The Battle at Pusod Sawa Hill

Sensing that the Japanese soldiers were already on their way to Ronda, the guerillas had no other choice but to go back to the mountains where apparently they would be "safer." They did not want to appear like sitting ducks when the enemy would arrive. As far as they were concerned, their minor objective was already achieved, that is, to gather as many volunteers as possible to fight the foreign invaders. If there was something they knew at the start of their campaign, it was the fact that the more soldiers they had, the better would be their chances of winning the war.

In response to the resistance movement that was quickly gaining wide support all throughout the southern territory, the Japanese army sent as many troops as they could muster. "A Japanese ship picked up some troops from Dumanjug and landed them at Ronda and Moalboal. Other troops marched overland from Dumanjug to Ronda to rendezvous with those from the ship. It wassuspected that they were after Company B."

 According to Cayetano Villamor, there were not less than eight hundred Japanese soldiers who penetrated Malalay, Ronda in the morning of August 23, 1944.146 These enemy soldiers carried with them mortars and machine rifles and other high-powered weapons known to man that time. The main body of the enemy forces split into several columns from the Cangapo Hills and advanced towards the Solong-on Ridge as well as the area occupied by the headquarters of the 87th Infantry Regiment.

It was quite obvious from the massive build-up of enemy forces that their objective was not only the town of Ronda but all the other towns unsympathetic to the Japanese as well. Of course, their main target was to go to the root cause of the rebellion: that is, to be where the rebels' headquarters' was reportedly hidden—that is, somewhere in the mountainous areas of Ronda. On the side of the patriots, or those guerilla forces willing to die for their country, their unit which was under the command of Capt. Llanos at that time numbered only fifty- five. This was quite a small number compared to the Japanese army. Yet despite being outnumbered, the Filipinos also felt comfortable in having high-powered guns of their own. These firearms included machine rifles, Thompsons, carbines and field rifles. The exact spot, according to native-dwellers, is the rugged terrain of Pusod, Sawa, a sitio of Barrio Langin.

During the ensuing battle, fifty Japanese soldiers, more or less, were killed while only one from the patriots died. The massacre of the enemy was made possible through an ambush-style of warfare that became a necessary tactic on the part of the Filipinos who were literally outnumbered. The civilians were never spared from the cruelty of the enemy as five of them were bayoneted to death. They, the Japanese, wanted to get even with the rebels by killing as many innocent people as possible, a clear violation of any rules of engagement. More than anything else, running away from the enemy became a matter of choice in order to survive. As a consequence, the streets were deserted of ordinary citizens who obviously had run to the hills or the neighboring barrios or towns to escape execution.

Several witnesses could attest to the authenticity of the encounter in the said area, foremost of which is the accounts of the men who had actually seen action there. Many of the stories of the war in Ronda against the Japanese can be verified through the diary of Sgt. Victoriano S. Maribao who had faithfully recorded in chronological order the activities of "B" Co., Southern Cebu Sector, from August 28th 1942 to February 19, 1944. And this fact was corroborated by the war stories of another World War II veteran himself by the name of Anacleto Flores, who claimed he was a member of the first battalion of the guerilla force in Pusod Sawa.

Other warriors worthy of mention and who joined the 87th Infantry in Ronda were Teofisto P. Abella, who was likewise a member of the first battalion,; Fulgencio A. Albarastine, who was assigned in the "D" Company; Bemabe T. Andan, who was assigned in the "B" Company; Julian R. Dayag, considered the "champion'7 of Wigwag of Southern Cebu; Ananias Gimena, also a member of the "B" Company; Filemon V. Maribao, who had gunned down a Japanese on horseback; Macario S. Ogario, who was assigned in the "A" Company; Florencio Z. Pata, who was with the Signal Platoon; Agustin V. Tabotabo, a member of the "B" Company; Estanislao D. Villanueva, who was with the "A" Company of the 1st Battalion; Dionisio G. Lumagsao, also a member of the "A" Company of the 1st Battalion; Jacinto E. Gabatan, a member of the "G" Company of the 2nd Battalion; Cipriano Pahayahay, a member of the "B" Company; Ananias Maribao, who was assigned with the Headquarters of the 87th Regiment and acting as Judge Advocate; Olimpio Maribao, who was likewise with the Headquarters acting as procurement agent; and Florentino Villafano, who was with the "A" Company.155 The names of these local heroes are now etched in a sacred marker made in their honor just in front of the Ronda Municipal Hall.

