Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Lingayen Landing 65th Anniversary

It was such an honor for us in the Veterans Bank to be part of the 65th Anniversary of the Lingayen Gulf Landing held last January 9. It was about sixty five years ago, that day, that the most massive naval & military landing in Luzon in World War II happened in Lingayen Gulf. Over 200,000 men landed there establishing a 20-mile beachhead, from Sual to the west and San Fabian to the east. In the following weeks, Lingayen Gulf would serve as a critical supply depot on General MacArthur’s assault towards the capital of Manila.

If you look at it closely, Lingayen gulf is a strategic site geographically for military landings if the target is to take the whole of Luzon. It gets you in the middle or the belly so-to-speak of the Philippines’ largest island. From there, the path to Central Luzon and Manila is not obstructed by any obstacles such as mountain ranges.

It’s interesting to note that Lingayen Gulf at the La Union side was the site of the Japanese invasion forces in December 22, 1941 led by Gen. Masaharu Homma landed at the La Union side in Lingayen Gulf because of its strategic location. Perhaps one of the factors is that the Japanese who settled in the country had a significant population there.

We were really excited when Gov. Amado Espino gave us the privilege accorded two years ago, to update and refurbish the Veterans Park right here at the Pangasinan Capitol Grounds. We later found out that Lingayen Gulf has a rich history and got information from local veterans & historians. We were likewise able to source materials from the US Military & Naval archives, the MacArthur Museum in Norfolk Virginia, USA. I should say thanks to James Zobel of MacArthur Museum and the people from the US Naval Archives.

The new history panels, 12 in all, contain numerous photographs and maps about the Lingayen Landing and other World War II vintage photographs mostly featuring various locations in Pangasinan such as Dagupan, San Fabian and others.

Two of these panels feature the paintings on the Lingayen Landing done by a civilian artist commissioned by Abbott Laboratories to aid the war effort. These paintings are in the possession of the US Naval archives (I borrowed an image from their website above, but one can order a reproduction from them.) It features scenes from the historic landing and as the troops moved inland, including Lingayen airfield and the Binmaley church.

The most striking painting is entitled “Spirit of 1945” portraying the lone Filipino guerilla fighter who, upon the risk of his own life, tried to signal the landing forces by waving an American flag that the Japanese had retreated and to stop destructive bombing of the coastline areas. To this day, no one knows the identity of this lone Pangasinense.

This is also the basis of the diorama situated in one of the four pillars. Another pillar contains very thick documents of the plans for the Lingayen Landing done by MacArthur’s Generals, which includes very detailed plans of how the invasion would take place. We believe many of the information here were supplied by Pangasinan Guerrillas.

At the middle is the updated marker is the centerpiece of the project, signifying a nation’s tribute to the men & women who sacrificed their lives in the last World War. The gentle water flowing behind the glass marker gives the visitor a calming effect. While the Memorial portrays the horrors of war, it reminds us that we today must all work for peace. The project was completed last September in time for the 65th Lingayen Landing anniversary.

Overall, the project hopes to provide new insight into this historic event, and highlights not only the American effort but the Filipino veterans’ bravery as well.

While the Lingayen Landing is primarily an American effort, the Filipino guerrillas’ important role and bravery cannot be denied in this particular stage of the war. Much like their brothers from all over the country, our war veterans of Pangasinan showed the world that the Filipino is capable of great heroism.

Getting there is quite easy. The memorial is located at the back of the Pangasinan Provincial Capitol in Lingayen and is a stone’s throw away from the beach.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Remembering the Battle for Manila 1945

The re-taking of the capital of Manila was a primary objective of the Allied forces since it began to liberate the Philippine islands from Japanese occupation. After the Sixth U.S. Army landed in Lingayen Gulf in January 9, 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur set his sights on Manila. On January 31st, the Eight U.S. Army of Lt. Gen. Robert Eichelberger landed unopposed in Nasugbu, Batangas.

With the support and intelligence data from Filipino Guerrilla groups, the Allied forces advanced quickly as they knew the best routes and which bridges were still intact, and which parts of the river were shallow enough to cross on route to Manila.

Gen. Yamashita withdrew to Baguio, leaving Rear Admiral Iwabuchi Sanji to defend the City with his Manila Naval Defense Forces composed of sailors, marines and army troops. They used several defense positions such as Intramuros and set up minefields, barbed wire, trucks to create traps and bottlenecks. They also blew up bridges, buildings and other vital installations. Sanji then order his troops to defend Manila to the last man.

