Monday, August 27, 2012 is National Heroes’ Day in the Philippines (Araw ng mga Bayani). It is always the last Monday in August. It is a time to remember and salute the men and women who shaped Philippine history.
I’ve really enjoyed the process of learning about Palawan’s own National Heroes. The reality of those momentous years is sobering and sad, but fascinating at the same time.
Mendoza Park is a well-known landmark in the center of the city of Puerto Princesa. Locals gather in the evening. The bandstand hosts concerts and speeches all year long. And just about any tourist will have at least driven by Mendoza Park as part of a tour around the city. In fact, Mendoza Park is where the lead character in my novel first meets her romantic interest. What is not so well-known is who Mendoza Park is named for. The Mendoza of Mendoza Park was a guerilla leader during World War II.
Capt. Higinio A. Mendoza, Sr. M.D. was Palawan Governor from 1931-1938. When the Philippines was dragged into World War II, he organized the first Guerilla Unit (A Company) in Palawan on February 19, 1942, three months before the Japanese occupation of Palawan. The unit guarded the shorelines and watched out for enemy activities. On May 18, 1942, the Japanese totally occupied Puerto Princesa. Mendoza then supervised the evacuation of the town. He established his headquarters at Tinitian, which is part of Roxas now, quite a ways north of Puerto Princesa. There Dr. Mendoza’s unit displayed both the Philippine and American flag 24 hours a day.
The members of the Palawan Fighting One Thousand Guerilla Unit of World War II, join Dr. Mendoza in the honor of being considered Palawan’s National Heroes. A list of the men involved in this unit is on display at Palawan’s WW-II Museum.
As World War II became more brutal, Mendoza’s unit was responsible for executing numbers of Japanese spies in Puerto Princesa. As a result, Dr. Mendoza landed on the Japanese Most Wanted list.
On January 7, 1944, the Japanese captured Dr. Mendoza in the Tinitian area. On January 24, 1944, he was secretly loaded in a truck and taken to an isolated spot in Canigaran. Dr. Mendoza was made to dig his own grave, then shot and beheaded. His execution was witnessed by a Tagbanua man fishing nearby.
According to the Japanese authorities, the skull of Dr. Mendoza was shipped to Manila for proper identification and proof that he had been executed.
On the anniversary of his birth, July 27, 1950, Dr. Mendoza’s remains were transferred to the center of town in the park named after him, Mendoza Park, as a tribute to his heroism.
The information I’m sharing in this post, and much more information about Palawan’s part in World War II can be discovered at the Palawan World War II Museum. The museum in on Rizal Avenue Extension, down past the airport, right past Rene’s Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant. Officially named the Palawan Special Battalion WW-II Memorial Museum, the museum is privately owned and operated by descendants of Dr. Higinio A. Mendoza, Sr. His son, Higinio C. Mendoza, known as Buddy Mendoza, began collecting World War II memorabilia as a hobby three years ago. His collection has grown and now fills several rooms. Buddy Mendoza says his number one inspiration is his father and the Palawan Fighting One Thousand Guerillas of WW-II. His ambition is to give honor to the unsung Bolo Battalion Palawan Guerillas of WW-II and USAFFE members who sacrificed their lives in defense of Filipino freedom.
Palawan’s World War II Museum is a treasure trove of information, and deserves its own story. Stay tuned. I’ll cover it in a future blog post. I consider Buddy Mendoza a National Treasure for collecting the artifacts and history of Palawan’s part in World War II. The names displayed on the wall in the museum read like a Who’s Who of Palawan. Many WW-II guerillas’ names live on in local doctors, lawyers, politicians, and business leaders.
My husband and I became students of World War II history after arriving in the Philippines in 1981, as we were confronted with the major part the Philippines played in that war. Both of our fathers served in World War II as well.
Our hats are off to Buddy and other Palawan families whose fathers and husbands and brothers fought and died in World War II.