The fall of Cebu
The irony was not lost on me yesterday as we quietly remembered the 70th anniversary of the fall of Cebu into the hands of the invading Imperial Japanese Forces a day after Bataan fell. Talk around was not about our ongoing dig through 1,500 years of the pre-history of this northwestern Cebu town of San Remigio. Instead, we were regularly pestered with questions about whether we found Japanese gold bars or that the altar of the local parish church is said to contain a boxful of them.
Seventy years after the Japanese forces overran Cebu’s defenses, it is not funny that in lieu of remembering the dark years of occupation, people are more enthralled with tales of this guy or that one finding the so-called Yamashita treasure. It does not surprise us at all when visitors from other towns drop by our ongoing archaeological excavations at the Lapyahan Public Beach and ask in jest (or maybe seriously?) “Unsa na man, naa na ang treasure ni Yamashita?” (So, have you now found Yamashita’s treasure?) or something to that effect.
How sad for all of us that the days when life hanged in the balance has all been swept away by those Tagalog movies that glorified the idea that indeed the Japanese left tons of gold bars here in the Philippines, the only place in Asia where their drive to conquer was eventually stopped! Why of all places would the Japanese, for example, bury gold in Cebu when the anti-Japanese resistance here was so overwhelmingly successful that after the war, the Cebu Area Command, the main guerrilla army in Cebu, was recognized as having eliminated the largest number of Japanese soldiers (I think about 6,000) ever in the history of the WWII underground.
It is this sad memory loss that compelled me and my “Kabilin” video crew of Sugbo TV to develop six interrelated episodes chronicling the experience of various survivors and their children or grandchildren to recall those three tumultuous years. Airing starting yesterday at 11:30 a.m. and every six hours thereafter on Skycable Channel 14 (as well as other cable operators in some towns and cities), the Fall of Cebu chronicles eyewitness accounts of 98-year-old Rosario “Nang Saling” Yap-Estrada of Barili, who was a pharmacist in the guerrilla underground medical unit in the south, of her arrest and interrogation on suspicion of hiding vital medicines (which she actually did but with a brave face denied it before her Japanese captors).
In Moalboal, the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (WAC) member Monica Babiera-Sandalo, now 94, recounted her work procuring food and medicine for the guerrillas based in the mountains of Ronda, while her townmate, Maximo “Toto” Oshiro, recalled to us his father on the other side of the war. Toto recalls how his father came to Cebu at the age of 14 ostensibly to introduce the now-banned fishing method called muro-ami in the 1920s only to be drafted into the Imperial Japanese Navy during the war. He married a local lass by then in Moalboal and sired a number of children, including Toto. Locals aver that it was his father that saved many guerrillas from certain death. But the father did not survive the war, having died during the battle for the liberation of Dumaguete around March 1945, his body never found to this day.
In Alegria, we chanced upon Nicolasa Hijara to ask her about the war mementos of her late mother, Cruza, and instead got many exciting and unexpected facts like the one where his cousin eloped with a young lass who caught the eye of a young Japanese soldier stationed at the Spanish-era watchtower that is now part of the beautiful Alegria Heritage Park. The family paid a heavy price for that: their ancestral house was burned to the ground, including everything in it.
Over in Barili, Ray Estrada, one of the curators at Museo Sugbo, recalled the grisly death of his granduncle Teodoro B. Estrada who was bayoneted to death with others and thrown off the cliff at Palalong, just one among the many massacres that were committed there, not just involving Barilinhons but also those coming from the dreaded Kempeitai/Secret Police Headquarters at the Cebu Normal School.
There are many more stories to tell and I most certainly hope that beyond all those fake-lore about Yamashita treasure, we, too, will recall the valiant defense put up by those who came ahead of us 70 years ago who, despite the knowledge that they were outnumbered, trudged on and fought against battalions of approaching well-armed Japanese soldiers on their way to Cebu City.
It is not that Cebu fell into the enemy that we must commemorate. It is that despite knowing it would fall that day, many stood undeterred if only to fire that last shot of resistance. This we must never forget.
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