What happened later was a two-pronged attack. The Sixth U.S. Army led by Lt. General Walter Krueger came from the North from Pangasinan with the Eight U.S. Army of Lt. Grn. Robert Eichelberger came from the south in Batangas.

The Allied forces presumed that the Battle would be quick but were proved wrong when the remaining Japanese forces held their ground in various locations such as Intramuros and Provisor Island in Paco, Manila. They engaged in house-to-house struggles with the American soldiers and Filipino Guerrillas. Instead of surrendering, many Japanese fought to the death. Some vent their anger on civilians, killing innocents in the crossfire and other acts of brutality. In just a few weeks, over 100,000 civilians perished in what is now known as the “Massacre of Manila.” Women were raped then murdered, babies bayoneted, elderly people killed.

The US forces lost about a thousand men, while the Japanese lost 12,000 soldiers.

With the adamant Japanese defense and the heavy artillery fire from both camps, Manila was utterly destroyed.

Before World War II broke out, Manila was known as the “Pearl of Orient” with its magnificent buildings, schools, churches with unique architectural designs and countless cultural artworks & literature. Manila was a true melting pot of Spanish, American and Asian culture and design influences. These were practically obliterated in the month-long battle. The buildings that were destroyed include the Legislative Building, the National Museum and those inside the ancient walls of Intramuros.

After the Battle, only a few buildings remained intact. Manila was never the same again and many say its former glory gone.

The Battle for Manila was considered as the most destructive Allied engagement in Asia in the last World War, and second in the entire World, after Warsaw in Poland and is considered as one of the most horrific urban fighting sites of World War II similar to Stalingrad. The death toll of 100,000 Filipino civilians is comparable to the Hiroshima bombing. Yet sadly, only a handful of survivors recall this tragedy today – the members of Memorare 1945, every February 3rd.

It is indeed sad that our people and its government do very little to remember these victims of war. These were civilians – many of whom were women and children. One of the greatest tragedies happened in our country 65 years ago.

What we should be afraid of is George Santayana’s warning: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Friday, May 30, 2008

Visit Vigan!

It’s a scene straight from the old world: ancestral houses made of brick & plaster, a leisurely ride on a calesa with the wind breezing by your face, and the sound of the clip-clop of the hooves of your calesa’s horse down a cobble-stone street. The kutsero rings his bell, to warn the playing children that his calesa is about to pass by. Hawkers are there, selling there wares.

Such is the magic of Calle Crisologo in Vigan, one of the best preserved examples of a Spanish colonial town. The architecture actually is a mix of European and Mexican with Chinese influences. It’s distinctly Filipino, so to speak, and has no equal in this part of the world.

UNESCO has declared Vigan City as a World Heritage site in 1999. Its city administrators led by Mayor Eva Marie Singson-Medina has been very proud of this fact. War and time have spared this 450 year-old Ilocano town and is fast becoming a must-see for both local and foreign tourists.

According to Vice mayor Franz Ranches, the city leaders are trying to raise the consciousness in terms of history and the need to preserve it. They’re starting with their LGU officers and staff, down to the barangay level.

Every September 8th, Vigan City proudly heralds its being the only Heritage site in the Philippines with various activities highlighted by the Repazzo de Vigan (a street parade), Historical Oral (a contest of Vigan’s History telling), Comidas de Ayer (a food fair) and Fotografias de Recuerdos (a photo exhibit/contest).

Tourism in Vigan has been on the upswing. There are many other spots for tourists in Vigan apart from the famous Calle Crisologo. The Father Jose Burgos Museum (one of the Gomburza martyrs) is one of the better museums outside of Metro Manila run by the National Museum after it was turned over by the Ayala Museum. It contains artifacts and well preserved antique collections to bring back the visitor to an illustrado home of the 1800s.

The Vigan Church and Plaza Salcedo are must visit sites as well. Plaza Salcedo was where Gabriela Silang was executed by public hanging in 1763. There are other note-worthy museums like the Crisologo Museum, which houses the memorabilia of the late Congressman Floro Crisologo, and the Syquia Mansion, which houses the memorabilia of the late President Elpidio Quirino.

There is the pagburnayan where traditional burnay (earthen jars) are made right before your eyes – bringing back the scene in “Ghost” with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. Even the provincial jail is a tourist site. Built in 1657, one of the oldest structures in Vigan, it is where former President Quirino was born.

