Luz Banzon Magsaysay part 6 of Chapter 6

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Part 6

Restless governor

As military governor and district commander, Ramon Magsaysay assigned local guerrillas to US Army units in the towns to serve in various ways. He handpicked his office personnel who were paid by the PCAU. Everyone was a guerrilla except the typist.

Magsaysay worked at his office desk only long enough to do paper work. Forever restless, he loved to hop from town to town, as in during hisTRY-TRAN days, to determine the needs of the people, inspect the distribution of PCAU goods, chat with guerrillas, and even check guerrilla sentries at night. He would sometimes wake up his staff officers for a talk in the wee hours of the morning.

Magsaysay was a sloppy sight in his bulging fatigue suit and combat boots. His huge cap had to be tightened at the back with  a safety pin to make it fit. His gun hung from the waist,  cowboy style. His fellows, mostly much shorter, looked even sorrier in their over-sized G.I. attire.

Catanduanes liberated

Catanduanes, part of Bicol region, was proclaimed a liberated island province on February 8, 1945. The declaration was made by Major Salvador Rodolfo (a.k.a. Phantom),

Last stand

A week after the successful liberation of the UST campus in Manila, Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi and the Japanese Manila Naval Defense Force continued to use the Manila Post Office  building, Congress, Manila City Hall, U.P. Intramuros and other structures for defense. And they proved to be strong Japanese positions. Food had been stockpiled in these buildings since December and January, while numerous fortifications (like tunnels, bunkers, gun slits) had been built around for defensive purpose.

At the Post Office building, a 75-millimeter howitzer had been installed on the second floor where there was a clear field of fire to stop advancing American and Filipino troops. The Japanese forces also continued their rampage — killing, looting, raping and other criminal acts. They vented their wrath on Filipino civilians—men, women and children.

The Japanese soldiers and sailors, and even the Korean marines proceeded to go from one city block to another on February 9, burning and looting the homes, murdering as many citizens of Manila as they could.

The Ermita, Malate, and Pasay districts in Manila were most greatly affected by the Japanese atrocity. Residential houses and commercial buildings in the area were put to the torch.

Senator Elpidio Quirino’s wife and two daughters, while hiding in her mother-in-law’s home in Malate, were felled by Japanese machineguns. Suddenly, Quirino became a widower.

Many Japanese raped women wherever they could be found. Several women were taken to and raped at the Bayview Hotel, a battlefield brothel, to satisfy the lust of Japanese sailors who knew their time was up.

Conservative estimates stated that the Manila Massacre claimed the lives of over 111,000 civilians (an estimate of 35,000 more than either Nagasaki or Hiroshima atomic bombing  casualty).

River crossings

With bridges down, the Americans were forced to make several river crossings, first across Malacanang Palace and later across Intramuros. Because of the well-entrenched positions of the enemy in government and private buildings in Manila’s center, the American forces used heavy artillery and tanks.

General MacArthur had forbidden aircraft bombing in Manila but the American artillery added to the destruction of the city and the death of more civilians. Many non-combatants were killed by “friendly fire,” and many portions of Manila like Ermita, Malate, Intramuros, and major reinforced-concrete government buildings were reduced to rubbles. All these tragic events lasted for one month, from February 3 to March 3.

Progress in Zigzag Pass

General William Chase assumed command of the Zigzag Pass Liberation forces, replacing General Roy W. Easley. On the western side, the US 151st and 152nd Regiments also started making progress eastward through the pass. The encounters brought positive results.The Japanese Kembu Group were pushed back from Tipo towards the present Roosevelt Park area.

Liberating Abucay

The American East Force stayed and rested for two days in Mabatang, together with the local guerillas. There was no need to rush toward the town center sinnce the town had been liberated ten (10) days earlier. The Americans agreed to take the much needed rest (and only entered Abucay town on May 11, 1945).

Costly battle

In Manila, the US 37th Infantry Division attacked the Japanese guarding the Provisor Island, a small industrial center on the Pasig River. The Japanese garrison, probably less than a battalion, managed to hold off the 37th  infantrymen. The ensuing battles here lasted for three days, or until February 12.