The name Pusod-Sawa, which in English means "navel of a snake", is given to the hill where the guerillas built their camp because the place has some resemblance to a snake. It lies 14 kilometers away from the poblacion and is about four hectares wide. This place was chosen by the guerilla force to be its headquarters for one obvious reason: it had a commanding position—that is, one can readily see from atop the hill if an enemy was coming.  Its strategic location was such that soldiers were stationed as guards all around its neighboring ridges and probable enemy approaches to prevent any surprise attacks from the enemy.

The strength of the guerilla force was put to the test on August 23, 1944 when the Japanese soldiers landed in Ronda and advanced to the hilltop. A day before that, the 87th Infantry Headquarters had received intelligence reports of an impending Japanese attack. According to the source, there was an unusually large build-up of enemy troops stationed somewhere in Dumanjug and Sibonga. It was likewise observed that these troops were moving simultaneously and steadily upwards—that is, to the hills of Ronda. And it was just a matter of time before they would eventually strike their intended target.

The expected day had arrived. The soldiers and civilians, anxious as they were since day one of the campaign, felt a slight shiver down their spine but felt more courageous as ever. Sensing the inevitable, the guerilla commander immediately ordered his men to get ready. Watches were doubled to ensure round-the-clock surveillance of any approaching enemy movement. As a result, the guerillas spent the night sleepless, their hands callous as they steadied on the trigger, and their stomachs hungry for provisions that were never delivered on time. Impatience coupled with fright intermixed as they awaited the arrival of the enemy. It was the longest night any soldier could have ever imagined.

Finally, at about six o 'clock in the morning of August 23, 1944, just as the roosters had finished their early calls, the usual stillness was broken by some heavy firing in the outpost of Tulang. It was the Japanese's rifles and mortars firing against the guerillas who were assigned as look-outs. This signaled the arrival of the enemy whom they had waited for quite impatiently. The following lines aptly describe the scene on that fateful day:

Sleepy, heavy-eyed soldiers who had lain the whole night in their foxholes, still wet with dew and shivering with cold, were jolted and were quickly brought to life. The soldiers had not yet eaten any breakfast. In one company there was hectic and hurried preparation for breakfast.

Meanwhile, the firing at Tulang had ceased and the soldiers, greatly outnumbered by the Japanese, withdrew to the rear defenses. Orders were soon given to all other companies to withdraw to Pusod-sawa. The half-cooked porridge was quickly distributed to the hungry soldiers who swallowed the hot food as they ran.

Noticing what had happened, the Japanese troops hurried in pursuit of their target. The guerrillas, who had no time to rest, reached the topmost portion of the hill exhausted. As this developed, a platoon of soldiers was quickly deployed at the hilltop, while the rest of the soldiers were stationed at the right and left of the hill. It was to be the last stronghold of the guerilla force as they could no longer run and hide any further. With their backs against the walls, they had no more choice but to fight till their last breath. And fought they did as they saw two enemy columns converging towards the hill.

          The exchange of fire ensued. The Japanese, who were now just within 400 yards, could no longer advance for they would surely be hit by the deadly bullets of the guerrillas. Thus, they were forced to stay put and waited for the opportune time to strike again. A temporary lull took place between the two camps. Meanwhile, as the sun rose to its zenith, thirst and hunger began to creep in the stomachs of the soldiers. There were immediate calls for food and water, but these were never answered. No one was there to heed such dangerous calls.

Quite unexpectedly, just as the soldiers were ready to give up any hope of deliverance, they saw at their rear civilians who were slowly crawling, dragging rather painfully on the stony slopes baskets full of "puso" and water. They immediately understood what such laborious effort meant. In fact, the soldiers were moved to tears upon seeing the precariously difficult task the civilians were doing. For who would not be touched by the expression of concern that was shown by those who were not supposed to be there? A single bullet from a Japanese rifle would surely send any of those crawlers to “kingdom come." But bravery won over cowardice in this remarkably unique act of sacrifice in the midst of a terrifying assault by the enemy. And the civilians' selfless act became the impetus for the Filipino soldiers to continue the fight.

Despite the fact that the soldiers did not have enough ammunition, they still managed to find a way to crush the advancing Japanese. As the day wore on and as midnight neared, “the soldiers started rolling big stones on the hillsides with the hope of hitting and killing the advancing Japanese who were now aided by the darkness. There were grunts and groans as the stones hit some of the advancing enemies. The Japanese, sensing a weakening of the defense, rushed up shouting as they charged.

