Highlights of the 75th Anniversary of the Leyte Landings

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Tacloban City and Palo, Leyte –

                  The ground zero of the 75th Anniversary celebration of the Leyte Landings last October 17, 18, 19 and 20, 2019 were naturally at Palo and Tacloban City, Leyte. Except for the usual separate hosting of programs, breakfasts, lunches and dinners by the municipalities of Tolosa, Dulag, Tacloban City and the Province of Leyte, which were all surprisingly low-key, everything else outside official government activities were seemed grander and better attended than last year’s 74th Anniversary celebrations. For one thing, the guest of honor, His Excellency President Rodrigo R. Duterte did not come but was ably represented by Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, National Security Adviser. The Embassy of the United States of America had a minimal official delegation led by Mr. John C. Law, Charge D’Affaires instead of a more ranking diplomat considering the major role of the US in the historic event being commemorated.

Other than His Excellency, Steven James Robinson, who is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, and His Excellencies, Jose Gaspar Dos Reis Correia Piadade, Ambassador of Timor-Este, and Songkalenuangmuninthone, Ambassador of Laos, all the other members of the Diplomatic Corp who attended were of lesser ranks like Minister Yasushi Yamamoto, Charge D’affaires, Embassy of Japan, Mr. Sigit Himawab, Defense Attaché’, Embassy of Indonesia, and Mr. Nguyen Thai Giang, Second Secretary Embassy of Vietnam. The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office was represented by USEC. Ernesto Carolina, Administrator while nonagenarian Justice Manuel Pamaran, President of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines represented all the Philippine War Veterans.

There are two ways to look at this 75th Anniversary commemoration. First, on the official commemoration, our perception is that the importance given by the national government was even less than what it did last year. Except for the Malacañang Press Corp, all private media organizations had to spend their way to cover the event. Local and international press coverage were therefore minimal or none at all. The second way, which is more positive is that, there was no lack of interest and attendance from visitors from Hawaii and the US mainland and the sprinkling of other visitors/tourists from Japan and other Asian countries. These tourists brought in by Raja Tours and other travel and tour services promoting historical tourism raised the occupancy level of the major hotels in Tacloban City and inns and bed-and-breakfast establishments that are now in the hundreds. The city, nearly six years after being devastated by Haiyan (a.k.a. Yolanda locally) has remarkably risen economically from rubbles left by the super-typhoon.

Among the highlights of the celebrations is the well-attended Veterans Day commemoration of by the City of Tacloban at the Price Mansion. Here during breakfast, the few surviving veterans whose ages ranged from 97 to 102 were honored by the uniformed officers and men of the Philippine Armed Forces, by the Australian Ambassador and his wife and staff, by Minister Yamamoto from the Embassy of Japan, the JCI organization and various local and foreign visitors invited to the event. The venue was the historic Price Mansion that was the seat of restored Commonwealth government of the Philippines and the command post of General Douglas McArthur after the landings in October 20, 1944. This was also the fitting site and venue where the historical fiction “The Saga of Leyte Gulf” was introduced to the public. 

Later on, from 10 am to 3:30 PM of the same day, the Live Free Symposium was held for the first time at the Leyte Academic Center in Palo Leyte. This was a symposium of educators, historians, entrepreneurs, farmers, local government officials and students all over Leyte province to “celebrate the freedom everyone now enjoys, and at the same time honor and recognize the supreme price paid by those who fought and died during the Leyte landings and the liberation of Leyte. This was an even more appropriate venue for the second public introduction of the historical fiction “The Saga of Leyte Gulf” because the author was one of the speakers who were asked to talk on the significance of the Leyte Landings, the Battle of Leyte Gulf and their impact in shaping the history of the Philippines and its people. The book actually went beyond describing the historical events in Leyte by tracing the beginnings of Filipino immigration to the US in the 1930s and the difficult journey to their empowerment in the 1990s, through its fictional characters.

The Saturday was capped by a “Barrio Fiesta” dinner on October 19, 2019 held at the Palo Multi-purpose Hall and hosted by the Mayor of Palo, Frances Ann Petilla and Governor Leopoldo Dominique L. Petilla in honor of all the foreign and local dignitaries attending the 75th Leyte Landings program the following day.

For this writer, the bonus was the dinner hosted by Mayor Alfred Romualdez at Patio Victoria in San Jose, Tacloban City in honor of the delegation from the City of Fukuyama, Hiroshima, Japan, their sister city, led by Assemblyman Yusuke Ota. Mr. Ota upon receipt of his complimentary copy of “The Saga of Leyte Gulf” was almost emotional in expressing his gratitude as he related the remarkable true-story of Captain Yamazoe, who was fictionalized in the book. It turned out that he personally traced the family of Captain Yamazoe in Japan, and met an 85-year old lady almost ten years ago in Dulag, who relayed to him first-hand the story of Captain Yamazoe. She could have been the girl in the book who became “very close” to Captain Yamazoe. Mr. Ota has brought the grand-son of Captain Yamazoe to Tacloban and Dulag and has been bringing Japanese pilgrims from Fukuyama City to Capoocan and Dulag during the last ten years, to pay homage to the almost six-thousand soldiers (who were mostly from Fukuyama) who died in a single engagement in Capoocan, Leyte at the Battle of Breakneck Ridge. This was a highly documented encounter of the liberation of Leyte in history books and of course at “The Saga of Leyte Gulf”. 

This writer is now more convinced that we will have to do more writing and story-telling to let the rest of the world know of the great importance of the Leyte landings and the Battle of Leyte Gulf in world history in general. We all saw how CNN, the BBC and the American networks covered the 75th Anniversary of the landings at Normandy, France. No less than their heads of states came to Normandy to pay their respects. It makes one think that 75 years later, our main ally during the liberation, the United States of America has not changed its attitude towards the Philippines. They almost by-passed the Philippines if not for the insistence of Douglas McArthur. Sad.-GPP

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