Corregidor lies 42 kilometers from Manila and together with the islands of Caballo, Carabao, El Fraile and La Monja, it traditionally guarded the narrow opening of Manila Bay. Originally named as Marbella Island, it was known among early sea traders as the haunt of Chinese and Moro pirates.
Historians have different versions on how the island received its name as “Corregidor.” Some claimed that was derived from the Spanish name for corrector (one who checks and corrects paper for incoming ships or from the Spanish word corregidor (the man who heads the corregemiento or unpacified military zone). Other believed that the name is derived from the former Spanish penitentiary or the “house of correction” in the island.
Blood were spilled on this island not only during World War II but also during the most recent times in our history.
It was 1968 when over sixty Tausug and Sama youths, recruited for a top secret training program known as Project Merdeka (objective: attack disputed Sabah or Borneo), staged a mutiny on the island after finding out that they will be asked to kill fellow Muslims and possibly relatives living in Sabah. The training officers mowed the trainees (plotter) down with gunfire in what became known as the infamous Jabidah Massacre (named after their unit). This event was said to have ignited the birth of the Moro National Liberation Front and the rise of its chairman, Nur Misuari.
The strategic importance of Corregidor depends on who occupied it on a certain period. The Spanish built a dockyard, naval hospital, lighthouse, and gun emplacements. However, the guns where proved to be insufficient when they failed to stop the fleet of Admiral George Dewey in 1898. The Americans renamed it Fort Mills and strengthen fortifications upon the early Spanish arsenal, in which they bored the bombproof Malinta Tunnel and installed fifty-six coastal guns in the twenty-three seacoast batteries and mortars and seventy-six anti-aircraft guns in the thirteen batteries. With all the bristling armament, the island fortress became to be known as The Rock.
To say that Corregidor was a really good fortress remains debatable. The pirates couldn’t hold it against the Spanish, the Spanish failed to stop the Americans from entering Manila Bay, the Allies (Filipino-American Army), despite considerable preparations couldn’t fend off Japan and finally, Japan couldn’t hold off the Americans as they retook the island in March 1944.
Today, the strategic importance of Corregidor Island in the defense of Manila has become obsolete. However, its historical value is still greater than ever.
The Day Tour
A tour of Corregidor may seem to be a nature tour because of the beaches, lush greenery and the rustic hotel located in the island. But after listening to the stories from the events that took place days before May 6, 1942, one would realize that the tour is more of a morbid curiosity tour to a monument of history at its bloodiest.
From Manila, we boarded a Sun Cruises Ferry loaded with Westerners (very few Filipinos), who were eager to arrive at the island when 66 years ago so many other Westerners were equally eager to leave.
We arrived at the North Dock where tramcars were waiting to be boarded for a whole day tour around the island.
Our first destination was towards the head of the island known as the Topside where most of the ruins and gun batteries are located.
En route to Topside we passed by a parade ground with the ruins of an Army Clubhouse in background and the Ordinance Shop (a repair shop) then we made our first stop at the two three story buildings of the Middleside Barracks which housed the 60th Coast Artillery Regiment and the 91st Philippine Scout Coast Artillery Regiment and post hospital.
We made our second stopped at the Battery Way. The battery was completed in 1913 and was armed with four 12-inched mortars that can fire in any direction with a maximum range of 14,610 yards at the rate of one round per minute per mortar. It has been the last gun to fire out before the surrender of the island to the Japanese invaders on May 6, 1942.
We then proceeded to other major batteries like the Batteries Hearn’s (longest in the island), Geary, and Crocket.
We passed by the ruins on Topside and made a stop at the renovated 19th century Spanish lighthouse. The climb was not difficult and upon reaching the highest window, we saw a good bird’s-eye view of the island.
The Topside is the heart of Fort Mills. On its ground stood ruins of building of a once thriving community have been left as they were 66 years ago. Driving by the Army headquarters (Harbor Defense and Senior Officer’s Quarters), American High School, parade ground, golf course, theater (the Cine Corregidor which was said to have shown “Gone with the Wind” as its last movie ), and the “Mile Long” barracks was an eerie experience.
It was hard to imagine that people once live and played in those structures, all twisted and charred, no longer resembling buildings but rather sculptures from hell.
Amidst the debris is a new structure called the Pacific War Memorial. The memorial is one of the only two structures built by the US to commemorate the last Great War (the other is in Pearl Harbor). The memorial rests on the highest part of Corregidor on the island’s west. It was completed in 1968 at the cost of $1,230,000. The memorial is dedicated to Filipino and American soldiers who shed their blood on Corregidor. Working with astronomers, the designers erected a dome marble that has an opening at the top through which sunlight shines through to exactly fill a circular altar on the week of 6 May.
Beyond the mall rises a steel wing shaped sculpture symbolizing the Eternal Flame by Greek-American sculptor Archimedes Demetrius.
Along side the memorial is a museum containing artifacts found in Corregidor after the war. Exhibited are combat boots, buttons, dag tags, high powered guns and artifacts that out a human face to war.
After having lunch at the hotel, we went to the see the light and sound show at the Malinta Tunnel.
Malinta Tunnel is 836-foot long labyrinth with 24 lateral passages and 12 sublaterals of bombproof tunnels. The tunnel served as temporary seat the Philippine Government under Manuel Quezon, General Command Headquarter of Douglas MacArthur and largest subterranean hospital in the world. The tunnel was bored out of Malinta Hill by Old Bilibid Prison inmates between 1922 to1932.
National Artist for film Lamberto Avellana and sculpture Napoleon Abueva teamed up in designing a lights and sound show inside the tunnel complete. The bronze statues complete with props come alive with the smoke and sirens that filled the hollow chambers of the tunnel.
From Malinta Tunnel, we head towards the tail of the island to the Filipino Heroes Memorial. The impressive plaza contains sculptor Manuel Casal’s 14 larger than life bronze reliefs depicting the Filipino’s struggle for liberty from the Battle of Mactan to 1986 EDSA Revolution. Behind the plaza is a museum containing a collection of old photographs of Filipino heroes and historical events.
Along the same road is the Japanese Garden of Peace. It became a center of controversy when the Japanese installed vintage WWII cannons on site. Many felt that the cannons, even defunct ones, were not appropriate peace symbols.
From the Japanese Garden, we headed back to the docks to board the ferry for Manila. En route we passed by Lorcha Dock where MacArthur departed via PT boat for Australia. It contains a larger than life bronze statue of the general and a plaque with the immortal MacArthur words, “I shall return”.
Information source: Anita Feleo, Two for the Road