[PARTNER] Bataan Legacy Project: Ensuring a Place in History

Lourdes Catig-Poblete worked for a Japanese-owned company during WWII in the Philippines, and did reconnaissance for the guerrillas.

Japanese soldiers arrested her on July 17, 1944, and held her at Fort Santiago, the then-notorious concentration camp in Manila. There she was tortured and later forced to work as a house slave for a Japanese colonel. She was 17.

The 91-year-old San Francisco resident’s experience -- and that of countless Filipinos and Americans who fought against the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippines -- is barely a footnote in U.S. high school history books.

Lourdes Catig-Poblete

Lourdes Catig-Poblete

“History is written from the point of view of the Americans, even though seven-eighths of the main line of resistance were Filipino,” Cecilia I. Gaerlan said.

Cecilia Gaerlan

Cecilia Gaerlan

Gaerlan is the executive director of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society, which is working to ensure California’s high school curriculum includes a component on WWII in the Philippines that emphasizes the efforts of Filipino and American soldiers and civilians in the fight against the Imperial Japanese Army. As part of its educational effort, the society organized the Conference on WWII in the Philippines last October in San Francisco. The all-day event featured guest speakers and panelists who survived the war.

Gov. Brown signed AB 199 in 2011 to amend the California Education Code to include WWII in the Philippines, but the legislation has not been implemented. The proposed framework still is going through the development process.

The proposal needs to address two salient points, Gaerlan said. In a letter last month to state education officials, she writes:

1. The Filipinos were not just allies. The Philippines was a colony of the United States from 1898 until it gained its independence in 1946. The Filipino and American soldiers were part of the same Army Command – the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).

2. The significance of the Battle of Bataan – Under War Plan Orange 3 or WPO3 (incorporated in Rainbow Plan 5), the USAFFE troops were to fight a delaying action. In the event of a successful enemy invasion, the troops were to retreat to the Bataan peninsula and await reinforcement from the United States. We all know that reinforcement never came until three years later. Under WPO3, the war strategy in the Philippines was purely defensive. The priority under Rainbow Plan 5 was to Defeat Germany first. Hence, majority of the resources were directed to Europe. But the USAFFE troops, despite suffering from massive diseases and starvation and fighting without any air support, performed a delaying action that disrupted the timetable of the Imperial Japanese Army of 52 days and defended Bataan for 99 days.

AB 199’s public review continues through February, and Gaerlan said it is crucial that people show their support by either signing the Change.org petition https://www.change.org/p/instructional-quality-commission-california-department-of-education-california-state-board-of-education-support-ab199-and-wwii-in-the-philippines-in-the-history-curriculum-for-california

or emailing California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. (HSSframework@cde.ca.gov)

Torlakson spoke at the society’s October conference in San Francisco. He oversees 10,000 school districts with 6 million students and he is “determined to make sure the history is accurate and  correct.” Torlakson, who majored in history, said it is essential that this Filipino and American history “must be remembered and taught in our schools. It hasn’t been taught at the depth that it needs to be taught.”

Getting AB199 implemented is difficult and frustrating, Gaerlan said.

“We Filipinos as a community do not have a voice. If we do not fight for our heritage, no one will do it for us. If people have time to watch Miss Universe, surely they have time to sign the online petition,” she said.

To raise public awareness about WWII in the Philippines and AB 199, the non-profit educational organization’s all-day conference at the San Francisco Main Library featured panelists who survived the war.

Catig-Poblete, whose own father was a Bataan Death March survivor, recalled how she fled the house where she was kept prisoner. When she returned home to her family, she found out that her brother had been taken by Japanese soldiers. “I never saw my brother again.”

She described how she and her family tried to seek shelter during the Battle for Manila. As they ran, her sister was struck down by American shelling.

Her sister’s remains were placed in a box and buried by Catig-Poblete’s father and brothers. “We could not go and that was the saddest thing in my life and I will remember to my dying day.”

Another panelist, Marietta Flores, was a six-year-old when the Battle for Manila started. The now 77-year-old lived in Malate, a district of Manila, and loved to collect dolls from all over the world, only to lose them when Japanese soldiers set them ablaze despite her pleas.

She witnessed the death of an uncle when soldiers dropped an adobe stone on his chest, “in front of my eyes … blood squirting and splashing on my face and on my dress.” The uncle was killed because he could not tell the soldiers the whereabouts of Flores’ father.

“And no one knew where he was because my father went into hiding with the guerrillas. My grandmother was so shocked that she fainted after seeing her son’s chest broken and lifeless body,” Flores said. “And when she came to, she never spoke a word until the time she died after the Liberation.”

She saw a little girl taken by an enemy soldier, thrown into the air and speared by a bayonet on the way down.

“The memories of an innocent six-year-old are forever etched in my mind and heart as a reminder of the evil and devastation that war brings not only to the physical world but most importantly, the inner souls of its victims.”

Call to Action

Please sign the Change.org petition https://www.change.org/p/instructional-quality-commission-california-department-of-education-california-state-board-of-education-support-ab199-and-wwii-in-the-philippines-in-the-history-curriculum-for-california

Email California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson (HSSframework@cde.ca.gov)

Watch videos of the conference here: http://www.bataanlegacy.org/medianews.html

Read the proposed framework for Grade 11 History-Social Science Framework here: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/hs/cf/hssfw2ndreview.asp

Coming Up

The Bataan Legacy Historical Society will host a conference on Oct. 29, 2016, at the Koret Auditorium, SF Main Library to mark the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor/Invasion of the Philippines. It will focus on the role of San Francisco during WWII, and include an exhibit.

Bataan Legacy website www.bataanlegacy.org