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The ‘Barefoot Army’ (2)

Raul Ilogon .

THERE were three phases of World War II in the Philippines: 1st phase – Japanese invasion up to the surrender of the Usaffe forces in Bataan and Corregidor; 2nd phase – the start of guerrilla movement up to the return of MacArthur; and 3rd phase – the Leyte landing until the surrender of Japan.

The 1st phase was a defining moment for the Philippines. While our Asian neighboors fell only after a week or a month against the Japanese forces, the gallant and stubborn defenders of Bataan and Corregidor held on for five months.

Gen. Homma, the commanding general of invading Japanese forces who predicted the Philippines would fall in 50 days, lost face and was relieved of his command.

The gallant defenders of the Philippines gave Allied forces enough time to organize a strong defense which thwarted Japan’s ambition to invade Australia. It also upset Japan’s conquest timetable for the rest of Asia.

We may have lost the first round but the battle of Bataan and Corregidor was a prelude of things to come. It gave Japan a clue of the kind of enemy it faced. Those who were strong enough swam from Corregidor to the mainland. Some escaped while being force marched. All over the islands, the unsurrendered went to the hills and waited for the day to fight again.

But the wait was not long enough. Only after four months, the guerrilla movement was born. It was spontaneous, like sari-sari stores, it sprang up all over the country even without central leadership.

Many elements led to this spontaneous uprising. One was the promise of MacArthur to return. Although no date was given, that was enough. The “bahala na attitude,” and the atrocities and cruelty of the invaders were another. The Filipinos’ love for home and freedom was a deciding factor, too. They would rather die as freemen than live on bended knees.

My father’s young eyes had seen it all. They were the last family to evacuate from Licoan, Cagayan to Lapad, Laguindingan.

He had seen the American bomber take off from Patag Airfield to bomb the Japanese control airstrip at Legazpi, Bicol.

He had seen the returning American airmen in wheelchairs and stretchers, recuperating from their wounds under the huge acacia tree at the back of their house. They can’t be admitted to the provincial hospital because Japanese forces were known to bomb hospitals.

He had seen Gen. MacArthur’s convoy pass in front of their house from the pier. It was supposed to be top secret but the number of military men posted every hundred meters from Licoan to the pier gave it away.

He felt the ground tremble from the bombing of Patag and other targets. It was too much for his mother who was heavy with child. She suffered a miscarriage. They left for their evacuation place in Lapad as soon as she was strong enough to travel.

At Lapad, he heard stories of Japanese atrocities from a Bataan Death March survivor, Apollo Tiano, whose family also evacuated to Lapad.

In Aromahon, Laguindingan, he was suprised of his bravery when he stood up and challenged the Japanese puppet mayor who was giving a propaganda speech against the Americans.

“Bakak na!” He shouted at the top of his lungs for everyone to hear.

“Dakpa!” the Mayor shouted back louder.

He ran like he never ran before towards the direction of Lapad. He easily lost the pursuing policemen because he still had his pre-war Converse shoes on.

Months later, when he joined the “Barefoot Army,” he realized running was the best defense even without shoes.

Before joining the Barefoot Army, he had his first unarmed encounter with the  enemy when he was sent to check on their house and property in Licoan. He had to take a barge pulled from both sides of the Carmen riverbank because the bridge was blown up by retreating Usaffe forces.

Coming up from the embankment, he had the scare of his life when he was face to face with an almost naked Japanese soldier making his way to take a bath in the river.

The suceeding meetings were also scary. But this time he too had a gun. They were taught how to run after shooting four out of eight bullets. And ran he did–barefooted!

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