Blood-curdling cries of the charging Japanese were all around. The guerrillas fired several shots with their few bullets left, sending some of the Japanese soldiers rolling down the stony slope of the hill. The soldiers, nearly trapped, quickly withdrew. Some soldiers narrowly escaped at the rear, for a few seconds later the Japanese reached the trail where they passed to escape. With the rear escape blocked by the Japanese, a platoon of soldiers aided by darkness and guided by the civilians who knew the land, daringly broke through the enemy line and succeeded in escaping to the rear of the enemy.

What remained of the 87th Infantry Regiment became a matter of conjecture. Days after the fateful encounter with the Japanese in Pusod-Sawa, Langin, the soldiers were scattered either in different parts of the town or outside of it. Other soldiers, unfortunately, were not as lucky. For instance, two days after the raid in Pusod-Sawa, two cooks belonging to Company B, Pvt. Nicomedes Dumusmog and Pvt. Diosdado Jamora, as well as some civilians, were captured by the enemy. It was now up to each soldier how to elude arrest from the angry Japanese who had searched unceasingly for any escapee, for "the Japanese patrolled the mountains day and night, using torches and flashlights when darkness came." The war became a cat and mouse game.

In the light of the preceding developments, the guerilla leaders had to act fast to salvage a slowly dying organization. Thus, on August 26, 1944, or exactly three days after the attack, the officers of the 87th Regiment hastily met at an undisclosed place to decide on the fate of the guerilla force. The faces on the war- tom officers bore the unanimous and inevitable choice: disband.

Nevertheless, it was just a temporary dispersal, a ceasefire of sorts intended to recharge the tired soldiers. Given the situation at hand, the soldiers could have acted no better way. With literally nothing to spare, what with only bananas for their subsistence, the call for survival was more appealing than the service to motherland.


The Aftermath of the Tragedy

The war against the Japanese brought innumerable damage to the whole town, not to mention the number of lives lost in the struggle for freedom. Compared to the previous war—that is, the one fought against the Americans between 1896 and 1900—the Second World War resulted in untold destruction of lives and property. It was a wide-scale act that also resulted to a wide-scale tragedy: the war victims were not only the local residents but the whole nation as well. Nevertheless, whatever struggle the guerillas underwent was always honored and remembered for generations of Rondahanons to come. And this is more aptly described by the following lines:

That 20-hour stand at Pusod-sawa by a few soldiers against an

overwhelming number of the enemy was made possible by the

soldiers and civilians who risked their lives for love of country and freedom.

Pusod-sawa will always remain as a symbol of sacrifice, unselfish cooperation, and unflinching courage of men who in simple obedience to duty as they understood it sacrificed all, dared all, and died. To them no sacrifice is too great when it is for one's country and for freedom.


They Who Stood Their Ground and Conquered

It is worthwhile to note that the battle at Pusod-sawa would not have been made possible without the assistance of the brave guerilla soldiers who unselfishly offered their lives for the glory of their native land. Thus, it is only proper to mention the heroic exploits of those who once lived and died in these southern shores so that present generations of Rondahanons would be free from foreign dominion.

The following list is based on the writings of Anacleto Flores, a World War Two veteran assigned in the south. This is just a representative list, however, as there could be other names which may not be included here. For the record, only soldiers who were born and raised in Ronda are included in the list.

1. Abella, Teofisto Paglinawan. Teofisto had travelled to unknown and dangerous places before going back to his native land, Ronda. His mother did not recognize him because he had grown so thin, sickly, tired and with long hair and beard. When he recovered, he joined the Ronda-Alcantara Sector (Guerilla Forces) on September 5, 1942. Because of meritorious service, he was promoted to 2nd Lt. and assigned to the Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry. He served the 87th Infantry until the whole 43rd Division was inactive on August 10, 1945. He joined in all guerilla activities, including hand-to-hand combat against the Japanese.

2. Andan, Bemabe T. A native of Ronda, Cebu, Bemabe lived in Barangay Canduling. His involvement in the resistance movement began on September 2, 1942 when his co-soldiers in the neighboring barangays connived to meet with Capt. Acebes. As a consequence, he was given an assignment in the B Company under Maximiano Tirad. Once the encounter at Pusod-sawa was done, he and his co-soldiers went to Guihulngan, Negros Oriental and attached themselves to Major Mercado.

