There is a place in Kiangan called the Million Dollar Hill. It is not actually a hill but a raised barren mound. It used to be a hill, old people there said. Seventy years ago, to be exact. It used to be a forested hill until American planes bombed it into submission. So the hill became a mound. The Americans bombed it with; you guessed it, a million dollar worth of bombs. That's the Kiangan joke for you. Maybe the source of the Kiangan humor.
The Americans bombed it to force the Japanese into submission. It was the last true stand of the Japanese forces in the country as the rest of the Japanese forces were just remnants.
After Kiangan's Million Dollar Hill, Yamashita and his men were brought to Baguio and made to sign the surrender papers. The place of the signing is the present Ambassador's Residence inside Camp John Hay. Tables were dispatched to form the long table for the signing papers. Some of the tables in the area as well as those in Brent School were used. Clean sheets were set and the signing was done at past noon in September 4, 1945.
Present there were Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, fresh from the prisoner’s camp, and other military officers including British Gen. Arthur Percival whom Wainwright gave the privilege of having Yamashita surrender to him as years before, it was Percival who surrendered Singapore and Burma to Yamashita.
The Ambassador’s Residence was Yamashita’s headquarters during the War. Bedroom Number 5, facing the road, was his bedroom so he was familiar with the bullet-riddled mansion then. He surrendered his sword as well as the swords of his other officers. Days after, he was hanged.
Seventy years ago, 19 year old Pvt. Sabas Hafalla was recuperating in Mankayan as he was hit by grenade shrapnel. Nineteen year old Graciano Clavano was in Negros Oriental, providing security to the Americans, not knowing that at that noon, the war has ended.
Seventy years ago, they are beside US Ambassador Philip Goldberg in the same spot where Yamashita surrendered. Above them is the Amorsolo painting of the same scene.
In Kiangan, Challanao Maguiwe, 101 years old, recalled how he helped defend Banaue from the Japanese. He was the squad leader of his group. “Remember us,’ was all he can tell the present generation.
In this time when balikbayan boxes, the symbol of the present Filipino heroes, the OFWs, are being forcibly opened for reasons only the government knows, isn’t it about time we open this valiant chapter of our history.
Without these soldiers, our ancestors, we cannot imagine what became of us.
“This is not a celebration but a commemoration of a solemn and central event in the history of our two countries,” Goldberg said. He said that we continue to benefit from their sacrifices.
Or are we? Did our soldiers not die in vain? This is a balikbayan box that needs to be open for debate. But the biggest lesson is what the squad leader from Ifugao said: remember us.