tumultuous years, when the island was relentlessly shelled, is something I can’t get my mind to imagine. It must have been one hellish and awful existence!
The tour and most of the literature about the island concentrates on the role it played during the pacific wars. Hardly ever mentioned is what was life like before the American came. Believe it or not there were several thriving barrios around the island during the Spanish times. The fishing barrio of San Jose is located north (location of bottomside today) of the island. It sits right beside the surf and had a church, a convent, a school (Escuela de Nuestra Señora del Carmen), a market and a small plaza (there was even an ice plant in the island that employed locals). When the Americans came they added two elementary schools and a secondary school. And of course, their living quarters. The schools here are the first ever American public schools in the islands. I’m glad to see that the old Filipino Spanish church was reconstructed (entirely faithful to the original building) reminding tourist’s that the islands past goes beyond the pacific war.
Along with Manila, Corregidor was the only other Philippine territory under Spain that was attacked by all of its enemies in the pacific. First was this guy Li ma hong. The ambitious Chinese had his eyes on Manila and with his ships and 3000 men launched successive attacks against the capital from Corregidor. He was defeated by the Juan Salcedo and his men. The galant young captain was summoned from Ilocos to defend Manila. And he did just that. Limahong and his forces was chased up to Pangasinan by the Spanish and their local allies. Without the ships that brought them here, some say, Limahong’s men settled in Pangasinan and intermarried with the locals.
Then came the war with the Dutch. The most extensive Philippine war that never made the books. Olivier de Noort was defeated by Spanish galleons converted to battle ships. Manila’s victory was short of a miracle. Those who fought sincerely believed in their hearts that our Lady was with them. After this historic naval battle, Manila decided to create a squad permanently posted in Corregidor to guard it at all times. The reason why I believe this war against the Dutch must be taught in school is that in all of the battles that took place there were large contingents of natives fighting alongside the Spanish. On all of these skirmishes (the last being the Battle of Playa Honda where the Dutch blocked the entrance of all vessels to Manila) the Dutch were defeated. Could you just imagine how many native Filipinos fought in these series of battle with the Dutch? If the Dutch won, we’ll all be familiar with pale lager and not pale pilsen, San Miguel beer would’ve never been the national beverage instead, we’ll be drinking Heineken! We would’ve been “going Dutch” in no time.
Looking back, without the Dutch attacks, Manila would’ve never had a “La Naval” tradition. We must remember that the first devotees were those who took part in the battles to keep Manila Spanish. Most of them native Filipinos that honestly believed in their hearts that by defending Manila they doing just service for their country, their motherland and the Catholic church. The Brits came later and held the capital hostage for three years. The Americans before the turn of the century, and the Japanese. All of these invaders made use of Corregidor for some reason or another.
Well, I guess I should write a separate articles about all of these.
Below are some of the photos I took that day: