Heels and heroes



Reports on officials “sick, sick, sick” from gorging at the pork barrel straddle headlines and newscasts. These smudged the reports on the passing, last week, of a soldier who wrote on how guerrillas seized the “Koga Papers,” which radically altered World War II’s liberation battle for the Philippines.

Colonel Manuel Segura was 94 when he died last week. He documented how fishermen recovered the Japanese “Z Plan” in a four-engine plane that crashed off San Fernando town in Cebu in April 1944.

Drafted by Admiral Mineichi Koga, the Z Plan was adopted in March as the “Combined Fleet Secret Operations Order No. 73.” It anticipated that Allied forces would leapfrog into Mindanao first. Koga was right on the button.

In July, US President Franklin Roosevelt OK’d General Douglas MacArthur’s plan to thrust first into Mindanao, recall military historians James Carroll and Spencer Tucker. The options included a December landing at Sarangani Bay, plus airborne drops in Northern Mindanao.

But an April 1 typhoon altered all that. The storm slammed into two Japanese planes flying from Palau to Davao. Even flotsam from Koga’s plane was never found. The second plane, carrying Rear Adm. Shigeru Fukudome, ditched off Barangay Balud Fishermen Ricardo Bolo and Cornelio Manguas pulled out 11 crash survivors, recalled Segura in his book. Guerrillas hustled them to Col. James Cushing’s headquarters in an upland forest in Cebu. Two days later, fishermen Pedro Gantuangko and Rufo Wamar recovered “a box blackened by oil” off Barangay Perilos. It contained documents, condoms, plus a handful of gold pieces.

Within 24 hours, soldiers, planes and boats were crisscrossing the area. “Return unconditionally all documents or face severe measures,” Cebu commander Takeshi Watanabe threatened. Executions were coupled with incentives like rice and cash. They “left, in their wake, burning houses and executed civilians,” Segura wrote.

To end the massacre, Cushing ordered Lieutenant Pedro Villareal to yield the prisoners. Thus, “the only Prisoner of War exchange on Cebu took place,” Segura wrote. “Through field glasses, we observed the low bowing of Japanese troops as the chair-borne admiral passed a ridge, silhouetted against the skyline.”

The Japanese offered P50,000 for the portfolio. Soldiers floated boxes where the plane crashed and tracked them as they drifted southward. Guerrilla radio operator Sgt. Victoriano Maribao said Cushing reported to Allied headquarters in Australia: The briefcase included “two operations maps showing air bases, emergency airstrips in Palau, Philippines, Hainan, Southern China…”

Australia replied: “Documents described in your number six may be of extreme value. Ensure safe arrival at southern Negros for dispatch here.” Thus, the documents, “in two tight rolls,” were packed into an empty mortal shell for waterproofing.

Lieutenants Irving Joseph and Dominador Canastra, with Sergeant Tudtud, sneaked it to Tolong in Negros Oriental. Midnight of June 5, a submarine surfaced and took the papers. It survived depth charging twice before arriving on May 19 in Australia, where the documents were analyzed. The Koga Papers revealed that the Japanese had only 17,000 troops in Leyte.

Sappers secretly installed navigation buoys in Dinagat and Homonhon islands on the night of Oct. 17. They guided, three days later, the 701 US ships that ferried the 132,000 men of the 6th Army who stormed ashore. Filipino guerrillas coordinated their attacks. Col. Ruperto Kangleon’s troops, for example, overran the Japanese redoubt in large caves on Camp Buga-Buga, Southern Leyte.

Despite relentless air interdiction missions by US aircraft, the Japanese managed to ferry more than 34,000 troops from Mindanao to Leyte. They shipped over 10,000 tons of materiel, through Ormoc on the west coast.

The Japanese Navy’s high command then committed its entire remaining surface fleet—four light carriers, 35 destroyers and 300 planes under Adm. Takeo Kuroda—to battle.  From Oct. 23 to 26, the 3rd Fleet under Adm. William Halsey, composed of 16 carriers, 141 destroyers and 1,500 planes, engaged the Japanese fleet.

