When my mother, Ma. Ester Desembrana Baños passed away a few years ago, among the mementos she left behind were a number of photo albums some of which had pictures of Old Zamboanga dating back to the early 1920s and 1930s.
I was particularly intrigued by one which showed a regal residence which she captioned “Zamboanga 1931” which showed our late Tito Antonietto and Tita Francesca Bayot (actually our grandparents on my mother’s side, Tita Francesca being the elder sister of her mom Ester Navarro Desembrana) and “Pasonanca” on the bottom of the staircase where they were seated, and where Tito Antonietto was holding a child whom I’m guessing was our late Tita Nena Bayot-Blanco, who was born in 1925.
However, I was further intrigued by what was written at the back of the picture in what was obviously someone else’s writing: “This is the house in Pasonanca Park where I am staying for my vacation. It is very cold here at night, we always sleep with blankets. The view here is beautiful, hills and mountains on one side and the gardens on the park in front. Across from our gate is a big pond of water lilies full of flowers.”
Although my mom dated the photo as 1931, I am more inclined to believe the year written on the back of the picture (1925) was when it was actually taken because our Tita Nena Bayot is still an infant in the picture, and if I recall correctly, she was born in 1925.
Not really expecting much, I posted the photograph in September 13, 2020 in the Facebook page “Memories of Old Zamboanga” asking friends living in Pasonanca in particular. if they could identify the house in the picture.
Not long after, I received this reply from Susan Camins Sanz: “Thank you so much for posting this picture! From my mom and granny’s descriptions to me from my many questions about the original Mankin ancestral house in Pasonanca, and reading the description I am 100% positive this is THE house and may be the only existing picture.”
“This picture may also have been taken like it says in front 1931. The existing house was built after the war exactly where the original house stood, right in front of the park where the water lily ponds were. I spent many days playing in those ponds trying to catch dragon flies.”
“This picture is as how my granny and mom described it. It had a wraparound porch, the stairway around the middle portion.
I have a picture of their other house in Basilan (near the rubber plantations) where my mother was born. It also has a porch but only the whole front of the house, not wrap around the house.”
The Mankin Family
My grandparents were Sgt. James Percy Mankin and Florencia Perez Mankin. He was an American soldier deployed to the Philippines during WWI. When he returned to the States after the war, he reenlisted in the US Army with the request that he be deployed back to the Philippines, specifically in the Zamboanga peninsula in Mindanao. He fell in love with the place and people when he went there during his 1st deployment.
He also bought property in Zamboanga. I believe my grandparents bought the Pasonanca Park Road property (that was the original name of that part of Pasonanca as far as I know) around 1927. I need to check the old title.
“My mom Betty” was born in Nov. 20., 1928 in Basilan but spent most of her childhood in Zamboanga in this original house in Pasonanca. So she was around 3 yrs. old when this picture was taken.
“My Mankin grandparents (James and Florencia) and my mom (Bertha a.k.a. Betty Perez Mankin) were very close with the Bayot family. I often accompanied my mom during her many visits in their private quarters at the Bayot Hotel that became Lantaka, then later at their White house in Cawa which later was sold to the Luna family around 1968. Tita Nena is my sister’s ninang during her wedding there in Zamboanga.”
My Mankin grandparents hosted a lot of dignitaries who visited Zamboanga before the war. The “foreigners” who settled in Zamboanga and Basilan and the Spanish “mestizos” were a close knit group and spent much time in each other’s homes.”
The Mankin Ancestral House
From what I know, the Architect of the original Pasonanca house (pre-WWII) was my grandfather, he designed it based on the vision and desire of my grandmother. It was a big house with a wraparound porch. Main living quarters had six bedrooms 3 bathrooms, large open living room and dining room and big kitchen.
The Street level floor had several room used as sleeping quarters a room for bodega or storage and a bathroom.
Outside at the back of the house was also a spacious “dirty kitchen” which was customary to have in the past for cooking with firewood and charcoal and cooking in big pots or “cawa” for large groups or parties. My grandmother loved plants and flowers, so the grounds was graced with her green thumb.
“This is the diagram of the layout of the Mankin Pasonanca house. I also have the list of the personal properties lost and their estimated values.”
“This is in my grandfather’s handwriting. After the war, he filed for reparations with the US government for his losses caused by the war.”
The Mankin properties in Basilan were also sold eventually when my grandfather was getting old and they stayed in Pasonanca permanently.
World War II comes to Zamboanga City
As detailed in James P. Mankin’s document listing his lost properties for reparqation after the war, the orignal Mankin ancestral house was bombed around 7:30AM of March 2, 1942 by a Imperial Japanese plane as personally witnessed by some ranking officers of the US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
“This original Mankin house was where the 2nd bomb dropped in Zamboanga landed. The first bomb dropped by the Japanese landed on the church down the street. My grandfather believed that the target of the first bomb was the Mankin house but they missed the target.”
“He said the Japanese knew the Mankin house was an American house, just by the style and size that can be seen from the sky. When the first bomb missed, the Japanese plane turned back and dropped the second bomb which hit the target.”
“By then my grandparents and their children where already running to hide in the mountains of Pasonanca. My mom said my granny cried for many weeks over the loss of her beautiful house. When the Japanese entered Pasonanca, the Mankin property was converted into a Japanese garrison. That’s why that anti-aircraft is there to this day in the property (it is Japanese).”
“To this day, we have to be careful when digging in the property. We still find undetonated small bombs dropped from planes on the property during the war. All pictures my grandma had along with all their possessions were burned to nothing when this house was bombed.”
The Second Mankin House
This is the Mankin house right across the street from the Pasonanca Park with the water lily ponds right after it was built 1947-48 after WWII to replace the original bombed house with the wraparound porch. The third floor that it had when you visited in the 60’s was later added around 1949-50.
