Fiesta Mood and Historical Markers
In the 1950s, according to my grandfather, December 15 each year is celebrated with fiesta ambiance. Children from both private and public schools all over San Jose and the pioneering residents from all walks of life gather at the old San Jose Town Plaza to celebrate the Mindoro Landing or what they call as “San Jose Liberation”. Musical bands are all over providing music to stage plays that depict the lives of our local town heroes like Fermin Baretto, Lawrence Cooper, Ramon Ruffy, Sofronio Untalan and Vincent Fortune, Sr., and the rest of the southern Mindoro guerrillas. These are stories that are indefatigably being re-told by our folks to their young children. Click THIS compilation of Mr. Rudy A. Candelario to know some of Occidental Mindoro’s war heroes and learn a thing or two from them.
Though my late grandfather, who came to Pandurucan (Read: San Jose) in the 1930s and later told me stories about the war, never joined any armed resistance that time. He was a medical technician battling the dreaded infected female anopheles mosquito, carrier of the killer malaria. He helped in curing the poor sacadas of the Sugar Central including those residents suffering not only from terrors of war but as well as horrors brought out by the deadly disease.
As early as 1906, the Philippine Bureau of Health established its Malaria Control Division which was tasked to conduct researches and study, history and epidemiology of malaria in the Philippines including control practices such as annual spraying of all houses in areas affected by malaria. My grandfather is one of those “soldiers” annihilating the tiny but lethal winged “enemy”.
Initiatives from the Local Government
In early 1960s, a statue is built at the entrance of the municipal compound to commemorate the historic event including the marker at the site of the landing at Aroma Beach some 2 kilometers away from the town hall.
The last time we came across to an event leading to this historic commemoration was in December 14, 2008 via a musical play held at the town plaza which was directed by the late Prof. Gil C. Manuel dubbed “Mga Sulyap sa Kasaysayan ng Occidental Mindoro”. This was a joint effort of then Gov. Josephine Y. Ramirez-Sato and the Provincial Government, LGU-San Jose under Mayor Romulo M. Festin, and the Occidental Mindoro Historical Society (OMHS).
In 2009 to mid of 2010, conjoining with the town’s centennial celebration, the marker was rebuilt and had a make-over and this project was implemented by Mayor Festin. The following year, on December 15, 2011, a full length program was held right at the landing site featuring songs, dance and speeches. This was presented by, again, the OMHS but this time initiated by then newly-elected mayor, Jose T. Villarosa.
But the people deserve more than that and sustainability is still the name of the game.
Mindoro Landing: A Look Back
Allied forces landed on the shores of San Jose on December 15, 1944. Militarily, the purpose of this landing was to secure sites for air strips providing forward Air Corp bases to support later landings at Lingyen Gulf in Luzon. Without airfields closer to Manila it would be nearly impossible to seize and maintain air superiority in Luzon. Airfields in San Jose would be much closer to the targets on the big island. San Jose, Mindoro is, roughly, 150 miles from Manila.
1st Lt. Donald “Don” E. Abbott was a paratrooper and Executive Officer of the “E” Company of the 503rd Infantry Regiment of United States in his article titled “Remembering Mindoro” wrote, “As we came on deck well before the 0700 HR on ''U'' Day (15 Dec 44) the invasion fleet had reached their assigned positions off shore. The LCI's were lined up in rows consisting of the order they would be landing. Far to the right, or South, were the landing craft bringing the 19th Regimental Combat Team of the 24th Division. To the left, North, of us were landing craft with the 1st Battalion of the 503rd who were to land on the North side of the Bugsanga River and represent the Left Flank of our invasion. Nearby were the LCI's of the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd. Behind us, further out to sea were craft with the 3rd Battalion, acting as Combat Team reserve.”
Just minutes after that historic landing, series of heavy bombardment followed. Abbot continued, “As 0700 approached landing craft, including LCI's rigged as Gun Ships began launching rocket salvos. That was the first time I had seen Gun Ships and their array of rockets. Each gun ship would fire many rockets at a time. They would leave with a high pitched swoosh!! The rockets could, clearly, be followed all the way to the point of impact. Hundreds of these rockets plastered the beach line and a short way inland. I'd have hated to have been in the shoes of anyone caught on the beach at that time.” And the rest is history of forgetfulness. We have forgotten how our neighborhood heroes like Fortune, Cooper, et al helped the American soldiers drove away the Japanese from the island.
70th Anniversary: Hopefully A Challenge
The 70th anniversary of Mindoro Landing is just 12 days away but nobody is excited about it anymore. Sad to tell, many of our young people of today consider those markers as mere dating places and picnic sites and fail to re-trace their historical significance. Truth to tell, in this age of celebrities and movie stars, we, especially the youth, lost our sense of history.
It seems that among teachers, students and residents of this most important town of Occidental Mindoro, the Mindoro Landing is not important anymore. The fiesta mood was gone and the markers were watered down. There were initiatives both from the government and private sectors, yes, but never been sustained.
There are still enemies of freedom in our midst. They are those detestable cancerous figures shamelessly manipulating and destroying the seeds of liberation that was sown by our homegrown heroes.
We do not need historical celebrations that are only confined to trivial activities and only try to re-tell and explain the past or bring false hope. Much more if we reduce history and heroism into a mere partisan political agenda. Here’s to those in public service, academic circle and the media and all the authorities who have clout and influence: Only in juxtaposition we could challenge the past from the perspective of present experiences of helplessness of our people, and challenge the present from the perspective of our memory of the past. Or else, we will have no true legacy to pass on, or past meaningful events to remember....