Remembering the Day that will live in Infamy

Today, December 8, 2020 marks the 79th Anniversary of the start of World War II in the Philippines.

Actually, as reckoned from the international date line, it was just a few hours after the infamous attack of the Japanese Navy on the US Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Filomeno Avancena Bautista Jr., one of the remaining eyewitnesses of that day, recalls it was a Monday when they were informed by their principal, Federico Ablan, after their usual morning flag ceremony at the Misamis Oriental Provincial High School that war had broken out with Japan.

Filomeno A. Bautista, Jr.

“We were all sent home to join our families. But Boy Scouts were asked to don their uniforms and help direct traffic. Armed forces were in high state of mobilization.”

“Us Boy Scouts were asked to stay as long as we can help it,” said Bautista, who was then a second year high school student and a Boy Scout at the MOHS. “Our parents were already busy planning to evacuate elsewhere.”

Dodong Bautista’s Boy Scout Troop sometime in 1941. Dodong is the rightmost scout in the first row. Fernando Ablaza is the flag bearer in the front center. Reuben Canoy is to his right. Misamis Oriental High School Principal Federico Ablan is at the center of the 3rd row and to his right is Scout Master Segundo Salas. (Kagay-an Kaniadto)

“People became disoriented and confused, many did not know what to do next,” said Dodong, as he is known to his friends and relatives.

“People were considering moving to places such as Tibasak thinking the Japanese would not bother to go into such places. The Tibasak area that was flooded by Tropical Storm Sendong became the de fact evacuation place of people from Cagayan,” he recalls. “However, our family was never interested in that since we already had our farm in Balingasag.”

During this time, the poblacion was moved to Pagatpat. Town officials moved their offices to the Canitoan-Pagatpat area, which was already considered a distant location during that time.

The Cagayan de Oro Wharf at Macabalan  circa 1935.

Kagay-anon residents had good reason to be disturbed by news of the outbreak of the war with Japan. Besides having the Macabalan wharf which was the major seaport of entry to Mindanao from the Visayas, Cagayan also had a pursuit airfield at Patag (present day Patag Golf course and Camp Evangelista).

The Sayre Highway was the only highway which linked Northern Mindanao to Davao during the early 1940s. (NARA)

It was also the terminus of the Sayre Highway (also known then as Highway No. 3) which was the sole link between Northern Mindanao and the Davao area. These three key facilities and strategic location made Cagayan a prime target for the Japanese invaders.

During this time, the Bautista residence was at the corner of F. Abellanosa, Apolinar Velez and Tiano Brothers streets just across the Mission Hospital (present day UCCP Cagayan de Oro) in what is now commonly known as “Agfa” next to Sabal Hospital.

Living nearby were their neighbors  Dr. Gerardo Sabal, Aquilino Pimentel Sr., and the Frias and Pacalioga families.

At this time, J. Pacana street was the only road connecting the Cagayan seaport to the center of the town so the Bautista family and their neighbors had reason to fear they could be in the line of fire of Japanese aircraft and warships which would target this key facility for bombing, shelling or shelling.

Pre-war photo of Macabalan Wharf  (Kagay-an Kaniadto)

The family moved to Balingasag aboard a truck of the Department of Public Works and Communications (now the Dept of Public Works and Highways).

The DPWC was composed of Bureau of Public Works, Ports, Aeronautics, Coast and Geodetic Survey, Metropolitan Water District Division of Marine, Railway and Repair Shop, National Radio Broadcasting, Irrigation Council and Board of Examiners for Civil, Mechanical, Chemical and Mining Engineers.

In 1941, outbreak of World War II, the DPWC and other government offices were practically abolished due to dislocation of manpower, lack of funds, materials and equipment, installation of enemy administration and the setting up of the resistance movement.

When they moved to Balingasag, the Bautista family only brought with them a modicum of their daily needs.

“We only brought some clothes and daily essentials,” Mr. Bautista recalls. “During wartime, you don’t bring along with you your furniture, only your bare essentials.”

Staying with the Bautista family in Balingasag were their former neighbors in Licoan, the families of the late Dr. Jacinto Frias and Pacalioga families.  

However, even when the Bautista family already moved to Balingasag, they did not completely abandon their residence in Puntod and would come down to check on it from time to time.

