Category Archives: Corregidor

That Ol’ Ford Factory at Bukit Timah

The museum doing a free ad for Ford Motors

Coming from the northeastern part of the island, a trip to Bukit Timah takes around an hour or so. The duration of the trip depends on where you are and what type of transport you use. The island is stringed together by an extensive network of secured train stations (most are annexed to shopping centers) so traveling around is convenient.  I alighted at the Clementi MRT station, went opposite the Clementi mall and took the bus number 184. After passing the campuses of Singapore Institute of Management, Ngee Ann Polytechnic and six bus stops,  I reached Ford’s old factory.

When I arrived I was greeted by this affable Singaporean fella, Jimmy, who supervises the entire museum all by himself. We spoke for awhile about the history of the place, how it was restored (the museum is actually just the facade, reception hall and administrative area of the former factory, that’s almost 1/4 of the original). The Japanese picked this location for the British to surrender to send a strong message to Britain and her ally, America. The guy knows his turf, knowledgeable and passionate not only about the tasks he performs around the museum but to his country’s WWII history. He invited me to the second floor where the museum’s theater is located. The place could seat 50 or more people, but there I was, watching the history of the island during WWII alone! I later found out from Jimmy that he have Filipino relatives (a first cousin of his founded the brief and t-shirt company “Warren”). During his first visit to the country, he recalls how the posh villages of Makati and the one “near Camp Crame” took him “by surprise”. Seeing those palatial American sized and styled abodes, he thought the richest people in the region lives in the Philippines!  But he frequented old relatives in Chinatown too, so he got to see the surrounding suburbs of the capital where he witnessed some of the most wretched living conditions in the country.

The room where paperworks were signed officially surrendering the islands, and effectively the British resistance in Asia. Those are the original seats where the generals sat by the way.

The first time I saw the Ford factory was in a book I borrowed while I was in grade school. Of course, I didn’t know what the place was then but I remember the caption reads,”The Fall of Singapore”. I’ll never forget that iconic black and white photo of Gen. Yamashita and his party sitting opposite Gen. Percival and his men. Yamashita demanded his forces unconditional surrender and the British commander, in almost a sheepish manner yielded to his terms. It was the largest capitulation in modern British military history. Yamashita bluffed his way through the negotiation. I wonder if the British General would have made a different decision had he known that the Japanese was running out of supply and ammunition. The failure to continue defending Singapore understandably falls on his laps, as a local historian points out, not only was the Japanese having difficulties with their arms and food provisions during that time; the British, Australian and all local forces out numbers the Imperial army – 30,000 to 100,000+!

The facade of the Ford Factory

Percival carried the weight of this surrender until his death. The only British officer with his military rank that fought in WWII that was never knighted (big honor among the Brits). While he had a storied military career  his commanding skills had been subject to criticism and questions after the fall of Singapore. But in fairness to him, while it is claimed then that Singapore was “impregnable”, it was really not that secure. The British empire had thinly “outstretched” her military. Yamashita  knew the key to Singapore was to attack it from Johor. So he decided to enter Thailand and take all the Malaysian towns he could get his hands on and from Johor, besiege Singapore. From the time the Japanese reached Johor, there was really no stopping them. Percival destroyed the bridges that connected Johor to the island but it was just a matter of time before the Japs cross the narrow straits. Yamashita’s brutality and sadistic methods against his enemies and civilians weighed on everyone, and I’m sure it did on Percival. For the Japanese, fear paralyzes the mind and then the heart. During the surrender, when Percival demanded that some of his troops remain armed to maintain order, Yamashita threatened him that he’ll command more vicious attacks. At one time during the war an entire hospital, staff and patients were savagely massacred. The island was subjected to continuous air raids that targeted homes and shops. So many had perished during the initial days of the battle that it was impossible to bury everyone that died. There were also these killings called sook ching that took place in Changi and Punggol, hundreds of young Chinese men, mostly civilians, executed.

Seen here is the British delegation during the surrender. Except for the Ford sign, the facade has been fully restored. Photo courtesy of http://lsmpostcard.blogspot.sg/

I can’t help but think about Corregidor, which is much smaller (7 kms long, width around 2 kms) and like Singapore was ferociously besieged by the Japanese. They had to take it, otherwise, their ships would continue to be under threat when it enters Manila bay. Corregidor was bombed from high hell and back – the most bombed piece of land on earth! It took so much shelling that the entire island had to be reforested after the war. The relentless Japanese attacks started on December 1941  and ended when the island was surrendered by Gen. Wainwright, on April 1942. How those men resisted, inflicting damages to their adversaries while doing so, is testament to their fortitude and fighting spirit. The American had the foresight that one day they would be challenged for the possession of the country and control over the pacific. The series of tunnels (complete with a medical facility) and a plethora of high powered, far reaching cannons positioned in the main island and the surrounding islets made it difficult to capture. How the fighters of Corregidor fought under extreme conditions for four long months is stuff of legends.

