Cebu Guerillas in WW 2
The Cebu Eskrima Society is featuring here some excerpts of TABUNAN: The Untold Exploits of the Famed Cebu Guerillas of World War II By: Col. Manuel F. Segura. Copies of this rare book can no longer be found in the shelves and we hope that some important battle field accounts from the book will renew interest in its re-publication and once and for all gain international recognition of Cebuano freedom fighters of World War II.
Eskrimadors also figured prominently in this book like Protacio “Asing” Tabal son of General Quentin Tabal of the Spanish revolutionary period and his brothers Guillermo “Giling” Tabal, Epifanio “Paning” Tabal and Marcial Tabal. Another noted eskrimador featured in the book is former Governor of Davao del Sur Nonito Llanos who saw action in Carcar on February 2, 1943. Lt. Llanos later during the war shot and killed Mayor Uytico of Sibonga right in front of the municipal hall for conspiring with the Japanese against the guerillas. Another interesting skirmish documented in the book is the account of hand to hand combat between a squad of Japanese soldiers and Cebuano guerillas armed with bolos and knives. Some excerpts are not written according to the books chronological order.
The Untold Story of the Famed Cebu Guerillas of World War II
By: Col. Manuel F. Segura
Since the end of World War II, no one has written a comprehensive account of the resistance movement on the Island of Cebu. Yet such an historical record had to be written if the colorful story of the Cebu guerillas was to find its place among the golden pages of Philippine history. Here then is Tabunan - written in unconventional style as far as books on history go- but which I find to present quite adequately the struggles, the despair, the tragedies and triumphs of Cebu’s freedom fighters. Colonel Segura describes quite substantially the situation in Cebu immediately before the war, the Japanese invasion, the shattering surrender of the USAFFE, the formation of the guerilla units, as well as some of the big battles and adventures of the guerillas whose war did not end with the return of Allied troops to Cebu but dragged on through more bloody weeks until the last of the enemy had yielded.
Cebu has always been the most densely populated island in the Philippines and during World War II it served as the most important Japanese base south of Manila. It was perhaps this important Japanese presence on their island that led the Cebu guerillas into avid and aggressive resistance against the enemy control, which gained for them the reputation of having scored the highest number of enemy deaths among guerilla units in the country. Ironically, recognition from General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Area headquarters came too late to the Cebu guerillas, a fact however that did not curb their will to endure nor dampen their determination to prevail and eventually trimph.
Segura has interspersed historical data with much human interest accounts, which serve only to crystallize in the mind of the reader “the way it was,” when all hope had appeared to have gone and all spirit had seemed to have been drained. I should hope that this book finds its way into the home of every Filipino, as one more testimony of the quality of the Filipino’s sense of patriotism and the heights of heroism which he can attain in defense of his country and people.
FIDEL V RAMOS (former Phil. President and EDSA Revolt hero)
Major General, AFP
Chief of Constabulary
In the dark days of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, as if on cue, resistance movements appeared in the hills and mountains across the country - not only in grim protest against the atrocities perpetrated by the enemy on the hapless populace but more solemnly in the fevered struggle to regain freedom. Cebu had its share of the tragedies and triumphs of war - perhaps more than any other provinces of this country.
This Queen City of the South, second largest city in the Philippines, had a population of 150,000 at the outbreak of the war. It was then the only city in the province. The guerilla threat to the foreign power was such that the Japanese had to put up a fence around the entire city ot keep the guerilleros out.
The resistance movement in Cebu emerged from the several small guerilla units in the lightly garrisoned northern and southern parts of the island and the forest fastnesses of the central mountains of the province. In the short space of four months these small units combined to form the unique Cushing-Fenton dual command or co-command in mid-1942, possibly the only one of its type in any theater of war.
In order to give the reader an idea of the personnel of the military then obtaining, I have touched on the situation existing on Cebu a few months before Pearl Harbor on to the Japanese invasion of Cebu. This is an effort to bring to light the involvement and participation of Cebu and the Cebuanos in some of the bitterest trials and conflicts of World War II.