Meanwhile, the 1st Cavalry Division led by Major General Vernon D. Mudge, liberator of the UST campus, also encountered opposition in the suburbs east of Manila. Although the division’s 7th and 8th Cavalry Regiments fought pitched battles near two water supply installations north of the city, the cavalrymen had extended their control south of the river. The XIV Corps was also able to establish separate bridge heads on both banks of the Pasig River for the first time.

Fearless army

Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, head of the Japanese  Naval Defense Force, and his sailors, marines and Army reinforcements armed with flamethrowers, grenades and bazookas were virtually fearless in front of the enemy after having initially succeded in resisting the American infantrymen.

The Liberators, facing direct fire from tanks, tank destroyers and howitzers, attacked one building after another and killed the Japanese, as well as the trapped civilians inside, without differentiation.

Liberating Manila was really very important for the Americans. But it was a costly endeavor. In terms of casualty, the costliest attack so far fall on the  US 37th Infantry Division when they attacked the Japanese guarding the Provisor Island on the Pasig River. After two more days of bloody encounters, the Japanese killed nearly 100 of the 37th  infantrymen as of February 11.

American link-up

In the western side of the Zigzag Pass, the US 151st Regiment was withdrawn from the battle area for another mission. The 152nd Regiment remained in the area and continued the offensive eastward.

Palawan freed

On February 11, the combined U.S. Liberation forces and the Filipino guerrillas under the command of Colonel Macario Peralta successfully landed in the beach area of Puerto Princesa, Palawan. They entered Puerto Princesa, the capital, and easily defeated a small group of Japanese soldiers assigned on the island. They also freed the Filipino and Allied POWs at the Japanese internment camp, the Iwahig Penal Colony. The remaining enemy fled to the hills and became the subject of manhunt by the guerrilas of Palawan.

Liberated Abucay

American soldiers and guerillas, after liberating Orani and Samal, finally entered the town of Abucay at dawn of February 11, 1945. They were no longer surprised to see for themselves that the town had already been liberated by guerillas ten days earlier.

Guerrilla leader Anastacio Valencia, Mayor Lorenzo dela Fuente Jr. and the local guerrillas welcomed the Liberation forces in front of the St. Dominic Church. Before dusk, the Liberation forces drove towards the premier town of Balanga.

Relinquishing command

Don Jose “Pepito” Corpuz appeared in Subic on February 12. Recognizing Corpuz as a senior officer, Governor Ramon Magsaysay called for a meeting of all sector commanders in which he relinquished his military district command to his predecessor.

Don Pepito also called for another meeting at the house of Virgilio Afable, a Subic physician and nephew of Congressman Valentin Afable. Magsaysay attended only the opening part because he had to perform certain duties as miltary governor.

After the governor left, Don Pepito announced that henceforth only regular USAFFE officers and men were to stay on active duty by reporting to their assigned units. Without any discussion, Corpuz ordered the ZMD disbanded right there and then. It was all unexpected that the guerrillas were really taken aback. Understandably, Corpuz resented his replacement as “leader of the province” and of the guerrilla group by someone he considered his junior and mere subordinate.

On the other hand, Magsaysay was enraged by Don Pepito’s order to disband ZMD without his consent. “Corpuz has no authorty to disband the organization,” he thundered. At two in the afternoon of the same day, he re-assembled his guerrilla officers and told them to disregard Don Pepito’s orders. He said it was he, not Corpuz, who had been recognized as ZMD chief and military governor. The officers agreed to stay on as if nothing had happened. Naturally, words about the incident spread quickly.

Liberation of Balanga

American Liberation forces entered Balanga early in the morning of February 13 without opposition. It turned out that the Japanese soldiers based at the Balanga Elementary School and two other small garrisons in the town center, to include Captain Tanaka, Captain Tamora and Lt. Kaneshiro, simply left the garrison at dawn.