Homeboy striking a post in the entrance where Yamashita and his men entered. The British were made to walk with the Union Jack and a white flag (they entered this same door of course) while Yamashita road a sedan and alighted just outside this door.

When things was going bad for the Japanese in the Philippines they called on Yamashita. But around this time the tides of war had already turned against them. Percival would have his revenge, sort of, he attended Yamashita’s surrender in Baguio. A symbolic gesture more than anything because he was not really involved in the Philippine operations. Percival recalls seeing the Japanese general having a surprised look when he saw  him in Baguio. It is said that the British general refused to shake hands with the Japanese because of how he treated the POW’s. I think it’s incredible to think that people would hold on to values and morality in times of war (when everybody’s going berserk, mad and just bananas!) but believe it or not, some people do – even Japanese had men who conducted themselves honorably. A story was told to me by film archivist Ernie San Pedro of Japanese soldiers visiting farming villages to help plant rice and during the reaping season, harvest them side by side with farmers. People suspect them to be farmers before they were enlisted. Men wishing to experience their former lives albeit temporarily. Once work is done or when they’re called to report back, they leave without taking anything.

Another look at the historic administration room of the factory where Singapore was surrendered to the Imperial army. The interior is off limits to visitors.

Another popular photo (see here), taken at the end of WWII, was the signing of Japanese surrender aboard USS Missouri at the bay of Tokyo. MacArthur, understanding the symbolic significance of Singapore and Corregidor, invited the commanders that surrendered these two islands as witness aboard. Both appeared gaunt and tired. There he asked the two generals to stand behind him while he sign the instrument of surrender. Each received pens (a Parker Duofold) that was used by the supreme allied commander in signing the surrender documents. MacArthur was said to have signed the last document using a purplish ink. This last pen he later gave to his wife.

I like this glammed up version of the proceeding. The work of one Saburo Miyamoto. Showing the Union Jack and the white flag. Now, the original photo doesn’t have the flags. It was added to symbolize the capitulation of the British forces. Photo courtest of http://lsmpostcard.blogspot.sg/

In our country, it’s a challenge to bring the younger generation to take interest on history. Same thing here but the local government is pushing hard to bring historical awareness close to the people. And I think they’re slowly meeting their objectives. This museum and similar institutions like it are not only well funded but creative programs are drawn up and created to continue engaging the citizens (locals pay a minimal fee, sometimes fees are waived, like in public holidays). Some of the library and museum projects I’ve seen here are just absolutely incredible. I like that they used “Ford factory” as part of the name (I wonder what the company felt about it). The government is not getting any monetary gains here  but they don’t mind that. No one’s counting money here when it comes to matters of historical education.

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Revisiting Corregidor

Been busy the past few weeks. Things I do now eats up a lot of my time. I no longer get to travel much. So I usually (even with friends) pass up travel opportunities. Budget is tight and there are far more important things to be concerned with is my alibi these days. But there are exemptions, of course, invitations I can’t say no to. Like this request from a brother who wanted to see Corregidor. He wanted to see it before going back stateside. This year being his last tour of duty with US military he wanted to visit what he calls the “Rock”. He’s been to Hawaii’s Pearl Harbour, so I guess this completes his pilgrimage of sorts.

He’s as crazy as I am when it comes to history but his expertise is in the American part of our history. He believes America brought us closer to the ideals political democracy. We don’t agree on a lot of issues, obviously, but this passion for the past has brought us closer. We tolerate each others’ opinions and we enjoy debating over a cup of coffee (we can literally go straight for 4-5 hours discussing historical items, this is our version of “catching up” with lost time!).

We woke up around 5 am and started preparing for the trip. We commuted to Manila and was in the Sun cruises compound before 7 am. Since we don’t have reservations, we were what people there called “chance passengers”. We have to wait for people to cancel or not show up. It was a “full tour” a staffer told me. So I was a bit worried that we might not get on a boat to Corregidor. The first time I went to Corregidor they accommodated more tourist because the boat they used was bigger. This time it was much smaller. I was told that during weekdays Sun cruises only utilize these boats. Since there’s only one tour during weekdays, tourist crowds the first and only tour.

