My Ultimate Guerrilla.

Mac Peralta, Brains of the Panay Resistance 1942-1945

The book by Gamaliel L Manikan, 1977, Guerrilla Warfare On Panay Island In The Philippines (Quezon City: Sixth Military District Veterans Foundation Inc, 756 pages, excluding Appendices), is the source of much of the information in this essay, content indicated by page number, such as (p57). GL Manikan did a fine write-up of the struggles and successes of the intrepid warriors of Panay during World War 2. This essay will form a chapter of the book I am writing, Scholars & Soldiers, dedicated to ROTC heroes of the University of the Philippines.

Macario ‘Mac’ Peralta Jr is my own Ultimate Guerrilla. Inexperienced, armed with theory and emboldened by target practice, as it were, Mac along with dedicated men and women guerrillas, essentially held off from the depredation of the Japanese Army the people in an island of 11,515 sq km during World War II, 1942-1945. Did Mac learn from Mao? The enemy, Mao Tse Tung had said, at different times must be ‘harassed, attacked, dispersed, exhausted, and annihilated’ (Bard O’Neill, 1990, Insurgency & Terrorism, books.google.com.ph). That is an excellent summary of the classic definition of guerrilla warfare. But not brilliant. Jen Ch’i Shan said, ‘The question of guerrilla hostilities is purely a military matter and not a political one,’ to which Mao said this was the view of those who have ‘lost sight of the political goal and the political effects of guerrilla action’ (‘On Guerrilla Warfare,’ 1937, marxists.org). Guerrilla warfare is also political warfare, Mao and Mac knew it in their heads.

Five years after Mao had written that masterpiece, which was based on Sun Tzu’s ancient treatise The Art of War (500? BC), the hour of humiliating defeat of the Filipino and American forces fighting the Japanese in the Philippines had come. The Fall of the Philippine Islands was nigh. On 09 April 1942, Gen Jonathan Wainwright ordered the surrender of American and Filipino soldiers after the last great battle in Bataan; on 16 April, Gen William F Sharp radioed General Douglas MacArthur for instructions. MacArthur’s answer was that ‘Wainwright’s order had no validity and that he (Sharp) should break up his forces into small guerrilla groups and take to the hills’ (Mac, quoted by Gamaliel Manikan, 1977, p34, Guerrilla Warfare On Panay Island In The Philippines.)

What if General Douglas MacArthur called for guerrilla warfare and nobody came?

Sharp obeyed Wainwright, who then instructed Sharp to order Col Albert Christie, who was commander of the 61st Division in Panay, to surrender, saying ‘in the name of humanity, there is but one course of action to take’ (p39). Which one? Mac Peralta must have asked. The course could have been courage; it could have been carnage. He took courage. Carnage we now know was the disastrous course of action Wainwright took – courtesy of the Japanese Imperial Army: 10,000 Filipino and American POWs died of malnutrition, maltreatment, murder. The conquerors were barbarians. Had they not laid siege on Manila after it was declared Open City? Reminiscing, in 1947, MacArthur told the foreign editor of Newsweek that Wainwright ‘should never have surrendered’ and that ‘his men should have died fighting’ (‘Winners in peace,’ Richard B Finn, 1992, escholarship.org). Mac Peralta and MacArthur were dead right!

In Advanced ROTC, Mac and his wife Nati (shown here on horseback) and the rest of them had learned about the need for Duty to be well performed, Honor to be untarnished, and Country to be above self. So, answering MacArthur’s call, they said, ‘We will not surrender.’ This act of defiance spread like wildfire among the great majority of the officers and enlisted men in Panay, wary of the cruelties and brutalities they knew were visited on those who surrendered in Bataan and Corregidor. In an inspired moment, while waiting for the surrender deadline of 31 May, the defiant officers decided to grant leaves to their men, to give the appearance of the complete disintegration of the 61st Division (p46). Looks deceive.

On 24 May 1942, 1,000 officers and enlisted men, mostly Filipinos, surrendered to Gen Kawamura; 7,000 had refused to give up the fight for freedom (p44). The Japanese took note of the number and extended the deadline for the boys to surrender: 31 August 1942. After that, the Japanese would hunt down those who defied the order, and the civilians were warned of ‘severe consequences if non-surrenderees were found within their midst’ (p48). The threat of death was in the air.

On 18 June 1942, the Daanbanwa Conference of officers was called by Mac and it was agreed to silently reorganize and lie low temporarily (p53). He then issued General Orders #1 assuming command of all USAFFE forces in Panay and enjoined all those who were unencumbered to ‘report to the nearest officer for instructions.’ Actually, their will was their command.

