Philippines · Travel Tales

Travel Tales: Corregidor

Joey and I spent our fifth year of awesome togetherness in the island of Corregidor. :>

A short description and history: At 6.5 km in length, it’s the largest of five islands at the entrance of Manila Bay. It’s shaped like either a tadpole or a sperm cell, depending on your persuasion. And, contrary to popular belief, it is under the jurisdiction of the province of Cavite, even though it is closer to Bataan in proximity.

Because of its strategic location, even during the Spanish era, it served as several things — a defense post against attacking ships, a penal colony (Corregidor = corregir, to correct), and a customs station (another version of the etymology of Corregidor is that it’s where goods from ships were checked and “corrected” before being given passage through Manila Bay). During the American occupation, Corregidor and three of the other islands were fortified with ammunition and artillery. For an island that was an important location of the Spanish-American War and the World War II, it now stands proud, its ruins a reminder of what was won, and what it cost.

How to get there: Sun Cruises basically has monopoly on Corregidor tours, so when they say on the boat, “Thank you for choosing Sun Cruises for your trip to Corregidor” (emphasis mine), they were probably half kidding.

A day tour is worth P2,300, plus P150 if you want to avail of the Malinta Tunnel lights and sounds show, which you should. It’s well worth the price, though. We reserved our tickets (I had to pay through BDO), though you can buy direct at their office a little ways beyond Folk Arts Theater in the CCP complex. Perhaps it’s not wise to buy on the day of your trip itself.

Their catamaran left the docks at 8AM, exactly when the rain that morning stopped. We got to Corregidor a little after 9AM.

One of the first scenes you'll see as you approach the island.

Tourists ride a tramvia, which has a capacity of 35 people, to go around the island. Our tour guide was Rowena, who was very knowledgeable and (perhaps more importantly) entertaining.

One of our first stops was the Filipino Heroes Memorial, at the tail end of the island, where there are  statues, a small museum, and murals of important battle scenes in Philippine history.

Here's a statue of a farmer with his araro.

Most of the photos in the museum are of President Quezon. There’s one of him staring out of what is now Cubao, and there’s nothing but fields around him!

Damn, but a man really looks dapper in a suit.

We went to the Japanese Garden of Peace next. Trivia: there were many Japanese casualties in Corregidor as well, most of them committing harakiri. The Filipino and American soldiers, however, gave them — their enemies — a decent burial in this plot of land and put white crosses to mark each grave. The remains have since been brought to Japan after the war.

We were told that this is the Japanese goddess of fertility, carved to look like a feminized Buddha.

Incidentally, I’d been to Corregidor when I was in my third year in high school. Since it was a school trip, I was with my rowdy and irreverent bunch of classmates — probably why I remembered so little of its history till I came back recently. I say this because I have a picture of my classmates climbing this statue.

So — going back — we went to the Malinta Tunnel next.

The east entrance to the Malinta Tunnel

We spent 30 minutes here watching a lights and sounds show by National Artist Lamberto V. Avellana.

One of the dioramas in the Malinta Tunnel light show. This one is in what used to be a hospital lateral -- part of the tunnel network was converted to a 1000-bed hospital after the hospital building was bombed in WWII.

With all the people packed there to watch and take photos, it was a bit difficult to appreciate till later that there were actual soldiers here during the war. General Douglas MacArthur had his headquarters here till his transfer to Australia. An ailing President Quezon held office here till he was evacuated to the US. General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered to the Japanese here after five months of bravely holding the island (and the Philippines). And the Japanese committed suicide by bombing themselves in its laterals during the retaking of the island. The collapsed laterals were not excavated after.

WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME THAT BEFORE I TOOK THIS PICTURE???

What followed was a chance to make the most our of what we paid — buffet lunch at the inn!

A view from the balcony

After 45 minutes, we headed to the Topside, a plateau on the “head” of the island.

We passed by the Middleside Barracks:

Middleside Barracks

Then we went to three batteries (composed of more than one artillery, in this case, mortars) — Batteries Way, Geary, and Grubbs.

Battery Way. Looks formidable, but was silenced by Japanese air attacks.
Battery Geary, where the infamous "Banzai" picture of the Japanese was taken and circulated as propaganda. It can be turned around and angled to fire at ships at sea, which you can see at the background.

We went to see the Topside Barracks next. I might have been affected by this place more than anywhere else, because here, one could certainly see how this place had been a paradise of sorts before the war.

The Topside Barracks, which used to be a sprawling complex complete with offices, a gym, swimming pool, bowling alley, post office, and more. Its windows used capiz shells. It was destroyed by Japanese air assault.
More of the Topside Barracks, plus our tramvia. The tramvia supposedly approximates the electric cars than ran around the island.
Marching grounds across the Topside Barracks (which should be at the right...)
Here's where the paratroopers landed during the US recapture of the island from the Japanese in 1945.

Not too far from the Topside Barracks are the Filipino-American Friendship Memorial and the Pacific War Memorial.

"Brothers in Arms." We were told that there is a similar statue in Chicago, in which this time it is the Filipino who is carrying the American soldier.
The Pacific War Memorial. Inside is a museum filled with photos and memorabilia from the war.
An altar of sorts, forming the centerpiece of the memorial. It is housed in a domed structure with a circular hole on top directly above this table. At high noon, it is illuminated by the sun. Across is the Eternal Flame of Freedom, a steel structure.

We passed by more ruins of houses and bachelors’ barracks, till we came to the Spanish lighthouse. It has actually been rebuilt. Another lighthouse, this one in use, now stands there as well, and uses solar power.

Very Spanish, si? Here's the "original" lighthouse.
I shot this right as the bird started flying away from its perch. Lucky. The flora and fauna seemed well-preserved on the island -- birds and monkeys roamed freely.

Sadly, we did not go to other places I remember going to when I was in high school. I was excited to go back to the beach where there were stones that seemed to be stained with blood. There was also a hill we climbed to see the tail side of the island. We got back to Manila a little before four.

We went home pretty subdued — and sweaty. (Joey and I shared a huge ice cream afterward, as though the buffet wasn’t enough.) I think ruins have such an effect on me — you look at them, and realize that things have happened in those buildings, batteries, and tunnels, things trivial and momentous alike, a soldier brushing his teeth or waiting for a nurse he’s in love with, a war commander planning his next move or spending sleepless, helpless nights deciding whether to surrender or not. You look at old pictures and realize that they were actual people and events frozen in time, an aerial shot of paratroopers landing on an island, a grainy shot of a president dying in a foreign land. You look at old dog tags and realize that actual soldiers wore them around their necks before they were shot, or bombed.

All in all, it wasn’t the exhilarating  trip of the sort that I had in Guimaras, but I don’t think it was meant to be like that — unless I joined the Malinta Tunnel lateral tour that night.

It was that sort of trip that made me a little sad, and appreciative, and maybe a little less ignorant.

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2 thoughts on “Travel Tales: Corregidor

  1. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyways, just wanted to say excellent blog!

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