May 7, 2018

Controversy in the Recognition of Guerrilla Groups by the US Army in 1946

Original caption:  American GI and Filipino guerrilla seem oblivious to slain Japanese soldier, with brains blown out, in front of Santo Tomas, University gate.  Image source: Presidential Museum and Library PH on Flickr.
Original caption:  American GI and Filipino guerrilla seem oblivious to slain Japanese soldier, with brains blown out, in front of Santo Tomas, University gate.  Image source: Presidential Museum and Library PH on Flickr.
[Keywords: guerrilla activity in Batangas, Hunters/ROTC, Filipino-American Irregular Troops, FAIT, World War II, Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Japanese in Batangas, Blue Eagle Command, Colonel Hugh Straughn, Major Philips Unit, Emilio Macabuag]
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines from 1942-1945, there were many guerrilla outfits that operated in the province of Batangas. The more notable of these were the Hunters/ROTC, the Filipino-American Irregular Troops (FAIT) and Emilio Macabuag’s Major Philips’ Unit. The operations of these outfits ranged from recruitment, protecting the general population from bandits, gathering intelligence or active combat such as sabotaging Japanese installations and ambushing Japanese troops.

A Lieutenant Leonard J. Aubuchon, who conducted an investigation of several guerrilla outfits in Batangas, in his report to the Guerrilla Affairs Branch of the United States Army gave a summary of how guerrilla activities began not just in Batangas but also elsewhere in the Philippines1. He wrote:
“In 1942, after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, ex-USAFFE2 men and ex-Constabulary members began to organize units to operate in an underground movement against the Japs. The leaders of these units instilled in the members great hope that it would only be a matter of a few months before the Americans would return to the Philippines.”
These units had very few arms and equipment. Thus, Aubuchon wrote, their initial activities were “of a passive nature” such as “protecting the barrios from banditry” and helping “to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population.” They also conducted anti-Japanese propaganda campaigns and “were responsible for a general policy of non-cooperation in the province (Batangas).”

Many Filipinos had joined one or the other of these guerrilla outfits, but by 1943, circumstance forced them to lie low and become inactive. Initially, the Japanese tried to curb guerrilla activity by encouraging members to surrender and return to society with the promise that no punitive actions would be taken against them.

This approach being ineffective, the Japanese changed their approach and started actively seeking out guerrilla leaders, even to the extent of conducting house searches. Wrote Aubuchon:
“Early in 1943, Colonel Hugh Straughn, who is believed to have influenced the beginning of most of the guerrilla units in southern Luzon, was captured and executed by the Japs3. The Batangas guerrillas then lost contact with the FAIT Headquarters and the Japs captured and executed many of the leaders of the resistance movement, among these being Espina, Evangelista and Tuguigui.”
Consequently, said Aubuchon, many guerrilla outfits stopped operations completely, although a few continued to function as home guards, maintaining the peace and order in their respective communities.

By the latter part of 1944, however, news must have started to circulate in the grapevine that the tides of war had changed; and that the return of American armed forces was imminent. Consequently, many of the hibernating guerrilla groups not just in Batangas but also elsewhere started operating actively again. Some, like the Major Philips’ Unit, were receiving instructions directly from American intelligence operatives.

Prior to and during the landing of American forces on the beaches of Nasugbu, because there were too many guerrilla groups and not all of them could be used by the Americans, the United States Sixth Army put in place the practice of “attaching one or more combat companies from each guerrilla unit” from among those it had actual need for. Aubuchon wrote:
“Many of these attached companies worked throughout the liberation and did excellent work and for this combat duty were recommended for recognition by the Headquarters of the (United States) Sixth Army.”
Other guerrilla groups in Batangas saw this practice as a policy being employed by the US Army in the recognition of guerrilla outfits; i.e. “they felt that it was necessary to have been actively engaged in combat to gain recognition.” This ‘recognition’ would accord guerrillas from recognized outfits monetary, medical and other benefits given to army veterans.

By and large, guerrilla groups in Batangas thought of the recognition policy as fair:
“A few of the units believed they should have had more men recognized, but on the whole they were satisfied that the recognition policy had been just and did not at the time submit the rosters of all the members of their units.”
Late in 1945, however, the United States Army committed what other guerrilla units saw as a breach of its own policy. It announced that it was giving recognition to more men of the guerrilla unit called the Blue Eagle Command – an estimated 1,167 members of which had already been recognized – to raise the total to the brigade size of 6,269 guerrillas in all.

This announcement stirred immediate controversy. Wrote Aubuchon:
“This latter recognition, to the guerrilla leaders, meant a complete change of policy, for they were certain that additional members of the Blue Eagle recognized at that time were never engaged in combat with the enemy. They were of the opinion further that many members of their own units were equally deserving of recognition…”

The announcement not only caused controversy, it also triggered a sudden “flow of requests for recognition from all types of units.” People who joined anti-Japanese organizations, even those with minimal or no relevance to the liberation efforts, filed requests with attached “histories and rosters to substantiate their claims.”

Nationwide, a total of 1.2 million applications for recognition were received by the United States Army4. Of these, some 260,000 would be recognized. Meanwhile, the sudden influx of applications alarmed the army enough to order Aubuchon to conduct an investigation. His conclusion:
“…had the Blue Eagle Brigade not been recognized, only a few organizations from Batangas would have requested recognition. The situation at present is that units that are being turned down5 are not satisfied that they are being justly treated… If at some future date, American Army could feel justified in withdrawing recognition from the Blue Eagle Brigade, it would go far for alleviating the resentment and dissatisfaction that exist.”
Notes and references:
1Summary of Information Obtained on the Guerrilla Movement in the South Central Portion of Batangas Province,” by Lt. Leonard J. Aubuchon, dated 9 July 1946.
2 USAFFE stands for United States Army Forces in the Far East. Wikipedia.
3 According to the web site of Edwin Price Ramsey, a veteran, Straughn was, in fact, beheaded by the Japanese.
4Overview of the Philippine Commonwealth Army and Guerilla review process for individuals seeking VA Benefits,” online at the United States Department of Veteran Affairs.
5 Among those that were turned down were Emilio Macabuag’s Major Philips’ Unit, which was not only taking direct orders from American intelligence but also helped to pave the way for the Nasugbu Landing.

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