Tuesday, October 11, 2016
THE ROCK. THE LEGENDARY island fortress. The last bastion of freedom and hope against the forces of tyranny in the Far East at the onset of World War II. It had succumbed courageously to the military will and might of the Japanese Imperial Army on that unforgettable date of May 6, 1942. It had withstood countless rainstorms of artillery and aerial bombs after the brave defenders of Bataan wilted a month before.
I am sure countless praises were heaped on and a lot of books published about Corregidor Island which were worth a read of a lifetime and would lay wayside my own shoreline views. I am not even worthy to write its sacred history even if I count one of my uncles as a survivor himself of the siege of Bataan and its much cruel events thereafter like the Death March and that dreaded Camp O’Donnell.
I write only what I saw firsthand when Corregidor is now a memorial shrine and I as a tourist. I only knew this island fortress in history books, magazines, newspapers, documentary films and TV news features but never have I set foot on its hallowed shores. I just passed by it many times, and many miles away, as I travelled by boat from Cebu to Manila and back and wished when would I have that opportunity?
The Rock is not just a bucket list of mine but should be of every patriotic Filipino, American and citizens of Allied nations as well, who were fighting then a war against world domination which were espoused by Hitler and the Axis Bloc. The Rock symbolizes unity of purpose against tyranny and, now that the distant drums of war are now beaten again repeatedly by the People’s Republic of China, it is time for Filipinos to rekindle that patriotic flame.
China is a greedy nation. It is suffering from social inertia and would rather use their resources to project military might like what it is doing now with all these ADIZ and 9-Dash Lines to cower and appease their burgeoning and, sometimes, restive population. Unfortunately, for weaker nations like the Philippines, China could impose their will gobbling up shoals and rocks as theirs and turn it into artificial islands from which they construct military bases and airstrips.
These are like daggers at striking distance to our major cities and population centers. We could almost do nothing except entrust our claim before the arbitration tribunal of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. Meantime, we helplessly watch Chinese poachers destroy corals and catch marine species and fishes within our exclusive economic zone while consoled in that beached relic called the BRP Sierra Madre stick a middle finger at them.
It is a sad event of our times. China is acting like it is the Nazis of our times. What was once our ally would now become our enemy and, of Japan, what was once our enemy is now our ally. As they say: There are no permanent friends but permanent interests. It is sad indeed but I could forgive Japan easily for what they did then, for they were and, still are, an honorable people. China is not and had never been.
I stand by what I said. Their ideology is dangerous and they used capitalism to get good leverage to develop their economy and their military. It is a known fact that China used these privileges to steal industrial secrets and military technology. Western nations and corporations are partly to blame for creating this monster and they should divest and transfer their factories elsewhere. China cannot be trusted because they have no honor.
Honor is gained not given. Corregidor has lots and lots of it by the sacrifices of its defenders and the enemies they were defending against, more than the whole land mass of China could put up, to include what are beneath it down to the smoldering earth’s core where they should belong. Our venerable island is akin to what the Americans’ hold dearly as the Alamo and it would be an honor indeed to make a pilgrimage on either.
My wildest of dreams could not have been more realistic as is now when fate made this long-time wish more true and sympathetic to my sense of value. I set sail from the Manila Harbor Baywalk on the early morning of January 26, 2016. Coming with me is Jay Z Jorge, who have been so generous to make possible my stay in Metro Manila as seamless and as enjoyable as possible.
I came to Luzon a few days ago to train 34 individuals in wilderness survival at Antipolo City and, Jay Z along with wife Carla, had been my hosts in my stay in their humble home in Navotas. Without the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Jorge, my coming to The Rock would not have been feasible. Like a child, I bask at this chance which was denied me when I was a Boy Scout in 1975, where I could not join my school in a National Jamboree.
The first thing I did when I touched down on the shores of Corregidor is to grab a fingerful of sand and let it sift down to where it belonged. A dramatic gesture of belongingness to the land, is it not? Actually, it is as old as time itself passed through the ages to give thanks and appreciation to the Great Spirit. Across me is the former village of San Jose. I inhaled the air deeply, absorbing the aroma and essence of this legendary island.
I sat on the tour bus as it begins to churn uphill in what they called as Middleside. We pass by a baseball field where, according to our tour guide, the great Babe Ruth once played here and was struck out by a Filipino pitcher. It is one of the urban legends of Corregidor and still is subject to debates with which fact is quite sticky to prove owing to the scarcity of credible eyewitnesses. However, it is entertaining to know just that.
We reach and stop at the Middleside Barracks for enlisted personnel of the US Army’s Coast Artillery and the Philippine Scouts. The building is huge but crumbling, without walls, pockmarked by bullet holes, stairways starkly prominent from outside view and, at some, on the verge of collapse. It is off limits since the integrity of the structure is now weak and would implode anytime if activated by slight tremors.
