Corregidor: Once on This Island, A History Lesson

Note: I was supposed to post this in the original blog but because I encountered issues with third party hosting of my pictures, I decided to postpone the post… more than a year after. hehe

April 9, 1942. The Philippines celebrate “Araw ng Kagitingan” or “Day of Valor.” It’s a reminder of the horrific war that happened on Philippine land, particularly in the province of Bataan. 60k Filipinos, along with 12k American soldiers surrendered to the Japanese and were forced to walk 140 kilometers from Bataan to Tarlac. It was literally a Death March because around 20k soldiers died during the march due to dehydration, sickness, and starvation.

Today, a memorial sits atop Mount Samat in Battan to remember the sacrifices that Filipinos and American soliders endured during the war.

But before Bataan fell into the hands of the Japanese invaders, the other lands were witnesses to the battles that the Japanese and Americans brought to the Philippines.

One of those places that experienced the horrors of World War II was a tadpole-shaped island called Corregidor. It’s situated between the shores of Bataan and Cavite which can only be accessed by a boat ride.

 

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Corregidor was a fortress of defense during the Spanish Colonial era and Spanish-American War, a military reserve during the American Colonial era, and the temporary area for the government of the Philippines during the World War II. The whole island has its own history and story to tell.

As part of an ongoing project, me and my friends took a day tour to the island of Corregidor. It was an hour-long (or two) boat ride from Manila to Corregidor, and a whole day trip around the island while learning about history.

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Upon docking on Corregidor, the tourists immediately ride open buses that will take you around the island. Most of the tour guides speak English, but you can request for a Korean or Japanese speaking tour guide. I’m not sure what other languages the tour guides speak.

 

Corregidor seems like a small island, but the Americans has managed to build large fortresses and structures to provide shelter to the American and Filipino soldiers. They were made to withstand attacks. Most of the major buildings were destroyed by the war, but they still stand strong up to today.

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The famous mile-long barracks (it couldn’t fit the shot)

 

The island could be its own country. Besides the soldiers’ barracks and offices, it had a working water system, a lighthouse, a movie house, a baseball field, and a swimming pool. Only the cinema stands today. The lighthouse was destroyed but reconstructed in the 1950. If I remember correctly, the swimming pool became a place to hide weapons so the soldiers covered the pool up with soil.

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Remnants of a cinema

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Steven on top of the lighthouse

There are moments during the tour where the tourists could go down the trams and explore certain areas of the island. Tourists can have a close up experience with the artillery that could launch missiles for miles.

 

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The place of huge arse missile launchers that disappear and appear from the ground

According to the tour guide, there are still unexplored areas of the island — such as tunnels and hiding places. These tunnels were destroyed during the war and have still yet to be discovered by historians. Excavation just can’t happen without proper care and knowledge of the land because there might be bomb traps in those tunnels.

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One of those unexplored tunnels

The Malinta Tunnel is that one tunnel that can be safely explored. It was the last stronghold of the American and Filipino when the island was being bombed. I didn’t take pictures inside the tunnel because it was pitch black except for the video projections narrating the events that took time in 1940. My favorite part was the singing of the national anthem at the end of the tunnel tour. It was a reminder that there were Filipino soldiers who were willing to fight and die to see the country free from oppressors (“Aming ligaya na ‘pag may mang-aapi, ang mamatay nang dahil sa’yo.”)

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It’s called Malinta Tunnel because the place was literally infested with linta or leeches
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Construction of the tunnel started in 1932

Memorials were constructed on the island to remember those who have died during the war. The Filipino Heroes Memorial remembers the efforts of the Filipinos during the war (from the past up until today). The Japanese Garden of Peace serves as a memorial to respectfully remember the lives that were lost, even if they were seen as the villain in the story. There are also museums in some of the stops of the tour that hold memorabilia from the war.

 

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Eternal Flame of Freedom

 

My only wish is that we would read and hear history stories from the Filipinos’ point of view. I noticed that all the descriptions and the recounts of the tourguides were based on American reports. The videos during the boat ride to the island featured interviews from American soldiers. These events happened on Philippine soil so for sure we had first-hand experiences.

I wanted to know how our Filipino soldiers felt during the war, how they decided to merge forces with the Americans and go against the Japanese. I wanted to know if some of them thought about how the Americans and Japanese brought their war to the Philippine grounds, when all we wanted was to be left in peace? I wanted to know the plan of the Filipinos — for sure they had their own plans and decisions, and they didn’t just follow whatever the Americans wanted to do. I always felt like most of history is left unexplained because we only hear one side of the story. It could be the next project of historians when they decide on improving the script of the Corregidor tour.

If you’re interested in taking a page out of Philippine history, Sun Cruises offers day and overnight tours of the island. Their tour guides are well trained and very knowledgeable on the island’s history and I very much recommend it to the history nerds.

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Steven interviewing our tour guide

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