History and a parade of lights in Leyte

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SANTO Niño float

THE MACARTHUR Landing

When I told my bellicose and history-conscious cousin, the architect Toti Mendoza, that I was going to Tacloban, capital city of Leyte, he proclaimed: “Good! Will send you excerpts of how MacArthur’s staff treated Sergio Osmeña.”

Ah, the sidelights of history. I’m sure columnist Ambeth Ocampo will be interested in these excerpts.

Like Manila and the rest of the country, Leyte and its capital suffered a lot during World War II, with the Japanese torturing men and women, including the elderly.

The MacArthur Landing, with President Osmeña and Gen. Carlos P. Romulo wading along with the American Caesar, has been immortalized in the monument in Palo, just outside Tacloban.

It sets one to wondering, along with some historians: What if MacArthur had bypassed the Philippines and, say, using Taiwan as a steppingstone, brought the war directly to Japan.

Would Manila have been spared the catastrophe of its southern districts—like Ermita and Malate—reduced to ruins?

Pillbox

MAYOR Alfred Romualdez and wife, Councilor Cristina Gonzalez, former actress-singer

There is, at least, one more mute reminder of WWII in Tacloban. Behind the Patio Victoria clubhouse, along the bay, is a Japanese pillbox (not the kind the activists hurled during the First Quarter Storm).

It is a domelike vault of concrete, with a large as well as a small opening. A 1979 plaque of the National Historical Institute notes that it was part of the fortifications against the Allied Forces of Gen. Douglas MacArthur “on D-Day 20 October 1944.”

The US marines captured it and used the pillbox as a shelter from bombardment by Japanese planes. The war relic was preserved for posterity by the Dio Island Resort.

The Santo Niño

The media had descended on Tacloban June 28-30 for the first-ever Sangyaw festival, a project of Mayor Alfred S. Romualdez and his glamorous wife, Councilor Cristina (Kring-Kring) Gonzalez-Romualdez, the onetime actress-singer, now a mother of two.

The festival has emerged as a kind of rival to the better-known Pintados fest. “Pintados means ‘painted people’ and it is not healthy to paint, to tattoo your body,” Romualdez told the press. “The Department of Health might have something to say to that.”

He added that Pintados is secular, and Church officials had approached him because they wanted a religious festival, one devoted to the Santo Niño of Tacloban.

PLAQUE of WWII Japanese pillbox

During a previous century, the sacred image was lost in a storm, floated to Mindoro, and washed ashore to Tacloban on June 30. On that day, devotees say, the cholera epidemic in the city disappeared.

Extravagant tribute

The name of the Holy Child Jesus has also been invoked in the opulent Santo Niño Shrine and Museum, still under the Philippine Commission on Good Government.

“I have told the PCGG to return it not to me but to the city,” Romualdez said.

San Juanico bridge

Built at an astronomical cost, with its vast interiors, antiques, decor, icons and paintings—and photos of the late dictator and his Imeldific wife in every room—the Santo Niño Museum is an extravagant reminder of the Conjugal Dictatorship.

Lights galore

Sangyaw is a Waray word meaning “to proclaim,” that is, to proclaim the good news of the Santo Niño (religious) and of Tacloban being the first highly urbanized city in Eastern Visayas (secular).

On that day (June 29), as dusk descended, 20 floats, colorfully decorated and ablaze with lights, wended their way through the teeming streets of the city. The floats included a galleon with the image of the Santo Niño; a WWII military plane; the San Juanico Bridge; and flora and marine life.

It was a very successful festival, judging by the thousands who witnessed the spectacle of floats, dancers and merrymakers; and by the excitement generated.

The one discordant note was the traffic jam after the show, which rivaled a Metro Manila gridlock.

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