The boat had a mix of foreign tourist on board. Aside from Americans, there were a lot of Japanese. At first I thought that these people would stir clear from Corregidor, they got beaten here pretty bad, but then I realize that their the kind of people that would go and pay their respects to their war dead regardless where the place is. I remember that small cemetery in Muntinlupa where there are Japanese regularly making the pilgrim to that isolated small garden. I can’t help but admire these people. They have good memory when it comes to their national history. We won and forgot about our heroes, they lose but never forgot about the sacrifice of their young men. We can learn something from them.

I thought I’m going to have to talk a lot about what happened in Corregidor. Not the case. Turns out that what I know is not even half of what my brother knows about the battle of Corregidor and Bataan (pronounced Bat’an by Americans). So the tour guide became the tourist in Corregidor. Aside from showing him the Spanish Navy’s battleship mast that was made into a flag pole for the stars and stripes near the old Spanish lighthouse, I hardly contributed any new information to my brother!

The suffering the defenders of Corregidor went through was unimaginable. Being part of the tour makes you respect more what those brave soldiers did. Corregidor and Bataan were the last to be surrendered to the Japanese. The island was where Quezon was inaugurated for his second term (him and Erap were the only presidents that had been sworn to office outside Manila). The Malinta Tunnel became bomb shelter, hospital and residence. The network of tunnels inside Malinta is extensive. So much history in such a small piece island. Just imagine 4000 Japanese men died during the American take over.  Most of them refusing to surrender were burned alive.

It was only in the 1980’s that the location of the Japanese graves was revealed to the Japanese government. For some reason, the location of the mass grave was withheld from the Japanese until that decade. Why the Philippine and American government concealed that location is a mystery. The Japanese was allowed to construct a garden for their dead near where their soldiers were collectively  buried. The Japanese visitors can be seen here offering prayers and incense to a stone goddess about 8 to 10 feet tall.

As me and my brother continued exchanging historical anecdotes we often found ourselves pausing to reflect on some interesting places that catches our attention. Like this gunnery where Japanese letters are etched on the wall. We took photos of it as he wanted his Japanese wife to see it. I was reminded that the island is still surrounded by explosive ammo. I think it was last year when the current President requested help in disposing these dangerous cache of ammo. He made that request to Obama while he was in the White House.

The island is now densely forested. It is as if nature is taking the island back. According to the tour guides, the islands were reforested because almost all of its trees were struck down by bombs. I’m sure Corregidor must be one of the most bombed place in world history. How soldierssurvive the tumultuous years, when the island was relentlessly shelled, is something I can’t get my mind to imagine. It must have been one hellish and awful existence!

The tour and most of the literature about the island concentrates on the role it played during the pacific wars. Hardly ever mentioned is what was life like before the American came. Believe it or not there were several thriving barrios around the island during the Spanish times. The fishing barrio of San Jose is located north (location of bottomside today) of the island. It sits right beside the surf and had a church, a convent, a school (Escuela de Nuestra Señora del Carmen), a market and a small plaza (there was even an ice plant in the island that employed locals). When the Americans came they added two elementary schools and a secondary school. And of course, their living quarters. The schools here are the first ever American public schools in the islands. I’m glad to see that the old Filipino Spanish church was reconstructed (entirely faithful to the original building) reminding tourist’s that the islands past  goes beyond the pacific war.

Along with Manila, Corregidor was the only other Philippine territory under Spain that was attacked by all of its enemies in the pacific. First was this guy Li ma hong. The ambitious Chinese had his eyes on Manila and with his ships and 3000 men launched successive attacks against the capital from Corregidor. He was defeated by the Juan Salcedo and his men. The galant young captain was summoned from Ilocos to defend Manila. And he did just that. Limahong and his forces was chased up to Pangasinan by the Spanish and their local allies. Without the ships that brought them here, some say, Limahong’s men settled in Pangasinan and intermarried with the locals.

Then came the war with the Dutch. The most extensive Philippine war that never made the books. Olivier de Noort was defeated by Spanish galleons converted to battle ships. Manila’s victory was short of a miracle. Those who fought sincerely believed in their hearts that our Lady was with them. After this historic naval battle, Manila decided to create a squad permanently posted in Corregidor to guard it at all times. The reason why I believe this war against the Dutch must be taught in school is that in all of the battles that took place there were large contingents of natives fighting alongside the Spanish. On all of these skirmishes (the last being the Battle of Playa Honda where the Dutch blocked the entrance of all vessels to Manila) the Dutch were defeated. Could you just imagine how many native Filipinos fought in these series of battle with the Dutch? If the Dutch won, we’ll all be familiar with pale lager and not pale pilsen, San Miguel beer would’ve never been the national beverage instead, we’ll be drinking Heineken! We would’ve been “going Dutch” in no time.

