Remembering the Day that will live in Infamy
80th Anniversary of the day the war came to Cagayan de Misamis
Wednesday, December 8, 2021 marks the 80th Anniversary of the start of World War II in the Philippines.
As reckoned from the international date line, it was just a few hours after the infamous attack of the Imperial Japanese Navy on the US Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
When the Pacific War broke out on December 8, 1941 (December 7, 1941, Hawaiian time), the news was received with mixed emotions by the people of Talakag, Bukidnon. Some felt a sense of dread and panic, hysteria and fear, while others all but dismissed the news as something mundane.
Part of the residents’ placid reaction to the news of the war was the geographic distance. According to one eyewitness: “Layo rana ang Pearl Harbor. Dili lage maabot sa Pilipinas and gyera.” (Pearl Harbor is far. War will never come to the Philippines.) (Hayrosa-Gaite, 2009)
The war became real for them when these residents were made to prepare shelters and foxholes by the USAFFE, and even more when the Japanese started air strafing northern Mindanao. Blackout orders were also issued to avoid being strafed by enemy planes.
Northern Mindanao was heavily bombed in the prelude to the IJA invasion. Del Monte received the heaviest and most persistent bombing since it was the only large airfield left to the defenders after the destruction of Clark and Nichols Field.
Cagayan, Bugo, Malaybalay and Misamis were also bombed. Given the relative proximity of these places, Talakag was not spared.
The late Filomeno Avanceña Bautista Jr., one of the eyewitnesses of that day, recalls it was a Monday when their principal, Federico Ablan, informed them that war had broken out with Japan after their usual morning flag ceremony at the Misamis Oriental Provincial High School (MOHS) in Cagayan de Misamis, (as Cagayan de Oro was then known).
“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 a high state of mobilization.”
“We 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.”
Meanwhile, chaos reigned among the residents of Cagayan.
“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 facto 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.
Kagay-anon residents had good reason to be perturbed by news of the outbreak of the war with Imperial Japan. The Macabalan wharf was the major seaport of entry to Mindanao from the Visayas, and there was also the pursuit airfield at Patag (now Patag Golf course and Camp Evangelista).
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 feared they could be in the line of fire of Japanese aircraft and warships targeting this key facility.
The family moved to Balingasag aboard a truck of the Department of Public Works and Communications (now the Dept of Public Works and Highways), bringing with them only 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 they already moved to Balingasag, the family did not abandon their residence in Puntod and would come down to check on it from time to time.
“In fact, the sisters of my mother who owned a restaurant, were still running the business with military personnel as their main customers, since most civilians already evacuated 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.
The late Abelardo “Loloy” Neri Queppet of Baden-Powell Troop was another of those scouts charged with enforcing the mandatory blackout.
As recounted by Ann Gorra in her anthology City of Gold: People Who Made Their Home and History in Cagayan de Oro, there were at least 20 scouts of Troop 1 from the City Central School, among them Jaime Tiano, Victor Roa, Terencio Gadrinab, Hugo Balase, Antonio Zacharies, Vic Itchon, Jose Apolinario and Cristobal Nagac.
So it was strictly lights out after 5PM for everyone lest they become targets of a Japanese aerial attack.
“As soon as dusk gave way to night, I rode my bike and rode around Del Mar, Mindanao and to the pier, blowing my whistle to warn residents that it was time to shut their lights off.” Loloy was assigned to do this task by his Scout Master Epifanio Balase since he was a native-born Kagay-anon and knew his way around.
Even if he was just 14 years old at the time, Loloy went about his routine like a professional: waking up at 6AM, clean the house, eat breakfast, and report to HQ in his Boy Scout Uniform: shorts, knee socks, red and blue neckerchief, brown shirt and Boy Scout cap.
Another of Loloy’s responsibilities was to direct traffic at Plaza Divisoria to expedite the passage of US military convoys to avoid strafing by Japanese planes.
Loloy witnessed the landing at Macabalan Port of General Douglas MacArthur, his family and general staff at 7AM on Friday, March 13, 1942, following their successful Breakout from Corregidor. MacArthur and his party disembarked from two PT Boats at Macabalan Pier and rode a convoy of military vehicles to the Del Monte airfield in nearby Tankulan (now Manolo Fortich), Bukidnon.
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, a fourth year high school student at the MOHS when the war broke out.
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 reminiscences of his time as a guerrilla.
Unfortunately, the baby was stillborn and did not survive the stress and rigors of the constant running of its mother to the cottage in Balacanas where they sought shelter whenever the Japanese bombed the Patag airfield.
“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.
“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.
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 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.
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)
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)
Reynaldo Y. Abejo (left) with some Japanese Officers, taken at Pacana St. Puntod, Cagayan de Misamis. (Photo shared by his son-in-law Francisco Acero Daclag Jr).
Children of Talakag await the arrival of the Jesuit priest who only visited them once a month. (Jesuit Archives)