I was the Regimental Adjutant and S-1 of the 82nd Infantry Regiment, USAFFE, since its activation on 28 August 1941 up to its disbandment on 15 May 1942. Related here during the training period and the invasion stage of the war, are mostly the exploits of the 82nd Infantry. However, I have tried to include as much as I could learn about the other units operating on Cebu, I also served as the Combat and Operations Officer of the Central Cebu Sector, Cebu Guerilla Force, during the early days of the resistance movement and later, when we became known as the Cebu Area Command, as Adjutant General and Aide of its commander Col. James M. Cushing. I had direct knowledge of the events and exploits cited here, which mostly occurred in the central Cebu area where most of the engagements with the enemy took place.
This book, there, is an attempt to put under one cover, some of the action immediately before the war, during the invasion, the formation and growth of the resistance movement and some of the battles and adventures of the heroes born of this movement. This is a humble effort to describe and preserve for posterity what Cebu has done to help drive the invaders from this land.
Col. Uldarico S. Bacalagon in his book “The Philippine Resistance Movement” (1966) wrote: “The role of the Cebu Resistance movement in the liberation of the Philippines was considered by SWPA as highly significant and commendable, for the simple fact that Cebu was the most important Japanese base south of Manila.” He added: “For intrepidity and daring, the Cebu guerillas prominently stood out among their compatriots in the other islands. Their encounters with the enemy were numberous and effective, and were characterized by individual acts of heroism. Spurred by the zeal and fearlessness of their leaders, the guerillas bravely faced the enemy on many battle engagements, often coming out victorious and inflicting heavy damage on the Japanese.” Colonel Baclagon’s footnote 3 on p. 416 states: “It was no accident that of all the guerilla movements during the war, the one in Cebu is reputed to have been responsible for the most number of Japanese deaths.”
Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, who was Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence office (G-2), stated in his comprehensive book, “The Guerilla Resistance Movement in the Philippines” (1972) that Cebu was “One of the most active and successful of the known guerilla organizations” and that “the Cebu area long enjoyed the reputation of having killed more Japanese than any other area.”
Cayetano M. Villamor in his “My Guerilla Years” (1955) on p. 213 noted that “a conservative estimate placed the number of Japanese killed in Cebu by the guerillas from 1942 to 1945 at around 21,000 with only a little over 1,000 casualties on the side of the guerillas.”
In preparing this book, the author relied substantially on eyewitness and firsthand accounts of the various incidents told here since records and documents have been very scanty. There was, however, a determined effort to countercheck all accounts (on the assumption that time may have put the element of accuracy to question.) Errors of fact and omissions must necessarily occur, for which the author seeks the reader’s indulgence.
Chapter III Early in the Struggle
Indeed there were light moments in the hills to punctuate the grimly serious business of life and death. We were always looking about for something to ease the tension and bring laughter.
Ariarte was a councilor of the town of Toledo. He spoke a little Spanish, which was not as much as his English. We remember him for the little phrases in English which he said in all seriousness but gave us all a hearty laugh. Ariarte’s job was as procurement agent in the Central Cebu Sector. The first time he brought supplies to Tabunan in early 1942 we hoped that his English would not get him in trouble with the co-commanders. Apparently he got in their good graces for he came into our Pandong-bato HQ proudly sporting lieutenant’s bars on his shoulders. He pointed to them and said,”Sir I was lieutenated.”
Once in Toledo, he was assigned to an outpost. We received this Little-Red-Hen letter from him:
The Japs are coming. Please send help. Help, help, help, please, help!
Officer of Outpost No. 1
Succeeding messages arrived:
Sir, the Japs are here because I hear a hammering and a hammering.
Sir, I saw the Japs ride the launch. I fired the launch and it run rapidly and disappeared.
The last message was:
Sir, I withdrew because the launch will encircle us!
When Babag had that big battle in the first week of December 1942, reinforcements from the Central Cebu Sector were sent under Lt. Pedro Zuniga who took Ariarte along as procurement officer. They arrived in the early evening with no moon or stars in the sky. Zuniga raised his voice and called: “Lieutenant Ariarte, where are you?”
Ariarte who was following very closely behind Zuniga answered apologetically, “Sir, I’m at your backward, sir.”
