Last Sunday, my dad, sister, Juanka, and I boarded the ferry from Manila Bay (behind Folk Arts Theatre) to Corregidor Island for the first time in our lives. The upside of entertaining visitors to your country is that you get an excuse to discover new things about your hometown as well. We never really have the initiative to become a tourist in our own cities until we actually need to show one around.
Although there was supposed to be a typhoon last weekend, we risked buying tickets for a day tour of the tadpole-shaped island on Thursday for Php2,300.00 each. It felt like a shame not to go when it was Juanka’s only chance to see it…
still looking somewhat perky despite the 2-hour sleep the previous night
That day, the skies cleared and we got on the boat at 7:30am with perfect weather! (I have never considered myself to be susceptible to motion sickness, but since we had gone out to Prive the night before, I was fighting to keep myself from vomiting halfway through the boat ride. I was sleeping for the first half..)
I was still fine at the start; Juanka being studious
Upon landing on the island, we were ushered into breezy open-air vehicles (like the ones at Universal Studios) and were given a well-prepared informational and historical tour of the island. I was so happy with how well-organized and comfortable the whole thing was - I was half expecting to have to sludge through mud at the worst or suffer heat stroke under the harsh tropical sun. But the tour organizers seemed to have already anticipated that and gave us enough time to roam around the important places but be transported in comfort the rest of the time.
view from the open air tram-like vehicles that took us around
Joyce, my baby sister at the ruins of the hospital
Filipinos, having lost the Spanish language when the Americans colonized us, also lost their understanding of many places and words in their own country as well. My family and I have known of Corregidor Island all our lives, but none of us knew what it meant exactly. We had to ask Juanka to translate it for us from Spanish - “one who corrects”. My sister ventured a guess that the island was some sort of correctional facility, which was partly confirmed by the tour guide later on: Isla del Corregidor (literally, Island of Correction) was named as such during the Spanish period, wherein all ships entering Manila Bay were required by the Spanish customs system to stop and have their documents checked and “corrected” before proceeding inside to dock.
[To Joyce’s credit, I found this on Wikipedia: Another version claims that the island was used a penitentiary or correctional institution by the Spanish government, and thus came to be called El Corregidor.]
having an identity crisis - the Philippine and American flags fly on Corregidor because Filipino and American soldiers fought together on this island during World War II against the Japanese.
At the end of the US occupation of the Philippines, they declared Corregidor as a National Shrine. Therefore, nobody can legally live on the island. The workers are only granted temporary rights to live on the island, and they’re not allowed to bring their family in with them. The residents of Corregidor were required to register their residency at any of the neighboring cities of Bataan or Cavite. The tour guide said that infants born on Corregidor at the time were also given an option to claim American citizenship.
standing before a mosaic illustrating the events at Pacific front of World War II, including Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Marianas Campaign, Philippine liberation, etc.
Standing on the highest part of Corregidor’s Topside is the Pacific War Memorial, which was built by the United States Government to honor the Filipino and American soldiers who participated in World War II. It was completed in 1968 at the cost of three million dollars. The tour guide said the War Memorial cost Marcos only USD$1.3 Million, implying that the rest was pocketed by that corrupt administration. The major memorial structure is a rotunda with a circular altar directly under the dome’s oculus - apparently, the sunlight from the hole in the ceiling is supposed to hit the middle of the altar on May 6 (if I remember correctly), the day the island surrendered, being the last outpost of freedom in the Philippines before the Japanese came. Located behind the Memorial is the Eternal Flame of Freedom:
As you can see on my left, disgusting concrete painted over with cheap blue colour was used for the ‘pool’ lining the entire monument. I’m guessing this is what the Marcos government decided to cut costs on, instead of constructing the pool with marble or granite to make the whole walk-through elegant end peaceful, they used this gaudy material fit for a poor man’s makeshift swimming pool.
my sister and I resting and taking shelter from the heat - unfortunately, after lunch, my fatigue caught up with me. I fell asleep on the tram and completely missed out on two stops: the Filipino Heroes Memorial and the Japanese Garden of Peace. Shame on me! I’ll just have to go back one day and make sure I don’t fall asleep on them again.
Malinta tunnel - built by the Americans after the first World War (they were prevented from building or investing in any kind of military structure by post-WWI agreements, so they built a bomb-proof ‘storage facility’ instead in the form of this tunnel complex). Malinta, in Tagalog, means ‘full of leeches’. The tunnel later on served as a 1,000-bed hospital.
Interestingly, labor was provided by the Philippine Commonwealth in the form of 1,000 convicts from the Bilibid Prison in Manila. Ironically, The cement for concrete used to line the tunnels was bought from the Japanese.
During the Battle of Corregidor, the tunnel became the headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur and the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces of the Far East). Malinta Tunnel, during the battle, also served as the seat of government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.
During the re-taking of the island by U.S. forces in 1945, Japanese soldiers who had been trapped in the tunnel after the entrance was blocked, began committing suicide by detonating explosives within the bowels of the tunnel complex the night of February 23, 1945. The Americans came into the tunnel only to find the enemy already dead - 2,000 dead Japanese soldiers killed by their own hand. The collapsed laterals resulting from these explosions have never been excavated.
I was expecting to feel some sort of oppressive creepy presence upon entering, but thankfully I felt nothing.
- Side Story -
My dad shared an incredibly fascinating story about the last Japanese struggler in the Philippines, who didn’t believe the war was over and kept fighting guerilla-style until the 70’s. Hiroo Onoda (小野田 寛郎) is a former Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II and did not surrender in 1945. Onoda trained as an intelligence officer and was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. He was ordered to do all he could to hamper enemy attacks on the island as well as under no circumstances was he to surrender or take his own life.
The first time they saw a leaflet which claimed that the war was over was in October 1945; they found a leaflet left behind by islanders which read: “The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains!” However, they mistrusted the leaflet and concluded that it was Allied propaganda.
Towards the end of 1945, leaflets were dropped by air with a surrender order printed on them from General Tomoyuki Yamashita. They had been in hiding for over a year, and this leaflet was the only evidence they had the war was over. Onoda’s group looked very closely at the leaflet to determine whether it was genuine, and decided it was not.
In 1952 letters and family pictures were dropped from aircraft urging them to surrender, but the three soldiers concluded that this was a trick.
On February 20, 1974, Onoda met a Japanese college dropout, Norio Suzuki, who was traveling the world and was looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order”. Suzuki found Onoda after four days of searching. Onoda and Suzuki became friends, but Onoda still refused to surrender, saying that he was waiting for orders from a superior officer.
Suzuki returned to Japan with photographs of himself and Onoda as proof of their encounter, and the Japanese government located Onoda’s commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller. He flew to Lubang where on March 9, 1974, he finally met with Onoda and fulfilled the promise made in 1944, “Whatever happens, we’ll come back for you,” by issuing him the following orders:
- In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity.
- In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff’s Headquarters is relieved of all military duties.
- Units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives.—Hiroo Onoda, No Surrender, pp. 13–14
Onoda was thus properly relieved from duty, and did not surrender. He turned over his sword, his Arisaka Type 99 rifle (in working order), 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades, as well as the dagger his mother had given him in 1944 for protection.
Onoda revisited Lubang Island in 1996, donating US$10,000 for the local school on Lubang.
- End of Side Story -
I’m sure I’ve gone on long enough in this blog entry to bore you to tears, if you even reached this point. I was just so fascinated by a lot of things I thought I would share them. Hopefully you get to visit this island someday as well, and don’t forget to tell me about it!