Village won’t forget war guerrillas
Before the crack of dawn on March 15, 1942, 16-year-old Antonio P. Estrada and other residents of Barangay San Nicolas in Canaman, Camarines Sur, found themselves ducking from bullets after Japanese soldiers unexpectedly attacked the community while celebrating a wedding.
Estrada, now 86, recalled that he first heard somebody shouting that the Japanese soldiers were coming. A flare was lit, bathing the moonless night with flashes of light for minutes, followed by bursts of fire from a machine gun, he said.
The attack on the day Venancio Borlagdan and Blandina Obstaculo were wed lasted until the wee hours. It was to be the start of a series of harassment on the barrio people.
A week ago, the Tangcong Vaca Guerrila Unit (TVGU) was formally organized as the biggest and most influential armed resistance to the Japanese occupation in Camarines Sur.
“It culminated with the exodus of barrio folks from San Nicolas to the town center of Canaman,” Estrada said on the occasion of the 70th foundation day of the TVGU.
He recounted how men, women, children and elderly people trekked to the town in single file, carrying with them the personal belongings they had salvaged after the Japanese razed all the houses in San Nicolas.
“We stayed in the school and houses of relatives,” Estrada narrated.
Two of the three founders of the TVGU, Elias Madrid and Juan Miranda, were living in San Nicolas, which was considered gerilyado (loosely translated to mean guerrilla zone). As such, the Japanese soldiers and the ganap or the pro-Japanese Filipino informers kept coming back to the village several times to look for Miranda, the guerrilla leader.
Estrada said Leon S.A. Aureus, the other TVGU founder who hailed from the adjoining town of Libmanan, was coming in and out of San Nicolas in late 1941 before the group was formed in the summer of 1942. At that time, Mayor Damaso Requejo was deeply involved in the operation of the TVGU, acting as mediator with officials of the Japanese forces whenever civilians were in danger.
Jose V. Barrameda Jr., history writer and author of the book “In The Crucible Of An Asymmetrical War In Camarines Sur 1942-1945,” said the TVGU was organized on the 30th birthday of Miranda in his house in San Nicolas.
“Ostensibly to felicitate (Miranda), Elias (Madrid) with his brothers Modesto and Policarpio, Raymundo Martinez, and Aureus visited Miranda. Then and there Madrid broached the idea of armed resistance and the offer of command to his nephew (Miranda), who, like him, had been born in San Nicolas,” Barrameda wrote.
He said Miranda agreed to Madrid’s proposition and proceeded to appoint Aureus as executive officer with the task of taking care of propaganda work.
“For himself, Madrid opted to be the finance officer, with his personal funds and practically all income (or whatever could be gathered) from the properties at the service of the resistance group just formed,” Barrameda said.
He said the TVGU founders contacted and directed the mayor to continue his role as town executive so he could safeguard the interests of the guerrillas and the civilian population of Canaman.
Estrada remembered how Requejo would always find ways to visit the village such as when one Marcelino Caniaberal was hit in the thigh by a Japanese machine gun. The mayor brought the wounded to the town center where he was given medical attention, he said.
Requejo also initiated the release of five men from San Nicolas who were brought to the Japanese garrison in Libmanan, Estrada said.
Emmanuel Requejo, the incumbent mayor of Canaman and son of the Japanese-period mayor, recalled that his father, who was suspected of involvement in the armed resistance, was arrested and brought to the Japanese garrison in Ateneo de Naga.
He said he learned from the stories of his mother that the villagers first thought that his father was killed. At one instance, his mother, accompanied by an aunt, found his torn polo shirt hanging from a barbed wire in Ateneo de Naga.
Emmanuel said that since his mother and aunt failed to find his father there, they thought that he had been killed so a nine-day novena for the dead was immediately held at their house. “On the fourth day of the novena, my father came home safe and sound, much to his family’s surprise,” he said.
Damaso told his family that he was brought to Libmanan and was about to be beheaded when a Japanese officer who knew him stopped the executioner and told his captors, “This is a good civilian.”
Estrada said he joined the TVGU sometime in July 1942 and started joining a military operation even without a gun. “It was not until 1943 when I was issued a rifle,” he said.
He said the guerillas would retreat to their mountain camp in Tangcong Vaca, a mountain in Libmanan that looks like a large hump of a Brahman cattle, which could be reached after a nine-hour walk from San Nicolas.
The TVGU was able to free Canaman from the Japanese forces on Aug. 30, 1945, even before the American liberation forces could arrive, Estrada said.
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