For tourists to enjoy the sites, the best way to get around town is via Calesa. It will take you to any site in Vigan, even to Hidden garden and Governor Chavit Singson’s Baluarte which features a mini-zoo. The kutseros are well-trained and courteous. They only charge Php 150 an hour and you can get to see most of the spots in about 3 hours. What I enjoyed most about the calesa ride as that it was so relaxing, almost soothing to my city-bred soul. It was a great way to de-stress one’s self.

Great Ilocano food can also be found here. We enjoyed tremendously the food at Grandpa’s Inn and Restaurant, a must-try for foodies who are in the area. One must try there a dish called “Pipian” - a chicken dish unique to Vigan that’s supposedly Mexican-influenced from the days of the Galleon Trade. There is also Café Leona along Calle Crisologo. For the tourist, the empanadahan must be sampled for Vigan’s own version of the empanada, right at Plaza Salcedo.

For your pasalubong, the usual fare is the “Cornick” or “Chichacorn” which now comes in a variety of flavors: plain, adobo, garlic and cheese. For the so-called pampabata, there’s the bagnet (Ilocano version of Lechon Kawali) which is great with KBL (Kamatis, Bagoong and Lasona (Onion)) and the Vigan Longganisa. Then there’s the Vigan bibingka, made of cassava, the more popular brands are Tongson and Marsha’s. There’s also the Abel – a hand-woven textile made in the Ilocos, great for blankets and towels.

When planning a vacation in Vigan, one should plan for at least 2-3 full days to really enjoy and relish the sites. The City Government calls Vigan as “a place like no other.” And it really is.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Real Tragedy of Bataan

This April 9, 2007, the country will mark the 65th year since the Fall of Bataan and Corregidor.

On December 8, 1941, mere hours after Pearl Harbor was devastated & laid to waste, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippine Islands. After realizing that the Philippine coastline was too large to defend, Gen. Douglas McArthur’s plan was for the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces of the Far East) to retreat and defend the Bataan Peninsula until the arrival of US reinforcements under “War Plan Orange.”

Of course, the awaited US reinforcements never came after it suffered a major setback at Pearl Harbor. It was then that Gen. Douglas McArthur gave his now famous line “I shall return” before leaving the Philippines. He boarded a PT Boat for Mindanao and eventually Australia at the height of the Japanese invasion, leaving Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainright in command.

The poorly armed Filipino newbies fought with their American counterparts. They didn’t have any food, were sick and most just had 10 bullets each in their World War I vintage rifles that usually jammed. Nevertheless, they held out for 4 &1/2 months until April 9, 1942 against all odds, against the never-ending waves of Japanese troops, most were already battle-trained veterans from Japan’s invasion of China. After heavy aerial bombardment, Corregidor’s guns soon fell silent and the remaining Filipino and American troops were forced to surrender.

According to Dr. Ricardo Trota-Jose of the U.P. Department of History, this major setback was a blackeye in the Japanese campaign in Southeast Asia. It was a slap in the face for General Homma’s troops who figured that the Philippine Islands would be fully occupied by January or February 1942, messing up the Japanese’s invasion timetable and plan.

In retaliation, this was why the Japanese rounded up some 75,000 Filipino & American soldiers and forced them to march 100 kilometers in the scorching heat of the Philippine summer. Now called the “Death March,” many were randomly beaten and denied food and water for days. Those who fell behind were executed and thousands died along the way. Only a fraction reached their final destination: Camp O’Donnell, which was converted into a prison camp.

Several years ago, some groups were questioning why Filipinos love to celebrate “defeats.” One of them was the “Fall of Bataan” and the Death March.

I’d like to think it’s because of historical amnesia. They forgot how a generation of Filipinos fought back against the invaders of the motherland. I wonder if these people would do the same if such an invasion happened in their lifetime.

The Philippine Islands was the last to fall against an enemy with seemingly limitless ammunition, air & naval support. They held their ground for three months, with malfunctioning vintage rifles and despite the dysentery, malaria and the hunger. They faced an enemy that was well-armed, well-trained and well-fed.

I just found out recently from the US Veterans Advantage website ( that in the United States, the New Mexico State University and the Army ROTC started an annual “Bataan Memorial Death March” in 1989. It’s a 26.2-mile memorial march through hilly & dusty terrain, via a small mountain & desert trails. The memorial march has grown from around 100 to some 4,000 marchers from across the US and several foreign countries. They do this every year to honor these American & Filipino heroes.

