|Image credit: United States National Archives.|
Resistance against the Japanese, after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, went underground. In October of 1942, an Inspector General from the Fil-American Irregular Troops (FAIT), commanded by the retired US Army Colonel Hugh Straughn, visited the town of Rosario to find a guerrilla leader who could organize resistance in Batangas under the banner of the FAIT2.
Espina was not the first choice for the job. One Pedro Adapon was, but he declined. Espina was approached by the FAIT upon advice of one Fr. Ramon Abaya and Antonio Luansing, prominent citizens of Rosario. Being the Batangueño patriot that he was, in January of 1943, Espina accepted the task offered by the FAIT. He was given the guerrilla rank of Lt. Colonel.
That same month, Espina led a party of sixty guerrillas on a daring raid of a Japanese sentry outpost near the Calicanto junction in the then-town of Batangas. The party killed all seven Japanese soldiers stationed at the outpost and, crucially, was able to confiscate weapons and ammunition.
Espina also started hopping from town to town discreetly organizing units in nearby places like Bauan, Rosario, Ibaan and Taal and even as far west as Balayan, Tuy and Nasugbu. These units would collectively be known as the “Batangas Guerrillas,” affiliated with the FAIT just to distinguish them from affiliates of other guerrilla organizations operating in southern Luzon.
Despite his youth and relative inexperience, Espina was an outstanding organizer. By July of 1943, he had organized the guerrilla units across the province into sectors, each with its respective commander. He issued a memorandum to these commanders with instructions for the training of all members and to “prevent town officials and anybody employed by the Japanese Military Administration from abusing the public3.”
By this time, the Japanese Army had started cracking down hard on underground resistance movements. Espina’s activities had not gone unnoticed. In fact, he was among the most hunted men in Batangas by the Japanese Kempeitai or Military Police.
In September 1943, one Captain Yusida, commander of the Japanese outpost in Rosario, Batangas sent a letter to Espina – in Tagalog, no less – encouraging him to surrender to the Japanese authorities. Yusida wrote:
“Espina, ikaw ay maaaring abutin ng kamatayan, kaya ang gusto ko ay ikaw ay sumurender ngayong oras na ito at nangangako kami na ipagsasangalang ang buhay mo4.” (“Espina, you may be killed, so it is my desire for you to surrender at this time and we promise to spare your life.”)
To which Espina haughtily responded:
WE CAN’T SURRENDER NOW OR EVER to the Imperial Japanese Army. Yes, I’m a USAFFE officer, and have seen active service in this war. But remember, we haven’t yet begun doing things against your army directly, since the birth of this Organization. We make war only against abusers of Public Welfare. You can concentrate and tie all Filipinos but you can’t stop the growing sentiment and hatred that is being inflamed against your government by what you are doing around. You try to frighten us Filipinos but on the contrary, it makes us more determined to do things against your policies.
In October 1943, Espina wrote an inspirational open letter to the Filipino people which was published by the underground press. Although the tides of war in the Pacific had already turned in favor of the Allies in the middle of 1942, the liberation of the Philippines was still months into the future and the Japanese regime was demoralizing to the civilian population. To quote an excerpt from Espina’s open letter:
“If the individual citizen does not heed the call to be brave in this hour of nation-building and nation-destroying — he can sabotage the work of men fortified by faith and determination. Our men and women must be inspired by love of country, imbued with the vital spark — the all-important WILL TO WIN — and ready to make sacrifices and suffer privations. Of this courage and patriotism, we ought not to be lacking5.”
Desperate for the capture of Espina and other guerrilla leaders, the Japanese were raiding towns and even remote localities for their capture. Even relatives of guerrillas and prominent citizens where taken and brought to prison camps set up in the towns of Rosario, San Juan, Lipa, Tanauan and Batangas6.
The Japanese finally caught up with Espina in March of 1944. Espina, accompanied by one Major Marciano Evangelista, had travelled to Malacañan Palace to meet with Representative Jose B. Laurel, Jr. and seek assistance for the release of civilians from among those the Japanese had indiscriminately picked up.
Immediately after the meeting, on their way down from the Palace, a truckload of Japanese soldiers arrived to seize both men and whisk them away. They were not heard of since, although the general assumption among guerrillas was that both were tortured to gain more information about the underground movements and then later executed. There is no information available about who leaked their presence in Malacañan to the Japanese authorities.
The FAIT movement in Batangas momentarily wavered in the face of the capture of its leadership. However, its units in the province were either absorbed by other guerrilla organizations operating in Batangas or operated independently. In other words, the spirit of resistance continued without Espina.
The fitting end to Espina’s story would have been for him to have survived the Japanese occupation and be present on the beaches of Nasugbu in January of 1945 to greet the landing United States States 8th Army. However, he was a warrior and a patriot who understood the nobleness in dying for a principle. As he wrote in his open letter to the Filipino people:
“This means that no matter how well an army may be trained and equipped, if it is not inspired, by the basic love of country, if it lacks the will to victory, if it refuses to suffer sacrifices and privations, it is doomed to defeat. It must possess the ferocity of fighting purpose which carries a man to death for a principle.”
Notes and references:
1 “Rosario Unit, III AC (David’s Command),” File No. 209-48, online at the United States National Archives.
2 “Luansing Unit, Fil-American Batangas Guerrillas,” File No. 63, online at the Philippine Veteran Affairs Office.
3 “Ibaan Rgt Fil-Amer Batangas Guerrillas FAIT,” File No. 110-6, online at the Philippine Veteran Affairs Office.
4 “GHQ, Batangas Force, FAIT,” File No. 110-3, online at the Philippine Veteran Affairs Office.`
6 Rosario Unit, op. cit.