Like the arrival of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s troops in Leyte, the landing of American forces in Talisay on March 26, 1995 has become the subject of controversy among historians and social analyst whose views on the way previous celebrations have been treated varied.
The 50th celebration of the Leyte landings even created a furor over the way the role of the American troops in the Philippine-Japanese War have been played up at the expense of the Filipino soldiers whose contributions were unnecessarily downplayed.
The problem however was more on the choice of the part of the war was to be celebrated. Choosing the landing of the Americans on Philippine soil as the high point of the celebration inevitably leads to misrepresentation of the war effort.
This point has been raised by the Filipino war veterans themselves, like lawyer Antonio Paulin, a captain of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East at that time, who believed that the celebration trivialized the Filipino’s contribution in liberating the Philippines from the Japanese.
Thus, the executive committee preparing the 50th celebration of the Talisay landing chose to call the activity the Liberation of Cebu instead of The American Landing.
But while such a move showed an improvement in perception, it was still inappropriate relative to the effort to clarify issues on the liberation of the province.
Because March 26, 1945 described only a single event in the war, there is a need for its organizers to enlarge the narrative and place the landing within a proper perspective. This would mean inclusion of the resistance movement against Japanese occupation prior to and after the landing.
Gen. MacArthur, commander of the USAFFE, even raised this point in a statement made on October 25, 1944 or a few days after the Leyte Gulf landings when he mentioned the contributions of the guerilla movement in the Philippines-Japan war.
“As our forces of liberation roll forward,” he said, “the splendid aid we are receiving from the guerilla units cause me at this time to pay public tribute to those great patriots both Filipino and American who had led and supported the resistance movement in the Philippines since the dark days of 1942.”
The general pointed out that “these inadequately armed patriots have fought the enemy for more than two years” and that most of them “are Filipinos but among these are a number of Americans who never surrendered, who escaped from prison camps, or who were sent in to carry specific missions.”
MacArthur said the resistance movement was crucial to the successful campaign of the American troops in the Philippines both by clearing the possible landing sights and in providing intelligence reports on the disposition of Japanese troops in the Philippines.
Specifically mentioned was the capture by the Cebu Area Command of important documents, the so-called Koga papers, which detailed the secret defensive plans and instructions of the commander of the combined Japanese fleets and the “complete information on the strength and dispositions of the enemy fleet and naval air units.”
In the first few parts of our series on the Liberation of Cebu, we endeavored to put the landings in its proper perspective by giving stress to some stories on the resistance movement against the Japanese occupation in the latter part of 1942 until 1945.
A more objective reader of the chronicles of the war could readily discern the errors in perception of the Filipinos during that time notably on the question relative to their capacity to fight invading forces with the least outside help.
Left by USAFFE officials led by MacArthur who retreated to Australia, the Filipinos had no other recourse but to fight the Japanese on their own by conducting guerilla warfare – a strategy suited to their temperament and their and their meager military resources.
The resistance movement waged mainly by Filipinos destroyed the myth of Japanese invincibility and the lie spread by more than four decades of colonial rule that we are not capable of waging a decent fight against the invaders without American help.
Admittedly, however, the hope that the Americans would return to liberate the country provided light in the perceived darkness but the more decisive point that must be considered was that the Filipinos not merely hoped, they fought.
In Cebu, the Cebu Area Command engaged the Japanese in widespread, meaning province-wide, hit and run battles that sapped the invaders strength. The encounters are difficult to detail here but suffice it to say that they were numerous and effective.
Maj. Gen. Charles Willoughby, the intelligence officer of Gen. MacArthur, recognized this is in his book “The Guerilla Resistance Movement in the Philippines” when he pointed out that the Cebu area “long enjoyed the reputation of having killed more Japanese than any other area.”
The most significant contribution of the resistance movement in Cebu however was the capture of the so-called Koga papers and their subsequent turnover to Gen. MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia.
Admiral Mineichi Koga, commander of Japan’s Imperial Navy, left Palau Island on March 31, 1944 in one of two huge four-engined seaplanes towards Davao when they encountered a storm. His plane missed its destination and crashlanded in the sea waters off the coast of barangay Sangat, San Fernando.
Koga was killed in the incident and his body was carried by more than a dozen Japanese survivors that included Admiral Shigeru Fukudomei, Chief of Staff of the Imperial Combined Fleet.
They were later arrested by the guerillas. The portfolio containing the top secret documents was later found in Sitio Bas in barangay Perrelos, Carcar.
The Japanese forces in Cebu would later launch an all-out campaign for the release of the prisoners and the recovery of the portfolio. The massive effort subsequently forced Col. James Cushing, commander of the 7 th Military District, to release the prisoner on April 10 without the knowledge of higher USAFFE officials.
The Koga papers, however, were inserted into mortar shell containers and brought by trusted Cebu guerillas led by Lt. Irving Joseph to Tolong in Negros. A submarine brought the message and the messenger to MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia.
In his book, The Koga Papers, Col. Manuel Segura would later narrate that the documents were the result of the inspection of the Japanese defenses in the whole Southwest Pacific Area. It revealed that Leyte “was the softest underbelly of the Japanese defenses.”
PRELUDE TO LIBERATION
On September 14, 1944, Gen. MacArthur received a directive from the Joint Chiefs of Staff instructing him to proceed with the reconquest of Luzon. By then, the resistance movement has already been strengthened considerably nationwide.
More than that, the rest of the populace, excluding of course the collaborators, had made it difficult for the Japanese occupational forces to run the government. The people pretended to cooperate while continuing to sympathize with the guerillas.
The first American bombing of Manila on September 21, 1944 proved that the Filipinos were correct in resisting. Japanese rule took a spiral for the worse making them desperate. They intensified nightly roundups, torture and mass executions thereby alienating themselves further from the populace.
The Americans landed in Leyte in October 20, 1944 then proceeded to Lingayen in January 1945. They entered Manila on February 3, 1945. Cebu was waiting in the wings. Finally the Cebu guerillas received the word for the landing in March. (to be continued)
–-By Candido O. Wenceslao (This is the eighth part of a 10-part special report I wrote for The Freeman in March 1995)