During the closing months of November and December 1945, there were noticeable Japanese mass troop movements coming from Isabela and Cagayan Province that passed through at Bagabag. At first, they seem to be headed south towards Manila. But by January and February onwards in 1945, it was the reverse. Japanese troop units were now heading north towards Isabela and Cagayan Province and also towards Kiangan, Ifugao. Meanwhile, during the day, the skies began drowning with the roar of American planes that were strafing the Japanese troops. Due to the increasing presence and arrival of Japanese troops, and the almost strafing and bombing by the American planes in our town, the civilian populace opted to stay away from the centro/town and moved to two (2) evacuation centers – one located east of the town towards the “Magat River”, the place was called Baños, and the other site was in Tul-lag southwest of the town towards the foot of Mount Singian, about five kilometers west of the national highway.
Words passed around that the Japanese were now actually retreating as the American forces were already advancing towards Nueva Vizcaya. The news was that there was a fierce battle going on in the mountains of Sta. Fe, what is now known as the “Dalton Pass”. Reportedly, the American General leading the American forces was shot by a Japanese sniper. Hence, the place was called “Dalton Pass”. The Americans were expected to be in Nueva Vizcaya anytime. The Japanese troops must have been following an organized pattern of tactical positioning of their units for while the main body of their contingents were moving northward to Isabela or the Mountain Province, a unit was observed to have stayed at the junction of the highway northeastward leading to the Cagayan Valley towards the province of Isabela and Cagayan and northward to Mt. Province. They established their anti-aircraft batteries atop the hill of Brgy. Baretbet, along the north highway leading to Isabela, which was also astride the nearby Magat River. Several days later, when a pair of twin body American planes known as P-38’s flew over the place to do their almost daily routine of strafing and harassing the Japanese troops heading northward, the anti-aircraft batteries stationed in the hills of Baretbet, started to fire at them. It was a thrilling sight. Despite the continuous anti-aircraft firing at the American planes, the latter skillfully eluded the shots by their maneuvering and instead, dived and dropped their bombs at the anti-aircraft batteries on the ground. We did not have a way of knowing whether the American planes were able to knock-out the anti-aircraft batteries. But the battle between the American planes and the Japanese anti-aircraft units at Baretbet, continued almost daily for about a week and after that, the American planes flew undisturbed by any anti-craft firing. The Japanese failure to shot down any of the American planes may have been because they have already run out of anti-aircraft shells or that the American planes must have effectively destroyed the defiant Japanese anti-aircraft units.
With the almost daily bombing and strafing by US planes, the civilians at the two evacuation places, would just get into their make-shift air-raid shelters. Fortunately, the American forces must have been informed of these evacuation places, for the strafing and bombings were concentrated in the town and along the highway and adjacent places, where they spotted the presence of Japanese troops. Actually, the Japanese would move only during the night. At day time, they would dodge in camouflaged areas away from the highway. As soon as darkness sets in and there were no more American planes hovering above, they would resume their march northward. One incident though, that I could never forget was the apparently singled-out carpet bombing of the town of Bagabag. Before the town was anecdotally referred to as the “dark town”, or “malammuc” in Gaddang, or “nasipnget” in Ilocano, as the town was almost covered with thick tall lush coconut trees bearing abundant fruits.
A few days, before the arrival of the American liberation forces in Bagabag, one early morning, we heard the approaching deafening roar up high in the skies, unseen by the thick hovering clouds. Then suddenly, bombs were pouring down in torrents from the skies that swept clean the entire town. As the bombs hit their targets, the ground seemed to quiver with such intensity. The bombing directly hit the century-old Catholic Church and reduced it almost to ashes as well as the market place, the most visible structures in town. The town was almost wiped out of its houses, except for one or two that included our ancestral house near the market, which were still standing, but fully scarred with bomb fragments and its roofs and walls tattered with gaping holes from massive 50 caliber machine gun fires. When the American forces arrived few days later, and started clearing the town of debris, it took two (2) bulldozers to get in to the almost 50 meters deep and several meters wide circumference of the bomb-caused craters. Alongside our ancestral house in San Geronimo Street fronting the market place was a similar bomb-caused crater like what hit the church. The devastation caused by the bombing was so massive. Those that returned to their homes have to put up make shift shelters for their families even as they tried to salvage whatever was left of their ruined houses. Hunger was everywhere. The populace would wait with their empty cans or empty plates as the Americans lined-up for their daily mess rations. If the G. I. had any left in his mess kit, he would just push it over to the waiting person with empty plate and can. That was the situation in town for the first few days of the American Forces arrival.
Our ancestral house which was one of the two remaining standing houses in town with a bullet tattered roof, was where we resettled coming from our evacuation place in Tul-lag. Our house fronted the town market which the American Forces readily cleared and fixed to put up their Division Quartermaster Base. Alongside our house, was also cleared of the debris and the 32nd Infantry Division or better known as the Red Arrow Division of the US Eight Army chose it to be their Headquarters or Command Post. The officers of the 32nd Infantry Division approached my late father and inquired as to the condition of the civil government of the town. My father told them, that the
elected Mayor of the town was executed by the Japanese shortly before the arrival of the Americans. Noticing the apparent confusion in the town, due to the absence of civil government, they requested that my father meanwhile act as town Mayor and that he was free to choose the people to work with and set up the civil government structure. My father agreed, but he asked the Americans, to do something for the people who were suffering from hunger. The Americans Civil Affairs Office (CAO) initially provided sufficient sacks of rice and canned goods to be distributed to the needy. Meanwhile, my father designated a cousin of mine, Domingo Callueng who was a member of the Philippine Scout, a unit of the US Army, to be the acting Chief of Police, to speed up the restoration of order in the town.