“All right, Ariarte, take care of housing the men.”
“Yes, sir,” he answered, then gave the order, “All right men, deploy in the house.”
When Ariarte was detailed temporarily at the Central Cebu Sector HQ, a message came informing of the expected visit of Majors Cushing and Fenton. Upon hearing this, Lieutenant Ariarte turned to the sector adviser, Captain Bradley.
“Sir, Major Cushing, Major Fenton coming. How many chickens shall I die?”
Without batting an eyelash, Bradley extended the fingers of both hands and answered, “Die ten chickens.”
Later, when serving the co-commanders with some fruit, Ariarte said, “Sirs, some avocados to appetite the majors.”
CHAPTER 1V Night of the Unvanquished
The Rough Riders
“The Legion of the Damned.” This was how the late writer Greg Mercado described the new unit of the Cebu Area Command, created in November 1944. Greg himself was one of the damned.
The stockade at Tabunan, located deep in the forest had been filled to overflowing with prisoners, some five of or six hundred. These were Filipino spies, thieves, all sorts of criminals and shady characters, some with borderline cases imprisoned by the guerillas. To give this prison more meaning - that it was a tight prison, the co-commanders gave it the name “Alcatraz.”
What must be said is that against many of the inmates not enough proof could be found to support the charges of collaboration with the enemy and sending them before the firing squad could not easily be justified. But because their loyalty was being doubted they stayed in the bilanggo-an in Alcatraz.
Seeing the plight of these unfortunate men in the overcrowded stockade, Colonel Cushing decided to give them a chance to prove their loyalty to the cause of freedom. He maintained that if their loyalty was indeed to the cause of the resistance movement they would be willing to face the eney and fight. So, they were given a chance to fight against the Japanese. If they survived they would be pardoned and eventually paid for the service. Thus, they were asked one by one if they were willing to become members of the special unit that would be sent to where they could do the most damage to the enemy- one that could be sent on delicate; even suicide missions. This was to be a unit that would not belong to any of the four regiments but was to takie orders directly from Tabunan, a unit of volunteers who were willing to undertake the most hazardous missions.
Many of the stockade inmates volunteered. The prospects were definitely better that the near hopelessness that was their lot in Alcatraz. The prisoners’ food rations was 14 grains of boiled whole corn mixed with boiled gabi leaves or other vegetables per meal or 42 grains of carefully counted boiled corn and vegetables per day. In a fighting unit the food was definitely much better.
Thus, a companyh was born. Colonel Cushing named it the Rough Riders Company, after the famous regiment raised by Theodore Roosevelt for service during the Spanish-American war. The slight difference was that Roosevelt’s roughriders were mounted on cavalry horses and the Cebu version had to rely solely on their limbs.
Chosen to lead and command this unit was Lt. Lorenzo Buenaflo, the sof-spoken Ilonggo with nerves of steel. Buenaflor was in an observation type airplane as gunner when it crashed killing its pilot, Major Luzon. As the plane nosed over, Lorenzo was catapulted through the air and landed on a bamboo grove whose resilient branches cushioned his fall and saved his life. When the Japanese took Cebu, he joined the Cebu Police Force but later learned that a resistance movement was forming. He went up to the mountains to join but landed in prison for a week for new faces were considered spies unless proven otherwise.
Buenaflor later proved himself and was wounded several times in encounters with the enemy at Awayan, Pardo, Tabok-canal, Babag. When the Americans landed and the campaign for the liberation of Cebu was started the Rough Riders company was the first guerilla unit to penetrate Antuanga hills. Buenaflor was wounded in both legs during an assault in the fighting at Baksan hills by machinegun fire while leading the Rough Riders in a battle charge. This landed him in a hospital for several weeks and earned him a Purple Heart Medal from the U.S. government and the Wounded Soldier’s Medal from the Philippine government. His last wounding left the new company without a commander. Assigned as executive officer was Lt. Conrado A. Bacalla. Lt. Vicente Ramirez, I recal, was also assigned to the company.
