(NOTE: I lost Parts 4 and 5 in my file, so I had to jump to this part. My apologies.–Candido Wenceslao)
“The mystery of Tabunan played on the imagination of many who wondered just where it was in the mountain fastness, what it looked like, and what went on there during the gruelling years of blood and death.”
–Manuel F. Segura, Tabunan: The Untold Exploits of the Famed Cebu Guerillas in World War II
It drizzled the day a team from The Freeman negotiated the winding Transcentral Highway towards the sleepy barangay of Tabunan.
I went there armed only with Col. Manuel F. Seegura’s book to guide me and the memories of the place I only visited once when I was younger. And even that has receded into a haze, affected by the long years of absence.
Tabunan only endeared to the few who knew its role in the resistance movement against the Japanese occupation. Even a schoolteacher in that barangay expressed surprise after browsing through Segura’s book.
Indeed, our very own failure to appreciate the lessons of the past has made sure that places like Tabunan will remain backward and unappreciated.
Tabunan is in the middle of the island, near Cebu City’s boundary with the town of Balamban to the west. It is an agricultural village with a land area of 1,112 hectares and a population of almost 600 people.
Three sitios testify to the historic significance of the place: Fenton, which only has less than ten households, the larger Batalyon, located near the Bangbang River and Awayan. The other sitios are Odlom, Cantipla I and II, Lirio and Tabunan proper.
Sitio Fenton, pronounced Pengton by the farmers, was where radio KZRC announcer and later guerilla leader Harry Fenton camped, which was near a spring. Batalyon was where Batallion II of the guerillas led by 3rd Lt. Pantaleon “Nene” Ciano was based.
A road built in the middle ’80s at the height of the anti-insurgency campaign branches off from the Transcentral Highway then descends towards Batalyon and Tabunan proper at the foot of the mountain.
While much of the land has already been exploited, government is exerting efforts to protect nature’s remaining resources.
The defunct Cebu City Hillyland Commission entered the area in the late ’80s and helped set up a water system in Sitio Fenton. The Philippine Wetland Bureau commissioned barangay officials to help protect the wildlife and the remaining habitat.
The barangay was already occupied before the war by farmers who planted rootcrops and vegetables. Among the early settlers was now 68-year-old Julian Gerona, who was barangay captain for 30 years (1964-1994).
Gerona was 14 when World War II broke out in 1941 and had settled in Tabunan after realizing that work opportunities for leass educated people in the city were limited.
He was vindicated because his parents, Alejandro and Anna, and the rest of the family would later abandon their house in Mandaue and transfer to Tabunan to flee from Japanese atrocities.
Two Americans figured prominently in Cebu’s fight with the Japanese: Fenton and mining engineer James Cushing. But in Tabunan, Fenton was the more prominent.
Gerona said Fenton came to Tabunan with a certain Pedro Lopez in the latter part of 1942 to escape from the Japanese, who executed the other Americans that surrendered in the neighboring barangay of Sudlon. There he found a home with his wife Betty and his son Steve.
“Kadto siya puwahon og nawong kay mestoso man kuno to German, unya bungoton ug tambokon,” Gerona said.
The entry of Fenton would soon change the lives of the hardy peasants in the barangay. Living in the peace and quiet of the hinterlands despite the war, they were sucked into the very center of the guerilla movement in Cebu.
during this time, bands of Filipino armed men fought the Japanese in many areas in the province and subsequently learned the art of fighting after the United States Armed Forces in the Far East was disbanded.
These independent groups would merge after Fenton met Chusinh and the so-called Cebu Area Command was set up. A unique co-command was formed with Cushing as field commander and Fenton as administrative head. The rest of the Filipinos completed the command’s cast:
Maj. Harry Fenton–CO administrative; Maj. James Cushing–CO combat; Capt. Ricarido Estrella–chief of staf; Capt. Marcial Banate–adjutant and G-1; Capt. Ramon Durano–G-2; Maj. James Cushing–G-3; Capt. Buenaventura de Leon–G-4; Maj. Fabian Sanchez–CO northeast Cebu sector; Maj. Bernard Hale–CO north Cebu sector; Maj. Santiago Garcia–CO far northern sector; Maj. Olegario Baura–CO central Cebu sector; Maj. Luis Jakosalem–CO southern CEbu sector; Maj. Rogaciano Espiritu–CO eastern Cebu sector.
This means that as far south as Santander and as far north as the islands of Bantayan and Camotes, the units came under the Control of the Cebu Area Command. As fate would have it, the command chose as the site of its general headquarters the sleepy barangay of Tabunan. (To be continued)
–Candido O. Wenceslao
March 21, 1995