Tuesday, November 14, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
November 12, 2017 issue
Old photos never die. They fascinate me and I make them live. Some people say they can also talk. So each time I stumble into them, I spend precious minutes looking at them, hoping I could learn something, and maybe, hear their ‘whispers’, to find out what they want me to know and listen to what they want me to hear. 
I am like a scanner. I don’t gloss over them. I peer to the littlest detail, looking for an interesting find. 
It was a gloomy, rainy September afternoon. Barely arriving from Manila and visiting Puerto Princesa after almost five years, I braved the weather and scanned the city by foot – to, strangely, find out about an imposing structure near where my parents and siblings used to live, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. 
The church has intrigued me ever since I was a boy. Arousing my curiosity, too, was the old big house behind it, built around the 1900s to my estimation. I have long wondered who lived there. That day, made me ask the same nagging query.
After thirty minutes, I realized it was not a good day to have come to the area. Three offices of the seminary, the admin, library and another one I don’t want to bother recalling now, each pointed me to different directions. I walked away and headed to Plaza Cuartel, the landmark people often see on every city tour map. At the entrance, I saw a sign, saying: “Visit the War Museum”. A War Museum in Puerto Princesa? No kidding. 

Not wanting to go back to my hotel, I waved at the first tricycle I saw. Approaching me, the driver slowed down, as if trying to figure out if he knew me. Whatever, I told him to take me to Bancao-Bancao, where the museum was supposed to be located (one and half kilometers, straight up ahead where I was). He told me, “Magkano ang bigay n’yo?” “Huh, I should be asking you that question, di ba” I told him. Avoiding negative vibes, I answered: “Just take me there, just me as your passenger, and if you’re not reckless, I will give you one hundred.” 
The War Museum
At the door of the well-kept Palawan Special Battalion World War II Memorial Museum, the official name, a lovely young lady, (another walking encyclopaedia, as Puerto Princesa tour guides are now beginning to be known for) smiled at me. Obviously, she was from the city, based on her accent, I can tell. 
Three minutes into the first module of the exhibit, I picked up my jaw on the floor. I saw never-been-published photos of the church, its horrific transition, from the time Spanish priest Exzequiel Moreno built it from bamboos in 1872 to coral stones, to the time Japanese soldiers bombed it to smithereens.  I also finally got the answer to a lingering question: Who lived in that house behind it? John Clark, the former American Governor, his Filipina wife Concepcion Miraflores Palanca, and their nine children, one of them would be the wife of a hero.
The museum is virtually, a treasure trove for people who love history, unassuming along a quiet, secluded street that explodes with brilliant colors of Fire and Cherry Blossoms trees during summer. It is just mindblowing.
Then of course, I learned and re-learned the life story of Dr. Higinio A. Mendoza, Sr., Palawan’s greatest hero. For the benefit of new generation of Palawenos, this is an attempt to relive his love for country, and the museum that was built in his honor, also a tribute to other homegrown guerilla soldiers who died in the war. 

To their memory, this article brings its gratitude for their exploits, some of them, sadly, still unknown to their provincemates to this day. 

Here’s my personal interview with Mendoza’s second to the eldest son, Higinio “Buddy” Mendoza, Jr.
Higinio Mendoza, Sr.
Fate was unkind to Dr. Higinio A. Mendoza, Sr. He was born during the Spanish-American War, one of the most turbulent chapters in Philippine history, and grew to his adulthood when World War II was breaking out. 
He was thrown in a war everyone did not like, and when it was time for him to serve his motherland, he was captured by the Japanese Imperial Army and met his grisly death. To add more sadness, Philippine history books are profuse in mentioning Bataan, Corregidor, Cavite, Cabanatuan, Malinta, Manila, Lingayen, Leyte, etc. 

