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The Ruins on Corregidor Island: Who is the Real Protagonist?

Uncomfortable, I ignore photos of relatives and acquaintances proudly displaying their military badges. It seems to me they have already signed a contract that they may die anytime, anywhere.

One of the SAF44 massacred last year in the name of their profession was a schoolmate of mine and no word could describe my anger when their commander-in-chief denied his participation in the mission.

My reality would just be a hundredth of the sorrow of parents, friends and loved ones of those who died on Corregidor Island during World War 2 when America regained the Philippines from the Japanese.

According to Armando, our tour guide, he found one dog tag on the island and sent it to an American authority that keeps such item. One day, he received a letter from the family of the owner the dog tag informing him that the soldier was 19 when he died during the war.

After visiting Corregidor Island and exploring what’s inside the wood lands of the island, I could not imagine how thousands have cursed that island where their loved ones were either shot to death, tortured in the arms of the enemies, or said to have committed hara-kiri.
To reach the island, we had to ride a ferry from Manila. Almost half of the passengers of were Caucasians.

Although the sun was shining brightly as we approached the island, it seemed we were leading a gloomy day.

Upon reaching the island, a tour bus was waiting for us. A group of Japanese had a separate bus, and our tour guide reminded us about the nature of our tour: Filipinos and Americans cannot mix with the Japanese audience because each has a version of what happened on the island.

The tour started with pure humor from the charming guide who spoke over the microphone. However, everything started to change when he showed the photo of a baby bayoneted to death in the open air by a Japanese soldier.

As taught in class, the Japanese, who captured the Philippines from America, were the antagonists. When Gen. Douglas McArthur came back to the Philippines, his team defeated the Asian military super power and regained control over the archipelago.

To the Japanese audience, things are different. It was their forefathers that liberated the country from Western forces.

As the tour started, we were showed mines created by the Japanese. According to the tour guide, the mines were discovered during previous typhoons.

If you are a lover of ruins, you will love Corregidor. We were taken to ruins of a huge hospital, barracks, offices, and even a cinema. Back then, Americans and Filipinos live in separate buildings. We were also brought to the Japanese Memorial Center.

All the ruins gave me that heavy feeling, imagining how lively the place was and how bloody it turned in to when bombs were falling like rain on the island.

I remember my late Auntie Endena telling me that the war broke the day he was wedded to her husband. Another tale says my grandfather Pablo Lizardo Sr. had to be kept inside evacuation caves in Sagada in fears of being mistakenly identified as American (Mrs. Agnes Kollin told me he had German blood).

It is undeniable that Corregidor was a luxury island then. Corregidor means “correcter”. During the Spanish era, it was used to check documents by ships entering Manila Bay. When Americans took over the country, it was renamed to “Fort Mills”.

The highlight of the tour was the show inside the Malinta Tunnel. Malinta means “full of leeches”. It served as an underground quarter and hospital then. Inside, we were shown footages of the war, and I was just speechless all throughout the show. 

The beams of the small tunnels departing from the main tunnel have collapsed already. Everything looked fresh to me. The visuals and other effects helped me imagine American soldiers longing to be back to their family after the war and the Japanese soldiers praying for grace from their Divine Emperor.

The tour guide narrated that he had guests who have lived on that island and have witnessed everything he was saying. Among of them were nurses who spent months and months of uncertainty inside the tunnel caring for the sick and the wounded, an American veteran who became a prisoner of war, and a gentle man who was born in the hospital on that island that lost its glory to war.

Even if the audio quality was poor, the message was clear- war belongs to history only.

We were brought to sites where big guns were mounted. It was sad seeing the machines that killed thousands of people during the time when people still believed war was the answer to conflicts.

Posing beside one of the big guns is something cool. Not for me this time, but I still did it as a social media requirement.

When the Japanese was defeated, soldiers inside the tunnel decided to commit massive hara-kiri. The Japanese government exhumed the remains of their soldiers years after and were cremated before these were brought back to their native Japan.

Now, Corregidor is but a ghost island with no residents but employees taking care of the island preserving it for academic and tourism purposes. It is now being managed by Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority or TIEZA, which actually sponsored our tour so we could help tell the story of that lonely island in Cavite, miles away from Manila. A million thanks to TIEZA's Chief Operating Officer Mark Lapid for helping in arranging the tour for us.

At three, our ferry arrived to bring us back home. I reached my apartment and took a bath as if I attended the funeral of one of my loved ones who are now proud soldiers of the country.

Christian is a Marketing Communications practitioner in Quezon City. He is an Igorot from Sagada, Mountain Province. To get in touch with him, please shoot an email to christianaligonow@gmail.com.


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