This paper was presented at the Leyte Normal University Regional Workshop-Conference on Social Research last October 17, 2007 by the author, Emil B. Justimbaste. This is just a prelude to a book he is presently writing on the same subject.
Of all guerilla leaders in Leyte, however, it was Ruperto Kangleon who made a more permanent mark on the local guerilla movement. He was also the most controversial. Kangleon was the highest ranking USAFFE officer to surrender in Monkayo when the call to surrender from Gen Jonathan Wainwright came in May 1942. Immediately thereafter, the surrenderees were transferred to Butuan and along the way, Kangleon vigorously campaigned among other unsurrendered USAFFE to give up.27
At the Butuan Provincial jail which was transformed into a POW camp, Kangleon was allowed by the Japanese authorities to roam around, unlike other prisoners who were confined to their quarters. Here he was joined by Adolfo "Popong" Sanchez, a Bataan veteran and a POW in Manila who was released on the condition that he join the Japanese Bureau of Constabulary. Like so many others, Sanchez took the offer so he could pay his way home, became Gen. Masaharu Homma's driver and eventually was able to go home to Butuan.
Another prominent Butuan family member, Romulo Esguerra, a brother-in-law of Sanchez, was the principal Japanese entertainer being an accomplished pianist. He was also a priso caballero who kowtowed to the whims of the Japanese. Being natives of Agusan, the two were also in contact with the secret underground organization there. They must have also recruited Kangleon, at this time a confirmed member of the Japanese BC, into their ranks.
It was on that fateful Christmas day in 1942 that the Japanese decided to spring a surprise on the prison underground cell which included Esguerra, Sanchez, Kangleon and an American . The latter was confined in more secure quarters, while the two were publicly executed. Kangleon, however, "escaped," - or so he claimed.28
How Kangleon was able to escape under the tight Japanese guarding, Sgt. Alfredo Calo, a surviving veteran in Butuan, could only guess. While the Butuanons were still grieving over the execution of two of her prominent sons, Kangleon had managed to find his way to Barrio Ampayon, about five kilometers away from Butuan proper, to the house of Calo. The guerillas present accepted him without question and wasted no time in taking him to Cabadbaran, a coastal town 30 kilometers away, with Calo as guide. There, Graciano Capili, a guerilla from Southern Leyte met Kangleon and put him on a small sailboat to Macrohon, his hometown.29
Kangleon's headquarters in Southern Leyte
A few years before his death, Capili would narrate to journalists that he pretended insanity and visited the POW camp often. He said the Japanese left him to his own devices and thus he was able to arrange for Kangleon's "escape", a story that does not fit into the sworn statements of Sanchez and the veteran Calo.30 According to Southern Leyte veteran Avelino Mosot, it was Capt. Sergio J. Nuique who sent Capili to Cabadbaran to fetch Kangleon.31 He must have known the precise time when Kangleon would be freed from the Japanese prison camp.
In subsequent interviews with the American historian Elmer Lear, Kangleon preferred to keep his story as vague as possible, which explains why Lear placed his "escape" in quotation marks. His "escape" from the Japanese internment camp in Butuan is "set in obscure circumstances," remarked Lear.
Kangleon claimed that the local guerillas raided the Butuan Japanese POW camp that Christmas day, thus freeing him and several other guerillas. But Col. Ernest MacLeish, who led the Northeastern Mindanao guerillas at that time, could only relate one raid which took place only on December 1943, a year after Kangleon's alleged escape. Kangleon was not among those freed by MacLeish. No wonder, when the topic of his supposed escape was pursued by journalists, Kangleon would brush the subject aside and shift to another issue.32
Did the Japanese deliberately free him for their own purposes in Leyte? At that time, the island was a hotbed of several guerilla groups operating independent of each other. Among the civilian population, the Japanese had fielded their own agents and informants who were actively gathering information on everything that was of vital interest to them. But apparently they had no one among the guerilla groups.
Despite their fractiousness, the guerillas generally hated the Japanese especially since they had witnessed in the early part of the Japanese occupation sordid cases of rape, torture, plunder and brutality involving friends and relatives. The emotions that these nurtured were far from being ideological. As far as most local guerillas were concerned, there was only one thing to do - to avenge their friends and relatives. Apparently, the Japanese had no one to spy for them in the ranks of the guerilla.
Kangleon's area in Southern Leyte was relatively free of Japanese patrols. They were not as many as in the northern parts of the island where they held garrisons. This explains why Southern Leyte's shorelines became favorite landing sites of personnel, arms and supplies. The Americans had in fact three coast watchers whose major task was to send by radio whatever intelligence that was to be gathered about the Japanese.
Several prominent Filipino dignitaries from Cebu - like the Cuencos and the future Philippine president Carlos P. Garcia - at that time also spent their war days in the mansions and houses of the local principalia because it was safer here. It was into this safe haven that Kangleon retreated to rest, recuperate and contemplate his future.
But rest he did not. Capili would of course inform Nuique and other guerillas of Kangleon's arrival and they would not give him time to rest especially since Balderian was threatening to expand his territory southwards of Abuyog.
Kangleon made his initial contact with the group of Urbano Francisco whose operations had in the meantime deteriorated into pure and simple banditry. In the absence of any other local force to contend with, Francisco's group asserted itself among the civilian population and successfully created enemies among the well-to-do whom they had initially victimized.
Before Kangleon came, Francisco and other Southern Leyte guerilla leaders had been worried about the movements of Balderian who, in late 1942, planned to go down further south along the east coast of the island. This was shortly after he set up the Polico-Military government in December 1942. One of Balderian's deputy military governors was assigned a new sector, taking in the Abuyog district of Capt. Erfe's domain which stretched out to the lower municipalities of Silago, Hinunangan and Hinundayan.
Towards the end of 1942, Balderian's guerillas moved south beyond Abuyog, commandeering foodstuffs and supplies from terror-stricken civilians. These worried Francisco, Lang and other leaders. They all felt that Balderian had to be stopped, more so because they suspected that he was in collusion with Miranda and was operating in coordination with him.33
Then Kangleon came into the picture. This was in January 1943. A conference of all Southern guerilla leaders organized by Capt. Nuique in Sogod ended up with Kangleon being chosen as their military adviser. The old and wily Kangleon immediately took charge of a hastily organized group of 60 to 70 guerillas and intercepted Balderian in Sogod.34
Balderian was caught by surprise and allowed himself to be disarmed without a fight. He explained that he had no designs of aggression, that he was completely misunderstood and that the idea of his acting in collusion with Miranda was preposterous. To show his sincerity, he even offered some of his men to go with Kangleon's main force to intercept Miranda's force in Bato along the western coast. Miranda's men were also taken by surprise, were disarmed and their leaders thrown into jail for court martial.35
During this time, Kangleon could not show any appointment papers from any military authority. To demand that he be accepted as the leader of the different guerilla groups did not seem appropriate then. In the report of Jesus Villamor, Allied Intelligence Bureau chief at that time, he remarked: "Kangleon's actions in posing as an approved district commander is disgraceful."36
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