December 14, 2018

“Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” Composer in Thrilling Escape from the Japanese in Cuenca in 1945

Image sources:  Photo of Josefino Cenizal from Discogs.com.  Photo of Japanese soldiers and tank from the United States National Archives.
Image sources:  Photo of Josefino Cenizal from Discogs.com.  Photo of Japanese soldiers and tank from the United States National Archives.
[In this article: Josefino Cenizal, World War II Batangas, Cuenca Batangas, Lipa Batangas, Ang Pasko ay Sumapit, WWII escape from Japanese, Free Philippines newspaper]
Filipinos as a rule learn to sing the Christmas carol “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” (Christmas has come) almost instinctively from an early age. In the present day, however, it is all but forgotten that the carol’s melody was composed by one Josefino Cenizal, a multi-sided artistic genius from the town of Tanza in Cavite. The carol’s lyrics were provided by his friend, the late national artist Levi Celerio1.

Apart from being a composer, Cenizal was a famous pre-war actor and director2. His most well-known directorial works were Rosa Birhen (Rose the Virgin, 1940), Bicol Express (1957) and Milagrosong Kamay (Miraculous Hand, 1961). He was married to a famous post-war actress, Olivia Cenizal. He died in 20153 at the age of 95.

But his illustrious career could have been cut short had the Japanese caught up with him in April 1945. In January, the Americans landed troops in Lingayen and Nasugbu. Cenizal had written a victory song celebrating these landings, and for doing so, the Japanese placed a price over his head.

By April, he was in Cuenca in Batangas, presumably in hiding. The town of Lipa had already been liberated, although the Japanese had withdrawn to nearby Mount Malepunyo for a final stand. In Cuenca, fighting still raged at Mt. Maculot, where the Japanese Army was dug in deep.

Japanese intelligence must have gotten word that Cenizal was in Cuenca and sent seven Japanese soldiers after him. The latter managed to get out, but his inadequately fuelled car stalled while he was on his way to Lipa, safe under the protection of the United States Army.

What ensued was documented in a short item published in the 18 April 1945 edition of the Free Philippines newspaper4, which described the thrilling getaway as Cenizal’s “most dramatic role in the stage of life…”

Below is the full text of the news item:
“Josefino Cenizal, well-known figure in pre-war college and local movie circles, played his most dramatic role in the stage of life recently when he fled from Cuenca, Batangas, in an inadequately fuelled car chased by seven Japanese armed with tommy-gun, rifles and hand-grenades.

“The Japanese had set a price of several thousand pesos was set on his head for writing a victory song revolving around the landing of the Americans in Luzon.

“Cenizal’s car stalled en route to just liberated Lipa, and the Japanese fired from their pursuing car. An American patrol detachment rushed out of the woods near the road and killed all seven Japanese in a short fight.”
The newspaper item with the rescue of Josefino Cenizal.
The newspaper item with the rescue of Josefino Cenizal.



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Notes and references:
Notes and references:
1Unknown man behind PH immortal yuletide music ‘Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit’ is 98,” by Tina Arceo-Dumalao, published 2014, online at the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
2Josefino Cenizal,” Wikipedia.
3Josefino Cenizal (1919–2015),” IMDB.
4 “Yanks Rescue Cenizal from Pursuing Japs,” published 18 April 1945 in “Manila Free Philippines Part 1,” online at the Internet Archive.

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