BABE ROMUALDEZ: REMEMBERING YAMASHITA'S SURRENDER
MANILA, September 5, 2005 (STAR) BABE'S EYE VIEW By Babe Romualdez - Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the surrender of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita to the American forces headed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I flew up to Baguio to join the occasion at the US Embassy Residence in Camp John Hay. There was a formal ceremony commemorating the end of World War II in the Philippines with acting US Ambassador and Chargé d’Affaires Darryl Johnson playing host to guest of honor and our friend Foreign Affairs Sec. Bert Romulo, diplomats, including our friend British Ambassador Peter Beckingham, his wife Jill, Argentine Ambassador Mario Schuff, and many government officials. Other ambassadors in attendance were Japan’s Ryuichiro Yamazaki and China’s Hu Wongbo.
The other special guests were US Defense Attache Terry Cooke, JUSMAG Chief Col Matt Velasco, and Maj. Albert Caposto, who is the last remaining witness of Japan’s surrender at the Embassy Residence. Caposto was the US Armed Forces protocol officer who looked after the details of Yamashita’s surrender. He made sure Yamashita had no weapons and arranged the table where the surrender document was signed. There also was a formal ceremony for the unveiling of a marker declaring the US Embassy residence in John Hay as a historical landmark. The US Embassy residence played an important role in the history of World War II. Built in 1940, it was designed to be the Governor-General’s residence but was used mostly by the High Commissioners and subsequent Ambassadors during the height of summer. The most notable event that occurred in the American residence was the surrender of General Yamashita and of all Japanese forces in the country.
During the Japanese occupation, Yamashita used the residence as his headquarters and actually lived there. In fact, I have stayed at the Embassy residence in Baguio on several occasions in the past. On one occasion, I specifically asked the ambassador if I could stay in the Yamashita room, which is located at the top of the main staircase. I heard stories of Yamashita’s ghost appearing to guests every now and then. Not that I wanted to prove I was "macho" but I figured that maybe with a rosary in hand, I would be able to face up to Yamashita and ask him where he hid the gold that so many people have been searching for. Fortunately or unfortunately, nothing of that sort happened. Legend has it that "Yamashita’s Treasure" was buried in 175 treasure sites in the Philippines mostly in secret tunnels and caves mined with explosives and booby traps.
As far as I can recall, the house has several bedrooms. It has a large master suite with a sitting room for the Ambassador. The Deputy Chief of Mission’s private quarters are in a private study behind the living room. Yamashita surrendered in the living room where a priceless Amorsolo painting commemorating the event hangs above the fireplace. During the 1990 earthquake that devastated Baguio, the painting was said to have remained perfectly centered on the wall. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright and British Gen. Arthur Percival, who were both defeated by Yamashita, flanked the oversized narra table used for the surrender ceremony. It now serves as the dining table of the Embassy residence. Above the fireplace in the dining room hangs a portrait of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
It was said that Pres. William Howard Taft – who previously served as the first Governor-General – was so oppressed by the heat in Manila that he looked for a cool place where he could stay in office during summer. Americans also believed they would be healthier if they could live in high altitude places with cooler climates every now and then. They found Baguio an ideal location for a hill station and mountain retreat where they could regain their health and sanity, away from the oppressive heat of Manila. They built Kennon Road, which was then known as Benguet Road, using Japanese and Chinese workers. Taft was so overweight that he once reportedly got stuck in the White House bathtub. While overseeing the building of Kennon Road, Taft would often ride a horse. His political enemies spread a joke about Taft sending a telegram from Baguio to Manila with the terse message, "Am fine. Horse is dead."
When the Americans finally gave up Camp John Hay during Fidel Ramos’ term, the government reportedly requested the US Ambassador to include the Baguio residence. Former Ambassador Thomas Hubbard half-jokingly told FVR that they would never give it up and, if needed, they would send the US marines to defend it. During Ambassador Francis Ricciardone’s time, the State Department wanted to give up the house because it was costing too much money to maintain. The Ambassador, however, was able to convince the State Department to keep it because of its historical value. In fact, Ambassador Ricciardone has permitted the house to be opened occasionally for student tours. The US Embassy on Roxas Boulevard has also been opened for students of history on special request.
During the time of Erap, the property adjacent to the residence – which was part of the Voice of America compound – was given up by the Americans and became known as "Cronyville." Since then, a number of log cabins that had been leased to so-called Erap "friends" had already been leased out to other wealthy residents. Several acres of American property in the vicinity have also been transferred to the Camp John Hay Development Corporation. Baguio as we used to know it from the ’60s to the ’80s is not the same anymore. A lot of people grew up considering Baguio as "the place" to be in during the summer. The most notable of them at that time were the Tuazons, the Arroyos, the Jacintos, the Parsons, and of course, the Macapagals, who were the tenants of Mansion House then. Baguio is where the First Gentleman and GMA first met.
Today, Baguio has been disfigured by overcrowding, the lack of zoning and the wanton cutting of beautiful pine trees. The city has become polluted especially on the other side of Session Road. Aside from John Hay, the only area that has been well maintained is the pocket containing the Baguio Country Club and the residences along South Drive and Outlook Drive. Hopefully, Camp John Hay can be preserved. It is the last remaining bastion of the pre-war Baguio that was famous for its quaintness and excellent views with the cool, crisp scent of pine trees.
At the end of World War II, the country and the economy was in shambles. To our credit, we rose on our own without much help from the United States. If we could do it then, we could do it again.
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Chief News Edutor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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