None had mentioned the strategic importance of Palawan and Puerto Princesa Airport in the bigger picture - in stark contrast to the recognition accorded to the latter by the Americans during the war, and in the way both are exalted in the Hall of Heroes of American War Memorial in Bonifacio Global City today.
At the outbreak of war, Palawan was one of few Philippine provinces closest to most Southeast Asian countries where the Japanese had also attacked. In the “Invasion of Palawan” book, a high-ranking American official, General Eichelberger said: “It was important that aircrafts based in Palawan intercept missions as far as Indochina, cut off Japanese sea lanes in the South China Sea, and also reach Japanese oil installations in Borneo.” 
That was the reason why he chose the 41st Infantry Division of Major General Jens Doe to conduct the Palawan, Zamboanga and Sulu operations. 

And now that we have all seen the military significance of the main island of Palawan, based on Eichelberger’s words, let’s all go back in time. To know Higinio Sr. much better, and why, you and I, should commemorate his death.
Early life of a hero
The fifth of six children of Agustin Mendoza and Juana Acosta, life was not easy for the young Higinio Sr. As a kid, he and older brother Bernardino, would sing and dance for some townfolks and sell vegetables on the street.They all did this to earn a few centavos for their school ‘baon’.
But, alas, the boy who started his elementary schooling in Puerto Princesa, and early years in Palawan High School (when it was still located in Cuyo), was already showing sterling leadership qualities. He even astounded everyone by becoming a cadet captain, member of a champion debating team and president of his 1919 graduating class.
It was not customary for Palawenos to take collegiate studies in Manila in those days, much more enrol in an expensive course, Medicine. And offshore at that. Where would he get money to finance a mainstream course? 

Higinio was different. He had thought that if he only worked hard and strived for what he wanted, he would get it.
Higinio ignited his ambition and fired it till he became a doctor. Why? He had seen how hard life was in a seemingly God-forsaken province, a land almost totally forgotten by national government officials, where development was painstakingly slow, and Malaria always took people’s lives away from their loved ones. 

His dream was not driven by a selfish desire, but because his community has not seen a doctor for ages. 
And so, with a leap of faith, armed with prayers provided by his loving parents in his suitcase, Higinio crossed the big wide Pacific, boarded a Russian ship and studied in Iowa State University and University of Indiana. He then enrolled at Hahnemann Medical College to obtain a Doctor of Medicine, and finished with a degree in 1928.
As an intern at a children’s homeopathic hospital and in St. Luke, Philadelphia, Higinio founded a Filipino students’ club in Iowa State University, eventually becoming chairman of the university’s foreign students association. In between, he worked as an elevator boy, janitor, dishwasher, helper, and did many other odd jobs to keep body and soul together. He also pursued many other extra-curricular activities to enrich himself mentally, even becoming associate editor of “The Medic,” the Hahnemann Medical College Yearbook, an outstanding achievement for a little known Palaweno then.
After staying in the U.S. for eleven years, Higinio arrived in the Philippines. As a full-pledged doctor, Palawenos in Manila gave him a warm welcome and a banquet, rejoicing in the exemplary achievement of a ‘kababayan’ who had made good. His gift of the gab also made him a most sought after speaker. The ensuing events would also thrust him into the political arena.
Higinio was elected governor in 1931, winning by a landslide, was reelected in 1934 but lost on his third bid when Cuyo and the rest of the Calamianes island voters opted to vote for his opponent. It was an offshoot of his decision to move Palawan High School from Cuyo to mainland Palawan, an act that angered people of the northern island group. Higinio stuck to his belief, saying: “The only provincial high school should be in the mainland where it could be more accessed by many young people.”

Now on private medical practice, he continued to serve the needy, giving free medical services and medicines to his constituents. He underwent further training as a medical and reserve officer in the Philippine Army Medical Corps. During that time, war was brewing and the brave man that he was, already anticipated what was going to be the worst scenario: Fight the enemy to the end. With that, he organized the first guerilla force in Palawan.
The Japanese invasion
It was the worst of times. People would often gather infront of Higinio’s house everyday, to get news about the looming war. He had a radio, a gadget that gave him updated news from the outside world. He would tell his people not to despair, but unite, resist the enemy, and that America would “liberate the country soon”.
A few days before the Japanese invaded Puerto Princesa, he made sure that everyone left town, including his family whom he relocated to barrio Babuyan. When the Japanese came, he was the last to leave.
Prior to the mass evacuation of people out of Puerto Princesa, Higinio attended a meeting organized by then Governor Gaudencio Abordo to decide on a course of action. 