The Americans pursued the Japanese into the hills of Tanato and Bataan Peak. They used local guerillas as guides to locate the Japanese stragglers. The guerillas were also asked to put up sentries in the sitios of Maluya and Tanato.

To the south

At noon, a squadron of American warplanes dropped heavy bombs along the length of the Pilar-Bagac Road to prevent the Japanese stragglers of Balanga from retreating toward Bagac. Balanga’s acting Mayor Carlos Y. Gonzales (1944-1945) also continued performing his duty of governing the affairs of the capital town.

Assault on Corregidor

During all these, American troopers started the retaking of Corregidor Island where a Japanese infantry was entrenched. Early in the morning of February 13, at 8:33 a.m., the US Navy added to the bombardment of Corregidor being undertaken by US warplanes. Cruisers and destroyers entered Manila Bay and repeatedly bombarded the island-fortress and braved sporadic Japanese artillery counter-fire. Minesweepers also continuously operated around the island for three days.

Philippine Army reorganization

On this day, February 13, Major General Basilio Valdez, Secretary of the National Defense and concurrent Chief of Staff under President Sergio Osmeña led a conference held at Camp Calasiao, Pangasinan to reorganize the Philippine Commonwealth Army Headquarters Command. The first unit organized was the Presidential Guard Battalion for the Philippine President and placed it under the command of Major Amado Dumlao.

Liberation of Pilar

After retaking Balanga, the American Liberation Forces continued liberating the other southern and western towns of Bataan. Pilar town was freed from the Japanese at noon of February 14, 1945. Before dusk, the neighboring barrios of Calungusan and Sto. Domingo in Orion were also liberated.

New Bataan governor

Back in Balanga, former Congressman Teodoro Camacho Sr. was appointed acting governor of Bataan by President Sergio Osmena on February 14, through radio communication. He replaced Simeon Salonga who was temporarily placed under house arrest in Orani.

Refugees return

A day after the liberation of Balanga from the Japanese, evacuees from “Kanal na Bago” in Pampanga and Hagonoy in Bulacan started to arrive in the capital town in droves by all modes of transportation available–boats, karetela, reconditioned buses and even military trucks. They wanted to see their town fully liberated from the enemy.

Among those who returned to Balanga from Hagonoy, Bulacan, were the  male siblings of Luz Magsaysay: namely Aurelio, Antonio and Teodoro. They went home to see their rebuilt house along Zulueta Street in Poblacion still standing.

The Banzon women, Encarnacion, Rosario, Consuelo and Elisa, remained in Hagonoy for the meantime with their mother, Lucila Rosauro-Banzon, now a widow.

The Balangueños left Bataan for the last time, as soon as the Japanese launched their program – “kill-the-civilian” – a few days after the American Liberation forces invaded the island of Leyte in the Visayas on October 22, 1944.

Unfinished business

The American liberators in Bataan at this time still had to complete their mission – to liberate the whole province of Bataan as soon as possible.

From Pilar, the American Liberation East Force under the command of General William Chase split. The bigger part composed mostly of the 38th Division, continued their southward drive toward the town of Orion. The smaller contingent (composed of a portion of the 149th Infantry) turned west astride Route 111 (the present Governor Linao Highway), toward the towns of Bagac and Morong.

Orion town proper was liberated by the 38th Division at noon of February 15, 1945 after bloody encounters with the Japanese soldiers in Barrio Poblacion (presently known as Barangay Arellano-San Vicente) where the enemy garrison was located.

MacArthur’s visit

General Douglas MacArthur reportedly visited the liberated town of Orion in the afternoon, or immediately after the encounter and personally met and spoke with the incumbent Mayor Arsenio Joco (1941-1945). The American general was with the officials of the Philippine Civilian Affairs Unit (PCAU), led by Lt. Col. E.C. Crossman, the agency’s executive officer for Bataan.

