27 March 2017

Emilio Macabuag and his WWII Guerilla Group in Calatagan, Batangas

American troops and Filipino guerrillas with captured Japanese soldiers in WWII.  Image credit:  Guns.com.

In June of 1943, roughly a year and a half into the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II, a guerilla unit was formed in Calatagan in Batangas under the command of one Captain Emilio Macabuag. The unit consisted of a total of 366 men. Initially, the unit worked closely with another guerilla unit operating in Mindoro under the command of a Col. Macario Peralta Jr. The latter was likely an officer of the Philippine Army, which had been inducted into the United States Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) prior to the war.

Soon after the unit’s formation, he was summoned to Mindoro to meet with a Lt. L. A. Phillips. The latter was an intelligence officer from the General Headquarters of the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), the large combat group under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Phillips’ task was to establish and maintain a radio link between Mindoro and Australia, where MacArthur was based.1 He instructed Macabuag to form an elite unit that will work directly under him.

The unit would subsequently be called the “Major Phillips Unit.” The American lieutenant would be killed in February 1944 after the Japanese discovered his headquarters at Mt. Calavite in Oriental Mindoro. His place would be taken over by Commander George F. Rowe of the United States Navy Reserves. The Major Phillips Unit retained its name but henceforth took directions from Rowe.

Under Phillips’ instructions, Macabuag and his men established a radio station in Calatagan right under the noses of the occupying Japanese army. The radio link enabled the unit to receive instructions for and carry out combat missions against the Japanese. Moreover, the unit was able to send back vital intelligence about Japanese positions and strength in the area.

Unfortunately, when the Japanese attacked Phillips’ headquarters in Mindoro, they were able to capture the American Harold Guetner. He was brought back to Batangas and, presumably under torture, forced to reveal the location of the Phillip Unit’s radio station in Calatagan. Macabuag himself described the consequence of this capture:

“Scores of my men were subjected to inhuman torture by the Japs and some of them will bear the marks as long as they live. I had spent four horrible months in a Japanese garrison where two of my couriers were killed. The Japanese were unable to cow us or break the morale of the men. Instead, we were more determined than ever to serve the United States and made ready to sacrifice our lives. The unit continued in active operation.”

Macabuag would eventually be released by the Japanese, after which he resumed his role as leader of the Phillips Unit and took command from Rowe. The unit facilitated the transport of operatives working under Rowe to and from Mindoro despite the risk of being discovered by Japanese patrol boats. Another radio station would be established at Mt. Luya in Calatagan in the home of a Corporal Francisco Barangas, one of Macabuag’s men.

A safe house was also set up by the unit in the town of Balayan right under the noses of the Japanese forces. It was in the safe house that leaders and members of various guerilla units stayed to meet with operatives working directly under Rowe, presumably to receive instructions and relay vital intelligence information.

Perhaps the Phillip Unit’s finest contributions to Allied efforts to expel the Japanese from the Philippines were made just before the landing of American forces at the coast of Nasugbu in January of 1945. Its men continually set up ambuscades to harass Japanese forces and cut off their telephone lines just prior to the American landing.

Macabuag himself personally delivered to a Sgt. Donald Ash, with whom he secretly met at Cape San Pedrino in Calatagan, for use by American planners a detailed map of western Batangas “indicating Jap fortifications, positions, deployment, supplies, number of men and description of the terrain.”

In a daring mission, the Phillips Unit captured a Japanese fast marine craft known as the PT Boat, along with a young naval officer on board it. The craft along with the officer were smuggled to Mindoro where the officer, interrogated by Rowe’s men, spilled information that would be vital to American planning.

As things would turn out, when American forces did land in Nasugbu, they were virtually unopposed thanks to information supplied by the Phillips Unit and other guerilla groups. Members of the unit hooked up with the newly-arrived forces and supposedly fought to expel the Japanese side by side with them.

By this time, the Phillips Unit’s purpose as a guerilla unit had been fully served. As Macabuag himself stated, “Being guerillas, the best things that could be done were to harass the Japs, get vital military information for the United States and keep the morale of the people. On these points, we were never deficient.2

Macabuag sought official recognition from the United States Army for the Phillips Unit, presumably to be able to avail of post-war benefits for himself and his men. Sadly, his request was turned down despite signed affidavits of his groups’ contributions made by Master Sgt. Benjamin Harder, who helped set up the secret radio station in Calatagan; Col. Mariano Cabarrubia of the Philippine Army’s Rainbow Regiment; and several others.

Rowe’s recognition, perhaps, was not definitive. While he signed an affidavit stating that “the claims of bona fide guerilla activity and cooperation with Major Phillips’ Intelligence Party as made by Emilio Macabuag and his men are substantially true and correct,” his words when interviewed by an investigating group were contradictory.

According to the investigators’ report, “he (Rowe) stated that the Commanding Officer (Macabuag) and two of his men reported to his headquarters and volunteered their services but were told that he had sufficient men and could not use their services.3

Nonetheless, it is probably better not to pass judgment on the Americans’ refusal to recognize Macabuag’s Phillips Group since this is outside the scope of this article and the process that the investigating group undertook was complex and best left for another article.

Notes and references:
1 “Affidavit of Medardo Justiniano,” 1945, online at the Philippine Veterans Association web site.
2 Most of the information about the Major Phillips Unit from “Memorandum for G-3, Guerilla Affairs Section, PHILRYCOM,” by Emilio Macabuag, online at the Philippine Veterans Association web site.
3 “Report on the Reconsideration of the Major Phillips Unit,” by Lt. Charles L. Homewood, online at the Philippine Veterans Association web site.

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