Malago River bridge was about two and one half miles west of Victorias
on Hwy. # 1, heading towards Fabrica.
The 1st platoon guarded this bridge and the bridge over the Imbang
River. The Imbang River bridge was about eight miles beyond the
Malago River bridge. The Malisbog
(Malato) River bridge was another eighteen miles further. Bacolod,
Negros' major city, was about thirty-two miles south from Victorias.
was about twenty miles south from Victorias. All the steel bridges on
Hwy. # 1 were intact except the one over the Himogaan River at Fabrica.
The Japs had blown a span here, and until a replacement could be
arranged, vehicles had to be ferried across the big river.
Manila was called the "Pearl of the Orient"- and the port town of
Dumaguette, Oriental Negros, was called the "Little Pearl of the
Victorias, in turn, had been of the reputation as the "Tiny
Pearl of the Orient."
It had indeed been a tiny
pearl, until the Japanese had set it to the torch.
population of Victorias in June 1945 was difficult to assess, but was
probably in the range of between eight and ten thousand people. It is
difficult to estimate the population of Philippine towns generally, as a
great number of the poor live, or rather squat, in
nipa huts which are crowded into small irregular areas. Like other
Philippine areas there were rich and there were poor with few middle
class in between, but Victorias seemed to have a higher proportion
of the rich or well-to-do than elsewhere.
There were efforts being
made by the authorities, as tentative as a liberation authority could be
at the time, to restart the agricultural industry on Negros, which had
laid fallow during the years of the Japanese occupation. Sugar was not
just an important Philippine staple, it was also a major export
commodity, and Negros had been the major sugar producing region of the
It was thus not long before Capt. Bailey and I became acquainted
with a Mr. Scott, of
United States Department of Agriculture.
expert on Philippine agriculture , charged with
getting the Sugar industry recommenced.
Filipino sugar cane planters, favoured by years of privilege, power and
protection, were very wealthy indeed. With their large land
holdings, and the lack of machinery, hundreds of people worked for them
in an almost feudal-like environment. The workers were hardly free
agents, for their livelihood depended on the support of the owner of
their property. The larger the land holding, the larger the main
Hacienda around which the workers settled would become. The Haciendas
were all named, and the workers thus would be of "Hacienda Rosario",
"Hacienda Paz" and Hacienda Luisita, etc.
found that many owners
more than one plantation, and that families could acquire immense
wealth through their several plantations. Usually they
built a large home on each
plantation, and the workers lived nearby. These planters also had
acquired homes in the main towns, and many times we heard of the owners
also having residences overseas in Spain.
Victorias had a number of
very fine town houses. The hub of the town was a large square, about
two blocks in length running north-south and a block wide east-west.
Just south of the square was a similar block containing the
public school. Most of streets were paved with asphalt. Hwy. # 1 bordered the north side of the square. Some
businesses were located on the north side of this highway. Large homes,
most of them two story, lined the streets on the east and west of
the square and the school grounds. These houses continued
on for a couple of blocks to the east. Also, east two blocks was
the Catholic Church. It must have been a beautiful building prior
to the Japanese departure.
A large, two story yellow,
stucco municipal building sat in the middle of the square. A masonry
wall about five feet high surrounded the school grounds. The entrances
through the openings were guarded by large wrought iron gates. Two
blocks west of the square were the farmers' market and a number of other
dry-goods businesses. The market was composed of corrugated steel roofed
sheds built around a courtyard, about the size of a football field. The
other outstanding structure was a tall cement tower which covered the
cities' steel water tank.
The Japanese, for no
military reason short of barbarity, had put much of the town to the
torch when the 40th Division landed further west. The homes, the school,
the businesses across the highway - all lay in ruins. Many shacks had
been built in the ruins of the homes by using charred and damaged
materials which had been salvaged. The wooden parts and the
furnishings in the church must have burned intensely, because the
masonry walls had almost completely toppled. Only a few structures
survived - the municipal building was unharmed, as were the
farmers market and the small businesses near it. The town water supply,
a steel tank atop a water tower, had strafing holes in many places,
though as we would soon establish, it was not damaged beyond redemption.
The torching of Victorias was a senseless act against innocent people,
but we were getting used to the petty, vindictive and malevolent conduct
of the Japanese.
It was a if the
Japanese had felt that if the Filipinos were not going to grow sugar for
them, they should not be allowed to have a society that could grow it
for anyone else.
Early in the
occupation the Japs had searched every house, even the nipa huts, and
had cleaned them of everything of value, and much which was of no value
to them at all. To the very poor, an old treadle operated Singer sewing
machine, was their most prized possession. The Japanese took them
all, even though it was improbable they ever had the ability to do
anything with them except to deny them to their poor owners. The looting
of valuable furniture, fine clothing, jewellery and watches, we could
understand. We recalled Corregidor, a collection point for
the booty of Manila, so awash with booze and loot it was a wonder the
island didn't sink. What we couldn't understand was the mean theft of
personal items, down even to family snapshots, kitchen and eating
utensils - even the wooden items. The Japs took them all , as if they
were intending to eliminate from Filipino Culture all individual and
collective memory of things Western.