1st Lt. Ireneo S. “Nene” Racoma, CAC, was chosen to take over command of the company. When this 27-year-old USAFFE officer came to the company, he counted 256 men. He learned that about nine out of ten were either students or diploma holders. He also learned they had very little training but their morale was very high. After some of the fierce fighting at Antuanga, the company’s strength went down to 80; so he asked for replacements. From Alcatraz some 150 replacements came. Mostly sick with malaria, some came with distended bellies. He trained them for half a day- how to load a rifle or carbine; how to aim- the very basic things. In the afternoon, they were on the frontlines fighting, mostly without cover. The casualty rate was very high. Wounded were sent back to the hospital. When the fighting was over, only 51 members were left alive to be processed.
Racoma graduated from the School for Reserve Commission 9SRC) in 1938 at Camp del Pilar, Pampanga, in the Coast Artillery Corps (CAC). He was inducted into the USAFFE on 2 Sept. 1941 by Capt. Charles Hoyt at Camp Lahug (now Camp Lapulapu). He was sent back to Pampanga for more training and one week before the war was sent to Carmen, Bohol to join the 81st Artillery. The guns of the 81st Artillery were on the SS Corregidor when it sank in Manila Bay, so this unit fought as infantry. They were sent to Negros and then to Mindanao where they fought for six months in Bukidnon.
On 3 May 1942, when the Japanese landed at Casub-ong at one o’clock in the morning (near the Philippine Packing Corporation) close to Cagayan de Oro City, the 81st Artillery fought side by side with the 102nd and 103rd Infantry Regiments. The men were deployed one fathom apart and were positioned in depth. They repulsed every wave of barges that tried to land from the eight Japanese troop ships or transports. However, at 0700 Hours when the enemy planes appeared to bom and strafe the beach defense positions and the enemy cruisers started to bombard and shell the defenders, they had to withdraw to the interior. After nine days they were still fighting when the order to surrender came from General Sharp.
Racoma did not surrender; he took to the hills and hid for a while. With him was his driver Pastor Dasilio from Asturias (who used to work as an inspector of the Bisaya Bus Company). He was worried for the word was that those who did not surrender were to be considered deserters and in time of war desertion was punishable by death. From his hiding place about one kilometer from the concentration camp, Racoma sent Dasilio, dressed in civilian clothes to learn what he could.
Pastor was able to get inside the camp for there was no fence, only one Japanese was in there listing the names of those who surrendered. The Americans had already been separated. The Filipinos were promised release and were to be sent home after one week. The food was good and with the prospect of release after a week, the surrendered Filipinos were close to being happy. In fact, the regimental chaplain Ortega insisted that Dasilio persuade Racoma to come over. There was no use hiding, he said, for they would be sent home after a week.
Three days later, Racoma and Dasilio came back and discovered that the camp had already been fenced, a construction work completed in one day- with machineguns and sentries. One week later they came back again- but the camp was already empty. All inmates had been sent to Capas. Racoma was so aggrieved, angered by the way his comrades had fallen to the enemy’s brazen deception, he wept. And he swore that as he enjoyed his own freedom he would carry on the fight.
So Racoma took to the hills and hiked alone for three moths through unexplored territory, from Casub-ong and out at Kinoguitan, Misamis Oriental, where he stole a sailboat, loaded it with nine coconuts and sailed for nine days landing at Barrio Toyom, Carcar, in June 1942. By September, after having fully recovered from his ordeal on the seas, he started organizing the soldiers in the vicinity who had not surrendered and had their arms with them.
Racoma now tends to his farm and fishpond in Carcar. “We were expendable,” he recalls. “There were Americans detailed with the Rough Riders who handled the flamethrowers. We were always ahead; the Americans behind. To the Americans we were heroes; we were given first class rations. When the fighting was close, the Americans would push the heads of the boys down, throw away the flamethrowers and run back saying there were plenty of flamethrowers but few Americans.”
He recalls one dark rainy night when operating in the hills of Antuanga they chased the Japanese who were retreating to the north. It was very dark towards dawn and the trails were very slippery. The scouts went ahead on a steep downgrade followed by the first platoon. Racoma could hear and see them crashing down the slope, clutching at anything to slow down their descent. Half sliding and half running down the slope, they all landed on the riverbed below still colutching what turned out to be garlic- they had passed through a garlic plantation! So, they had plenty of garlic to spice the dogmeat that the men cooked that morning.
