Sunday, January 29, 2006


As promised here is an installment of the things we did while on vacation in the Philippines.

A Brief History

The second foray from our place of residence was to Corregidor Island. Corregidor Island as you may recall was the site of a famous last stand. The Japanese attacked the Philippines the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor and by January of 1942 had pretty much controlled Manila and the surrounding areas. By April of 1942 American and Filipino resistance on the peninsula of Bataan came to an end leaving Corregidor isolated. The forces on Corregidor held out for another month and surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942.

This is the location where General McCarthur (a son of Wisconsin) uttered "I shall return" when leaving under presidential orders. Also to leave the island was Manuel Quezon the President of the Philippines at the time. Unfortunately, President Quezon never returned to his inang bayan (mother land) alive. President Manuel Quezon's grandson Manuel Quezon III now blogs here (and we tried to arrange a meeting but it never happened, next time na lang!, visit his blog and tell him Marcus Aurelius sent you!

The Visit

We woke up fairly early on the day we went to Corregidor. The boat leaves fairly early and Manila traffic is punishing to even the most seasoned big city commuters. Fortunately, my sister-in-law has a nice mini-van and a couple of expert drivers who know Manila and how to drive in the traffic. Driving in the Philippines is worth a blog of its own!

We reached the wharf and bought our tickets and had about a 30 minute wait until we would be permitted to board the boat to Corregidor. So, we bought newspapers and waited. Eventually we were allowed to board and were subject to security searches, bags were looked through, we were patted down, and metal detected. After seeing the wanted signs in the waiting room the security was a relief. Terrorists had in the past struck ferrys in Manila Bay, so the company that was conducting the tour was working to minimize such risks.

The day was nice, seas smooth. Our boat ride lasted a little more than an hour and each group or a set of groups was assigned a tour bus and tour guide. We landed, disembarked and located our tour bus and settled in. The tour guide was a "kinkoy" (joker, does the Global Tour Guide Union specify this as a qualification?). Busses was designated for Japanese visitors, visitors speaking only Filipino, and for others speaking English. Needless to say we were on the English bus (my Tagalog is not that great and my buddy Augustus is not studying Tagalog but Bisayan). One set of busses went in one direction and the remaining busses went another.

On the boat ride they played a film on the histories of Manila Bay and on Corregidor and while not being off from anything I know I thought were a little hokey. I am a patriotic American but I thought the puffery on my nation could and should be minimized. The guide gave a good outline of the history too and was good about explaining the details of the guns found about the island.

We stopped at various sites spent about five to 15 minutes at each site and from time to time our guide would get out and provide further commentary on the site. There was one site memorializing the Filipino people and the Filipino leadership of the time and it was helpful to have our guide at this site. Quite a bit of the memorial was dedicated to President Manuel Quezon (see above).

Eventually we found ourselves at the island's hotel for a lunch stop. They served a drink (I can not recall what it was but it was good and not something most of my American countrymen would be familiar with) and then led us into the dining room where a buffet lunch was served (part of the tour deal). The food was good and most Western tastes would have little problems with what was served, especially good was the San Miguel Beer! A three man combo was taking requests from each table and seranading the tables with the songs. Since Augustus and Adria had Sarah Lynn along the combo chose to sing Freddie Aguilar's Anak. Other songs heard were Waray-Waray and Manila.

The Ugly of it All

It was at the end of our lunch that I spotted the only ugliness of this trip. This should serve as a warning to all who visit the Philippines and any other place for that matter. A man was at the register settling up his bill (must have been on a different tour than us or had a couple of drinks he had to pay for) and one of the tour guides (not ours) went fishing for his wallet or goods in the man's back pocket. It was my determination the guide came away empty handed and so I said nothing but I should have asked the potential victim to check his goods out.

In fact, no matter how upscale of a place we were at there were many signs that said to keep a close eye on one's valuables. Good advice no matter where you are.

Back on the Road

The rest of the journey was pretty similar to the first half the highlights of the second half were the museum, the Pacific War Memorial, and the lighthouse.

The museum contained artifacts from the fighting uniforms, flags, weapons, letters, etc related to the fighting on Corregidor. It contained a full wall map containing dates and locations of major WWII battles.

The Pacific War Memorial was nice but was undergoing maintenance so could have been much nicer. It was still a moving tribute to the men who died fighting in the Pacific theater of WWII battle.

The lighthouse afforded spetacular views of Bataan and the island most notably the Pacific War Memorial. That was the end of the tour for us and we boarded the ferry and headed back to Manila.

Its Not the History, Its the Contrast

Corregidor without a doubt is a place of history. Therefore our schoolchildren will not be taught about it and it will be mostly forgotten after my generation passes (or perhaps mine + 1). However, what stirs me most about visiting battlefields is how they are now places of great peace and beauty which stands is in stark contrast to what they were in history.

The winds blow the flags standing on the island (Japanese, American, and Philippino) and the waving of the flags with the wind and the ocean do not bring to mind the screams of wounded men. Even the now silent artillery pieces and mortars have lost their warlike auras and it is hard to imagine these things lobbed tons of fire and steel in the hopes of causing personal and material destruction.

The only exception was Malinta tunnel. Deep in the heart of the tunnel there wasn't serenity but something else, what? I can not say, but the quiet in the tunnel was not tropical peace.

In the End

If you ever find yourself in Manila you MUST put a Corregidor tour on the top of your list.

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