Ched Sarthou Pagayatan
Photos by: Ched Sarthou Pagayatan
Staring at the serenity inspired by sunset at the Manila Bay, war is probably the last thing that would come to mind. It becomes hard to remember that sixty-eight years ago and forty-eight kilometers away lies a remembrance of World War II a gruesome battle with the Japanese, friends and forefathers whose blood drenched the soil, and yet another reason for every freedom-loving Filipino to hold his head up high.
During World War II, when Japanese forces invaded the Philippines in December 1941, Corregidor (also known as “the Rock”) became the headquarters of the allied forces and the seat of the Philippine Commonwealth government. With the fall of Bataan in April 9, 1942, despite insurmountable odds and an overwhelming number of Japanese forces, Philippine and American forces held out at Corregidor for twenty-seven days, successfully halting the Japanese advance on Australia, until they were forced to surrender Corregidor due to exhausted rations. Two years and ten months later in March 1945, General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines and recaptured Corregidor, making good his promise to return to the Philippines.
The ferry ride from Manila to Corregidor is no different from riding a bus down the length of EDSA, except that it’s easier to get a ride. Those who want to visit the historic island can book online for a day tour or an overnight stay for Php 1,999 (± USD 40) and Php 2,880 (± USD 57) respectively. The terminal, located at the end of Harbor Square along Roxas Boulevard in front of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is most conveniently reached by taxi (flag-down Php 30 or ± USD 0.60), although you may also choose to ride the LRT Line 1 and go down at the Vito Cruz station (Php 15 or ± USD 0.30), and then have a jeepney take you to the square (Php 7 or ± USD 0.14).
Docking at the Rock
About an hour and a half later (give or take a few minutes), the ferry arrives at the North Dock. Here wait the tramvias, transports fashioned after prewar streetcars, ready to take visitors on a guided tour of the island. If you were never interested in Philippine history, hearing stories about the war from the tour guides might change your mind; they are as much part of the education offered by the tour as the sights themselves for they bring to fore the history of the island and the patriotism of our forefathers.
Travel back in time as you tour around the Rock via tramvia. Without them, visitors to Corregidor will find just a tadpole-shaped piece of land with guns and rubble. It takes a whole day to view all of Corregidor, with time enough to take pictures and wander. The heat could be stifling, so make sure to bring water and stay hydrated; there will also be a bit of walking to do, so this will not be the time for high heels and platform shoes.
Remnants of the Past
Of all the things you will see in the island, perhaps the most sobering remembrances of the island’s bloody past are the bombed remains of what were Corregidor’s lofty structures—the Mile-Long Barracks which was then known as the world’s longest military barracks, the army hospital which was shaped like a cross when viewed from the top, the Cine Corregidor that was a state-of-the-art movie theater providing entertainment for the troops as well as their families, and the many other structures that used to brim with the garrison all reduced to ruins by relentless assaults during the war. Although they are now only skeletons of what they were in the past, it is not difficult to imagine the grandeur that used to define these buildings. Along with the powerful guns that scatter the land, one can only imagine the bloodshed that ensued—the fee paid by our friends and forefathers for the freedom many Filipinos take for granted.
Another of the island’s main attractions is the Malinta Tunnel, a bomb-proof shelter that took about ten years to construct. The tunnel was originally designed to contain ammunition, rations, and an underground hospital, but during the war it became the headquarters for the Filipino and American defenders of Corregidor. Today visitors can experience stories of war in the island with a light and sound show called the “Malinta Experience.” Penned by national artist Lamberto Avellana with sculptures by national artist Napoleon Abueva, the show tells the tale from when Bataan fell to when peace was restored. Those who stay the night in Corregidor can also opt to take a special night tour of the Malinta Tunnel where visitors are allowed to walk through the laterals of the Fort Mills Hospital used during the siege of Corregidor. Since electricity no longer passes through the hospital laterals, everyone who joins the tour gets to experience the eerie blackness when the tour guide switches of his flashlight for a few seconds.
Then there’s the Pacific War Memorial, constructed in remembrance of the Filipinos and Americans who sacrificed their lives to bring peace in the Pacific War. This rotunda houses a circular altar right under the dome’s open center, through which light showers during the day. Inscribed on the altar, a symbol of victory, are the words, “Sleep, my sons, your duty done, for Freedom’s light has come; sleep in the silent depths of the sea, or in your bed of hallowed sod, until you hear at dawn the low, clear reveille of God.” At the rear of the memorial is the Eternal Flame of Freedom, a large steel structure symbolizing freedom burning eternal, from where visitors are offered a panoramic view of the Manila Bay and the Bataan Peninsula.
Those mentioned are not even half of the points of interest that can be found in the island of Corregidor. Those who take time to go there will have more to gawk at, and the experience promises to tell a moving and inspiring story of a war that robbed so many of their lives. Today no gunshots can be heard in Corregidor and our departed heroes lay peacefully in eternal repose. A visit of Corregidor is not meant to incite ire but to open our eyes to the bravery and indomitability of our forefathers, something that we Filipinos can and must always be proud of.
At a glance
Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City (in front of CCP)
Distance – 26.6 kilometers
Travel time – 90 minutes from Manila
Via ferry boat from Manila to Corregidor
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