Forgotten heroes of the South

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

For decades after the end of World War II, much of Philippine military history has centered on battlefield actions on the island of Luzon. Most accounts have been the work of American historians and native writers strongly influenced by the colonial master and therefore, seen through the eyes of the foreigner. Only in recent years have Filipino historians been able to present our side of a conflict that was fought mainly by Filipinos in various parts of the country.

While the surrender in Bataan in April 1942 formally ended organized resistance against the enemy, it led to the creation of guerilla units that carried on the fight for freedom against Japanese intruders. The continuing struggle in the Philippine South from 1942 to 1945, viewed from a Filipino perspective, is the subject of a book that throws light on the resistance movement in Mindanao and Sulu.

On Wednesday, April 27, the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) of the Department of National Defense leads the military establishment in the launching of “Guerilla Days in the Philippine South, 1942-1945.” Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana is the guest of honor. It is a riveting account of how the people in southern Philippines – the Lumads, the Moros and Christian Filipinos – came together to oppose Japanese rule.

It is a narrative worth studying and remembering. As Lt. General Ernesto G. Carolina, Administrator, PVAO, wrote, “The past teaches us how we can be better today. Our forebears’ acts of commission or omission; the wrongs they perpetrated or the rights they did; the mistaken decisions they committed or the correct and sound ones they arrived at – they are veritable sources which we can fall back on as we continue to build our nation.”

The book was written by two distinguished authors – Dr. Cesar P. Pobre and Dr. Ricardo T. Jose, respected professors who have specialized in military history.

Dr. Pobre is a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy with a master’s degree in History from the University of the Philippines. He also has a master’s degree in National Security Administration from the National Defense College of the Philippines. Pobre holds a Ph.D in history from the University of Karachi in Pakistan, through the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) post-graduate scholarship program. He served for many years as the dean, Corps of Professors, AFP and head, Academic Group at the PMA. Dr. Pobre is the author of “History of the Armed Forces of the Filipino People” (two volumes) and “In Assertion of Sovereignty” (also two volumes).

He was instrumental in correcting PMA Foundation Day; it now traces its roots to the Academia Militar established by Filipino revolutionary leaders on Oct. 25, 1898 and no longer the Constabulary School created by American colonial authorities in 1905.

Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose is a Professor of History at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history at UP and his Ph.D from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. He specializes in military and diplomatic history with focus on the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Among his major publications are “The Philippine Army, 1935-1942” and Volume 7 on the Japanese occupation of the Philippines of the multi-volume Kasaysayan set (Reader’s Digest, 1998).

He co-edited, with his dissertation adviser Setsuko Ikehata, a pioneering book, “The Philippines Under Japan: Occupation Policy and Reaction” with Japanese researchers, the first time a thorough study was made using Japanese primary sources.

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Some names in the book bring to mind the heroism and bravery of our men and women in the dark days of the Japanese invasion who continued to confront the enemy when all seemed lost. As guerillas, they operated in small, mobile groups using unconventional hit-and-run tactics, conducting ambuscades and surprise raids on enemy encampments.

Salipada Pendatun was a highly-educated Filipino Muslim, UP College of Law, from Cotabato. He felt he could do more to defend his homeland and recommended to his division commander that Muslim Bolo Battalions be organized from the civilian population. While other officers were skeptical of this plan, fearing that the arming of Muslims would only worsen the peace and order situation, Pendatun persisted and was granted permission to organize the battalions.

As there were no more rifles to be distributed, the volunteers had to fight with bolos, krises and other bladed weapons. The battalions were not short of volunteers and after two months, Pendatun had 30,000 young men ready to fight, having undergone basic training during the recruitment period. As news of the bolo battalions spread, other men, including Christians and Lumads, set up similar units in their communities.

Pendatun noted: “This is the first time in history that an attempt was made to unify the command of the Moro warriors against a common enemy, and all the datus rallied to this unified command.”

He would be conferred the rank of Brigadier General, and his army of Muslims, Christians and American guerillas would later become the Bukidnon Cotabato Force (BCF), one of the strongest guerilla groupings in the South.

Manalao Mindalano was a Muslim leader in Lanao who became known for his bravery in avenging his father’s death. He swore to kill as many Japanese as he could, traveling around the province, stirring up the people and persuading them to join him in his fight. Mindalano vowed that he would not shave his beard until the enemy was finally driven out. His group and other guerilla forces continued to make life miserable for the Japanese.

Josefa Borromeo Capistrano organized the Women’s Auxiliary Service (WAS). The mission of the group was to provide food and shelter for guerillas fighting in Mindanao. Her work would be replicated in many areas in the south. Other women served as spies and were involved in the more dangerous work of intelligence gathering.

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Email: [email protected]

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