6/16/08

1,234 Days of Fear: The Japanese Occupation in Baao
P. B. Robosa from "Baao Vignettes"

Last December 14, 2007, sixty six years had passed since the conquerors from the Japanese Empire disturbed the cheery and peaceful life of the people of Baao. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 spearheaded the Japanese juggernaut in the Pacific and on December 12, five days later, they reached close to home in Legaspi. In the early morning of December 14, the Baaoeños awoke to the sound of the Japanese advance forces slamming their way through the Bicol region. On December 18 and 19 along the national highway, the town saw a continuous flow of Japanese armaments and personnel going towards the direction of Naga, heralding almost four years of occupation.
Initial reaction was slight as Filipino-American forces chose to avoid engagement and instead moved northwards to regroup. Government employees prepared to abandon their posts and readied themselves and their families for as yet uncertain future, some of them raiding whatever was left of the town coffers. The local government disbanded or resigned in anticipation of a possible brutal take-over. For a while, the town was almost deserted as initial fear grew into panic and most of the residents moved into the outskirts of the town. The fear of the Japanese later subsided as Japanese propaganda and good public relations began to take its effect and most of the towns people needed return to the ”poblacion” to buy and sell needed foodstuff and commodities. In a few months, a semblance of a local government was reorganized and in Baao, the respected Tomas Guevara was persuaded to take the difficult job of steering Baao through the subsequently difficult years. History proved that the choice was a godsend because Mayor Guevara proved to be a match for the dangerous situation that was thrown to his lap. His mettle in dealing with the arrogant and unpredictable Japanese was responsible for saving unnamed but valuable Baaoeño lives.
When the Japanese promises proved false and the war resulted in the eventual downturn in the economy, the Baaoeños had to fortify themselves to years of scarcity, uncertainty and depravation. The fortunate few who retreated to the mountains could live off the land but still food was scarce because the men who tilled and planted were either scared to work, were being held in Japanese prisons or were forced under the employ of the Japanese. An adventurous lot had joined roaming guerilla bands to harass the Japanese, while a few took advantage of the situation and simply resorted to banditry and extortion. For everybody, food and money was scarce, thus danger could come from anywhere, from the shameless bandits impersonating guerillas to the abusive and undisciplined Japanese soldiers. Thus, a life in town was safer and was endured by some in order to protect their property while living under the menace the enemy. The scarcity of manufactured goods lead some enterprising citizens to try their hands at making such necessities as soap or oil and going into trades like weaving and wine making.
In the end, Japanese brutality brought up its worst as the war turned disastrously for them. Although the Japanese were always swift in meting punishment to guerillas or anyone suspected of having ties with the underground as demonstrated by the execution of Baao’s Chief of Police Eusebio Dato, who, early in the occupation, was found aiding the guerillas, the anticipation of sure defeat and annihilation began to dull their reason. As American planes started to bring damage to their positions and causing casualties among their ranks, maddened and crazed Japanese burned more than 70 people including women and children inside houses in Agdangan on October 17, 1944 in what will be one of the war’s documented cold-blooded atrocities by the Japanese against Filipino civilians. At these point, further Japanese crimes in the form of summary arrests and kidnappings was the order of the day and not a few prominent Baaoeños and Chinese residents became victims of this reign of terror, causing most of the people to avoid the town altogether. Japanese retreat was followed by American planes harassing them and not a few of this American bullets and bombs found their mark not on the enemy where they were intended, but on the local civilians. However, relief was felt among the people that the long awaited end to the war was near. The war ended in Baao officially on April 15, 1945 when American advanced scouts reached Baao. Though the town was half deserted, the news of the arrival of the Americans was greeted with jubilation.
We are fortunate that this period of our History was recorded so close after it happened by one of those who experienced the war and modern readers will be delighted to read the following account. Although some dates disagree now with statements given by persons who had first-hand experiences or were closer to the event than the writer who recorded this dates, may I reprint the following without alterations from the Baao Fiesta Souvenir Program of 1946.
Local Chronology of Events
By Pablo B. Esplana, Bureau of Education
1946