With provincial officials and leading citizens attending, and him dominating that meeting, everyone unanimously voted for a ‘Free Palawan Government,” a de facto form of governance by Palawenos at some safe place in the jungles in the north. 

This made Palawan one of only three provinces in the entire country to establish a free government, with its own currency (“Script”) to boot.
Higinio’s guerilla unit was designated as Company A of Palawan Special Battalion, the raison d’etre for the existence of “Free Palawan Government”. Its main role was to ambush Japanese patrols as an offensive and defensive force, focusing on jungle warfare. 
His resistance movement eventually grew in number and became a formidable force each day, frightening local collaborators in the town. They knew that with him orchestrating the movement, they will all be wiped out. In retaliation, the traitors made an appeal to the Japanese to hunt him, dead or alive.
Mendoza’s capture
As in many stories of trust, treachery and deception, one of Higinio’s men, a soldier named Namia, fell into Japanese hands. Egged on to divulge what he knew about the former’s whereabouts, Namia, eventually volunteered to guide the enemy to Higinio’s hiding place in Roxas. Soon after, two barges with an army of Japanese soldiers were launched and make him fall into the dragnet.
At dawn, in sitio Jolo, Tinitian, Roxas, just as he was about to take his breakfast, a gunshot rang out in the air. Running to the bedroom to check on his family, Higinio was met by several Japanese soldiers who immediately pointed guns at him. He was led away from his family, roughly manhandled and tied with a rope. Trinidad, his wife cried and cried but was kicked in the abdomen by Japanese soldiers. Higinio told him calmly, “Be brave, we can die for our country.” 
He went under heavy questioning and by afternoon, the Japanese soldiers decided that he would be taken to Puerto Princesa. At that very moment, he knew that it would be the last time that he would see his family.
Many people travelled far to see him. His sister Agustina walked with her sons from Aborlan to comfort him. Meanwhile, his enemies had a heyday celebrating his capture. Higinio was allowed to make a speech in public though. 

In one of those instances, he said: “It’s good that they chanced upon me in the house with my family. Had I been in the camp with my soldiers, there would be much bloodshed and I would never surrender.”
In the morning of January 24, 1944, Higinio was executed before a firing squad inside his father-in-law’s (John Clark) coconut plantation in Canigaran, Puerto Princesa. Tagbanua natives who were working in the area, heard rifle shots but never revealed the killing site until 1947 for fear of the Japanese. After a series of long searches, a group of civilians found his remains but his skull was not in the grave. They are now interred in a memorial marker at Mendoza Park, the city’s main plaza.
No retreat, no surrender
Higinio would have escaped execution had he accepted allegiance to the Japanese flag. But he refused not to serve in the puppet government. 

He chose to face death rather than betray his country. Before he died, he left these words to his family: “Do not be afraid, don’t be sad. Not many are given the privilege to die for his country.”
During the interview, Higinio’s second second son, Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary and VADM Higinio C. Mendoza, Jr.was misty-eyed as he quoted the same line. 

“Buddy” as he is often called by Palawenos in Puerto Princesa, was a former city Councilor, Vice Mayor and founded the Palawan Special Battalion WW-II Museum. He financed it on his own to honor his father. 
It was inaugurated on December 5, 2011 and was officially open to the public on the day of Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7. It is located along Rizal Avenue Extension, Barangay Bancao-Bancao, PuertoPrincesa City. The museum is also in honor of the Palawan Fighting 1000 Guerilla and American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defense of their freedom. Through the years, it received artifacts and war items from relatives of World War II survivors.
Among those on display: A historic typewriter used by the “Free Palawan Government” in printing Palawan Script Money during WWII. A WW2 era Willy’s jeep to .50 caliber guns, rifles, pistols and photos that chronicle the war era and that of the Palawan POW’s. It also has the most complete collection of bayonets and helmets used in the war. The museum brings to life memorabilia items which many people today have not seen. Artifacts from the American Muslim conflict in the early 1900’s and a 1957 Buick are also on display.
One of Buddy’s sons is Matthew Mendoza, currently City Councilor of Puerto Princesa.