Last June 19-22, I was finally able to visit one of the few regions in the Philippines I had previously not set foot in.
Thanks to an invite from Summit Hotels and Resorts to cover the grand launch of Summit Hotel Tacloban last June 21st, I was finally able to visit the Eastern Visayas Region, more specifically the regional capital of Tacloban.
Included in our itinerary was a city tour on June 20, where we visited three iconic landmarks of Tacloban: the 2.6 kilometer San Juanico Bridge connecting Samar and Leyte, reputedly the longest bridge in the Philippines, the MV Eva Jocelyn Yolanda Marker, a tribute to the fatalities, survivors and heroes who helped rebuilt the city after Super Typhoon Yolanda in Bgy. Ambong, and what interested me the most, the MacArthur Leyte Landing Memorial National Park some 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) south of Tacloban.
This monument intrigued me the most because it is forever linked in history between Tacloban and my home city of Cagayan de Oro. First, the back story.
On March 11, 1942, General Douglas MacArthur, his family and general staff left Corregidor upon orders of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proceed to Australia where the war against Imperial Japan would be continued.
After two harrowing days aboard four Patrol Torpedo (PT) Boats, of which only 3 made it through, they landed at Cagayan’s Macabalan Pier 7AM on March 13, after which they motored to the Del Monte Airstrip in Manolo Fortich, and took off on March 17 in two B-17 bombers for Australia.
While on at a train stop at Terowie on March 20, MacArthur uttered the most famous words to come out of World War II.
On being asked if his would reach the United States he replied: "The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed to Corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organizing an American offensive against Japan, the primary purpose of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return."
Although he repeated the phrase in a number of other places, this was the town where he first spoke the immortal phrase.
And therein lies the historical link between Cagayan de Oro (as Cagayan is now known) and Tacloban, more specifically in Barangay Candahug, in the Municipality of Palo, where one can find the iconic MacArthur Leyte Landing Memorial National Park (also called the Leyte Landing Memorial Park, and MacArthur Park by the locals).
On 20 October 1944, the U.S. Sixth Army landed on Leyte while MacArthur watched from the light cruiser USS Nashville. That afternoon he arrived off the beach.
The advance had not progressed far; snipers were still active and the area was under sporadic mortar fire. When his craft grounded in knee-deep water, MacArthur requested a landing craft, but the beach master was too busy to grant his request and MacArthur was compelled to wade ashore.
Always a controversial figure whenever he went, the Leyte Landing remains shrouded in controversy to this day, with many insisting MacArthur’s Landing was staged, even though CBs Radio Correspondent William J. Dunn, who came ashore with MacArthur (the only person in the sculpture without a hat) denied these allegations, saying the rumor "is one of the most ludicrous misconceptions to come out of that war."
After landing on the beach, MacArthur read his prepared speech:
“People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil—soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.”
A bronze plaque of this proclamation can be found in the memorial.
The park's focal point are the seven 10-foot tall bronze statues on a shallow manmade pool depicting MacArthur and his entourage during the historic A-Day Landing as captured in the iconic photo by MacArthur’s personal photographer Gaetano Faillace.
They were President-in-exile Sergio Osmeña, MacArthur’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland , Brigadier General Carlos P. Romulo, Major General Coutney Whitney, Sergeant Francisco Salveron and Dunn.
Designed by sculptor Anastacio Caedo and inaugurated during the 37th anniversary of A-Day in 1981, the statues mark the spot where MacArthur fulfilled his promise to return at Red Beach, so called after the U.S. military’s color-coding scheme during World War II. Thus, White Beach was in Tacloban, Blue Beach in Dulag, and so on.
Two plaques in Filipino (left) and English (right) explain the significance of the scene being depicted are found in front of the statues standing on a man-made pool. A museum stands adjacent to the site which contains historic photographs and other memorabilia of General MacArthur including a copy of his speech upon landing and a bronze cast of his footprints.
The Leyte Gulf Landings Anniversary commemorates the euphoria of October 20, 1944 which people now in their 80s and 90s regard MacArthur as the “Savior of the Philippines.”
The country’s liberation would have come later had not MacArthur insisted on invading the Philippines first, since the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Gen. Marshall originally planned to take Formosa (Taiwan) ahead as the launching pad for the final invasion of Japan.
This decision is credited in history as responsible for saving thousands of Filipino and American lives from Japanese atrocities had the Allies decided to invade Formosa first.
The annual memorial rites and reenactment of the historic Leyte landing have been attended by local and foreign dignitaries from the member nation of the Allied Forces, World War II veterans and their families, national and provincial government officials, students, and representatives from various sectors of the community.
Next year promises to be an especially big year as the country marks the 75th Diamond Jubilee of the Leyte Landing.
There are daily flights to Tacloban City from Manila and Cebu. From Tacloban City, you can take a “St. Paul/Campetic.” jeepney (Php 8). Get off at Campetic Crossing then take a pedicab (Php 10) to the park. Travel time from Tacloban and the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport to the park via the Pan-Philippine Highway (AH26) is around 20 minutes.
[Photo: 75th Anniversary Reenactment of Gen. MacArthur meeting Gen. Sharp at Macabalan Pier on March 13, 1942/Aicy Soriano]