PVAO marks 73rd anniversary of Battle of Bessang Pass Thursday

By Ben Cal

June 13, 2018, 4:09 pm

<p>Victory at Bessang Pass by Ben Cal</p>

Victory at Bessang Pass by Ben Cal

MANILA -- The historic Battle of Bessang, the greatest victory scored by Filipino guerrillas against the mighty Japanese Imperial Army in World War II, will be commemorated with elaborate ceremony in Ilocos Sur on Thursday at the site where the battle occurred 73 years ago.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has designated Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana to represent him during the anniversary celebration at Bessang Pass, in Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, according to retired Brig. Gen. Resty Aguilar, chief of Veterans and Historical Division of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), in Camp Aguinaldo.

It was in Bessang Pass, the strategic mountain fortress in Ilocos Sur occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, that Filipino guerrillas mounted a series of attacks that lasted for almost six months from Jan. 1, 1945 until June 14, 1945 when the Japanese forces were crushed.

American warplanes and artillery bombardment supported the brave Filipino guerrillas who engaged the Japanese soldiers during the last few days of the fighting that culminated in the victory of the Filipinos on June 14, 1945.

This writer was commissioned by retired Lt. Gen. Nesty Carolina, PVAO administrator, to write a book about the historic event entitled “Victory at Bessang Pass” which was launched at Fully Booked Store at Global City in Taguig in 2013.

The same book was also launched by the author that same year in Washington, DC with then Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cusia as guest of honor and speaker.

Incidentally, Lorenzana, who was then the PVAO representative in Washington, helped in the launching of the book.

The author was also fortunate to interview some of the aging heroes of Bessang Pass before they died of old age.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Arnulfo Bañez, one of the few remaining Bessang Pass heroes, now 94, was the special guest during the Independence Day celebration of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Officers’ Club (BSPOC) at the BSP building in Manila last June 13.

Dr. Gregory Suarez III, BSPOC president, expressed happiness that Bañez accepted and attended the celebration focusing on the great victory of Filipino guerrillas at Bessang Pass 73 years ago.

Although the Battle at Bessang Pass was the biggest victory scored by Filipino guerrillas during World War II, its annual celebration is lot simpler than the fall of Bataan and Corregidor where Filipino and American defenders suffered crushing defeats.

While the Battle of Bessang was one of the most successful military operations mounted by a handful of Filipino guerrillas against the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, their daring exploits were not historically put in proper perspective as it should have been.

The success was greatly owed to the guerrilla unit led by a young 26-year old intrepid agriculturist by the name of Emilio M. Narcise, who spearheaded the dawn assault on heavily guarded Bessang Pass on June 14, 1945.

Bessang Pass, a strategic inland area in Ilocos Sur, was occupied by Japanese forces shortly after they invaded the Philippines in December 1945. Bessang Pass was heavily fortified that there was no way it could be retaken by the badly crushed Filipino and American guerrilla forces following the fall of Bataan and Corregidor.

For almost four years from 1942 to 1945, Japanese forces ruthlessly occupied the Philippines. Filipino and American soldiers who escaped from the Battle of Bataan before its fall on April 9, 1942, and those who evaded the "Death March" from Bataan to Capas, Tarlac, joined the guerrilla movement in Luzon.

Those who survived the fall of Corregidor, an island fortress in Manila Bay off Bataan, also joined various guerrilla units to fight the Japanese.

The guerrilla units were poorly armed and were lacking in other logistics. But they banked their hope on the promise of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's famous words "I shall return" to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese invaders.

MacArthur slipped from Bataan shortly before its fall to Australia aboard a PT boat of the United States Navy on his way to America not only to get war materials for the Philippines but to fulfill his promise to the Filipinos to liberate them from the clutches of the Japanese occupational forces.

The battles of Bataan and Corregidor were the most colorful of all the battles between the combined forces of Filipino and American fighting men and the Japanese Imperial Army, although the Japanese triumphed.

Nonetheless, the two battles demonstrated the bravery of the Filipino and American soldiers who fought side-by-side against a superior enemy force. The fight was in defense of freedom and democracy as Japan was fully determined to conquer the whole of Asia, including China. At the outset, they succeeded only to be defeated in the end.

But the historic Battle of Bessang Pass was unique. Foremost, it was highly successful. The battle was carried out by some 100 Filipino guerrillas led by Narcise, who joined the guerrilla unit in 1944, a year before the Liberation.

It is about time to reflect on the historic Battle of Bessang Pass for Filipinos to celebrate the occasion on a nationwide scale in honor of all Filipinos and Americans who fought with valor and put their lives on the line during the Second World War to defend freedom and democracy. (PNA)