1941
December 12-at 2:00 A.M. Japanese forces landed at San Miguel, Caramoan. Camarines Sur and simultaneously at Legaspi. Albay. This is probably the first Japanese to land on the Philippines.
December 14-at 5:38 A.M. A division of Japanese forces passed in Baao with complete war armaments.
December 18 to 19 A continuous flow of Japanese cavalry units passed Baao. The Bicol Region is completely overrun.
December 25 - Japanese forces landed at Atimonan, Tayabas.
1942

April 10 - Municipality of Baao raided by guerilla forces. The Treasury Department said to be ransacked
April 19 - The Municipality of Iriga was raided by Guerilla forces, some Japanese were killed and the Japanese position in Alatco burned.
May 1 - Naga was raided by guerilla forces under Capts. Flor Miranda and Gordinker. Naga fell in the hands of the guerilla. Governor Villafuerte and M. Crescini fled to Tinambac. Naga commercial district burned.
May 9 - A unit of about 16 Japanese trucks re-enter Naga from Legaspi in the afternoon same unit was harassed by a guerilla unit at Waras River. The fight lasted for about one hour. Many Japanese soldiers were killed including one officer. About sixteen Filipinos were either killed or wounded. Houses on both sides of the road from Waras to San Nicolas. Iriga, were burned by the Japanese.
May 12 - Camarines Sur recaptured by Japanese forces. Provincial and Municipal Governments formally organized, with Capt. Tuneyosi as Director of Japanese Military Administration.
July 17 - Local Guerilla detachment under Lieutenant Wenceslao and Lieut. Estrada captured at Salvacion, Baao.
Nov. 30 - Baao chief of Police Mr. Eusebio Dato executed by the Japanese soldiers, at the Suspension Bridge Naga, Camarines Sur.
1943
In first month of this year, a bandit terror disguised as guerilla under Capt. Amado Bueta and Lt. Juan Bueta terrorized the mountains of Baao, believed to have killed at least 21 innocent civilians. In last months of same year, a guerilla unit under Sgt. llagan was routed by P.C. in Himaao Public School llagan was killed.
1944
May 29 - Work on Japanese Military preparations begun. Laborers were taken from every Municipality in Rinconada.
June 20-Mabatobato Japanese position attacked by guerilla unit of unidentified group. Some Japanese were killed.
October 17 - Agdangan was burned with around 100 civilians, mostly women, children and old people were burned, Barrio Lieuts, from San Isidro. and Agdangan Neighborhood President were killed.
October 21 - Fifty U.S. planes raid Mabatobato, Anayan, Pili and San Jose. Pili around 500 Japanese soldiers killed.
Nov. 20. The Cari of Rufino Bayrante. in San Francisco. Baao. raided by Japanese forces from Iriga in an effort to trap Dioscoro Asetre alias (Big Boy). Two unidentified persons, male and female. were killed.
December 30 U.S. bombers raid Naga railway and machine-gunned Iriga. Naga station was completely destroyed.
1945
Jan. 13 - a column of about 600 Japanese soldiers on way to the north from the south was met by 4 U.S. raiders at Baao, About 50 of the soldiers were killed. Two Civilians, one a Chinese (Cha) was killed
Jan. 15 - Four U.S. planes raided Iriga, Baao Pili and Naga, Fifteen civilians were killed or wounded in Baao at Maglapid's residence on the road leading from Baao to Nabua.
Jan. 16 - A bigger squadron of U.S. raiders attacked Iriga. Baao, Pili, and Naga. Eight bombs were dropped at the Baao Railway. One civilian (Isidoro Bulalacao) was killed and two were wounded
Jan. 17 -Jap soldiers kidnapped Mr. Juan Badilla and Chinese Diogna, Pana. Arnado and Valeriana Bravo, a Filipina.
Jan. 20 - Japanese soldiers kidnap Dr. Dominador Barreta, Santiago Barretta. J. Barono. S Amilano, P. Blando, M. Botor, Mericia Badiola and her sick husband, with R. Martirez.
Feb. 22 - Japanese soldier kidnapped Martin Badiola, P. Silvestre, C. Bustilia, T. Bersa, A. Bulalacao, N Laut.
March 13 - Sunday as usual for several Sundays Japanese market car came to barter farm products with textiles and others. This day around 50 Japanese solders went with the market car and raided San Vicente killing C Bulalacao. Two others, Tomas Biseno and Fabian Bacsain, were killed in the afternoon, in Del Rosario.
March 25 - Blue Eagle Guerilla harassed Japanese forces at Agdangan, Report made by Commander Juan Guevara states 49 Japanese soldiers killed One B1ue Eagle soldier was wounded.
April1 Last appearance of Japanese market car in Baao, American forces landed at Legaspi, Albay.
April 7 - Japanese soldier abandon Iriga. Pawili Bridge blasted by Japanese.
April 9 - Camarines Sur guerilla harassed Japanese in Naga.
April 12 - Iriga was subjected to a heavy machinegun raid. The Japanese evacuated it earlier, some civilians were killed.
April ??? - Naga was subjected to a heavy raid, Bombs and machine guns were used. Naga Educational area was destroyed. Many Japanese soldiers were burned.
April 15 - American Advance scouts (suicide forces) reach Baao. Civilians jubilant.
April 22 - Baao Municipal Building was burned midnight of this day.
April 29 - Main body of U.S. forces reach Baao. May 5 - PCAU organized the local Municipal Government in Baao. Vice Mayor Francisco Barretto was appointed Acting Mayor and schools were opened.
Sept. 30 - 158th infantry 2nd battalion, under Col. Sandlin leave for another destination probably Japan.