Next stop would be Battery Way which hosts a battery of four 12-inch 1890 vintage mortars and an ordnance bunker. These were the last big guns that still fired against the Japanese on that fateful date of May 6th. Shrapnels had punctured tempered steel and reinforced concrete alike indicating that the enemy had concentrated thousands of tons of bomb without directly hitting any of the guns and the bunker.
Bronze plaques told the stories of Major William Massello Jr., who fired his mortar lying down wounded on a stretcher for 11 straight hours, and Staff Sergeant Walter Kwiecinski, the famous last sergeant of the last big gun still firing defiantly and recorded its last round hitting a Japanese landing craft. Both survived and became POWs and, during the last stretch of the war, both were shipped to Japan in “hell ships” and were liberated by American forces there in 1945.
Going on further uphill, we stop by at Battery Hearn. It is a long-range coast artillery that could fire on any direction. It supported the defense of Bataan and have been exchanging artillery fire against the enemy firing from Cavite. It was useless during the assault of Corregidor and was disabled by its crew to prevent it from being used by the Japanese.
We reach Topside and see the famous Mile-Long Barracks. It is near the parade ground where all military pomp and pageantry were held long ago. The buses are parked near the Pacific War Memorial but my eyes wanted to survey the tail-end of The Rock. Corregidor looks like a stingray from above and I am seeing this part which is not covered by tours.
The spot I am standing on used to be a runway that could have accommodated light planes and it goes all the way to the ends of the parade ground. I walk back to the buses and pass by a wrought-iron sculpture called the Flame of Eternal Peace. I walk on and pass by etched marble columns that state the different phases of the Pacific War Theater. Overhead, a flight of seven Brahminy kites greeted me.
I now enter the museum and it is full of quality war memorabilia and history. I am awed at the intensity of nations and men waging a war against each other which brought this peace I am enjoying now. I could not comprehend how my uncle could have survived the folly of World War II, with which war he could not even understand himself but which have tore into his emotions and his health later on in his civilian life.
I left with a heavy heart and embraced the warmth of the sun mellowed by an unwavering cool breeze. I walk past the historic flagpole which used to be a mast of a Spanish flagship sunk by the Americans during the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898. I am now at the old Spanish lighthouse where there are steps to a viewing deck which gives a whole panorama of the island, Manila Bay and the coasts of Bataan and Cavite.
The bus blew its horn as we are going on the last trip for the morning. We reach Battery Geary and we made a stop. Battery Geary is unlike Battery Way and Battery Hearn. Here the war was vicious. One round made a direct hit on one of the guns and threw it away from its mooring where it lodged on the entrance of a bunker. Another gun was thrown asunder to a far distance landing on a beach.
We proceed to the Corregidor Hotel to eat lunch, which is inclusive of what you pay for the tour services. After the meal, we continue on with the tour by going Bottomside. The bus cruise along a coastal road where crude Japanese tunnels are very conspicuous. At the end of the road, we reach a spot dedicated as a Japanese War Shrine. It is also a cemetery where various headstones and monuments indicate valor and sacrifice of their soldiers and foes alike.
Such an honorable race whose participation in the last war were fueled by the burning ambitions of their leaders. Their samurai spirit were harnessed in the wrong way and so have caused losses and grief among their victims and their own surviving kins. A battery of coastal artillery protected this location facing Carballo Island and may have exchanged artillery fire with an American battery there.
We go round the island and reach the entrance to the famous Malinta Tunnel. It is dark but it is lighted. At a signal, the womb turns dark again and flashes of light and thunder imitating explosions overhead shook the tunnel and it passed by many phases of tunnel life starting from Christmas celebration of 1941 to the announcement of the surrender of Corregidor to the Japanese occupation and, lastly, to the time of Liberation.
Corregidor Island is well maintained. A second-growth forest have occupied spaces where the original ones had thrived before when uprooted by a maelstrom of fire and steel. The sight of seven raptors at Topside is a testament to a healthy environment of the island. I thought I caught a glimpse of a Philippine macaque and a monitor lizard and I believed these had accepted living close to human activities without fear.
By mid-afternoon, we go back to the boat to return to the Baywalk Area. Unnavigable waves dashed our early departure and the captain has to make an unplanned detour to Mariveles, Bataan which took an hour of waiting as the tour operator mustered its resources hiring several shuttle buses to transfer us back to the big city at no cost to us. It also worked hard seeking approval of the Coast Guard, the Port Authority and the Export Zone Authority so our boat could dock in a private wharf.
Jay Z and I reach Navotas exhausted but I am rich with the experience. I gained insight into this famous rock and what was life there before, during and after the war. I love history especially of tales extolling bravery and nobility. I never expected to set foot on The Rock but fate had been kind to me this time. Thank you Jay Z and Carla for realizing this lifelong wish.
Document done in LibreOffice 5.1 Writer