The Leyte Gulf Battle erupted from Sibuyan Sea, Surigao Strait and Cape Engano to the waters off Samar. It also unleashed the first desperate kamikaze attacks. A Japanese decoy aircraft carrier succeeded in diverting Task Force 34 away from the vulnerable Leyte beachhead. Two prongs of the Japanese fleet then tried to ram their way through the opening to hit the fragile beachhead.

From Pearl Harbor, Adm. Chester Nimitz sent Task Force 34 a terse message: “Where Is RPT, Where Is Task Force 34 RR. The World Wonders.” Military historians today say the last three words, intended as “padding,” were mistakenly retained.

By coincidence, Oct. 25 was the anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava, which Tennyson wrote of in “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” It was not intended as a commentary on the crisis off Leyte.

Admiral William Halsey “threw his cap to the deck and broke into sobs of rage.” Rear Adm. Robert Carney, his chief of staff, confronted him and snapped: “Stop it! What the hell’s the matter with you? Pull yourself together!”

In the end, Kuroda’s force lost all its carriers, 11 cruisers and 11 destroyers. “The majority of its surviving heavy ships, deprived of fuel, remained in their bases for the rest of the Pacific War.”

Today, no marker recalls how ordinary fishermen rewrote history despite risks to their lives.  Memory is too frail a thread to peg history on. Can a people blind to their past grope their way to the future—if the present pivots around officials “sick, sick, sick” on the pork barrel?

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  • TinimbangNgunitKulang

    Those Senatongs and Tongressmen may not even have heard about those Koga papers. The only papers they are interested in are SARO and PDAF papers.

  • JustWords811

    very absorbing. i can only hope this finds more sympathetic ears.

  • cry_freedom

    So sad that not even the mast of the fishermen’s boat could serve as a marker to their courage.

    What’s sadder is that the marker that majority of us glorify is the marker on our finger done by a purple indelible ink signifying that we had cast our vote that had been bought by a mere couple of “Manuel Roxas” bills or a single “Aquino Couple” bill. The irony of it – three brilliant images in living color of three distinguished Filipinos being used to usurp democracy.

    What can I say – we are sick, sick, sick…

  • antonino_999

    Thank you for writing a gripping account on Col Segura’s document. I remember watching the greatest ocean battle of all time from the History Channel. That’s the Pacific Battle that you wrote about, but this additional account of Col Segura makes me doubly proud of our people. During these times of “sick sick sick” we need to be reminded that redeeming traits exist in our collective self – the honesty of the pre-Spanish Filipinos during the trade with the Chinese, the courage of our soldiers in many wars, the family and baranggay centered concern which is very different from nepotism, the nationalist sacrifice of our people during martial law, etc. Let us live our lives grounded on our history, or else go through life like a headless chicken.

  • Mang Teban

    There are other heroes in WWII who do not need markers or monuments.

    In the silence of our hearts, we remember the many Filipinos, nameless and those we personally know from witnesses’ accounts, who risked their lives for the sake of peace and survival of fellow Filipinos trapped and caught in the crossfire. Though it is good to know that there are still “unsung” heroes” from the last world war, we may just chronicle their deeds and include them in our historical records. And, perhaps, a citation for the late Colonel Manuel Segura is in order from the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the National Historical Commission.

    We still have to resolve this one about who really must be our national hero, is it not? Let us move on with our lives today and handle that when there are no other important things to discuss.

    The world war has ended and the Japanese had lost to the Americans while South East Asians like the Filipinos, Malaysians, Indonesians, etc. perished from the war that wasn’t about Japan and the SEA region. It was about Japan and the USA.

    For me, the analogy to link the past world war with the current situation on the pork barrel is a terrible comparison. The pork barrel culture was of American descent, was it not? The decadence in our political landscape today is not being caused by the political and economic factors that triggered Japan to invade Pearl Harbor and launch a “hegemonic” invasion on South East Asia region. There is no blindness of the past among us, Filipinos. It is simply the wild imagination of Mr. Juan L. Mercado.

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