My hero was only 29 years old when Mac became commander of the remnants of the USAFFE to wage a guerrilla war on the Japanese on Panay Island. Guerrilla warfare! Mac was inexperienced, greenhorn, wet behind the ears, as the rest of the intrepid men were. They had to learn. Distilling the lessons after the fact, Mac reminisced years later that (p54): ‘All decisions had to be made on the run, and on the officers’ own ‘full and collective responsibility.’ All for one, one for all. Mostly, there were no precedents to turn to.

The role of the civilian population was crucial to the whole resistance movement. Mac referred to this as ‘effective control,’ meaning, ‘at its best, that the civilians will voluntarily give moral and material support to the resistance movement as a matter of personal conviction, to the extent that they will risk their lives’ (p55). Mac said, ‘The safe assumption to take was that the enemy action would be governed by the same realization: that victory is, first and foremost, a race for the people’s mind, their sympathies and, if possible, their loyalty’ (p56).

In a war, the bandits & lawless take advantage of the unwary, and the traitors to the cause take advantage of everyone. That is why a rebel civil government is necessary. That is why they needed the full cooperation of Governor Tomas Confesor and the other provincial officials.

That is how they survived.

The most famous guerrilla leader in Iloilo was an Ilocano-Batangueño patriot, Mac himself. He married Natividad Kasilag of Batangas with whom he had 3 children: Macario III, Cecilia and Engelbert. Nati herself was an inspiration. She helped the resistance movement by organizing the Women’s Auxiliary Service, rallying women to give material and moral support to the men (Nestor P Burgos Jr, 22 March 2008, newsinfo.inquirer.net). Without the women, the men would have been lost.

Mac and most of the Force for the Liberation of Panay survived their Japanese encounters. Guerrilla warfare could be suffered and mastered.

We now leave those 2-year long untold sufferings of the guerrillas and the citizens of Panay and fast-forward to 01 September 1944 when Mac sent out the stirring message that ‘The Enemy is afraid’ and that the Battle of Panay is coming’ (p545). The End Was Near.

In mid-morning of 13 September 1944, carrier-borne aircraft of Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet in the Central Pacific suddenly appeared and dropped bombs on and strafed enemy installations in Iloilo City and harbor as well as the landing fields at Tiring and Mandurriao (p547). On 20 October 1944, the US Sixth Army, commanded by Lt Gen Walter Krueger, began MacArthur’s re-conquest of the Philippines by landing two corps abreast (X to the North and XXIV to the South) on an 18-mile front along the beaches of Tacloban (North) to Dulag (South) in Leyte. MacArthur waded ashore near the town of Palo, Leyte with President Sergio Osmeña and Brigadier General Carlos P Romulo. MacArthur spoke with fervor burning (p566):

I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil … Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of Divine God points the way. Follow in His name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory!

But as a matter of fact, Mac and The Force – military and civilian – had already expurgated from themselves the warrior spirit of Bataan and Corregidor – and had already supplanted it with the guerrilla spirit of Sun Tzu. The Art of War called for the creation of a united anti-Japanese front, and with it they had harassed, attacked, dispersed, exhausted, and (almost) annihilated the enemy in Panay. Guerrilla warfare is many little Davids fighting Goliaths.

Mac and The Force did it so well that the landing on Panay by US elements was known as a ‘Walkover,’ I was told. A walk in the park. The landing at Tigbauan on 18 March 1945 was unopposed. Actually, there was coordinated attacks on enemy positions  in Panay, including Guimaras Island. These actions  resulted in the liberation of Panay 2 days later, on 20 March. This would distinguish it from the more agonizing liberation of other parts of the country. There is science to military tactics, and it takes a great mind to theorize and practice it where none has been before.

That is how Mac and The Force succeeded.

On 31 July 1945, Mac’s military guerrilla command was disbanded; everyone said goodbye to the Free Panay Guerrilla Forces (the historical name of Mac and The Force), but not to the memories.

Reminiscing, MacArthur had the last word (p732):

The history of the guerrillas on Panay is unique among the island commands in the early and complete establishment of the command and the continuation of its authority without question since. In both military and civil matters it is probably the most extensive and the best example of a completely Filipino patriotic effort of all the Philippine guerrilla organizations.

MacArthur had high praises for all the guerrillas. He knew the Philippines and the Filipinos; between 1922 and 1930, he had 2 tours of duty in the country, the 2nd as Commander of the Philippine Department (Wikipedia). Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Macarthur harbored the idea that the US should defend the islands (Antonio Meer y Malvar, 2003, A Lawyer’s Faith & Fate, p52-53).

Before the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, MacArthur had in fact 'laid plans long before for an underground struggle by guerrilla forces against the Japanese army of occupation' (Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences, 1964, p202). After the fall, 'I was certain that a great number of those indomitable defenders of Bataan and Corregidor had escaped into the mountains and jungle, and that they were already at work against the enemy.' 2 months of ‘silence and uncertainty’ after the fall of Manila Bay defenses, he received a weak radio message from Luzon: ‘Your victorious return is the nightly subject of prayer in every Filipino home.’

