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February 6, 2021

The Case of Batangueño Guerrillas' Attempt to Bribe a US Army Investigating Officer

Even before the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Army to the Allied Forces in the Philippines in September of 1945, guerrilla organizations who had fought side-by-side with the Allies had begun applying for official recognition by the United States Army. Essentially, this recognition meant that the US Army recognized, based on merit, certain guerrilla organizations as having been elements of the Philippine Army in the service of the United States Armed Forces during the liberation of the Philippines.

There were benefits to be gained from such recognition — absorption for some into what would become the fledgling Philippine Army after independence the following year. There were also lump sums and pensions paid by the United States to those who would return to civilian life at the conclusion of the war along with the dependents of those killed during the liberation.

Initially, the United States enforced a policy of recognizing only guerrilla outfits that had been attached to US Army units during the liberation — a policy that most guerrilla leaders felt was fair and that they had no need to contest. Late in 1945, however, the US Army, gave additional recognition — on top of the 1,167 already recognized — to the strength of 6,269 men to the outfit called the Blue Eagle Command1.

Many of these additionally recognized guerrillas were known to the other guerrilla outfits as not having been attached to any US Army unit or participated in combat. Their recognition, thus, precipitated a slew of applications for official recognition2, even from totally bogus outfits made up of families and neighbors.

American soldier in Postwar Manila
Image credit:  United States National Archives. Unrelated to article.

In one instance, a guerrilla outfit based in Batangas commanded by one Lt. Colonel Amando Laurel (guerrilla rank3) of Talisay, Batangas went so far as to attempt to bribe a US Army officer assigned to investigate the outfit for possible recognition.

The outfit was generally known as the “Laurel Regiment,” although it was also alternatively referred to as the TAT Regiment because its members came from the towns of Taal, Alitagtag and Talisay. While Laurel was selected overall Commanding Officer, there were three other officers assigned as commanders of the outfit’s three battalions: Maj. Pedro Gahol for the Taal Battalion; Maj. Bibiano Holgado for Alitagtag; and Maj. Emerenciano Biscocho for Talisay4.

In the latter part of 1943, the regiment would become affiliated with the President Quezon’s Own Guerrillas (PQOG), one of the largest guerrilla organizations operating in Luzon and commanded by then-guerrilla Colonel Vicente Umali.

The United States Army officer assigned to investigate the outfit after it filed its application for recognition was one 2nd Lt. Grant Wilcox, who traveled to Batangas to meet its officers and men in the company of one Sgt. M/Sgt. Sebastian Songsong of the Philippine Army.

In the official statement5 on the attempted bribery, Wilcox wrote that he and Songsong traveled from Manila to Talisay in the company of Gahol, the Laurel Regiment’s Executive Officer. Upon arrival in Talisay, he and Songsong contacted members of the 2nd Talisay Battalion and started conducting interviews.

The following day, the two investigators took a launch to the Taal Volcano Main Crater Island to meet and interview members of the Talisay Regiment. They talked to roughly 200 of the guerrilla outfit’s members and had to stay the night at the island.

They returned the following day back to Talisay in the company of Laurel, Gahol and Biscocho. It was on the way from the beach back to the Catholic convent where the two investigators were billeted on the first night of their visit that an attempt was made to pass a bribe to Wilcox. In his statement, he wrote:

“...Maj Gahol stopped at a food store and inquired if they had a place where we could speak in privacy. On the way around the building, M/Sgt Songsong, upon being told that Lt Col Laurel, Maj Gahol and Maj Biscocho wished to speak to me in private, left us. In the back of the building was a crude sort of beer garden. Upon sitting down, Maj Gahol or Maj Biscocho (I don’t recall which) drew out a roll of bills and said something about — that it wasn’t much, but they wanted to give me a small gift. I refused with a great quantity of excuses and apologies, trying not to disturb their feelings. It developed upon questioning that the money had been collected from the members of the unit...

“Lt Col Laurel made no further persuasion upon my refusal other than to say that I should take the money. However, Gahol, and especially Biscocho, furthered their persuasion. Gahol stated: “You must take it because we can’t give it back to the men.” I offered the alternative of throwing a party for the men with the money, and I further stated that I definitely refused to accept the gift. I broke this part of the incident up by standing and again definitely refusing, but shaking their hands and thanking them for their good intentions.”

Biscocho was persistent and tried to pass the roll of bills to Songsong, who similarly declined. But Wilcox had seen the attempt and berated Biscocho. Wilcox wrote, “I followed him down and upbraided him for trying to pass the money to M/Sgt Songsong. I further warned him that nastier action would be necessary on my part if I should later discover the money in the jeep’s glove compartment or slipped in among my personal effects.”

In the end, however, the attempted bribery would have no bearing on the subsequent failure of the regiment to obtain official recognition. Laurel had submitted a roster of 865 members along with the letter of application for recognition.

Of these, only a company6 would gain recognition, but not on the lack of merit of the regiment’s own application. Instead, the regiment’s application was rejected because the Headquarters of the PQOG under Umali had submitted a large composite roster of guerrillas which the organization itself had verified from among its numerous units that operated in Luzon.

[NOTE TO THE READER: While the act of bribery is largely deplorable, the case discussed in this article has to be seen in the right context. The Japanese occupation had been a nightmare not only for guerrillas but to civilians as well. Many survived by eating root crops; saw their loved ones massacred and their properties destroyed; or were left in abject poverty. The benefits to be had from official recognition by the US Army were doubtless seen as a way out of this.]



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Notes and references:

1 “Guerrilla Movement in Batangas,” a report by Lt. Leonard Aubuchon, downloaded from the PVAO. Aubuchon was an officer with the Philippines-Ryukyus Command tasked with investigating claims from guerrilla outfits for official recognition.
2 Aubuchon, ibid.
3 In many cases among guerrilla organizations in the Philippines during World War II, the ranks guerrillas gave themselves or were given by their superiors were higher than those one would typically find for equivalent positions in the tables of organization of the United States or even Philippine Army.
4History of the Laurel’s Regiment, PQOG,” part of the folder “Laurel’s Regiment, 45th Division, I Corps, PQOG,” File No. 271-19, online at the United States National Archives.
5Lt. Wilcox's Statement on Alleged Bribery by Guerrilla Units under Investigation,” part of the folder “Laurel’s Regiment, 45th Division, I Corps, PQOG,” File No. 271-19, online at the United States National Archives.
6 As per “Military Units: Army,” a company is a tactical-sized unit that can have anything from a few dozen to 200 soldiers.


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