A Civic & Military Parade in Divisoria, Circa 1940 (shared by Ermin Pimentel)

“In fact, the sisters of my mother who had a restaurant, was still running the business though now most of their customers were military personnel since most of the civilians had already evacuated out of Cagayan at that time,” he noted.

In the following week, local authorities imposed a mandatory blackout on the city and vehicular traffic was tightly regulated, with Boy Scouts helping the Filipino and American soldiers enforce the two measures.

In the following week, local authorities imposed a mandatory blackout on the city and vehicular traffic was tightly regulated, with Boy Scouts helping the Filipino and American soldiers enforce the two measures.

For a more detailed story on Dodong Bautista’s wartime adventures at Balingasag and Lagonglong, click here.

Living nearby at the Ilogon Compound was Dodong’s neighbor and schoolmate, 16 year old Jesus “Jake” Bongato Ilogon, the eldest son of Pastor Ilogon. Like Dodong,  he was also a student at the Misamis Oriental Provincial High School where he was a fourth year high school student when the war broke out.

The families of Escolastico Ato and Pastor Ilogon taken at their ancestral house in Licoan which was destroyed by the American bombing during the Liberation in 1945. Mrs. Leonisa Bongato Ato (2nd row left) and Pilar Bongato Ilogon (2nd row right) were sisters. Jake Ilogon is rightmost in the first row. (Ilogon Family Collection)

His parents immediate concern was sending his mother in law, Maria Dumanon Bongato back home to Butuan. “Popo Deya” wanted to be present in Cagayan whenever her daughter gave birth. Fortunately, the elder Ilogon managed to get her aboard the last trip of the Mindanao Bus Company to Odiongan, Gingoog, Misamis Oriental, since the military had already commandeered all public transportation for its mobilization. From there she hitched a ride to Butuan aboard an Army truck courtesy of Lt. Francisco Conde of Butuan.

“By the second and third week of December, 1941, all our neighbors and relatives in Licoan had already evacuated out of town. Papa’s family was still in  Licoan because Mama was due to deliver anytime in January 1942,” the younger Ilogon wrote in Memoirs of the Guerrillas: The Barefoot Army, his memoirs of his time as a guerrilla during the second world war.

Unfortunately, the baby was still born and failed to survive the stress and rigors of running to a cottage in Balacanas where the family sought shelter whenever the Japanese bombed the Patag airfield.

Unscathed by Japanese bombers in 1942, the Ilogon house in Licoan was destroyed by bombs from American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers on 10 March 1945.

“It was terrifying sometimes,” Ilogon wrote. “We were trembling with fear upon hearing the drone of the bombers and the earth shaking explosion of bombs. With Patag so near, Licoan could be the next target. It was not a Merry Christmas nor a Happy New Year, being the only people left in Licoan, with Mama in labor, and constantly in terror of the bombings.”

In the second week of January, the family finally evacuated to Laguindingan, Alubijid in a truck owned by Vicente Mendoza driven by Roman Escobido.

Carabao sleds locally known as balsa are capable of carrying heavy loads. (Photo: The Road to San Isidro)

“We were the last to leave Licoan,” Ilogon recalls. “The belongings were loaded in sleds pulled by carabaos from Laguindingan to Lapad. The piano was the heaviest item. German Andugo, a migrant from Bohol and one of Mendoza’s stevedores,  was requested to stay behind and watch the house during the Japanese occupation.”

Already in Lapad, were their friends and relatives from Cagayan – the families of Tiano, Bacarrisas, Abellanosa, Dael, Bautista, Dy, Llanderal, Salcedo and Boquiren.

Pastor Ilogon’s Sugar Mill at Lapad, Laguindingan. served as a command post for Maj. Angeles Limena
(Ilogon Family Collection)

By this time, Davao was already occupied by the Japanese and there was heavy fighting in the Bataan peninsula. In May 3, 1942 the Kawamura Detachment, an elite unit of the Imperial Japanese Army’s 5th Koi (Carp) (鯉兵団, Koihei-dan) Division, landed on Cagayan and barely a week later, the Visayas-Mindanao Force of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) under Maj. Gen. William Sharp surrendered.

Barely a year later, Jake Ilogon was inducted into the guerrilla resistance and served until the war ended in 1945.

For more stories of Jesus Ilogon’s adventures as a guerrilla see Defending Dipolog April 1945 : A young guerrilla’s eyewitness accountWe Must Tell Their StoryLife During Wartime.