Lest We Forget
by Mike Baños
Top officials of the Philippines leading veterans organizations and the kin of World War II guerrillas in Mindanao converged in two events on March 13, 2023 in Cagayan de Oro City to celebrate the heroism of Filipino soldiers and guerrillas who put their lives and future on the line for the country’s freedom.
The first event held early in the morning at the MacArthur Memorial Marker in Bgy. Macabalan commemorated the 81st Anniversary of USAFFE Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s arrival at the Macabalan Wharf in Cagayan, highlighted by the turnover of a historically accurate, museum quality scale model of the PT-41 Patrol Torpedo Boat (PT Boat) which brought the general and his party safely through enemy controlled waters from Corregidor to Cagayan on March 11-13, 1942.
The scale model was crowdfunded by the kin of World War II guerrillas and USAFFE soldiers in Mindanao, together with supportive stakeholders like the Philippine Veterans Bank, UC-1 Corporation, Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez, Bgy. 21 Chair Gigi Go, and the Philippines World War II Memorial Foundation.
“Napakalaking bagay po na makita natin itong real model of the PT-41 boat of Gen MacArthur which he used in coming here so he can temporarily withdraw so he can fight back later on,” said Undersecretary Reynaldo B. Mapagu, administrator of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO).“Kung wala ang boat na ito, wala tayong freedom ngayon na tinatamasan and enjoy this freedom and democracy that we enjoy right now.”
Mapagu expressed hope that youth, not only of Cagayan de Oro, but of the entire Mindanao, would be able to to see the scale model so they could go back in time, appreciate its significance, and help inculcate in them the values of patriotism and valor.
The Mindanao Guerrillas Exhibit, the second event held later the same day at the Elsa P. Pelaez Memorial Library at the Liceo de Cagayan University, was held to honor the Filipino Guerrillas who fought the Japanese Occupation to attain the Philippines’ independence.
MGen Romeo D. Alamillo AFP (Ret), national executive vice president of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), hailed the Mindanao World War II guerrillas for their very crucial role in regaining the country’s freedom.
“The unselfish display of unity among Mindanao freedom fighters–Lumad, Christianized and Islamized Filipinos who rose above their deep cultural and religious differences–enabled a stronger force to confront the Japanese invaders early during the war,” Alamillo noted.
According to Alamillo, the Mindanao guerrilla forces also survived their own death marches and POW camps, which inspired retired Col Cesar Pobre, a veteran of the Northern Luzon guerrilla front and renowned military historian, to write a comprehensive book entitled, “Guerrilla Days in the Philippine South: 1942-1945” which PVAO helped him publish in 2022.
Mrs. Penelope Laplap-Dharamdas, who represented the sons and daughters of the USAFFE soldiers and guerrillas who crowdfunded the PT-41 scale model officially turned over earlier in the morning, expressed their gratitude in the recognition accorded to their kin by the two events.
“Our local guerrillas fought valiantly with very little of what they had to preserve our way of life. They dug and held their ground so we may have the freedoms we now enjoy. This band of local guerrillas fought not because they were paid to do so; they joined together and fought out of their sense of patriotism as Kagay-anons and as Filipinos,” Mrs. Dharamdas noted.
Her father, Col. Fidencio Laplap, was a school teacher who joined the military when the war broke out. He was a young officer who led a group of brave local guerrillas in what was then Cagayan de Misamis.
“Their successes were not without losses. At one point, the enemy forces captured my father’s father, Melanio, and held him hostage in order to force my father to surrender. His refusal to surrender led to the death of his own father. We can only imagine the agony of such choices. And there were countless sacrifices and losses paid for by our local guerrillas. Some were told, some were untold and buried in their collective and individual hearts,” she related.
“But that was something they were all prepared to do. Patriotism was not mere words for them to utter; patriotism was a way of life and was in their blood.”
“Their heroism was untold and unrecognized for quite some time, but deep in our hearts, we knew that our parents and relatives in the local guerrillas were heroes and will remain so in our hearts.”
“Today, we finally gave them the tribute they so fully deserved. A recognition of the heroes that they were and still is today. On behalf of the families of our local guerrillas, we are grateful for these memorials and exhibits that paid homage to the sacrifices of our local heroes.”
“We also thank our very own Congressman Rufus Rodriguez for filing House Resolution # 8677, an Act declaring May 12th every year as a special non-working public holiday to be known as Cagayan de Oro Liberation Day.”
“We also thank our City and Provincial Officials and all our donors and supporters for their efforts and kindness to ensure that our local guerrillas are appropriately recognized and memorialized.”
“It is our hope that through these memorials and exhibits, the younger generation may learn about the sacrifices of our local guerrillas and how it paved the way to the very freedoms they now enjoy.”
“ I’m reminded of the words of the late Vice President Salvador Laurel who once said “A nation is only as strong or as weak as the memory of its people as to who they are, where they came from, and what their forebears stood for and fought for”.
“We hope that these memorials and exhibits will remind us of our valiant past in preserving our freedoms, our culture, and our identity. The very freedoms we can all be very proud of.”