That weak signal came from the guerrillas of Panay under the command of Mac Peralta (p735). MacArthur’s response to that weak signal encouraged the Filipinos and the Americans. Macarthur wrote, ‘The fire and the spirit of this indomitable nation burned as brightly as ever’ and that this 'disclosed the start of a human drama with few parallels in military history.' The Philippine drama. The sender of that  message, Lt Col Guillermo Nakar, a former Battalion Commander of the 14th Infantry of the Philippine forces, was later captured, tortured and beheaded (Lino Ongteco, angelfire.com), but the guerrillas carried on valiantly. Country above self.

4 months after that message from him, in November, Mac Peralta radioed MacArthur that 'he was taking command of the fighters in the Visayas' and that they had secured 99% loyalty from civilians and officials (MacArthur, page 202). Mac had declared martial law and had installed Tomas Confesor as Governor of Panay. MacArthur replied immediately: 'Your action in reorganizing Philippine Army units is deserving of the highest commendation and has aroused high enthusiasm among all of us here. You will continue to exercise command.'

Among other things, MacArthur instructed Mac that martial law was unwise, that it was not practical to issue money; that, instead, certificates should be issued that the United States owed the guerrillas back pay, which would be honored in due time. MacArthur also promised that he was coming back. (We all know he was as good as his word, if it took him so long – 3 years.) He also instructed Mac to create an intelligence network to the max; following orders, Mac initiated the intelligence penetration of Luzon, the Visayas, and Northern Mindanao (p136). In October 1942, Mac formally created 2 separate intelligence units: Corps G2 for outside Panay, Division G2 for Panay. With that, MacArthur said in a message, ‘as our intelligence unit covering maximum territory, you can perform great services’ (p155).

No sacrifice was too great. Even when the parents of Mac Peralta were arrested by the Japanese in Manila in 1943 and required that he surrender for the enemy to release them, Mac did not flinch. ‘That just  merely makes me work harder. I know my parents and they will be the last ones to ask me to surrender,’ he wrote his second-in-command Lt Colonel Leopoldo R  Relunia (p224). A few days later, MacArthur designated Mac as ‘a military guerrilla chieftain’ for Panay, but without authority on the civilian population (p229). For that, the full cooperation of the rebel civil government of Tomas Confesor was necessary. The guerrillas needed the civilians for food, labor, money and information and education (including counter-propaganda) of the people.

As expected, for 3 years, the relationship between guerrillas and civilians in Panay was awkward at times, thorny many times, dangerous oftentimes, and called for Alexander to untie many Gordian Knots.

As expected, for 3 years, Mac Peralta’s guerrillas fought the Japanese Imperial Army in Panay, with intelligence, with discernment, with courage. Amidst all, as observed by Lt Isidro Salvador, there was Mac’s ‘sober and commanding figure’ and ‘his magnetic personality as a leader’ (p142). General Amos M Francia saw that Mac had ‘a hearty laughter’ but it was ‘uncommon to him during those days’ (p154).

In the end, Mac’s guerrillas ‘practically cleared Panay’ of Japanese soldiers, in MacArthur’s own words (p720). On 22 March 1945, Iloilo City was liberated; on that same day, Lt General Robert Eichelberger, Commander of the 8th US Army, personally decorated Mac with the US Army’s ‘Distinguished Service Cross’ medal (2nd only to the ‘Congressional Medal of Honor’) (p720). In reply, with tears in his eyes Mac addressed his officers and men and said:

More than myself, this high decoration also belongs to you and all the gallant officers and men who have fought, suffered and died in the service of our country and people.

On 30 April  1945, Mac received a most welcome ‘Letter of Commendation’ from none other than General Douglas MacArthur himself, saying (p735):

I wish to express my admiration for the soldierly qualities that you and the troops of your command have displayed throughout the black era of Japanese domination of the Philippines. Since the first weak signal that you sent came across the Pacific, I have watched with the most sym pathetic concern your command’s gallant efforts to fulfill its missions. It has fulfilled the noblest traditions of your proud and self-respecting forefathers. You have been good soldiers in war. Be good citizens in peace.

Our own President of the Philippine Senate and Brigadier General Manuel A Roxas wrote Mac a letter dated 4 May 1945 and gave his own high estimate in these heartwarming words (p734):

That you had been able to build up your force and checkmate the enemy for three long years, and at the same time maintaining the morale of, and protecting the civilian population, is in itself an extraordinary achievement for which the whole nation is grateful to all of you.

Incidentally, reading that quote inspired me and now, perhaps we have the best summary of guerrilla warfare since Sun Tzu:

Build up your force, checkmate the enemy, protect the people.

10 words. The inspiration along with the summary comes from me; the words come from Manuel Roxas and the deeds from Macario Peralta Jr and The Force for the Liberation of Panay.

