In 1944 Palawan, along with Corregidor in Bataan and the rest of the country was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. They held the people, along with US Military prisoners, under brutal conditions. American POW’s were being held in Palawan to construct a Japanese airfield in Puerto Princesa.
During this time a local medical practitioner organized the first Guerilla Unit (A Company) in Palawan on February 19, 1942, three months before the Japanese occupation of Palawan.
The members of the Palawan Fighting One Thousand Guerrilla Unit of World War II, as they are known, were instrumental in uncovering and executing Japanese spies. As a result of the unit’s success, the Japanese had the leader of the guerilla movement listed as one of the most wanted men in the country.
On January 7, 1944, the Japanese captured Dr. Mendoza and on January 24, 1944, he was taken to an isolated spot in Canigaran. There he was made to dig his own grave, then shot and beheaded. Captain Higinio A. Mendoza, Sr. was Governor of Palawan from 1931-1938.
On Dec 14, 1944 around 2:00 in the afternoon, the air raid siren sounded once again and the POW’s were herded into air raid shelters. After they had entered the shelters, the Japanese guards doused them with gasoline and set them on fire. With the prisoners screaming and attempting to escape, the guards opened up with machine gun fire and began bayoneting and clubbing the prisoners to death.
The Palawan Massacre claimed the lives of 139 American POW. The remains of 123 of the victims are buried in a mass grave at Jefferson Barracks Cemetery, St. Louis Missouri. Only 11 men survived the massacre. USMC Sgt. Glenn McDole was one of them.
Corporal Glenn McDole, a Private First Class at that time in the US Military, wrote about his ordeal in his book The Last Man Out which was published in 2004. Most of the survivors swam across the bay and were eventually rescued.
On April 22, 2015, exactly 70 years after Palawan was liberated from the Japanese, the province led by its governor, the Honorable Jose Chavez Alvarez, honored its brave men and women who gave up their lives so that we can enjoy the freedom we have today.
The setting for the morning program was the historic Plaza Cuartel where the POWs were mercilessly slaughtered.
WWII Veteran and Valley Center artist (cartoon animator) Don Schloat crafted the statue that sits atop the war memorial depicting a tortured male soldier writhing in pain as his feet are engulfed in flames, dedicated to the 139 American POWs massacred at Plaza Cuartel by the Japanese Imperial Army.
Students from the Philippine Military Academy started off the Arrival Honors, followed by the Wreath Laying Ceremony and the Twenty-One Gun Salute. On hand to witness the event were Vice Admiral Alexander S. Lopez who represented Sec. Voltaire T. Gazmin of the Department of National Defense, BGen. Steven R. Beach – Asst. Adjutant General – Support, of the Oregon National Guard, Hon. Ernesto G. Carolina – Administrator of the Philippine Veterans Office, Gen. Gregorio S. Catapang – Chief of Staff of the AFP, and Puerto Princesa Vice Mayor Luis M. Marcaida III representing the Hon. Mayor Lucilo R. Bayron.
The unveiling of the design for the new Plaza Cuartel and Memorial Wall was followed by a Trade Fair Exhibit in Rizal Park, and a motorcade and civil/military parade headed by the WESCOM Marching Band, the PNP, and Boys & Girls Scouts of the Philippines Palawan Chapter.
A sumptuous lunch of seafood buffet was hosted at the capitol.
The afternoon’s program started off with a prayer led by the Most Rev. Pedro D. Arigo, Vicar Apostolic of Palawan. A moving video presentation on World War II and the heroes of Palawan was accompanied by a live orchestra.
The awarding of the plaques of recognition and medals of valor to the American and Filipino war veterans ensued with the Hon. Gov. Alvarez, BGen. Beach, Hon. Carolina, and Mr. Christopher Warquez – Acting Director of the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, officiating.
Honorees include (in alphabetical order) the following:
- Aban, Felix Caabay
- Abiog, Silverio Queron
- Arrieta, Vicente Melendres
- Bonales, Patricio Bonbon
- Bundal, Quirino Favila
- Dela Chica, Lorenzo Caabas
- Lucero, Gaudencio Alvarez
- Manaeg, Eliseo Ibanez
- Padilla, Baltazar Ventura
- Sumanting, Guillermo Cabalda
- Hon. Higinio A. Mendoza Sr. – Governor of Palawan 1931-1936
- Hon. Gaudencio E. Abordo – Governor, Free Palawan 1941-1945
- Major Pablo P. Muyco – Commanding Officer Palawan Special Battalion, 6th Military District
- 3rd Lt. Antonio L. Palanca – Intelligence Sec Palawan, SPL BN A Company USAFEE
- Capt. Nazario Mayor – Commander D Company Palawan SPN BN USAFEE
- 1 Lt. Thomas P. Timbancaya – Commander B Company
Tearful messages from Honorees Col. Mark W. Burnett – Command Surgeon Area Support Group, Kuwait, and Higinio Mendoza Jr. (son of Dr. Mendoza Sr.) moved the audience to remember those days of valor, and were equally addressed by the Hon. Gov. Chavez and BGen. Beach in their Address to the People.
Master of Ceremonies Ms. Mabel Buni paid tribute to the generation that shed its blood so that we could have the freedom to enjoy all of Palawan’s natural wonders.
A gala dinner and entertainment featuring the Palawan Provincial Capitol Chorale with Choir Director Ronald Villanueva, Palawan Performing Arts Dance Ensemble, and a live orchestra conducted by Maestro Reginald Espiritu was hosted by the province at the Capitol on April 21 and at Princesa Gardens on April 22.
This coverage was made possible as a part of USAID’s Advancing Philippine Competitiveness (COMPETE) project which seeks to increase competitiveness of economic growth areas including Palawan, in partnership with the Department of Tourism and the Province of Palawan.
Special thanks to Air Asia Zest Airlines for sponsoring our roundtrip airfare from Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan.