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Heels and heroes

/ 08:09 AM December 08, 2013

Reports on officials “sick, sick, sick”  from gorging at   the  pork barrel  straddle headlines and newscasts. These  smudged   reports on the passing last week of a soldier who wrote about  how guerrillas seized the “Koga Papers”. That  radically altered  World War II’s  liberation battle for the Philippines.

Col. Manuel Segura` was  94 when he died last week. He documented  how the  fishermen recovered  the Japanese  “Z Plan”  a  four-engine  plane  that crashed off  San Fernando town,  Cebu in April 1944.

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Drafted by Admiral Mineichi Koga, the  “Z Plan” was adopted in March as  “Combined Fleet Secret Operations Order No. 73”.  It anticipated that  Allied  forces would leapfrog  into Mindanao first. Koga was right on the button.

In July, US President Franklin Roosevelt approved Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s plan to thrust first into Mindanao, recall military historians James Carroll and Spencer Tucker. Options included a December landing at Sarangani Bay, plus airborne drops in Northern Mindanao.

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But an April 1 typhoon altered all that. The storm slammed  two  Japanese planes flying from Palau to Davao. Even flotstam from Koga’s plane was never found. The  second plane, carrying  Rear Adm. Shigeru Fukudome, dictched  off  barangay Balud.

Fishermen Ricardo Bolo and Cornelio Manguas pulled in 11 crash survivors, recalls Segura in his book.  Guerrillas hustled them to Col. James Cushing’s headquarters in upland Cebu forests.  Two days later, fishermen Pedro Gantuangko and Rufo Wamar recovered a “a box blackened by oil” off barangay Perelos.  They  contained documents, condoms, plus a handful of gold pieces.

Within 24 hours, soldiers, planes and boats crisscrossed the area. “Return unconditionally all documents  or face severe measures,” Cebu commander Takeshi Watanabe threatened. Executions were coupled with incentives like rice and cash. They “left, in their wake, burning houses and executed civilians.”

To end the massacre, Cushing ordered Lt. Pedro Villareal to yield the prisoners.  Thus, “the only Prisoner of War exchange on Cebu took place,” Segura recalls. “Through field glasses, we observed the low bowing of Japanese troops as the chair-borne admiral passed a  ridge, silhouetted against the skyline.”

The Japanese  offered P50,000 for the portfolio. Soldiers floated boxes where the plane crashed  and tracked them as they drifted southwards. Guerrilla radio operator Sgt. Victoriano Maribao recalls Cushing reported to Allied Headquarters in Australia: the briefcase included “two operations maps, showing air  bases, emergency airstrips in Palau, Philippines, Hainan, Southern China.

“Documents described in your number six may be of extreme value,” Australia replied. “Ensure safe arrival at southern Negros for dispatch here.” Thus, the documents, “in two tight rolls,” were packed into an  empty mortal shell for waterproofing.

Lts. Irving Joseph and Dominador Canastra, with Sgt. Tudtud, sneaked it to Tolong in Negros Oriental. Midnight of June 5, a submarine surfaced and took the papers. It survived depth charging twice before  arriving on May 19 in Australia, where they were analyzed. The  “Koga Papers”  revealed the Japanese had only 17,000 troops in Leyte.

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Sappers secretly installed navigation buoys, in Dinagat and Homonhon islands, night of October 17. They guided,  three days later, the 701 US ships  that ferried the 132,000 men of the 6th Army who, stormed ashore.  Filipino guerrillas coordinated their attacks. Col. Ruperto Kangleon’s troops, for example, overran the Japanese redoubt in large caves on Camp Buga-Buga, Southern Leyte.

Despite relentless air interdiction missions by US aircraft, Japanese managed to ferry more than 34,000 troops from Mindanao to Leyte. They shipped  over 10,000  tons  of materiél, through  Ormoc on the west coast.

The Japanese Navy’s high command then  committed its entire remaining surface fleet -four light  carriers to 35 destroyers and 300 planes under Admiral Takeo Kuroda – to  battle.  From October 23 to 26, the 3rd Fleet under Admiral  William Halsey, composed of 16 carriers, 141 destroyers and 1,500 planes engaged the Japanese fleet.

The “Leyte Gulf Battle” erupted from Sibuyan Sea, Surigao Strait, Cape Engano to the waters off Samar. It also unleashed the first desperate kamikaze attacks. A Japanese decoy aircraft carrier succeeded in diverting Task Force 34 away from the vulnerable Leyte beaches. Two prongs of the Japanese fleet then tried to ram their way through the opening  to hit the fragile beaches.

From Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz sent Task Force 34 a    terse message: “Where Is, RPT Where Is Task Force 34 RR. The World Wonders” Military historians today say the last three words, intended as “padding” were mistakenly retained.

By coincidence, October 25 was the  anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava which Tennyson wrote of in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” It  was  not intended as a commentary crisis off Leyte.

Admiral William  Halsey “threw his cap onthe deck and broke into “sobs of rage”. Rear Admiral Robert Carney, his chief of staff, confronted him, saying:  “Stop it! What the hell’s the matter with you?”  Rear Admiral Robert Carney, snapped.  “Pull yourself together.”

In the end, Kurita’s force lost all it’s carriers, 11  cruisers and 11 destroyers. “The majority of its surviving heavy ships, deprived of fuel, remained in their bases for the rest of the Pacific War.”

Today, no marker even  in Sangat  recalls how ordinary  fishermen rewrote history despite risk to their lives.  Memory is too frail a thread to peg history on.  Can a people, blind to their past grope the way to  the future –  if the present pivots around  officials “sick, sick, sick” on the pork barrel?

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