And here in the Philippines, our kababayans are questioning why we commemorate this “defeat?”

I think Max Soliven said it aptly almost 20 years ago:

“There is a modern tendency to sweep the three-month ordeal under a rug…somehow we have swallowed the decades-old argument that it is demeaning for a nation to celebrate its “defeats.”

“True enough, we won the military triumph in Bataan. April 9, 1942 was the day our colors were unfurled in surrender and “a defeated army” began its cruel death march into captivity. In the jungles and foxholes of Bataan, we lost many of the best and brightest (and surely the bravest) of an entire generation…and we are suffering the sad aftershocks of that still.

“But was Bataan a disgrace and a defeat? Our boys fought on beyond the limits of human endurance…sick and starving, disappointed by the betrayal of American promises of a “seven-mile relief convoy,” deserted by their leader, General MacArthur (who fled on orders from Washington to organize the defense of Australia)… Filipinos fired off their last bullets, tightened their ragged belts, determined to die in defense (not of the American flag but their homeland). The real tragedy of Bataan is that we have repaid their sacrifice with ridicule, making it appear as though our fighting men were simply a force of “colonial mercenaries” resisting the Japanese for their American masters.” (Soliven, Max. “Must the Glory fade at Sunset?” Philippine Star, page 14. April 9, 1988.)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Our Exhibit is at SM Mall of Asia!

Filipinos young & old are in for a treat at the World War II exhibit dubbed as “The War Of Our Fathers…A Tribute to the Filipino Freedom Fighter” at the SM Mall of Asia 2F Entertainment Mall. The exhibit is free and open to the public, and will run until April 14, 2007.

The educational exhibit has vintage photographs, artifacts and memorabilia on display from World War II. Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB) and the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), in partnership with National Historical Institute, are sponsoring the world-class exhibit.

Secretary Hermogenes E. Ebdane Jr. of the Department of National Defense, Monetary Board Member Vicente Valdepenas, PVB Directors Antonio Balgos & Percianita Racho & PVB President & CEO Ricardo Balbido Jr., and other top officials formally opened the Exhibit last April 2, 2007.

The traveling exhibit has been to nine sites all over the country in 2006 in malls, museums and schools. This 2007, it started its its tour in SM Dasmarinas, Cavite in time for the 62nd year anniversary of the Liberation of Tagaytay, then to the Far Eastern University in Sampaloc, Manila. FEU was the site of a Japanese concentration camp in the last world war. We then brought it to San Fernando, La Union in time for the commemoration of the Battle for Bacsil Ridge.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Halo-halo de Iloko!

It's been a while, but I'm back --- this time we've been to San Fernando, La Union. It's about 260 kms north of Manila, the same route going to Laoag. The best place I've stayed in the city proper is Oasis Hotel, about 2-3 kms before the town center if you're coming from Manila. It's a bit pricey, but it's the best there nonetheless.

In the 70s, San Fernando was the place to go when one talked about beaches. Bora & Palawan had yet to be discovered by us commoners, and Mindanao at that time was just too far away.

The best discovery we had there was Halo-halo de Iloko, their specialty, of course, Halo-Halo (literally "mix-mix"). There's just something different about their halo-halo, I think it's in the sweetener & the fresh ingredients. The other food are great as well.

And if you're from Manila, their prices are so cheap. Try out when you're out there!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

PVB's WWII Traveling Exhibit goes up to Baguio

From Laoag City, Philippine Veterans Bank's (PVB's) traveling exhibit is now in SM Baguio til Friday (Sept. 22, 2006) at the lower ground floor. Many, many thanks to SM's management, who graciously gave us a great location. Other partners are Baguio City Government & the Cordillera Administrative Region. The exhibit pays homage to our WWII veterans and survivors. September 2 marks the 61st year of the end of World War II in the country. There will new WWII vintage photos, artifacts and memorabilia focused on Baguio & North Luzon WWII events. The City of Pines looks like the last stop for this year, but plans are already being drawn for 2007. God-willing, we'll be able to come up with an improved display, with new areas to visit.

In the photo are from L-R: acting Baguio City Mayor Peter Ray Bautista, Baguio Vice-Mayor Leandro Yangot, Jr.; SM City Baguio assistant mall manager Amy Gonzales, Congressman Mauricio Domogan and PVB President & CEO Ricardo A. Balbido, Jr.