6/4/08


Answers to some welcome comments

May I answer some comments from our readers.

from j.a. Carizo:

“This is an interesting entry. But I just wonder: If the entry on the Chinese interaction is true, how come I haven't seen Chinese residents in the area? And almost all of the surnames of the locales (since post World War II) are not Chinese-sounding surnames?”

Well, contrary to common perception, Baao has many Chinese residents and business people(read “A Spark Into the Darkness:The Life and Death of Dr. Dominador UyBarretta) My side of the Esplana Family have many stories of Chinese migrants to the town assuming the Esplana family name to integrate smoothly among the people. This example of integration is probably the reason the Chinese is seamlessly assimilated into the population and also this is why very few of their original names survive. From the same aforesaid article above, you will find that many of the Chinese doing business in Baao before the WWII were among those taken by the Japanese and never returned. I have found traces of the Chinese in Baao not only in its pre-Hispanic history but during the last century when they migrated to the town intermittently in waves.

From “paula abdul” :

This site appears to have only entries from Paulix Robosa when it is supposed to be from and/or for the "Baao historical and cultural society." Isn't this too presumptuous? Does this organization really exist? Who are the members, anyways?

Word of advice: just make it a personal blog, minus the pretense. It wont hurt.

Some entries are also from Fr. Ramirez and A. del Rosario. Yes, there is a “Baao Historical & Cultural Society” composed of many people not only those mentioned above and anyone interested in Baao History and Culture, barring objections, is considered a member. However, much as we like that many would contribute to this site, we are still in the process of calling attention to it and soliciting contributions. Your comments are not only welcome but also a big help. I am afraid I would be presumptuous if I would put the History and culture of Baao on a personal site of which I have several already.

From “ali-ponga”

“Do you know why our area is called “Rinconada”? I've done some research and couldn't find an explanation.

Take a map of the Bicol region, and using a ruler, trace a line following the Bicol river from Bato Lake to Bula. Then with the same ruler, trace a line from Bula then to Baao, on to Buhi, double back, by-pass Iriga and Nabua but end at Bato. By connecting your lines, you will find that you have created a triangle or three corners. In English, the Spanish “Rinconada” means “cornered”or “little corner”.

Keep searching and Enjoy!

P. Robosa