By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy
IN WORLD WAR II, the United States Army in the Far East (USAFFE) was confronted by the lack of forces when Japan began the war with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although US President Franklin Roosevelt had called for the mobilization of the Philippine reserve forces in August of 1941, this force was inadequate to meet the veteran warriors of Japan.
In September 1937 Japan invaded China and in 1939, Germany launched its attacks against the European nations. The US was not involved in these wars but enforced an embargo of goods and supplies that could help Japan in its war with China. Officially America was neutral. American planners, however, believed that these wars would eventually engulf the world and inevitably draw the United States. America expected that the attack in the Pacific would be initiated in the Philippines.
The mobilization of reserves in the Philippines in 1941 showed how unprepared we were. General Douglas MacArthur had envisioned eleven army divisions, one division per military district. Panay was designated the 6th Military District while Negros Island was the 7th MD. Each division was to be composed of five regiments, five battalions each regiment, five companies per battalion, five platoons each company with five squads of ten men per platoon. At least the country would have eleven divisions. But it was an army on paper.
The call for mobilization in August generated only one regiment, the 71st Regiment of the 71st Division in Negros. It was for lack of reservists, the unpreparedness of the mobilization camps in Mambukal, Murcia, Magallon, and Tanjay. Even the 71st Regiment was incomplete. Regimental officers were all Americans.
The five battalions were commanded by Filipinos – regular officer (Captain Ernesto Mata) but the rest were under the command of reserve officers, graduates of the ROTC mainly from Oriental Negros and Iloilo. Some officers were graduates from Manila, like Roberto S. Benedicto who completed his law in the University of the Philippines.
ROTC was mandatory in the college level schools and only Iloilo and Oriental Negros had colleges. Occidental Negros did not have a college except for La Consolacion College but it offered only a one-year Elementary Teachers Course and exclusively for women who were exempted from military training.
The first batch of reservists, both from the ROTC and the Philippine Constabulary, were teachers and government employees. High school graduates who completed boot or military training camps were also called. However, those who were married were exempted from the mobilization that called into service those aged from 18 to 35, the so-called First Reserves.
Because there were few basic ROTC graduates, the 71st Regiment could not be completed, forcing the USAFFE to call on high school graduates who had no adequate military training, except for the 200 minutes per week Preparatory Military Training in the only high school in Occidental Negros – the Occidental Negros High School whose students came from different towns of the province.
Unprepared as they were, these PMT graduates at least had a minimum training in drills, first aid, military courtesy and discipline and familiarization with the basic weapon of the USAFEE – the 1917 and 1903 bolt-operated rifles, and machine-gun though they were not able to fire a shot. Negros also did not have a single artillery piece even after the war broke out.
When the war became imminent, the USAFFE removed the 71st Regiment from Negros and shipped them to northern Luzon to augment the forces there. This regiment fought there and in the last stand in Bataan. Many died in Bataan, the Death March and the concentration camps in Capas, Tarlac. A few escaped Bataan and the forced march, while others returned home after undergoing a year in the concentration and Japanese re-education camps.
It is often said that to preserve the peace we must prepare for war. Our Armed Forces of the Philippines, as it stands will be unable to stem the tide of a Chinese horde but it would be worse if our citizens are not prepared to enter the battle or to be mobilized for support of the army.
In World War II the civilians, men and women alike, performed vital tasks including participating in military operations although they had not undergone any training. What more if all had the basic military skills that the ROTC can provide?