The water pumps and other
city equipment was gathered up, too. All of this was hauled to
Bacolod and placed in warehouses. The people were left with bare houses
and little more than the clothes on their back. It was a wonder to us
how cheerfully they welcomed us into their lives, and how eager they
were to share what little they had left.
As if the woes of the
Japanese occupation had not been sufficient a plague upon the Negros
landscape, there were the Filipino bandits. Our grouping the
guerrillas into regiments and calling them "Philippine Army" was a
farce. These bands of self-styled "guerrillas" were usually controlled
by a self-appointed or franchised "colonel." They ranged between
"honest, brave and keen, but but untrained," to "criminal vermin."
It was difficult for us to realise that come what may, we would be
leaving at some future point, and placing the population in their tender
We soon found that
many of the so called guerrillas had a talent for evading aggressive
contact with the Japanese, and instead spent their time levying
'taxes' on the general (ie unarmed) populace. Many did not seem to
even bother with the pretence - they simply brandished their guns and
demanded goods and provisions, and anything (or anyone) else they
fancied. To resist meant being branded as a collaborator and being shot
on the spot.
The morning after the
company moved into Victorias, several of us walked over to the farmers'
market. We saw an armed Filipino (guerrilla) knock an old farmer down
and take several chickens the farmer was holding with their feet tied
together. We yelled and the bandit ran. T/Sgt Wendell Wuertz had his
TSMG and tried to get the Flip. He had to wait until the guy cleared the
crowd, but by then the range was too great. The culprit escaped,
however, sans chickens.
Bailey issued an order
that, with the exception of our intelligence agents, all weapons
brought into town were to be confiscated. The word evidently spread
quickly. Our "guerrilla allies" did not come to Victorias again,
at least not armed. The people of Victorias quickly came to look upon us
as their saviours, and Lt. Bailey was the "Great White Father".
This seemed to get us
invited out to eat every night, and we had a chance to learn more of the
area, and its heritage. The native dialect of Negros was Western
Visayan, but there was no language barrier. The Philippines was
multi-lingual, (13 native language groups, and more than 170
languages, variations, and dialects) so English had become the common
inter-island, inter-region language. Most everyone could speak, or at
best understand it. Since the commencement of
institutionalised schooling in 1901, classes throughout the Philippine
Islands had been conducted in English, for there had been no true
multi-regional language in the country except Spanish, and that had been
coveted by the wealthy influential and pretentious classes. It was
a matter of family pride if a six year old beginning the first
grade could speak good English.
One of our early
acquaintances was Antonio Joover, a local architect. The Filipinos had
been left no photographs. Instead, he drew a number of sketches
showing what the town looked like before the Japanese plague had
stripped the town of its fine or heritage value buildings. The
large, Spanish-type stucco covered homes, the school, the church, and
the business section on the north side of the highway all had a beauty
that made their loss all the more sad.
We did help the locals get
a water supply system back into operation. We got some welding equipment
from the warehouses in Bacolod (on loan - to prevent free-for-all
pilferage, this was now the property of the United States Government),
and local welders patched the holes in the water tank. We also got
needed pumps and an electric generator, and soon they had water.
The 2d platoon reinforced
by a light machine gun section from 2d Battalion Headquarters company,
and a 60mm mortar squad from our mortar platoon was to patrol and keep
the Japs out of the agricultural lands in the northwest corner of the
island. The Japs had burned many of the haciendas and driven the people
off, but there were still many who could not move from their only source
of food and shelter. Not every habitable building had been
destroyed, so the outlying areas still supported, in their own
fashion, a population that had remained at a safe distance from
the Jap garrisons in the towns.
As long as the planters
stayed the people living around the hacienda stayed. If they left, their
dependent workers did too. The powers that be wanted these people to
stay put and to recommence planting as soon as possible.
In some of the more remote
haciendas, close to
mountains and to the Japs, we stationed three men to stay in a
Hacienda to provide security.
The men loved this duty. They were served the best and treated royally.
The bridge guards loved their assignments, too. The local inhabitants,
also treated them royally.
Bill Bailey and I
spent much time going our separate ways to visit the remote haciendas.
It was hard duty. The planter-host always brought out his best alcoholic
beverage which had been buried in some bamboo thicket. We did not want
to be impolite, so we joined them. We learned quickly, in the interest
of self-preservation, to limit ourselves as to how much we drank. Coming
out of a cool house into an open jeep in the tropical sunshine and
journeying to the next hacienda on the agenda did not mix with alcohol.