3. Bucog, Vicente Langomez. A resident of Barangay Liboo, he was with the E Company, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Infantry Regiment. He had contributed much in the battles in both Matina and Digos, Davao in Mindanao on December 20, 1941. As soon as his unit dispersed, he went to Cebu and joined the guerilla forces operating in Malalay, Ronda, Cebu.

4. Dayag, Julian Ricamora. Bom and raised in Ronda, Mr. Dayag was an active member of the 87th Infantry Regiment. He was a reliable radioman when it came to communication between mountains and companies or between battalions and regiments. He was summoned by Col. Abel Trazo, who was then the commander of the 87th Regiment, to appear in his office in Malalay, Ronda. As an expert in sending radio messages, he was considered the champion in Wigwag and SIMAPHORE of Southern Cebu.

5. Dorig, Vivencio. A native of Barangay Cansayahon, Mr. Dorig underwent a five-month training prior to being called to active duty on November 24,1941 in Argao, Cebu. He had met several encounters in Bohol particularly in Tagbilaran and Ubay before he was transferred to Cagayan, Misamis Oriental and Malaybalay, Bukidnon. As fate would have it, he went back to Cebu and became a member of the guerilla force under Lt. Acebes on September 3,1942.

6. Escoreal, Conrado Gimarino. Bom in Barangay Cansayahon, Mr. Escoreal was a trainee for five and a half months at Medellin, Cebu. In December 1941 he was called to active duty and immediately assigned to serve the L Company of the 82nd Infantry Regiment. His induction to the service led to his assignment in other provinces such as Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Davao before he finally settled with the guerilla force on September 2,1942. He was assigned with the H Combat Company of the 86th Regiment Cebu Area Command.

7. Gimena, Ananias Diana. Also a native of Barangay Cansayahon, he became a trainee at Pinamungajan, Cebu. Right after his training, he was called to active duty on September 1, 1941 and was assigned with the I Company, 82nd Infantry Regiment stationed at Toledo City. He joined the guerilla movement on September 3, 1942 under Lt. Tirad of B Company, 87th Infantry Regiment. He and his co-patriots bravely fought against the Japanese in Antuanga Hills and in many other places.

8. Gimena, Fructuoso Talaba. A native of Barangay Canduling, Mr. Gimena was a trainee in Camp Parang, Cotabato and was inducted into the USAFFE on September 1, 1941. He had seen battles in different parts of Mindanao, particularly Davao, prior to his transfer in Cebu where he joined the Dumanjug Guerilla Force. Due to his frail health, however, he was disqualified from continuing his service as a guerilla soldier. He was therefore sent back to Ronda where he spent the remaining years of his life.

9. Gimena, Lucino Gimpayan. Bom and raised in Barangay Butong, Lucino became a military trainee, called to active duty and eventually was inducted into the service of the USAFFE by an American officer on November 4, 1941. He was a machine gunner and showed this talent as a soldier when he participated in an encounter at Magdugo, Toledo and in another fight in Closing, also in Toledo. The presence of the Japanese in the south prompted Lt. Villagonzalo in Alcantara and Lt. Tandoc in Dumanjug to ask for Gimena's services as a soldier. He ended up fighting against the Japanese in Pusod-sawa, Malalay, Ronda.

10. Lumagsao, Dionisio Gimena. It was inBarangay Jandiliog where Lumagsao grew up and became a fighter. After fulfilling his task as a military trainee  for five and a half months, he was inducted into the USAFFE and was then assigned to the F Company, 2nd Battalion. He had seen action in different parts of Mindanao where he established himself as a good soldier. When he heard of the war in the south against the Japanese, he went back to Ronda to help suppress the invasion that had sown fear among his fellow Rondahanons. Thus, on September 3, 1942 he joined the Ronda Guerilla Force under Lt. Tandoc of A Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment.

11. Luna, Lucio S. A native of Barangay Langin, Mr. Luna was inducted into the USAFFE in November of 1941 and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 82nd Infantry Regiment. He spent the early part of his military career in Mindanao particularly in Davao City, BuJkidnon, and Tanggub before he decided to return to Cebu. On the third of September 1942, he met Col. Luis Jakosalem who made him a member of the guerilla force against the Japanese.