Mac was smart. In fact he had always been smart. In his time, he was the youngest General (at 33), youngest Senator (at 36); he was Valedictorian at Manila South High School (now Araullo High School), Valedictorian at UP (Law); he topped his class at the PA Infantry School. He was at the top of everything he was doing, in war & peace, except once – he was #2 in the BAR exams of 1936, which was anyway very close to Diosdado Macapagal at #1: 89.75 vs 89.85, a statistically insignificant difference of 0.1%. He was a warrior, something you expect from his being an FBI: full-blooded Ilocano. In case you forgot, here are a few Ilocano warriors of history: Artemio Ricarte, Antonio Luna, Diego Silang, Gabriela Silang.

In fun, he became well-known in UP as ‘Chocolate Soldier’ (there was a 1941 comedy-musical of the same name); it was meant to be a double ribbing, as a chocolate soldier is someone (a) meant only to impress and/or (b) who has a dark complexion. In esteem, the American officers called him ‘Chocolate Colonel’ (the same ribbing in a slightly different language). In scorn, the Japanese officers referred to him as ‘Scourge of Japan’ – because he was masterminding slowly but surely the defeat of the Japanese Imperial Army in Panay, and they could neither capture him nor stop him. He was that good. In fact, he was brilliant.

There are some who would deny that the heroism of any of the Filipino guerrillas and leaders during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines was for love of country, that it was rather in subservience to the United States of America, because the country was a US colony at that time. I heard that line before, 41 years ago to be exact – and the sound came from my own lips. Pertinent to this, in 1970, Renato Constantino wrote his now-famous essay, ‘The Miseducation of the Filipino,’ in the maiden issue of the Journal of Contemporary Asia; 3 years earlier, in 1967, on October 10, ‘Loyalty Day’ to alumni of up Los Baños, I wrote an open letter that I signed with my name, with the mocking title ‘What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?’ referring to the action of the staff and students of UP College of Agriculture who volunteered to train and fight in Europe during World War 1 – I said it was loyalty to the US, not loyalty to the Philippines because the war was thousands of miles away; it had nothing to do with us and something to do with US. I was logical – and wrong. Adolf Hitler’s war was everybody’s war; we have always been a global village even before Marshall McLuhan invented the term. When a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, it can cause a storm in Tasmania. Douglas MacArthur’s war was our war too; we were more the victim that MacArthur.

He was ‘a man of courage and principles, honest, and a disciplinarian’ (ANN, dnd.gov.ph). Mac had not only been a gallant guerrilla leader but also a brilliant lawyer (dnd.gov.ph). He was appointed Secretary of National Defense by President Diosdado ‘Dadong’ Macapagal on 01 January 1962. Dadong, the bar topnotcher of 1936, had appointed Mac, the second-placer. Neither was intimidated by the other.

He was born in Manila on 30 July 1913; his parents had stayed in Pangasinan, and he grew up in Tarlac. From ROTC, he was commissioned as 2nd Lt to the Philippine Army. As his first assignment, he was Commandant of the Visayan Institute’s ROTC cadets in Cebu, later transferred to Adamson University in Manila.

For all his guerrilla activities, he was awarded among others the Distinguished Service Star by his grateful government, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star by the United States government who was even more grateful.

In 1945, he was sent to the Command and General Staff (CGS) College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, USA for higher learning in military science & tactics. It was a 90-day crash course; he needed the added knowledge to command a Filipino unit as part of the invasion forces to Japan, in case that country refused to surrender. As always, he was advanced in his studies, so much so that Mac came home with a special commendation from the School Commandant for his ‘brilliant and unexcelled scholastic record’ (dnd.gov.ph). So, later that same year, Mac was promoted to Brigadier General and designated Deputy Chief of Staff, PA.

But his peripatetic mind could not be boxed in. He resigned from the Army in 1946. He was subsequently appointed by President Manuel Roxas as Chair of the Philippine Veterans Board, staying up to 1949. With the Magsaysay Mission to the US, he wrangled for substantial benefits for disabled war veterans. The government said thank you and rewarded him with another Distinguished Service Star.

In 1949, he became a Senator under the Liberal Party. Macapagal appointed him also Administrator of the Philippine Virginia Tobacco Administration. Mac was the 13th Secretary of National Defense, 1962 to 1965.

Mac spearheaded the move to organize the UP Vanguard alumni into one solid group, with the help of Col Joaquin Hidalgo (UP Commandant of Cadets) and Mac’s best friend Fred Ruiz Castro (AFP Judge Advocate General). On 29 March 1952, the 30th anniversary of the organization of the UP DMST, more than 500 ROTC alumni marched to Diliman and formed the UP Vanguard as an alumni association, with Mac as the first National Commander. Our most illustrious ROTC graduate had come home with the boys. To my mind, a National Hero. 

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