Historical ironies, Political Intrigues, and lost treasure: Old Manila Walks’ Ivan Man Dy introduces a whole new Corregidor that your history books don’t tell you.
Written and Photographed by Monique Buensalido
I hope you brought sunblock,” said Ivan Man Dy, whipping out an umbrella and moving into the shade under the lighthouse. The sun was beating down on us that Sunday morning, as we stood in the middle of a plaza in Corregidor Island. As soon as our Sun Cruises ferry had landed in Corregidor, everyone else had piled onto trams and driven off. A tour around Corregidor usually meant sitting in a bus while a guide describes the surroundings, but our bus had taken us here, the starting point to Old Manila Walks’ tour around Corregidor, called “Of Bombs, Big Guns, and Lost Gold.”
Because of its strategic location, Corregidor Island has served as a harbor defense in the Spanish times, preventing invaders from accessing Manila through Manila Bay. Nicknamed “The Rock” because of its rocky landscape and bad-ass artillery, it served as a significant site during World War II as well, which is why several high school and college students head here for field trips. With Ivan, this was definitely going to be a different kind of field trip.
Famous for their cultural walking tours that mix history and fun in Intramuros, Binondo, Quiapo, and more, Old Manila Walks has now expanded to the infamous island of Corregidor. Instead of the usual bus tour, we were going to have a leisurely two-and-a-half hour walk around the tadpole-shaped island. While typical bus tours take you around the entire island, Ivan only takes you to the most historically significant sites he selected himself.
Slathered with sunblock and ready with my walking shoes, I moved closer to Ivan, as he put on a portable mic-and-speaker and switched it on.
A Slice of American Pie
From the Spanish lighthouse, we walked to the Topside Flagpole, which looks just like any flagpole, except that it had been the masthead of the Reina Cristina, a Spanish warship, most likely collected as spoils by the Americans who inhabited the island. After the Spanish- American War in 1898, the Spanish handed over some of their territories (including our country) to the Americans under the Treaty of Paris, and Corregidor was designated a military reservation. A regular army post, called Fort Mills, was established, and the island was fortified as part of the harbor defense of Manila. Aside from showing us the ruins of different buildings, from the barracks (there were even separate barracks for bachelors and soldiers with families) to the Cine Corregidor, Ivan revealed some details about the lives of the Americans back then.
As we stopped at the Mile- Long Barracks (“A very American name,” commented Ivan, as we Filipinos use the metric system), he revealed that most of the buildings were made with Japanese concrete, as it was a cheaper option back then. This is only one of ironies about Corregidor, as the Japanese would invade Corregidor a few decades later. Ivan told us how Japanese would even drop propaganda over Corregidor during the battles, trying to coax the inhabitants to surrender.
Ivan is a friendly and entertaining guide, and he would show us helpful visual aids with witty little details at each stop. Although the sun was slowly creeping its way, he kept us energized with engaging stories and funny comments as we walked around the island. It wasn’t too hot though, and Ivan said that Corregidor is (strangely) windier than Manila, which is why a lot of people find it such a refreshing place to visit.
We walked to Battery Way, one of Corregidor’s most popular sites with large and impressive cannons meant to fire trajectories toward enemy warships. Ivan concurred that they had been state of the art when they had been built in the early 1900s, but by the time the Japanese had attacked, these cannons were outdated, which is why the Japanese were successful in their invasion. “This is probably the most bombed piece of real estate in the country,” said Ivan of Corregidor. “If you’re careful,” said our medical representative (who was there in case someone needed first aid). “You’ll find old artifacts, like gun shells, lying around.”
Controversy in Corregidor
We trekked through a forest and found ourselves in another set of ruins, but this time it was an Old Hospital. As it was far from the main road, this was definitely not part of the usual bus route. As we gingerly walked up the narrow stairs (“I don’t understand why the steps are so narrow,” laughed Ivan. “I thought Americans were supposed to have wider or bigger feet than us!”), Ivan pointed out some graffiti. These weren’t your usual Juan Dela Cruz-was-here doodles, but lists of several names written on the wall. Apparently, after the World War II, Corregidor was still a place of intrigue. These scribbles (and names) belonged to the members of the Merdeka Operation in the late 60s, a secret group of soldiers tasked by the late President Marcos to infiltrate Sabah and reclaim it from Malaysia. These soldiers, who were mostly Muslim, were sent to Corregidor to train and wait for further instructions. Unfortunately, they had to deal with less-than-ideal living situations: for one thing, they lived in the hospital ruins, and their salaries were held for many months. After they wrote a letter to the President to ask for help, they were gathered at the airfield and shot dead—save for one who threw himself off a cliff and escaped. Called the Jabidah Massacre, this event prompted Nur Misuari to establish the MNLF. This was the first time I was hearing about this, and suddenly, the graffiti seemed so eerie.
We quickly moved to the next site, which was the ruins of the post-exchange (PX) shop, where Ivan revealed that Corregidor even had its own currency, and residents used this to buy American-made goods. But aside from having their own money, Corregidor was apparently the last resort-hiding place for our country’s money. One day before World War II was declared, the government shipped tons of gold bars and silver coins to the island to keep the enemy from getting their hands on them. Because the space wasn’t enough, most of the silver coins were dumped into the Manila Bay. After the war, the gold bars were all retrieved, but most of the silver coins are still unaccounted for. As we walked away, we all started wondering where those coins were and looked around extra carefully.
We found ourselves back near the plaza where we started, but we kept walking to the Pacific War Memorial, where there was a statue of an American soldier helping a wounded Filipino. If you don’t look closely, you might say that it was the other way around. War, after all, isn’t only about brawn, but brains as well. It’s about perspective and propaganda, and Ivan showed us different posters and slogans during war times, showing how the Americans, Japanese and Filipinos each created their own materials to either encourage or discourage people from participating. We had come to the end of our tour, but Ivan urged us to keep an open mind when looking back at history.
Tunnel to the Past
We returned to Corregidor Inn for a leisurely lunch, but some of us chose to go to the Malinta Tunnel after. With another trusty guide, we wore hard hats and held flashlights as we explored this network of tunnels, which served as a bombproof shelter and transportation channel. Originally meant to house weapons and supplies, it also became an underground hospital, headquarters for General Douglas MacArthur, and seat of government of the Commonwealth. (This was where General MacArthur and President Manuel Quezon were before they were evacuated to Mindanao, and then Australia.) In 1945, during the re-taking of the island by Americans, Japanese soldiers who were trapped inside committed suicide by detonating explosives. At one point, we were asked to switch off our flashlights to see what it was like during Japanese times. I could not see anything, not even outlines!
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Manila, and as I settled into my comfortable seat on the Sun Cruises ship, I realized that there was so much more of Corregidor I hadn’t seen. I want to explore the rest of the island and discover more of its history (and perhaps find an artifact or better yet, a silver coin!). General MacArthur’s eternal words all made sense: I shall return..
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About the Tour
• The tour costs P1750 per person, inclusive of the guided tour, ferry transfers and the island entrance fee. Buffet lunch at the Corregidor Inn is an additional P450, but you may also order a la carte.
• Tours are available on Sundays. They leave at the Sun Cruises terminal at the CCP Complex (beside the Coconut Palace) at 730 AM, and return at 4 PM.
• The walking tour will take about two and a half hours.
• You may also choose to visit the Malinta Tunnels for a light show after lunch for an additional P150. Other optional activities include ziplining, ATV-riding, and kayaking.