The fighting at Antuanga was no longer the guerilla type of fighting for the Japanese were in pillboxes and trenches and had land mines planted in front of their positions, which were on the high grounds on the hills. They usually conterattacked at night which then resulted in hand-to-hand fighting. It got so intense at times that the company had to resort to perimeter defense at night-roughly a complete circle with the commanding and executive officers in the center.
The Banzai attacks usually came about one o’clock in the morning. The fighting was often in such close quarters that individual soldiers wresteled with each other in hand-to-hand combat. He normally lost eight to ten men during such attacks. The circle got smaller and smaller. With the 87thy Inf. Reg. Of Trazo to his left, the 85th of Espiritu to his right and the 86th of Albinda farther as a blocking force, the reduced strength of his company created gaps in the line through which the enemy later passed in their retreat to the north.
Asked about any deserters, he said there were men who left their units, particularly from the 87th Inf during the height of the fighting. He mentioned Lt. Salvador Varga who he said was arrested twice a week by the MPs and brought back to the unit on the line.
The company was initially attached to the MP B attalion under Maj. Bernard Hale. Its members were a varied lot. Some were former members of the Bureau of Constabulary (one of whom, Capt. Mamerto Bautista, later became a Lt. Col and S-3 of the Presidential Guard Battalion at Malacanang and, much later, a colonel who commanded the Third Military Area). There was Attorney Rafael Gimarino; Lt. Maximo Sealana, a Philippine Scout veteran; Lt Florencio Albina, a school teacher; Dominador Cedana, a law student; Pedro “Pete” Najarro, Nick Retuya, Charlie dela Rosa who worked on a Japanese newspaper, the Visayan Shimbun with Nap Dejoras; and Greg Mercado. They were a varied lot but had one thing in common they were criminals in the eyes of the guerillas.
Greg Mercado was known to Racoma for they grew up together. Greg was born in Norte America Street now D. Jakosalem. He was a trainee in Pampanga when Racoma was there. He was also with him in the beach defense in Mindanao.
But Nene cannot forget Judge Babiera who was then a sergeant for he believes Babiera saved his life. It happened after the company finished mopping up the Japanese stragglers in Asturias. They stayed in a house in Mabugnao near the river. The men were cleaning their weapons on the ground floor while Racoma was lying down on a cot in the second fllor. He was reading a book, “The Scarlet Lily,” which was about Mary Magdalene. The book was given to him by an American. Sgt. Babiera was sitting on a nearby chair. Feeling the call of nature, Racoma stood up and went to the kitchen near where was located the comfort room. Sgt. Babiera left his chair, lay on the cot and started reading the portion of the book left by his commander. After relieving himself, Racoma saw Babiera on the cot. Not wanting to disturb him, he delayed going back to the room.
Suddenly a loud explosion rent the air. The Garand rifle being cleaned by Sgt. Begonia below had fired accidentally, the bullet tearing through the cot, hitting Babiera on his right hip, on the pelvic joint (Judge Babiera is now one-legged).
The book was splattered with blood. Examining it, Racoma noted that the bloodstains were on that portion of the book where Herod had ordered the beheading of all male children “and there was blood, blood everywhere.” Racoma measured the spot through which the bullet penetrated his cot; he would have been hit through the back had be been the one on the spot.
Before Racoma joined the Rough Riders, he was in command of company K, 88th Inf Regt. He recalls that in September 1944, when his headquarters was hidden in a deep ravine in Carmen on Northeastern Cebu, they heard terrific explosions coming from the sea. His men went up the hill to see what was happening. Reporting back, they told of seeing four ships in flames near the shore of Luyang, Carmen.
Leading his company to the beach, he deployed the men along the shore from where they saw scores of U.S. Navy planes, appearing to their eyes like a thousand flies buzzing about the four ships which had scuttled towards the shore to a point about four fathoms deep where their keels touched and they could come no closer.
