War brings the best and worst in people. A few people rose up to become heroes and served as beacons of hope in the midst of suffering and darkness. On the other hand, there were people who used the war to unleash their evil side. This evil side of humanity was what I discovered during our visit to Plaza Cuartel in Puerto Princesa.
Plaza Cuartel is just a normal park at first glance but in the middle of it is a marker that reminds every visitors of its gruesome past. The marker showing an emaciated man tied by a barbed wire and burned from below. This marker is the grim reminder of the event that took place on December 15, 1944.
1944 is the year when the Allied Forces started the campaign to retake the Philippines from the Japanese. General Douglas MacArthur successfully landed in Leyte in October.3 Due to their impending defeat, the Japanese soldiers in Puerto Princesa decided to kill all prisoners. So on the 14th day of December 1944, they ordered all POWs to go inside the air-raid tunnel. They then poured aviation fuel into the tunnels and set them afire. They also threw grenades to surely kill the POWs. Any prisoner who went out of the tunnel were killed by machine guns.1
Those who managed to escape the massacre were hunted down by the Japs. Of the 154 American POWs in Plaza Cuartel, Only 11 lived to tell the tale.
Near the entrance of the Plaza Cuartel is a small gate to a room which seems to have nothing important. I peeked through the gate and I discovered the entrance to the tunnels where the prisoners were burned alive.
It was a horrifying experience for me because I imagined what happened (and I know my imagination is less gruesome than what truly happened). I asked how a human being can do such inhumane act to another human being. Such acts are more of devil’s work and I believe that the devil was present during that day, cheering on the Japanese soldiers.
Our visit to Plaza Cuartel was a little depressing but it was worth it. I learned a little history and saw how war promotes atrocities such the one that happened in Plaza Cuartel.
Plaza Cuartel is just few steps away from the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. It can easily be reached by riding a tricycle anywhere in Puerto Princesa. Just tell the driver that you’re going to the cathedral. There’s no entrance fee so you don’t have to pay anything.
Any one who is doing the Puerto Princesa City Tour should never miss Plaza Cuartel. The place is unique Puerto Princesa because it is the best relic of the Second World War because of the barbarity that happened in that place.
Information included in this post came from:
1. A City Paradise in the Puerto Princesa City official website.
2. National Historical Institute marker at Plaza Cuartel
3. Battle of Leyte article in Wikipedia
Some interesting articles regarding Plaza Cuartel
1. American Prisoners of War: Massacre at Palawan in History.net
2. Chicago Tibune (March 4, 1945 issue), page 6