Looking back, without the Dutch attacks, Manila would’ve never had a “La Naval” tradition. We must remember that the first devotees were those who took part in the battles to keep Manila Spanish. Most of them native Filipinos that honestly believed in their hearts that by defending Manila they doing just service for their country, their motherland and the Catholic church. The Brits came later and held the capital hostage for three years. The Americans before the turn of the century, and the Japanese. All of these invaders made use of Corregidor for some reason or another.

Well, I guess I should write a separate articles about all of these.

Below are some of the photos I took that day:

That’s smog. One day we’ll all just choke in the metro. When I was still in my teens I imagined myself residing in one of those towers so I can see the sunset going down Manila bay.

I think that’s MOA but with all that smog I could be wrong.

They say the Japs were the ones that dug those caves. They made these area near the port their temporary submarine base.

The islands port. In this area, MacArthur left the country for Australia. Remember the “I shall return”, he said that to Wainwright here along with the promise of promoting him when gets his ass back.

I think these are Korean letters. Possibly by those who fought alongside the real Japs – but then again these could be just graffiti from Korean tourist!

Mi hermano inspecting a WWII relic. These heavy artillery are unbelievable. Makes you think if the Americans prepared for war long before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. These are massive armaments man!

I found this flag near the Japanese shrine where most of the Imperial army men were buried. They say this was the Japanese flag in the island. I’m sure most of those who wrote here died in the island. There was less than a dozen Japanese soldiers that survive the so called liberation of the island.

This baby right here sunk countless ships before heavy Japanese bombardment took it out. These was installed here in the early 1900’s. I’m sure these were not brought here to scare pirates and foreign fishing boats. The Yankees knows somethings up ahead otherwise they would have not prepared this well. If the Spaniard armed Corregidor like what these people did, it would’ve taken them a long time to capture Manila.

My brother staring at the tail of the island of Corregidor. Somewhere near the “tail” is the air strip of the island.

December 2011


Visiting Corregidor

April is the month we honor what we Filipinos call “Kagitingan” of those who fought against the Japanese during the Second World War. I’m not surprised that the day (April 9) just passed like an ordinary day. We live in a world where such commemoration is no longer an integral part of our society. If we had live through the terror of that war – we would remember these dates for sure.

The Mile Long barracks

I brought myself to Corregidor to reflect on this part of our history. I don’t spend as much time studying our history during WWII compared to 16th to 19th Filipino history, which I study with much dedication (or so I think). For some reason I can’t explain, mid 1900’s appeals to me less, but of course this does not mean that it means less. The events of WWII here in our land deserves to be read and meditated upon. That war was as crucial as the revolution of 1896.

A vet and his son. This former marine served in the Korean war not in the pacific, "I was too young but I wouldnt mind", he said. Fine chaps from the state of Kentucky.

For a very reasonable fee, Suncruise Tours, will take you to Corregidor; give you an incredibly informative tour and unlimited food for lunch, now that’s not a bad deal at all!

48 kilometers west of Manila, the boat ride was fast, smooth and air-conditioned, now this is good for those who don’t want to deal with the heat. What really surprised me was how knowledgeable the tour guides are – yes, they probably have been doing this for years but still, it’s nice to know that you’re listening to people that really knows what they’re talking about. I’m done with those tour guides that resorts to historical “what-if’s” and badly researched but appealing lectures to sell their gigs.

Deserted buildings in the island where you can sense death and suffering.

The American flag of Corregidor

There were a lot of old foreigners on board. There were even some Japanese (they spoke no English). Just by looking at some of them I know they were there, or somewhere, in the thick of battle, fighting their guts out. I could just imagine the horrors they’ve witnessed. It must be tough to go back to a place where friends and people you know died. I wonder if walking around the island was a healing experience for them – this could very well be the case.

The island is considered by many as a place for forgiveness and acceptance. Believe it or not there’s shrine in the island dedicated to the Japanese dead. A sign that things are back to normal – nations that once fought eachother are friends once again. An American tourist, in his 30’s, remarked “we’re too forgiving!” after the tour guide took the crowd to the Japanese shrine where a huge monument of  a Japanese goddess stands. Forgiving is a liberating experience but we can’t blame those who haven’t come to terms with losing their loveones. My father still holds grudge against the Japanese. I’ve also heard of Filipino families, whose lovones were brutalize by Americans and local guerilla soldiers. Who can blame them if they still detest those who committed atrocities against family members. Old wounds sometimes don’t heal.

