The remains of war

By: Jobers R. Bersales December 06,2017 - 10:23 PM


Tomorrow, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is also the 76th anniversary of the start of World War II in the Pacific.

It started with the Japanese bombing of the US Seventh Fleet anchored in Hawaii in the early hours of December 7th, which, due to time difference, was December 8 in the Philippines, as we are 18 hours ahead of Hawaii. While the attack happened at eight in the morning Hawaii local time, it was 2 a.m. in the morning in the Philippines.

But I will not dwell too much on what transpired in the Philippines during this time. Rather, I would like to delve on the damage that war wrought on Cebu, which was carefully documented by Agripino Astilla in an article.

Through him, we know, for example, that of the 51 towns of Cebu, only nine were spared the destruction that visited many of the poblaciones or town centers as the Americans started arriving to liberate the province in March and April 1945. T

hese were Alcoy, Bantayan, Catmon, Ginatilan, Oslob, Samboan, Santander and Santa Fe. Note that these lucky towns were on the southern and northern extremities of Cebu.

The most devastated, of course, was Cebu, which went through early bombing rounds in September 1945 about six weeks before the US Liberation landings in Leyte that would signal the coming end of the Japanese Occupation.

With the March 26, 1945 landings in Talisay, all pretenses at saving the capital of Cebu apparently went out the backdoor as Liberation bombers dropped their bombs on the city.

(If you have a copy of our book “The War in Cebu” published by USC Press in 2015, you will see that photos of the city taken in June 1945 show only the Santo Niño Church, Vision Theatre, Cebu Normal School, Cebu Capitol Building and the shell of the Cebu Cathedral as well as its convent remained standing.)

Balamban on the west coast only fared slightly better, with 75 to 80 percent of the houses in town totally destroyed including its dispensary and three school buildings.

This explains why so very little of colonial architecture still stands in town today, save perhaps for the ancestral house of the Binghays. Bogo up north fared slightly better than Balamban despite the fact that the war stretched on for three more months there as the Japanese retreated north.

Forty percent of Bogo’s houses were burned or destroyed, including its Spanish-era church and convent. Carcar, on the other hand, lost 85 houses and eight school buildings, while its immediate neighbor to the north, San Fernando, ancestral hometown of my mother, lost just 10 percent of its buildings.

Being proximate to Cebu City, Consolacion fared worse among all the towns, losing 90 percent of the houses in the poblacion which again explains why one sees virtually no evidence of this town being a vibrant one during the Spanish and American colonial periods, except for its church which alas has lost any semblance of its colonial origins.

Faring barely better was its neighbor to the north, Liloan, home of the Japanese naval base, which lost 80 percent of the houses in the poblacion, its municipal hall (thankfully preserved to the present) burned but not destroyed.

The town also lost 60 percent of its school buildings. The same percentage of destruction also visited Cebu City’s neighbor, Mandaue, with its church and convent suffering direct hits but sparing its municipal hall.

Talisay, where the US forces landed to retake Cebu, suffered the worst, with 90 percent of the poblacion totally destroyed and 95 percent of the houses in the barrios destroyed.

While war raged in the north, Tuburan lost only 1 percent of its houses although 80 percent of its public buildings were totally destroyed. Over in the Camotes Islands, approximate to the massive Battle of Leyte Gulf, the town of Tudela suffered destruction by only 12 percent to its private homes and 30 percent of its public buildings while in Poro only 1 percent of home and 16 percent of public buildings suffered the same fate. The other Camotes towns of Pilar and San Francisco each lost about 30 percent of its public infrastructure.

Over in Mactan, Opon (now Lapu-Lapu City) also lost 30 percent of its private houses but just 5 percent of its public buildings, while Cordova lost just 15 percent of the same, although its church, convent and municipal hall remained unscathed.

There appears to be an uneven extent of damage per town because as shown above, towns adjacent to each other did not necessarily suffer the same fate.

Ronda on the southwest coast, for example, had 400 of its houses and 12 school buildings reportedly destroyed, but its neighbor Badian only reported one school building suffering the same fate.

Moalboal, on the other hand, lost 172 houses and 3 school buildings. The unevenness may have to do with reporting at the time, and so the reader will have to take all these lists with some warning.

The list is quite long, given 52 towns, but let me supply those that really suffered the worst: Medellin, adjacent to Bogo and an active area of Japanese resistance as they retreated north, lost 30 percent of its houses with its sugar central partly destroyed while one house on Cadre was also lost.

Minglanilla, adjacent to Talisay, had 40 percent of its houses partly destroyed.

While its southern neighbor Naga lost a section of its church (the pediment of the façade as shown in extant photos), with its convent and 75 percent of the town totally destroyed. Sogod in the north, meanwhile, lost 55 percent of its houses and seven public buildings.

The report goes on further, but space will no longer allow. Suffice to say that when you visit towns north or south of Cebu and find very few remnants of the past, the culprit is most probably World War II.

* * *

Keiichi Yamaguchi, a Japanese national who was once here in Cebu about a decade or so ago, is back to launch a book intriguingly called “Lunar Calendar 2018, Your Guide to Love and Happiness.”

An amateur astronomer, Kei insists that this is not a book on astrology or the zodiac. If you want to know more, why not attend his talk where he will give away free copies of his book.

This will be at 3 p.m. today at the DHM Function Hall, near the event’s host, USC Museum, at the University of San Carlos Downtown (former Main) Campus. Refreshments are provided.

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