12. Gabatan, Jacinto Eridera. This brave Rondahanon was born in Barangay Binatac where he spent most of his life. He voluntarily joined the guerilla force, got himself inducted and was assigned with the G Company, Second Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, Cebu Area Command. During the war against the Japanese, he had shown much courage and determination as a soldier.

13. Gimena, Demetrio Lazarraga. He was bom in Barangay Poblacion and was attracted to the military service at an early age. Answering the need of the time then, he became a member of the guerilla movement and was inducted into the service in October 1942. His first assignment was with the B Company, 1st Battalion Southern Cebu Sector. He was known as a valiant warrior even before the arrival of the Americans in Talisay, Cebu. His contribution in the mopping-up operations against the Japanese in Northern Cebu was especially noteworthy.

14. Maribao, Filemon V. He was bom in Barangay Pikit and had studied law when the call to active military duty came. He could not resist being inducted into the service and soon found himself assigned with the 87th Infantry Regiment. His memorable experience took place when he participated in the encounter at Antuanga Hills where he had gunned down a Japanese officer on horseback. He fought side by side with Capt. Acebes and Lt. Gaudioso Villagonzalo against the Japanese who had dug a tunnel at Antuanga Hills.

15. Nemiaga, Pedro B. He came from Barangay Poblacion where he was bom in the early part of the twentieth century. On July 1, 1937 he was called to participate in a military training at Camp Dau Pampanga. Four years later he was called to active duty at Camp Lapu-lapu, Cebu City and was inducted into the USAFFE by Col. Woodbregde and assigned with the Battery A, 1st Battalion Regiment. He was later assigned to different parts of the Visayas region, particularly in Bohol and Dumaguete City. Then he went to Mindanao as soon as the second world war broke out and saw action in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. When he went home to Ronda, he joined the guerilla movement in 1942. He was assigned with the B Company, First Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment Southern Cebu Sector. His unforgettable date with destiny took place when he got hit in the head by shrapnel from an exploding grenade.

16. Ogario, Macario S. He was bom in Ronda on the first day of February 1917. This warrior was inducted into the Recognized Guerilla Movement in 1941 by Capt. Pantaleon Ciano and received his first assignment with the A Company, 1st Battalion 87th Infantry Regiment under Capt. Eutiquio Acebes. It was at Pusod-sawa where he had his first encounter with the Japanese soldiers. Luckily for him and his colleagues, no casualty was suffered during the said encounter. However, in his second encounter with the same enemy at the Antuanga Hills, his ally and friend, Lt. Tandoc, was killed in action.

17. Pata, Florencio Z. Bom on the 3rd day of January 1925 at Ronda, Cebu, Florencio was attached with the Signal Platoon, 87th Infantry Regiment. He had contributed much as a radioman and telephone operator, especially as a warrior at the battle in Pusod-Sawa against the Japanese. Aside from his participation in this famous encounter, he had also made his presence felt in other wars like those fought at Naga, Toledo, Danao, Catmon, Antuanga Hills and Babag Tunnels.

18. Satina, Vicente P. A trainee at Candabong, Argao, he was called to active duty, inducted into the USAFFE on September 12,1941 and was assigned with the E Company, 81st Battalion, Infantry Regiment. He had participated in several battles against the Japanese at Matina, Davao before he went home to Ronda and joined the Guerilla Movement under Lt. Tirad. Like most of his contemporaries, he also participated in the battle at Pusod- sawa.

19. Talaba, Dioniso Gimena. Bom and raised in Barangay Canduling, Ronda, he underwent a military training for five and a half months in Camp Parang, Cotabato. He was called to active duty and got inducted on September 1, 1941 and was immediately assigned with the Headquarters, Service Company, 81st Infantry Regiment. He joined the Dumanjug Guerilla Company under Col. Luis Jakosalem and became a member of the 87th Infantry Regiment.

20. Sumampong, Domingo P. He was bom on August 5,1925 at Ronda, Cebu. He had been studying in college when war broke out. Eager to help his country attain freedom from the invaders, he joined the guerilla movement and distinguished himself as a brave patriot. He retired from the military service with a rank of second lieutenant.

21. Villanueva, Estanislao Degracia. Originally a civilian volunteer, he was later inducted into the service by Capt. Ciano. After his induction, he was immediately assigned with the A Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment under Lt. Tandoc. He had shown his bravery in many encounters against the Japanese and was assigned by Lt. Maribao to accompany the body of his commander, Lt. Tandoc, to Moalboal when the latter was hit by the enemy.

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