No trouble

Upset for a few days, Zambales Governor Ramon Magsaysay told those around him how he  respected Don Pepito Corpuz as an elder relative, a former boss at TRY-TRAN and a senior officer. He was therefore willing to give up his command because he regarded it as temporary only. He said that “if Don Pepito only heeded my repeated pleas that he leads the ZMD before the Amercan landings, there would have been no trouble.”

Evidently, Magsaysay was beginning to like the feel of authority and power. The gubernatorial post really gave him the first chance to openly assert his desire to be treated as a leader, which he certainly was to  the guerrilas, to many people, and to the Americans.

Thereafter, Magsaysay moved his ZMD headquarters and provincial governor’s office to Subic. Luz and their children joined him. They all lived at the house of Ramon’s uncle named Ireneo R. Reyes, the husband of her aunt Josefina del Fierro Reyes.

Congressman Antonio Llamas’ death

On February 15, 1945, while the Americans were engaged in the siege of the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium in Malate, Japanese soldiers belonging to Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi’s Naval Defense Force barged into several houses located along the Dakota Street, in Malate. The house of Congressman Antonio Llamas was not spared. The Bataan solon, his wife Rosita Ocampo, and son Danding were found inside the house and were reported to have been “brutally killed.”

New information, however, claimed that Congressman Llamas, his wife and son were initially taken to the nearby De La Salle University where other civilians were also brought and used as hostages. (It was here where Antonio, Rosita and Danding Llamas were finally murdered in cold blood by the Japanese soldiers in early March 1945.)

Liberation of Limay

After more than four years of Japanese Occupation, the liberation of Limay, Bataan  finally on February 16, 1945, exactly 39 days after the local guerillas successfully liberated Hermosa on January 9, 1945. Elements of the American Liberation’s 38th Infantry Regiment landed in the beaches of Kitang and Landing and joined forces with the local guerillas and attacked the Limay Elementary School and the Gabaldon Elementary School which were being used by the Japanese soldiers as garrisons at that time.The garrisons were easily taken over. Barrio Lamao was also liberated on the same day.

While the liberation of Limay was still going on, the American South Force of General William C. Chase arrived at the mouth of Manila at 10:00, also in the morning of February 16. There, they joined in the on-going asssault of Corregidor.

End of Battle of Zigzag Pass

The “Battle of Zigzag Pass” in the Hermosa-Dinalupihan mountain areas formally ended at noon of February 22, or after 23 days of grim struggle.

The numerous battles that took place at the Zigzag Pass cost the Americans 2,000 lives, according to General William C. Chase, commanding general of the Liberation Forces in Bataan. He made the announcement publicly in front of some 350 civilians gathered at the town plaza of Dinalupihan.

Records have it that the 38th Infantry Division lost 270 men and 420 wounded. The 34th Regiment also suffered 68 dead and 268 wounded. On the side of the Japanese, some 16,000 stubborn soldiers were killed in hundreds of bunkers and pillboxes dug up in the hilly areas of Hermosa and Dinalupihan, a testament to the ferocity of the said struggle. Only 25 Japanese were taken alive as prisoners.

Osmena in Manila

On February 27, President Sergio Osmeña arrived in Manila from Tacloban City. He was met by General Douglas MacArthur as his plane touched down at Nichols Air Base. Despite the threat of assassination attempts on his life, the President took the ride on an open military jeep that brought him from Pasay City to Malacañang Palace.

In Malacanang, which was captured intact, General Douglas MacArthur (as Military Administrator) turned over the key to the city and the reins of the civil government to President Osmeña. While the palace ceremony was going on, the intermittent fighting continued in Intramuros, across the Pasig River.

In his speech, Osmeña dissolved the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic, under José P. Laurel as president. In the afternoon, Osmeña expanded his Cabinet by virtue of Executive Order No. 217.

The new Cabinet men include: Jaime Hernandez, Finance; Tomas Cabili, National Defense; Maximo Kalaw, Public Instructions; Delfin Heronila, Justice; Panay Governor Tomas Confessor, Interior; Basilio Valdez, Health and Public Welfare; Sotero Catubig, Public Works; Ismael Mathay of  Balanga, Bataan, Finance; Mariano Eraña, Labor; and General Carlos P. Romulo, Public Information.

