Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bombs at the National Science Complex, Notes on the military history of UP DIliman

The Dean of the College of Science, Prof. Dr Caesar Saloma sent us a memo about WWII era bombs at the construction sites of the physics and chemistry institutes at the National Science Complex (NSC). He advises all concerned to keep out of these sites until the Philippine National Police has given the all clear.

When we were doing the urban ecological survey of Diliman, we, the students and I did survey work on these sites! Thank God nothing untoward happened to us!

Nonetheless, I was appointed as faculty point person on the construction of the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (IESM) building (a thankless job!). I need to talk to colleagues about their ideas on how the building ought to be or look like, engineers and architects and of course the bureaucrats who hold the money. So far the consensus is that it should be environment friendly.

Since the proposed site of the IESM building is just 150 meters from the physics building, it is likely that the site may have bombs of its own. So I attended a briefing with architects and engineers on site.

The architects and engineers asked me about the reason why the bombs were there. But we need to first understand the military history of Diliman. Local lore says that some buildings on campus were Japanese garrisons. The present site of the CSWCD is one of them. The fact that the campus once hosted quonset huts is evidence of the military importance of the site. The Colleges of Law and Education were made into Japanese garrisons. The official US Army history describes operations around the area when the Balara Filters were being secured.

The highest point on campus is where the PAGASA observatory is now. The physics and chemistry building sites are adjacent. So it is possible that the area was once a Japanese military observation post . The Americans would have bombed this area and knowing the accuracy of the bombs, some may have landed on what is now the NSC.

The site overlooks the Balara Filters and may have really been a good observation post.

What the military histories tell us is that what we know as the Katipunan area was once military encampments. Where St Bridget School is now was a Philippine Army camp. Escopa was also the camp of enlister personnel.

The official US Army history on the Battle of Manila and suburbs is online here . At the beginning of the operation to liberate Manila, the status of force deployments are indicated on this map. The American operations to secure the water supply infrastructure of Manila involved the heavy use of artillery to knock out Japanese positions from San Juan, New Manila and on to Diliman and Balara. When the Americans secured Balara Filters on 5 February 1945, they found the facility wired for demolition. The San Juan operations met resistance in New Manila where much of he area was mined and the mansions were turned into fortified positions. American artillery knocked out Japanese resistance. Collateral damage was heavy with homes being destroyed. We can assume that civilian casuaties were heavy but the official army histories make little mention of it. Five hundred of the 800 Japanese marines under the command of Colonel Noguchi were killed.

The military histories make no mention about operations in the Diliman campus but the campus was on the approach to Balara. The 7th Cavalry was bivouaced in the Quezon City and probably used the campus as an ammo depot.

The military history of the Diliman campus needs to be researched. Too bad that a UP brat like me only got information of what the campus was in World War II from stories and urban legends that every building and toilet in UP Diliman hosts a ghost! If you google ghost and UP Diliman, you will get all sorts of ghost story links.

In a sense the war hasn't ended in UP. The engineers also reported that human skeletons were unearthed at the science building site. Were these soldiers? Can they be identified? The archaeological context of these finds have to be studied by the university experts.

Happy Independence Day to all!

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