Participating in battlefield tours has always been my dream since childhood. Being a war history aficionado, I dreamed of visiting the battlefields, war graves, memorials and the last resting places of the fallen heroes. There are a lot of battlefields in the Philippines but I prefer to visit the island of Corregidor not only for historical but more of a sentimental reason. Truly, the island is known as the last stronghold of resistance among the American and Filipino forces against the Japanese invaders during World War II. But for me, Corregidor was more than what has been written in history books. It is the place where my grandfather had spent the prime years of his youth working on “forced labor” starting in 1924 until his death. You might ask me point blank this question: Was your forebear a hardened criminal that the Americans herded him to toil his labors in fortifying the island? To that question I would categorically answer that my Lolo Teodoro Sangco was a convict but he never was a criminal.
To give justice to my grandfather and his comrades, I will dedicate some lines of this post on some important historical facts about my home in Bucas Grande Island, Socorro, Surigao del Norte, Philippines. In 1919, scores of families belonging to the Cofradia de Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, a group with religious proclivities from Leyte under the abbotship of Alejandro “Andoy” Lasala had arrived in the island to seek for greener pastures. The Catholic hierarchy in the area had embraced the group and praised its members for being devout followers of the mother church. However, things had changed in 1922 when the Cofradia had been converted to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. As a natural reaction, the Catholic parish priest in the neighboring town of Dapa got mad and reported to the authorities that there was a clandestine “colorum,” which literally means unregistered, group being organized in Bucas Grande to rebel against the government. Constables were sent to the place to investigate but found the natives to be law-abiding and God-fearing. Nevertheless, the lawmen, who were used to the Guardia Civil manner of treating suspects, had committed atrocities among them the burning of religious statues in front of the stunned parishioners, the near-death beating of the local leaders when they denied the accusations that they were up in arms against the government and many others. The dam broke loose and the islanders fought back resulting to the death of two lawmen. The Provincial Commander, his aide de camp and a number of constables attacked Barrio Pamosiangan on the western side of the island but were repulsed and killed by the defenders. The American government, who was then in control of the Philippines, reacted by sending US Marines on board the USS Sacramento and bombarded Socorro in January 25, 1924 which culminated the oft-ridiculed “Colorum Uprising.” The local defenders fought in that one-sided battle but later decided to surrender. They were herded on board the US Coast Guard Cutter M/V Polillio amidst the pleadings and wailings of their wives and children, tried and convicted of the crime of sedition and brigandage, and were imprisoned in the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa. A number of the local defenders were granted clemency in the later years and managed to return to the island. However, the other defenders including my grandfather were unfortunate as they died while serving their prison terms. When I was still a child, I was told by Mr. Agapito Galanida that they were tent mates with my Lolo Teodoro during their “forced labor” stint at Corregidor Island. Since then, the mention of Corregidor really rung my bells and every story being told about the historic island would shoot my appetite up to visit the place someday.
That fateful day happened on March 6, 2011 when this island vacations enthusiast together with my wife Vanjie decided to go to Corregidor Island on a battlefield tours. We arrived at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Bay Terminal in Roxas Boulevard, Manila at exactly 7:00 in the morning. After the usual preliminaries at the office of the Sun Cruise Tours, we were told to board this shuttle jeep. . .
The jeep was tailored-fit for Filipinos like us. But for the foreigners, it’s a sort of punishment. I really got pity with an Australian man who was in his senior years who had to kneel on the jeep floor while boarding so that his head would not bang on the roof. After a couple of minutes, we stopped at the docking point of our ferry, the Sun Cruiser II . . .
We were cruising on the calm and placid waters of Manila Bay for an hour en route to Corregidor. The trip was lively, thanks to Armando, the witty guide who admittedly had spent months memorizing history lines and was expert in cracking jokes at the appropriate time. A number of tranvias are waiting for us at the Corregidor port. We decided to board Tranvia Number 1. . .
Our first stop was General Douglas McArthur’s departure point for Australia, the Lorcha Dock . . .
I was fascinated with the sight of General McArthur’s statue with his famous “I Shall Return” promise engraved in the pedestal . . .