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September 22, 2020

Protecting Cuenca against WWII Japanese Stragglers and Convincing them to Surrender

US Army soldiers pounding Japanese positions on Mt. Maculot. Image source: US National Archives.

On the 20th of April 1945, the 187th Glider Infantry Regiment of the United States Army’s 11th Airborne Division, after some fierce and prolonged fighting, “finally overran” Mount Maculot in the town of Cuenca, Batangas. The 11th Airborne was the arm of the United States Eighth Army that was among those responsible for the liberation of Batangas from Japanese occupation.

The end of organized resistance at Maculot, however, did not mean that the Japanese had all been killed. As at Mount Malepunyo east of Lipa after the organized Japanese resistance there had ceased towards the end of April, the remaining Japanese soldiers had dispersed “in small, starving pockets in the mountains and out-of-the-way locations where they set up perimeter defenses with the few weapons left to them2.”

At the capitulation of the Japanese at Malepunyo, the province of Batangas was, for all intents and purposes, liberated from Japanese occupation. Temporary civilian governments, pending normalization and the election of officials, were even appointed in the different towns around the province.

For the United States Army, there remained the tasks of clearing the Bicol Peninsula and Tayabas (presently Quezon Province and Aurora) and then subsequently chasing the Japanese up to northern Luzon, where they would make their final losing stand in the Philippines.

In Batangas, mopping up operations were conducted by the 11th Airborne Division, supported by attached guerrilla units. The division was encamped in the Lipa-Mataasnakahoy area near the Lipa Airstrip for rest and recuperation as well as the training of reinforcements newly-arrived from America.

Among the active zones for continuing Japanese presence was the Maculot area in Cuenca. On the 12th of June, one Captain Jose Mendoza of the Maculot Battalion of the Fil-American Irregular Troops guerrilla group reported to his superior that a guerrilla patrol encountered four Japanese stragglers near at a place called Dayapan. Four of these were killed with no casualties to the patrol3.

Six days later, the same guerrilla captain filed another report about an ambush by about 30 Japanese stragglers which lasted for two hours until the latter fled back to the mountain. Some of the Japanese soldiers were believed wounded, said that captain in his report4.

It was not only the guerrillas whose lives were at risk from the continuing presence of the Japanese on Maculot, but civilians as well. The starving Japanese, in order to survive, had no recourse but to raid homesteads for livestock and other food stuffs.

The Acting Mayor of Cuenca, one Eugeniano P. La Rosa, felt impelled to write to the Acting Provincial Governor Fortunato Borbon to request for a garrison of U.S. Army soldiers to be stationed at the town.

In his letter, La Rosa noted that “the presence of quite a good number of Japanese snipers in the Macolot Mountain and its vicinity is beyond doubt.” He further wrote that people of the town had every “intention of abandoning their homes, thereby bringing into naught the civil government which we had established5.”

The most vulnerable of the barrios to raids and sniping by the Japanese soldiers were the barrios of Labac, Ibabao and Dita, close as these were to Maculot6. The uneasiness of the entire town and the request for the presence of American troops was made because Lt. Col. Pedro Pasia, Commanding Officer of the Maculot Battalion guerrilla unit that had been protecting the town, was planning to disband the group because provisions were not arriving.

It took the personal intervention of the Acting Governor to convince Pasia not to disband his unit. Borbon, in a letter addressed to Pasia, promised the latter to make representations on behalf of the Maculot Battalion to the Commanding General of the 11th Airborne Division. Presumably, he also brought up the matter of the absence of provisions7.

Thus, the Maculot Battalion carried on with the task of protecting the town of Cuenca against the intermittent raids and sniping of the Japanese stragglers until the middle of September. This was even though the Emperor of Japan had announced his country’s surrender to the Allied Forces as early as the 15th of August and the formal signing of the surrender document was done on the 2nd of September8.

On the 12th of September, American soldiers arrived in Cuenca to tell the Mayor that they would release two captured Japanese prisoners-of-war, a navy captain and a private, into Macolot in the hope that they would be able to convince their comrades to lay down their arms, since the war had already concluded.

The ploy turned out to be successful, so that at 10:00 in the morning of 19 September, no less than two hundred and forty-two soldiers Japanese soldier came down from Maculot to lay down their arms. These included 2 heavy machine guns, 4 light machine guns, 4 knee mortars, 126 rifles and 26 pistols.

Finally, almost five months since the Japanese were overrun in Maculot and forced into hiding on the mountain, the town of Cuenca could sleep well at night having at last tasted liberation.

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Notes and references:

1 “The Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division 1943-1946,” by Major Edward M. Flanagan Jr., published 1948 in Washington, p. 133.
2 Flanagan, ibid, p. 150.
3 “Reconnaissance Patrol Report,” by Captain Jose B. Mendoza, 12 June 1945, part of the folder “MACULOT BATTALION FAIT, File No. 110-67,” downloaded from PVAO.
4 “Encountered with the Japs,” by Captain Jose B. Mendoza, 16 June 1945, part of the folder “MACULOT BATTALION FAIT,” File No. 110-67, downloaded from PVAO.
5 “Letter of Acting Mayor of Cuenca Eugeniano P. La Rosa to Acting Governor of Batangas Fortunato Borbon,” by Eugeniano P. La Rosa, 28 June 1945, part of the folder “MACULOT BATTALION FAIT,” File No. 110-67, downloaded from PVAO.
6 “Resolution Number 4 Thanking the Maculot Battalion,” by the Provisional Municipal Council of Cuenca, September 1945, part of the folder “MACULOT BATTALION FAIT,” File No. 110-67, downloaded from PVAO.
7 “Letter of Acting Batangas Governor Fortunato Borbon to Lt. Col. Pedro Pasia,” by Fortunato Borbon, 29 June 1945, part of the folder “MACULOT BATTALION FAIT,” File No. 110-67, downloaded from PVAO.
8Surrender of Japan,” Wikipedia.

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