One of the first things I noticed is how stunning the island is – aside from the floating rubbish that reaches its shore, the island is still a tropical escape not far from Manila. Its black volcanic sands and rocky coast provides a scenic, historic adventure. There’s no longer any barrio in the islands (there was once a lively fishing village called Sn Jose).

I was told that all the people that I see around are employees. The place employs quite a number of people. The grounds, the museum, shrines (Pacific War Memorial, Filipino Heroes Memorial and Japanese Peace Garde) are very well maintained – all of these made feel that the money I spent was very well worth it.

The Malinta Channel

You could see Manila, Cavite and Bataan at some vantage point like the lighthouse in the old Spanish plaza. It was such an incredible sight but going up to the tower requires a little physical flexibility, its good exercise. Near the old plaza one could see a metal poll, where anAmrican flag is hoisted, this war booty was taken from defeated Spanish ship.

Noticeable around the structure are the scars the bullets and bombs left in the island. I heard from somewhere that Corregidor is the second most bombed placed on earth. Heavily bombed as was Poland, I was thinking that the bombers, the Japanese and then the Americans, were not only trying to demolish the defense of the Rock but sink the whole island!

One could literally smell death in some of the dark abandoned quarters that managed to survive heavy bombardment. The batteries had been riddled and disfigured by bullets, bombs and shrapnel’s. You start to picture how the men defended Corregidor for weeks without yielding to the enemy – I’m sure, a quick surrender had crossed the defenders mind a million times – it was the easier option. Touring the island made me understand how resilient they choose to be.

Where McArthur made his buh-bye for now

An American civilian officer describes what it was like taking refuge in the island while it was under assault, “under bomb and shell with our soldiers and sailors…where men were down to the ultimate realities of life, where all of us lived daily with death”.

There are four islands in this part of Manila bay, Corregidor is the biggest. The other islands are: El Fraile, Caballo and Carabao. These three were all fortified, converted as virtual batteries. The geography, had been divided into four areas by the Yankees:  Topside (where almost all social activities were), Middleside (was for some quarters, hospitals and schools), Bottomside (site of the old Fishing barrio of Sn. Jose) and Tailside (where there was once an airstrip).

Much of the restoration here were accomplished with American funding and expertise.

Charles Morris an American historian describes Corregidor and its surrounding islands during the time of the Battle of Manila Bay: “ The entrance is 12 miles wide on the south and almost midway rise the rocky island of Corregidor and Caballo. Corregidor was strongly fortified, armed with heavy modern guns and equipped with searchlights that would have enabled competent defenders to render entering it a hazardous feat. The channel on the north is called Boca Chica and Boca Grande is on the south”.

They say that the whole island is haunted but I wont mind staying here for a night!

The significance of the islands to the mainland’s survival, even before the war with Japan, can be discovered in numerous historical text. It was always the first to defend the capital. Assault were also launched by intruders from this rocky island. From the attack initiated by the famous Chinese pirate, the British take over and the Dutch harassments, Corregidor not only witnessed history but it was an integral part of the events that shaped our history.


Corregidor Seen From Up Above

The Rock, shaped like a squiggly tadpole. Bataan peninsula on the right corner. There’s a ship below – they say that Corregidor got its name from the Spanish word “to correct”. Navigators has been using the island to correct their position when approaching the port of Manila.

Sometimes delays can be good. It gives you more time. I don’t know if the flight was instructed to circle around to land on the opposite runway. Because it appeared that the plane was about to approach the runway that passes through the Taguig area but at the last minute the plane suddenly shifted path to land on the opposite runway near barrio of San Dionisio in Paranaque.

Because of this sudden change, I had the chance to see the island of Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsula from the vantage point of the clouds. It was a breathtaking sight – the sky was serene. The sea was like glass, mirroring the sky above. Corregidor really look like a tadpole from up above.

Opposite Corregidor is the historic town of Ternate. The Maragondon River and the small island called Balut (an island that appears to block the river’s passage way to the Bay) is distinguishable from up above. Then there’s SM Sucat – man, these malls are everywhere nowadays. Even in the sky you can see them.

My fascination with maps has helped me recognized islands and landmarks up above the air. I never get tire of taking pictures from the window of a plane. I really don’t care if it looks silly to others. I believe that you’ll only see things once, you can revisit them again but you’ll never see it the same – nothing gets repeated in this life.

October 2010


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