UPLB remembers the Liberation of Los Baños

The Department of Social Sciences-College of Arts and Sciences (CAS-DSS) hosted an online webinar to commemorate the 76th year of the Liberation of Los Baños, an operation that was carried out by Filipino guerillas and American military forces to rescue more than 2000 civilian and military internees of eight nationalities from a Japanese internment camp in the then UP College of Agriculture (UPCA) during World War 2.

The webinar was held on Feb. 23 and was titled, “Ika-76 na taong paggunita ng Pagpapalaya sa Bilangguang Kampo ng Los Banos: Kabayanihan sa Panahon ng Kagipitan.”

It featured talks from Dr. Marcelino Macapinlac, Jr., a faculty member and graduate program coordinator of the Department of History at De La Salle University Manila; Ms. Sofia Tidon, a 94-year-old witness of the Japanese occupation of Los Baños; and Prof. Jeffrey James Ligero, a faculty member at DSS.

Dr. Macapinlac presented a brief account of the events surrounding the struggle between the United States and Japan in taking control over Los Baños which led to the Los Baños Liberation, from the first bombs that fell days before Christmas that heralded the Japanese takeover, to the rescue of the prisoners of war. He also described the harsh living conditions of the prisoners in the internment camp that afflicted them with malnutrition and disease.

To rescue the prisoners, Filipino and American groups came together under a plan formed by the 45th regiment of East Laguna Hunter ROTC Guerillas. They worked with the HUKBALAHAP, the Filipino-Chinese 48th Squadron, Marking’s guerillas, President Quezon’s Own Guerillas, the 511th Paratroop Infantry of the US Army, the 672nd Amphibious Tractor Batallion, and the 6th Army Alamo scouts of the US who were in charge of radio communication between Pila, Laguna and Parañaque.

The plan was finalized at a meeting held at Mababang Paaralan ng Nanhaya (currently Victoria, Laguna) on Feb. 22, 1945 where it was decided that Lt. Col. Honorio “Naning” Guerrero would lead as overall commander of the operation with the 45th regiment.

The daring raid, executed in the morning of Feb. 23, 1945, enabled the rescuers to successfully whisk away the over 2,000 allied prisoners of war to the location of what is now the New Bilibid Prison while experiencing minimum casualties.

However, what would have been a celebration in Los Baños turned into a catastrophe as Japanese forces came back in retaliation and killed hundreds of people.

The violence and harsh rule of that time was recalled in vivid detail by Tidon, who herself cooperated with the guerillas as a 16-year-old high school student by carrying their messages and giving food to the internees in secret. 

Tidon recalled how the liberation failed to completely lift her spirits as she lost her family to the Japanese military a day before the military operation took place.

In the last part of the lecture webinar, Prof. Ligero explained the occupation from the perspective of the UPCA personnel who struggled to maintain control over the campus to continue with its research activities and protect its constituents from the Japanese.

He said that the violence of that time continues to be perpetrated by armed forces today, despite the creation of the United Nations and efforts to prevent war, genocide, and other crimes against humanity, and emphasized the need for strong political will to protect citizens to effectively address these atrocities. (Jessa Jael S. Arana)

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