The Civil Affairs Office of the American force advised my father, that they were ready to provide gainful employment to people, for maintenance and general assistance services in the various American camps. My father immediately called the able bodied men of the town, who were not busy building their make-shift shelter for their families or not yet resumed their farm work. Two teams were immediately organized. I and my younger brother Gualberto, who was only 12 years old at the time, while I was already 14 years old joined the working teams. Mr. Domingo Bollan, an elderly man and formerly a town crier and Mr. Agapito Castillo, a retired teacher, were designated as ‘capataz’ to head the work groups. I sort of became the interpreter for the groups, as the American Civil Affairs Officer, who took charge of the Civilian working groups, relayed all the work instructions through me, as I could easily understand his manner of speaking in English, which, I in turn conveyed to the two ‘capataz’. We were fetched in the early morning of each day by US Army trucks and brought back home after 5:00 pm. We were posted in the various American camps at the town of Lamut, then to the barrios of Banting, Halog and in Bolog along the highway leading to Kiangan.
Essentially, we were assigned to help clean the premises of the Army camps, dig drainage and canals and gather their trash cans and empty them of garbage, cleaned and put them back to their places. Often times, we were asked to guide them in the sporadic patrols, that they conducted in the
immediate areas of their camps, perhaps to check if there were still, Japanese strugglers that would attempt to hit their camps. I remember, one day at about noon time at Bolog, a stream of Japanese mortar fires rained on the camp. The mortar barrage came from the forested mountain side of the camp. The Americans scampered to fall flat in the ground, while our innocent workers continued their works despite the holler of the Americans to fall flat or seek cover. After a few minutes, the mortar barrage stopped. There were no casualties except for one or two Americans who were hit by mortar shell shrapnel’s. This employment with the US Army lasted for about six months until the first week of September when the Japanese surrendered.
Another incident which etched a lasting memory in my mind was that time when our working group was brought to Halog, a spot along the highway leading to Kiangan. A US Army unit camped in that area. But just across the highway, was another camp of Filipino Soldiers belonging to the Buenavista Regiment, composed mainly from elements of the Bulacan Guerilla Command of then Governor Santos of Bulacan. They were attached to the 32nd Infantry Division of the US Eight Army. I learned later, elements of the Buenavista Regiment acted as scouts of the American forces, that were then slowly inching their way towards Kiangan, where the main Japanese Forces, headed by Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita was reported to have put up their final stand.
One midday, the Americans as well as the Filipino soldiers lined-up at the kitchen tent for the noontime meal. Our civilian co-workers were just standing by waiting their turn to join the line. I was conversing then with our American Civil Affair Officer, when a tall and husky Filipino soldier from the Buenavista Regiment Unit approached us, and in his booming voice looked at me and said, “I notice you speak good English”, then he asked, are you an Ifugao?” I answered in English, “Yes sir, I am an Ifugao from Kiangan, Ifugao but my parents are from Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya.” Then he smiled, and turned to the American Officer and said, “The operations here is rather convenient with the local populace speaking English.” About more than two decades later, I met that tall and husky Filipino
Officer of the Buenavista Regiment that talked to me in Halog, Kiangan, Ifugao. He turned out to be a high official of the land – Minister Blas Ople of the Ministry of Labor and Employment of the Republic.
With the surrender of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, Commander of the Japanese Forces in the Philippines surrendered on September 3, 1945 in Kiangan, Ifugao to the American Forces. With a tight American Forces escort, he was brought down to Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya at the Headquarters of the 32nd Infantry Division which was adjacent to our residential lot. Filipino soldiers were not allowed to be in town. The highway from Kiangan to Bagabag was lined-up with American soldiers. As a small boy then, I saw actually the convoy of vehicles that brought Gen. Yamashita. As the vehicles stopped in front of the 32nd Infantry Division Headquarters, I saw Gen. Yamashita and his staff disembark. They were in full uniform with their sabers. They were ushered toward the open tent headquarters of the top officials of the 32nd Infantry Davidson, and on cue took, their seats facing their American counterparts. They must have been offered something to drink as I saw them and the American officers raising their glasses to drink. After sometime, everyone stood up and proceeded to board the waiting vehicles to proceed to the Bagabag Airport where Yamashita was flown to Baguio.
Meantime, as my father started organizing the civil government of the town, he was able to locate the duly elected vice-mayor of the town, who was then the Vice-Mayor of the late Mayor Inaldo. The Vice-Mayor was Caesario Dumlao, from the barrio of Tuao. It was in Tuao, where they evacuated and hid during the retreat of the Japanese forces. My father then turned over the office to the Civil Government to Caesario Dumalo. Our House continued to be the temporary Municipal building as the Civil Government was slowly restored.