Liberated Corregidor

Also on this day, February 27, Corregidor Island was pronounced fully liberated. Across the bay, the town of Mariveles was also formally pronounced liberated from the Japanese. The recapture of the provinces of Zambales and Bataan, as well as Corregidor, enabled the Americans full access of Manila Bay and its world-class deepwater port. This development subsequently allowed the easy resupply of US forces in retaking Manila.

Military governorship

After General Douglas MacArthur turned over the government to President Sergio Osmena, the latter immediately got in touch with local leaders. Many military governorship in the provinces, to include Zambales, lasted only for five weeks.

On March 8, erstwhile Zambales Governor Francisco Anonas wrote Ramon Magsaysay that he had resumed his prewar position as provincial governor  by authority of President Sergio Osmeña. Magsaysay gave up the post graciously.

Among his fellow guerrillas, however, they grudgingly recalled how Governor Anonas became a “collaborator” and did nothing when the Americans arrived to liberate Zambales. “If I wanted to stay in power, I could have him (Anonas) liquidated,” Magsaysay reportedly remarked in anger. So after five weeks as governor,  he appreciated his potential for leadership and public service.

With the abrupt ending of Ramon’ term as governor, Luz and the children returned once more to Castillejos where they eventually occupied the family shack. But Ramon also opted to keep the ZMD headquarters open in Subic, at the  parish convent of Fr. Juan Tugadi who also served as ZMD chaplain during the war years. By this time, Ramon already expected to be assigned as an Army officer anywhere, any time, even to take part in the Okinawa campaign or in the expected invasion of Japan as  rumors went those days.


Colonel Gyles Merrill was one of those who were shocked when he learned that Captain  Ramon Magsaysay had been relieved by former Zambales Governor Francisco Anonas. All the while, he had  been assured by an aide of President Osmeña that Magsaysay will remain as provisional governor of the province. He was  very, very disappointed.

Get Yamashita

Also on this day, General MacArthur sent most of the frontline troops who were involved in the liberation of Manila to the Mountain Province where the Japanese led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita had dug in to make a last stand.

Thereafter, General Douglas MacArthur returned to Corregidor for a visit. It was here where he spent the early months of the Japanese invasion in 1942. With tears in his eyes, he inspected his former lateral (quarters) on the island, the ravaged Malinta Tunnel and a couple of the destroyeed battery stations.

MacArthur ordered a new American flag be hoisted on the island’s flagpole before he returned to Manila in the afternoon.

Oil depot

On March 15, 1945, the Bataan Oil Terminal (POSCO) was established in Barrio Kitang (now Barrio Luz) in Limay by the US Air Force. It was transferred to the 24th Air Force in Angeles City, Pampanga  in 1952.

Memorial shrine

In April 1945, the provincial government of Bataan put up a simple shrine at the so-called Layac Junction, part of Dinalupihan town. It was in commemoration of the gallantry of the Filipino guerrillas and American soldiers during the Liberation period, specifically during the “Battle of Zigzag Pass” in the mountainous areas of Dinalupihan and Hermosa.

A spot near the boundary of Bataan and Pampanga was also recognized as a hallowed ground. It was the site, based on US War Department records, where the so-called “Battle of the Hermosa-Dinalupihan Delay Phase Line” transpired. War historians also considered it as a “real” defense line just as the battles in Bataan between the Japanese Army and the USAFFE forces started. A simple marker was erected by the Bataan provincial government on the said spot.

Layac shrine

In March 1946, the surviving members of the US 38th Infantry Division which fought the  Japanese at the so-called “Battle of the Zigzag Pass” financed the constructionn of a real memorial at the Layac Junction.

In 1998, during the administration of Governor Leonardo B. Roman, the old Layac shrine was replaced by another monument featuring life-size images of USAFFE soldiers who fought and died during World War II in Bataan.The construction of the new monument was financed by the provincial government of Bataan.

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