Japanese army enters Mt. Province
THE imperial military forces of Japan were in our midst on that day when war was declared between the United States and Japan. Within weeks, they succeeded in occupying major towns in the lowlands of northern Luzon.
They entered Mountain Province last. The harsh terrain of the Cordillera mountain ranges which comprises the old Mountain Province delayed their early conquest. Yet they succeeded without resistance.
Only Ifugao sub-province stood firm in defending their home grounds in the nearly forgotten fierce battle in Ibulao Pass, Kiangan. It is a saga of determined volunteer defenders, outnumbered and inferior in arms, who fought for freedom and democracy. That battle was the first recorded victory of native defenders against the advancing Japanese Army.
My father, then Dep. Provincial Governor Luis I. Pawid, recorded the following events in his diary:
“On Feb. 1, 1942, the scouts under command of Captain Guitters left Kiangan and posted themselves in Ibulao Pass. On the same date the constabulary marched to Santo Domingo Mt. Ridge under the command of Col. Green. The scouts posted themselves in the natural holes or caves in the rocky parts of the canyon, and also across the national road. The constabulary, made their foxholes on the old trail above, and also using the forests as their natural cover.
“Col. Green ordered reinforcement with volunteers under my command. I joined the scouts at Ibulao on Feb. 2, posting my men on the national road with the squad of scouts.
“Our scouting party reported that the enemy was 16 kms. from our positions.
“Late in the evening of Feb. 2, Lt. Estralla, of the scouting party retreated back to Lamut and so our men relaxed a little bit. Col. Green went back to Kiangan HQ while I also rushed to Nagacadan barrio to find my family whom I did not see during the month of January. And I did not even know where they evacuated.
“On the early morning of Feb. 3, our boys went out early to observe the enemy, and at a curve about a km. from our foxholes, enemy and our boys met. The scouts ran back as fast as they could to their foxholes on the national road, and the enemy was chasing them, succeeding in shooting one of the scouts, Prvt. Pedro Celeste on his left leg, breaking the bone. He fell into a rocky pocket of the precipice, without which would have fallen into the river below, 50 feet and would have died.”
My father returned around 9 a.m. while the battle was on. He narrated how the advancing Japanese soldiers were allowed to come closer when: “... our boys gave them all the bullets of their rifles. The enemy was shot with the first rapid fires of our men in every foxhole. ... the enemy was puzzled where all the shots came from”.
He continued: “Our natural covers among the rocks and heavy stone parapets across the road completely hid our boys. The scouts on a higher elevation killed most of the exposed enemy on the road, while our men on the national road engaged those that were chasing our scouting party. During the rest of the day, the enemy was picked up one by one by our boys”.
“The fighting continued until 7:00 o’clock in the evening and by arrangement of Captain Guitters, a single shot will be fired by him and by that we had to retreat. By late afternoon, two shots only usually replied our fires, and those two succeeded in returning to Lamut under cover of darkness.”
“When the single shot was fired, about 6:45, my men immediately went down to where our wounded comrade was laying down. With a rope sent across by Captain Guitters, one of my men was able to tie around the chest of the soldier, the rest of the boys pulled him, (while another) pushing him up.
“We immediately put into a waiting car and rushed him to Kiangan where Rev. Fathers Moerman and Alfonso of the Catholic Mission gave him the necessary first aid, with the assistance of Mr. A. Lanag of the Kiangan Nurse personnel.”
The escape of the two Japanese soldiers robbed the native defenders of the euphoria of a victorious encounter with the enemy.
The Deputy Governor’s memoirs has this to say:
“Captain Guitters with his men retreated to Banaue. The constabulary during the height of the fight retreated from their sector and disappeared. Captain Guitters and Col. Green I believed had a quarrel by the telephone, on the ground that the constabulary retreated without informing us below.
“Had the enemy really made a detour to our right flank on the sector of the constabulary, we would have been taken behind.
“Col. Green did not go to where his men during that day, fight begun but stayed in Kiangan.
“The constabulary as was found out later on was led by Sergeant Bunol and Lt.Estralla and Lt. Villasin. They retreated because Sergeant Bunol and his superiors could not agree on certain points and that Sergeant Bunol led his men out of the sector, hence the constabulary did not help at all.
“Had they come down a little behind the hill above the national road, they would have covered the enemy from behind them and none would have returned to Lamut, except those two who succeeded because of darkness.”
That encounter would have been a complete victory with the annihilation of the first wave of Japanese soldiers marching into Ifugao.
“Bontoc was entered by the enemy on the same day the fighting was going on in Ibulao. The few defenders did not engage them because they were superior in numbers as well as in weapons. The Japanese who entered Bontoc were those that passed by the Cervantes route. The Japs from Baguio were bound for Suyoc and Mankayan Mines and did not continue to Bontoc.
“In the north, the Japs from Abra came as far as Saliglig, Kalinga and likewise were not engaged by any army. Those from Isabela reached as far as Tabuk, by way of the newly opened road, at Enrile. They returned finding no enemy, as did those who went up to Kabugao, Apayao.
“The Mountain Province was therefore completely entered by the Japanese from all directions and there was nothing more to do than to hide ourselves, considering our lack of ammunitions and less number of men as against the superior numbers of the enemy.
“Col. Horan hid himself around the Mayaoyao-Natonin area while Col. Green with few of his men hid themselves among us at Kiangan area on the upper ridges. He and I kept our offices at Nagacadan barrio, but later on, moved toward Mayaoyao-Natonin, and I never heard from him any more until the following month, during the reorganization of our men, the 121st Inf. By Col. Horan.”
To be continued...
(Note: The narrator is the youngest son of Luis I. Pawid of Kiangan, Ifugao and Angeline Laoyan of La Trinidad, Benguet. He is a journalist by profession, formerMayor of La Trinidad, Benguet, and former Executive Director of the defunct Cordillera Executive Board, Cordillera Administrative Region. He now resides in New Jersey, USA.)