On Sunday, October 20, it will be 75 years since the Allied Forces led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed at the Leyte Gulf, marking the start of the liberation of the countries from Japanese forces in World War II. The entire province will celebrate that fateful day in 1944 in the municipality of Palo.
The mainstream narrative of WW2 in Leyte has been largely written by military historians, and generally extolled the role of war veterans and guerillas. This year’s commemoration will feature a different take with the publication of a book based fully on a civilian perspective.
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Among the commemorative events this year is the National Conference on the 75th Anniversary of the Leyte Gulf Landings. Sponsored by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), this conference will be hosted by the Leyte Normal University in Tacloban from October 17 to 19.
A different take
A feature of the conference is the launch of the book Hidden in Leyte: The Orville A. Babcock Diary of WWII, 1941-1945. Edited by Dr. Jose Eleazar R. Bersales of the University of San Carlos in Cebu, and Dr. Rolando O. Borrinaga of the School of Health Sciences, University of the Philippines Manila in Palo, Leyte, the book is published by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI).
This is a story of one man’s drive to survive a most difficult period in the history of the country, the Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation of the Philippines between December 1941 and early 1945. Orville Albert Babcock was a senior official at the Bureau of Education in Manila on an inspection tour of Leyte when the war broke out. After a futile attempt to return to Manila via Cebu, he opted to hide in the hills and mountains of Macrohon, Southern Leyte, rather than surrender—a fateful decision due in part to the urgings of Margarita Gaviola, a school principal that Babcock himself appointed when he was superintendent of schools in Leyte from 1930 to 1935.
Armed with a pencil, some scraps of paper, wit, and sarcasm, Babcock wrote down his daily life in a community of people that he came to call his friends. These were written often in difficult circumstances—in refugee abodes without a table or chair. At night, he would make use of a crude, self-made coconut oil lamp. For a stretch of time, Babcock even wrote inside a cave shelter, high up on a cliff overlooking the lowlands.
While other accounts focused on MacArthur’s return and the battles to liberate the Philippines in October 1944, Babcock’s diaries were set in a largely unoccupied area of Leyte. Despite this, Babcock had continuous contact with key personalities and guerrillas who were involved in the struggle against the Japanese, and for a time served as supervisor of schools for the guerrilla government of “Free Leyte.”
The book chronicled the evolution of local guerrillas from timid and confused trainees who did not surrender to the Japanese in 1942. They soon organized and imposed their own reign of terror over the local population, and had conflicts with rival guerrilla camps. The American described them in less heroic and adulatory terms.
The contents of the diaries will likely refute or dispute many of the official statements and accolades that will be broadcast live on October 20 and will likely become subject to academic discussions and debates during the anniversary year.
Babcock provided a rather sarcastic insider look at the guerrilla organization under Col. Ruperto Kangleon, which was eventually recognized and provided support by the Southwest Pacific Area Command under General MacArthur in Australia. Babcock also wrote detailed sympathetic ethnographic accounts of various aspects of the Filipino culture, tradition and geography that were last extensively documented by the Jesuit missionary Fr. Francisco Ignacio Alcina in 1668. They have their own independent academic importance and constitute about one-third of the entire book.
More than just a simple diary, this volume provides the reader with an eyewitness account of human greed and foibles, of resistance and collaboration, and ultimately, of hope and triumph.
For more information on the conference, visit the Philippine Information Agency Region VIII Facebook page. For more information on the book, visit the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. Facebook page.