Notice the anti-aircraft gun still there in front of the house today is not in this picture. It was moved from elsewhere in the property to the where it sits today after this picture was taken as my granny worked on the landscape and gardens around 1949. Thus the moniker Malacanion of Pasonanca came to life.
The house that you visited in the 1960’s is the house rebuilt from scratch after the war around 1947-1948. This is how the house in Pasonanca probably looked when you visited in the 1960’s (view from the side). Notice the 3rd floor and anti-aircraft is now there, compared to the other picture. That’s me with my mom.
Some 15 months later, on Christmas Day, 25 December 2021, I received an update from Ms. Sanz following an inquiry I had about our earlier online chat.
“The Japanese anti-aircraft (gun) forever displayed in front of the house, my sister Ruth and I just recently donated to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom, formerly Southern Command, or SouthCom). “
“Brigadier General Ruben B. Candelario, Commander, Combat Service Support Brigade, Philippine Marine Corps (PMC), sent a team of his men with explosive experts who safely removed the anti-aircraft gun on October 11-12, 2021, and transported it to Calarian where it is now prominently displayed at the CSSB Headquarters with a plaque indicating its donation from the heirs of James and Florencia Mankin.”
Since she sent me many photos of the AA gun I, I checked with Tony Feredo of the Pacific Air War History Associates (PAWHA), an avid fan of history who specializes in military aviation and coast artillery. His main interest are the air war, seacoast fortifications and military campaigns in the Philippine during the Second World War which he shares online through his blog Shellwings. From time to time he also researches on Philippine colonial history. Tony is also a scale modeler and his modeling subjects are usually reflections of his interests.
I have had a long and fruitful correspondence with Tony on matters especially regarding Imperial Japanese Aircraft and Forces deployed around our nearby locations in Northern Mindanao and I asked him if he could identity the “Mankin House” AA gun from Susan’s photographs.
The Story of the Gun
“Yes that is a Japanese Navy Type 96 twin mount 25mm AA gun,” Tony replied. “It’s one of the mainstays for both ships and later AA and land defense weapons by the Japanese. The come in single , twin and triple mounts.”
He also commented that it’s rare to find live ammunition for the gun as well as its rusted magazines which the Marines also recovered when they dug out the gun, along with its elevated pedestal, which was buried beneath the gun in the Mankin property.
“The ammo found is a nice touch. Bihira ka makakita ng ammo ng ganyan intact,” Tony remarked.
He also surmised the gun might have come from the Japanese seaplane base in Calarian, since it was the usual practice of the Imperial Japanese Army forces to salvage guns from their sunk or damaged Navy ships and repurpose them as anti-aircraft, anti-tank or anti-personnel guns.
The Type 96 25mm Gun (九六式二十五粍高角機銃, Kyūroku-shiki nijyūgo-miri Kōkakukijū) was an automatic cannon used by the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. A locally-built variant of the French Hotchkiss 25mm anti-aircraft gun, it was designed as a dual-purpose weapon for use against armored vehicles and aircraft, but was primarily used as an anti-aircraft gun in fixed mounts with one to three guns.
The Type 96 was the standard Japanese medium anti-aircraft weapon of the Imperial Japanese Navy, being mounted aboard practically every ship in the fleet. The gun was also used in land bases in the Japanese Empire and in the Japanese overseas combat fronts.
The Big Bomb inside the House
“It is divine intervention that the current General is a history buff who made it his mission to try and save WWII historical artifacts before everything is rotted away or destroyed and gone,” Susan said.
Her sister Ruth Camins was the one who coordinated with BGen. Candelario after it was decided to donate the gun for posterity.
“There were a lot of live rounds of ammo found as they dug. So what my grandpa told us was true, that he buried ammo and weaponry found in the ground under the anti-aircraft gun, in a deep cave like hole at the back of the property.”
But the gun wasn’t the only relic the family turned over to the Marines. Susan revealed they also turned over a huge bomb her grandfather kept as a memento inside their house after the war.
Although her grandfather already removed its fuse and arming mechanism, the family got the shock of their lives when the ordnance experts informed them it could still explode!
“Imagine our surprise when the bomb expert said it could still explode! That thing was big and heavy! It was kept standing up because it had a flat round bottom on the opposite end of the pinhead. It looked like those big bombs dropped from planes. The bomb experts who came to look at it said it was still filled with explosive and considered “live, undetonated and could explode.”
Fortunately, the Marines were able to safely transport the big bomb to their base and disarm it.
“¿Qué ver? That big bomb was kept inside the house since I was a child! What if an earthquake should have toppled it, it could have still gone kaboom!” Susan exclaimed in Chavacano, the Zamboangueño Creole Spanish dialect.
In fact, she also related how when they had a new septic tank constructed at the rear of the house, two small undetonated bombs with fuzes intact were also found by the workers.
“We have to be careful when digging in the property, we still find a lot of bullets. Gen. Candelario said accidental explosions have happened in many parts of the country because of unexploded bombs that remain buried in the earth. The Philippines is littered with it.”
Although the Marines offered to do a sweep of the property for unexploded ordnance, the heirs demurred.
“We know they will find lots of it. Our property will be littered with potholes when they’re through!” Susan said with a chuckle.
Not the least, the family also donated to the CSSB their grandparents 1953 Plymouth Savoy that was rusting away in a garage and the Marines are now restoring it at their base.
While it already has earned its place in the World War II lore of Zamboanga City as the first civilian target to be bombed by Imperial Japanese planes on March 2, 1942, and the donation of its resident anti-aircraft gun to the armed forces for posterity, its secrets may forever be entombed beneath the earth, unless a new owner comes along who is not averse to digging up the remaining relics that lie there, and who would also be brave enough to take the risk of blowing themselves up in the process.