General Mac Arthur’s monument confirms Dagupan was it

DAGUPAN CITY — The presence of the statue of General Douglas MacArthur, towering majestically near the seashore of what was first known as Dagupan Blue Beach, may have already settled the issue as to where the American general who commanded the allied forces that liberated the whole of Luzon from the Japanese first landed on Luzon soil.

Historians argue that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) could not have chosen Dagupan as host of the MacArthur statue if it was not convinced of the city’s big role in history as the first landing place of the American general when he came to Luzon with his troops during an amphibious operation that began at dawn of January 9, 1945.

This amphibious operation involved over 875 warships from the US and one heavy cruiser from the Royal Australian Navy, all comprising of 203,000 soldiers who landed on a 20 mile (32 kilometer)-wide beachhead from Lingayen to San Fabian.

Of these warships, 24 were sank and 67 were damaged by Kamikaze suicide pilots and by big shore batteries set up by the defending Japanese forces in the hills of San Jacinto, some 20 kilometers east of Dagupan.

Coming with his troops after the second day of the landing, MacArthur established his first command post on Luzon at the West Central Elementary School in Dagupan and from where he plotted to retake Manila from the Japanese and free Americans and other foreign nationals detained by the Japanese at the University of Sto. Tomas.

Built sometime in the 1980s during the administration of then Mayor Cipriano Manaois, the MacArthur statue is the first and only monument of the American general in Luzon, a solid testament that he was indeed part of Dagupan’s colorful history.

Though this old granite monument now shows signs that it now needs immediate face-lifting, this lone memento of Mac Arthur must be preserved to constantly remind the next generations of Dagupan’s important role in the liberation of the Philippines.

One of the bet known authorities on the subject, historian Restituto Basa, now 82, once told this writer that it was just right that the MacArthur monument was built in Dagupan City where the general actually first landed, but lamented that his statue was erected on the wrong part of the beach.

He said the MacArthur Park where the monument stands is inside part of the property of the late Major Moises Maramba, a veteran of World War II, and a former director of the Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB).

It was just logical that Maramba recommended that the statue be built inside his property, which is adjacent to another World War II marker located in another private property where the soldiers of US 6th Army under the command of General Walter Krueger landed and grouped following the beachhead.

But Basa contended that MacArthur was not with this group and landed a day later in another area, some one kilometer east of the monument which was near the place that is now called Ayusip Road, based on eye witness accounts of residents of Bonuan who welcomed Mac Arthur and his troops.

In affirming that MacArthur landed in Dagupan and not in Lingayen, Basa once cited in his book ‘Story of Dagupan’ black and white photos he successfully obtained from the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, that more or less confirmed his claim that the American general first stopped in Dagupan on his way to liberate the capital Manila and the whole of Luzon.

Claiming that those insisting that MacArthur first landed in Lingayen could not present any documentary evidence whatsoever to back up their argument, Basa brought out one rare photo in his possession showing the general walking with his staff in the sand dunes teeming then with what he called crawling cantaromas plant.

Cantaromas is a thorny vine then growing wildly in Dagupan during the war years and some could still be found in that beach till now, claimed Basa after closely examining the photograph, in an earlier interview by this writer.

At that time, the Dagupan beach was also teeming with coconut trees, which were in the background of a black and white photo taken when residents of Bonuan happily greeted the allied troops, which explained why at one time, “bucayo” (coconut candy) became a popular household industry in the town.

Basa confessed that these rare photos which he considers treasures in his own trove were taken by Mac Arthur’s official photographer and these were believed shot by him in the afternoon of Jan. 10 when the liberation forces were already in effective control of the beach.

But because he can not proceed to Poblacion, Dagupan in the absence of a bridge spanning across the Dawel River, he waited and went back to spend the night in his flagship “Boise”.

As soon as his construction battalion finished a pontoon bridge, he returned the next day on board a military jeep and rolled to downtown Dagupan amid cheers of “Victory Joe” along the way by overjoyed residents.

Noting the historical value of the Home Economics building where Mac Arthur briefly stayed in Dagupan , Pangasinan Fourth District Rep. Christopher de Venecia now wants the structure placed under the NHCP, especially after learning that the utensils, blankets, bed and other implements used by the general were still intact and preserved.

One photo on display at the Dagupan City Museum that confirmed that Mac Arthur was in Dagupan was during an inspection of the partly razed commercial district where the general was shown in his khaki uniform still wet till the knees, a clear sign he had just waded in the shore of Bonuan.

Meanwhile, as to the issue on the MacArthur monument being located on a private property, Dagupan City Mayor Belen Fernandez is taking care of that and exerting utmost effort to persuade the Marambas to donate to the city government the lot occupied by the Mac Arthur Park.

However, the drawback is most of the members of the clan have already migrated to the US though one of their relatives–Councilor Joey Maramba Morante Tamayo and also their lawyer — is now contacting them to seek their imprimature on the donation.

It was learned that when the Maramba patriarch died, his remains were entombed within his property that was once called Villa-MacArthur site, a mix of Villa Milagrosa and MacArthur.

It was once called Villa Milagrosa because Maramba built there a shrine of the Virgin Mary that was soon visited by Catholic pilgrims from various parts of Pangasinan and the country.

However, the Marambas know that they cannot keep the Mac Arthur statue for themselves and would have to share it with the rest of the people of Dagupan.

That is why, anyone wanting to visit the monument will have to wait till the gate of the property opens at 6:00 a.m. until it is closed at 6:00 p.m.

On the other hand, the claim of former Governor Conrado Estrella III quoting MacArthur himself when he and Mrs. Jane MacArthur made a sentimental journey to Pangasinan in 1961 when he was still governor, that he (Mac Arthur) first landed in Lingayen, drew the ire of local historians.

They brushed this aside, saying Lakay Condring (nickname of Estrella) may just be as usual in jest when he said this in a speech sometime in 2012 especially because he was speaking before veterans during another Lingayen Gulf Landing anniversary, a claim instantly picked up by journalist who covered that event.

“Lakay Condring may have said this as he might have only wanted to please his audience when he was speaking during the 2012 Lingayen Gulf Landing anniversary as guest of honor and speaker,” said historian Basa, one of those who expressed awe on Estrella’s alleged unfounded claim.

Many questioned why did it take Estrella more than 50 years to open up and tell (only that time) what General Mac Arthur confessed to him that he first came to Pangasinan through Lingayen then went back to his flagship “Boise” before landing in Dagupan, when he could have done this when he was yet the governor of Pangasinan.

Estrella, once an appointed mayor in his hometown of Rosales, was elected governor of Pangasinan for two terms and after that became a member of Marcos cabinet. He died in 2013. Leonardo Micua/PNA-northboundasia.com