UPLB relieved a little-known part of the country’s history during World War II (WWII) in which the then UP College of Agriculture played a very significant role at a wreath-laying ceremony outside Baker Hall and a forum at the DL Umali Hall on Feb. 21.
The wreath-laying ceremony paid tribute to the local heroes and casualties of WW II, 75 years after the historic Liberation of Los Baños, also referred to as the Los Baños Raid, the daring rescue of 2,147 foreign civil prisoners from the Japanese internment camp at Baker Hall and its vicinity on Feb. 23, 1945.
The daring rescue was carried out through a well-coordinated plan by the 11th Airborne Division of the US, US soldiers aboard amphibious assault vehicles, and Filipino guerrillas.
UP and UPLB history teachers; Sofia Tidon, a Los Baños native and WW II survivor; military officials handling veterans affairs, as well as Los Baños local government officials led by Los Baños Mayor Cesar Perez were among those who participated in the two events.
“We are commemorating a very victorious event, but of course, we should not forget that the price that was [paid for it was] the massacre of the helpless civilians,” Dr. Ricardo T. Jose, a professor at the UP Diliman Department of History, said before a student-filled audience during the forum at the DL Umali Hall.
Dr. Jose was referring to the massacre of innocent civilians of Los Baños, who were left to fend for themselves after the American rescuers and the rescued internees – composed of British, Australian, Canadian, Dutch, Polish, French, Italian, Nicaraguan, and mostly American missionaries and navy nurses – quickly escaped the town after the operation.
The Imperial Japanese Army retaliated a few days later when they came back to Los Baños. “Unfortunately the price paid for that very successful raid was the disruption of Los Baños and the massacring of about 1,500 residents of the town,” he said.
Tidon, a US-recognized war veteran who is now 93 years old, talked about her own ordeal when she suffered from the hands of the Japanese after she was caught giving food secretly to the then internees. She also recalled her eye-witness account of the unfortunate event after the raid.
“Habang sila’y nagsasaya pagdating sa Muntinlupa, sa oras ding iyon, naglabasan ang mga Hapon, biglang napakababagsik nila, at bawat makita na mga tao, kanilang sinasaksak,” Tidon recalled.
“Iniwan [nila] sa panganib ang mga mamamayan ng Los Baños. ‘Di na nila naisip na dapat pala hindi sila umalis kaagad,” she continued. “Nariyan ang mga taghoy, iyak ng mga bata at matatanda. Maraming maraming pinatay dito sa Los Banos.”
The two speakers acknowledged the heroism of Los Baños-based guerrillas in the raid’s accomplished mission. According to Dr. Jose, six local guerrilla units – President Quezon’s Own Guerrilla, Hunters ROTC, Wa Chi, Marking’s Guerrillas, USAFFE Intelligence Unit, and HUKBALAHAP – all played important roles to support the Americans’ intelligence, strategies, and implementation of the raid.
“This was a very complicated operation because it involved a parachute drop. It involved an amphibious or a sea-borne component. It also involved artillery and aerial support,” Dr. Jose explained.
“All of these required intelligence reports, need for security, security secrecy, and among the agents were local people of Los Baños, civilians, young and old,” he continued.
Two other guests of honors graced the forum and shared their knowledge about the topic, namely: Brig. Gen. Restituto Aguilar, chief of the Veterans Memorial and Historical Division of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office, and Renato Claravall, president and chief operating officer of the Philippine Veterans Bank.
The wreath-laying ceremony at Baker Hall was also graced by Zoilo Belano, Jr., chair of the UPLB Department of Social Sciences (DSS), representing Chancellor Fernando C. Sanchez, Jr.; Gen. Ramon Santos of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines; David Ingles and Maria Rosela De Ocampo, descendants of Hunters ROTC guerrillas; and Aquino Lee, a descendant of a Wa Chi guerrilla.
Joining them during the event were Hon. Janos Lapiz, councilor of Los Baños; Eugene Raymond Crudo, head of DSS-Division of History; and representatives from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
The UPLB-DSS spearheaded the celebration and events on the day of remembrance. (Mark Jayson E. Gloria)