By Abdon M. Balde Jr.
THE JAPANESE OCCUPATION & WORLD WAR II
The Second World War was a war imported to our shores by our American colonizers. When it came, we did not have a choice but to move from harm’s way. We were encouraged to fight and we did, especially when cornered and trampled upon. It was the kind of war that the people of Albay and Legazpi were not able to prepare for. It was swift, decisive, cruel and devastating.
The Japanese planes attacked the US Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. Less than10 hours after, the same planes started bombing north and south of Manila. At 4:30 in the morning of December 12, a force of nearly 2,500 armed men from the Japanese 16th Division led by General Naoki Kimura landed on the shores of Legazpi. By 9 a.m. of the same day, they have captured the National Railway Station. Before noon they have cleared the runway of the airport and have landed their planes. Two American planes tried to attack the Japanese-held airport, but they were no match to the Japanese counter forces. As soon as the hostilities started, the residents fled to the hills. Legazpi suddenly looked like a ghost town. Before sundown Japanese soldiers and some lawless locals started looting the establishments. In a couple of weeks, the province was totally under Japanese control. On January 3, 1942 the Commander of the Japanese Imperial Forces, Gen. Masaharu Homma declared the end of the American occupation of the Philippines.
The Japanese forces took over the Regan Barracks, the Provincial Hospital, the Capitol, and even the churches and used them as headquarters. They found the Milwaukee Hospital (the building is now Robinsons Albay) still staffed and ordered the American missionary Dr. McAnlis to move to the smaller and abandoned Santa Teresita Hospital. Milwaukee Hospital and the Presbyterian Church were commandeered by the Japanese forces.
PHILIPPINES FOR THE FILIPINOS.
To provide a semblance of normalcy, the Japanese allowed Mayor Vicente Nieves to continue running the affairs of the city. The Manila to Legazpi railway system was reopened. The schools resumed classes. By some accounts, it appeared that the Japanese were eager to prove that they were more orderly and benevolent than the American colonizers. Their rallying cries were: “Asia for the Asiatics” and “Philippines for the Filipinos.” Their propaganda was that the Philippines belonged to the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.”
According to some accounts, the Japanese behaved cordially during the first few days of the occupation. But some locals and American soldiers who fled in the hills grouped and organized as guerrilla units and started the sporadic raids on Japanese installations. These guerrillas included the units of Maj. Montano Zabat, Maj. Francisco Sandico, Lt. Llenaresas, the Orobia Brothers, Pablo Pigao, Claudio Mari, and others. The Japanese responded to the violent raids by committing atrocities to ordinary citizens and villages whom they thought were sympathetic to the guerrillas. Some cooperated with the Japanese just to avoid punishment—however they were labelled collaborators and suffered similar atrocities from the guerrillas. The hapless civilians suffered much from the Japanese as well as from the guerrillas.
THE AMERICANS RETURNED WITH A BANG.
Luckily, the war was short, yet no less destructive. In fact it ended with much more death and destruction than when it started. When the American General Douglas MacArthur escaped from Bataan in 1942, he made the iconic promise: “I shall return” and indeed he and his forces returned with a bang! The American forces set to retake the country returned to Leyte in October 20, 1944 and started raining bombs on all Japanese installations all over the country. Manila and other major cities were occupied by the Japanese were bombed out. The American forces returned to retake Legazpi City on the morning of April 1, 1945 by bombing the whole city. When the sea landing crafts of the Americans landed its troops in Rawis, almost all the buildings and many residences have been levelled by American bombs to the ground. The Japanese have retreated to Quituinan Hills in Camalig and nearly a thousand of them were massacred by American forces reinforced by Bikolano guerrillas. On May 2, 1945, in Pili, Camarines Sur, the American 158th Infantry Division from Albay met the 5th Cavalry coming from the north. That meeting signalled the end of Second World War in Bikol.
After the liberation of Legazpi from the Japanese forces, the local officials sought independence from America. The United States reaffirmed the independence of the Philippines on 4 July 1946 via the Treaty of Manila. Thus, Albay has been under the influence of the Spanish, American and Japanese colonial forces for 377 years, from 1569 to 1946. Traces of the culture of these colonial periods are preserved to this day and have become interesting places to visit. The native culture of the Albayanos was likewise enriched by the melding of different cultures. Today, the lasting symbols of these colonial eras were the cross of the Spaniards, Hollywood of the Americans and the halo-halo of the Japanese.