Tag Archives: Libingan ng mga Bayani

Seeing Kranji and my WWII Obsession

My current reading list are mostly WWII books these days. Like “Tears in the Darkness” by Michael Norman, about the horrors of the Bataan Death March. Another is “Counting the Days” by Craig B. Smith, chronicles of POWs and stragglers in the pacific war. I have two more that I haven’t even started reading.

WWII literature are the most accessible online. If you’re searching under “Philippine History” you get more hits about WWII than any other time (or subject) in our history. The library here (Singapore) has plenty of great titles too. Some are in digital format that you can download using their app.

Although the Spanish-Philippine epoch has long been my area of interest, lately, I’m getting more and more fascinated by WWII stories. For one, it reminds me of my father’s experiences as a boy during the Japanese occupation. I interviewed several individuals in the past that shared with me their unbelievable stories of hardship, courage and spirit. My current reading list echoes their voices inside my head.

WWII happened less than a hundred years ago. Almost every Filipino knows relatives, or know someone, that survived it. For something that happened fairly  recent in our history it is without doubt greatly underappreciated. I don’t think our standard history text in schools gives it justice.

I admire Japanese who travels to the islands to offer their prayers, flowers, and paper cranes for their war dead. I was told that in Muntinlupa’s Japanese Cemetery, these visitors would still weep and sing the popular Japanese 1940s song ”Night Goes on in Muntinlupa” (composed by Japanese prisoners, later pardoned by Quirino). And these visitors are not that old. They’re much younger. They probably only heard of their dead relative’s fate from their older folks.

The Japanese have long memories. There was a Japanese soldier, said to be of royal origin, that was buried somewhere in downtown Dumaguete. The relatives never stopped​ looking until they finally did half a century later. WWII artifact hunter Tantin Cata-al shared this story with me. He gets regular Japanese visitors. Whenever he stumbles upon dead Japanese soldiers from Mt. Talinis during his expeditions, he puts them in a sack and brings them home. He’s got two when I visited, he was expecting Japanese representatives to get them.

I remember visiting Libingan ng mga Bayani a few years ago. I came to pay my respects to our WWII dead and to Nick Joaquin, the national artist. I lingered long enough time to see the portions that are neglected. Then I spoke to the guy cleaning Nick’s gravesite. He told me then that he hasn’t been paid yet.  “By who? the government?” I asked. By the dead’s relatives.

What?!?

Why does the living has to pay for contractors to maintain the grass? to clean the marker? Is the cost too much for the government to shoulder? these men unselfishly served the nation. What’s wrong with us people?

– – –

When I visited Kranji cemetery it was Sunday. There were only five people. Most likely visiting relatives because they were busy locating a tombstone. A maintenance crew told me that visitors are rare even during weekends. Only exception is when dignitaries make official visits. Two years ago the British Royals, Kate and William, dropped by to pay their respects. Crowds gathered to take a glimpse of their former royalties. The event highlights the importance of Kranji Cemetery as a war memorial.

The area where Kranji cemetery is located was converted by the Japanese into a prison. It was a camp and ammunition storage previously. Not far, down the Kranji river, was where the Japanese forces first landed in Singapore. They crossed the straits of Johor, some in bikes. The cemetery is elevated, on a clear day you can see Johor Bahru’s skyline.

There’s less than 100 tombstones in Kranji but there are around 4400 that are buried in its grounds, more than 800 are unidentified. Its memorial walls has the name of 24000 allied soldiers.

Kranji cemetery also serves as a state cemetery. The first Singapore president, Yusof Bin Ishak, the only man featured in the country’s paper currency, was buried on the northern portion of the cemetery.

Like the American Cemetery in Taguig, Kranji is managed by a non-local European group tasked to oversee maintenance and commemoration of allied soldiers and servicemen. It is funded by member states unlike the American Battle Monument Commission (ABMC). The ABMC representative, a retired Marine, told me that their funding is not granted by congress’ budget. So I assume they operate from grants and contributions.

ABMC’s first chairman was Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing. A US military legend who mentored Patton, MacArthur and Bradley, even Eisenhower. He served in Mindanao where legend has it that he scared the Moros by dipping bullets in pigs blood. This is unfounded (but was mentioned by Trump during the presidential campaign!) and is believed to be inaccurate but it could also be a real, a psychological tactic employed to sow fear. This kind of historical rumors don’t crop up from nothing.

gloomy day it was #WWII #kranji #kranjiwarmemorial

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I’ve been deep in my reading WWII books lately that I feel compelled to visit historical sites here linked to WWII events. If there’s something that binds Singapore and the Philippines aside from being close South East Asian neighbors is that both experienced the brutal Japanese occupation.

Back home, we have so many places that witnessed​ the war: old houses used as Japanese residence, rice fields once converted to air strips, larger buildings converted to makeshift hospitals, bomb shelters, even caves that were used as temporary covers. There’s so many to see. When I get back, I’m visiting the Mabalacat airstrip used by Japanese pilots to launch deadly attacks against the allied forces. The Kamikaze East Airfield in Mabalacat is where the Kamikaze pilots first took off.

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Libingan ng mga Bayani

You know you're right! Gracias!

I usually visit old cemeteries before it gets packed with people for “undas”. Last year it was Paco park, which was once a beautiful cemetery. This year its the “Libingan ng mga Bayani”.

I enjoyed the peaceful and lush surrounding of the final resting place of our heroes. The silence is occasionally broken by small and big passing airplanes. The airport runway is just a few clicks away. Whenever a plane would land or take off you can hear its ear shattering sound below, so close that I hear ringing in my ears after – I wonder if the dead complains about this.

I entered the Libingan ng mga Bayani through the C5 area. Its a dangerous crossing but people do cross regularly. Since its not the proper entrance, some army guys  asked me where I’m headed. “May bibisitahin lang na kaibigan”. They probably thought I’m 100 years old to have friends there but I know they won’t probe. I was grateful that they allowed me because the main gate is about a kilometer far.

A German quote say that the “only real equality is in the cemetery”, I’m not sure if that can be said in the Libingan. There are VIP’s even in places like these. The extravagant tombs belongs to the generals and government officials. I’m sure the dead never ask for it. The rest of the resting only have simple white stone crosses. They died together now they’re all here. The countless burial crosses  scene from a distance is one of the most serene sight I’ve ever witness.

Every Filipino ought to visit this place and contemplate on the sacrifices of these Filipinos. They gave their all – will we do the same? Sacrifice according to a European thinker is the “passion of great souls”. So far our generation’s passion is the good life. What would be our contribution when Filipinos read about us 100 years from now? Oh yeah, its time to reexamine our generations role in rebuilding this great nation.

On my way out, I dropped by the National artist and scientist section. Unlike the overly adorned graves, theirs were very simple yet dignified. A popular blogger complains that it was “too simple”, I think it was fine. I’m sure our National Artist and Scientist, who lived modest lives, wouldn’t have it any other way.

I finally fulfilled my dream of meeting Nick Joaquin. Well, he’s six feet under but it was still a special time for fan like me. He’s was one of those people who greatly influence the way I look at Filipino history and life in general. His words redefined my concept of Filipino goodness and beauty. I’m sure he’s drinking his San Mig in heaven – plus ultra Sr. Nick!


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