There were several groups of planes, each group with no less than 20 planes led by a black plane. The planes divided their attention between the ships and Cebu City, where Racoma believed they were bombing the San Carlos College and the airfield at Lahug.
The Japanese abandoned their ships, jumping into the water and swimming for shore. They were picked off with rifle fire by the hate-inspired men, but some 65 reached the beach unscathed. Racoma later sent three of them as a present to his wife Rita who was taken aback at the sight of those three enemy soldiers, nearly naked, their white skins slick with oil, grime and blood. She turned them over to the VGs (Volunteer Guards) who had brought them to her. Racoma sent the 62 others with Lt Alegre to GHQ but Alegre soon returned saying it was no use taking them there as he had heard no prisoners were allowed. Racoma gave them to the VGs and civilians who “made a big picnic of the 62 hapless Japanese.”
HAND TO HAND COMBAT
It was also in Cogon, Carmen that Racoma with eight men was trudging along a street not knowing that a Japanese launch had landed near the church and 12 enemy soldiers were marching along the main street which intersected with the road the guerilleros were on. Both groups had their arms slung on their shoulders; both were unaware of the other’s presence.
At the corner, they bumped into each other in a surprise meeting. In the resulting melee and hand-to-hand combat not a shot was fired. But Racoma’s men were each equipped with a bolo with a 20-inch blade and sharp hunting knife. These they drew in a flash and the blades glinted in the sun - one moment metallic gray and the next moment bloody red. Those who drew neither bladed weapons nor firearms, made good use of nearby stones as effective weapons. The Japanese relied on their judo and karate to no avail. After five minutes the action was over. 12 Japanese lay dead, one patriot among them.
One frustrating event that Racoma vividly remembers involved the first mortar he had ever seen since leaving Mindanao. This was the tube that was made locally by Boning Cuizon at Danao. A report had come in from Borbon town on Northeastern Cebu that there was a Japanese troop concentration near the town. Racoma was ordered to proceed there with this mortar and apply his skill as an artillery officer to lob mortar shells into the Japanese bivouac area for that was what it was. Utilizing twenty volunteer guards to haul the forty mortar shells, each VG shouldering two shells, he reached the outskirts of Borbon after trudging the trails for two days. A guide led him to a prominent hill from where he saw the enemy concentration in tents set up under a large balite tree just outside the town about 1,000 yards from his position.
The civilians who had evacuated to the hills when the Japanese came, gathered about to witness the shelling of two to three hundred enemy soldiers a thousand yards away. They watched Racoma firmly set the baseplate on the ground, attach the base off the tube to the socket on the plate and roughly align the barrel towards the target. He then used the clinometer to measure the correct angle for the range and, adjusting traversing screw, he made the final alignment. Then, he asked for a mortar shell. He pulled out the safety pin. Inserting it fin first into the mouth of the tube, he released it and it dropped to the base. Everyone expected a loud “bang” but nothing happened. It was a dud.
Racoma had a VG raise the base and using his thumb and fingers, caught the shell as it slid out of the mouth of the tube and replaced the safety pin. He set it aside. Then, after readjusting the mortar, he tried to fire another shell. The same thing happened. Eventually all forty shells were dropped into the tube and none of them firedl. He then controlled his frustration and studied the terrain in the vicinity for a way to do some damage to the enemy. He found a good ambush position above a bend on the road leading away from the town. Here he positioned his men carefully. His diligence and patience paid off-when the enemy struck tents and move out, they were ambushed and lost a good many men.
The first action of the Rough Riders was at Dauis, Carmen where they sprung an ambush along the road with swamps on both sides. The Japanese were on foot from Bogo. The shooting started at 0630 Hours. Rough Rider Max from Basak, Pardo was wounded on the foot. The number of enemy killed or wounded could not be determined for the engagement was ordered broken off at 1830 Hours and the company withdrew through the hills towards Danao. The company saw action at Panalipa, Tuburan, Asturias, Tabuelan, Mojon, Gumbang, Mabini, Babag and Antuanga.
The Rough Riders had more than proven themselves.
...to be continued...please come back for more WW 2 stories from this book.