NOW that a recent movie about a general has sparked renewed patriotism and interest in our history, there is one island that every Filipino must visit to learn more about how our forefathers fought hard to gain our independence – this island is Corregidor.
This tadpole-shaped island, 6.5-kilometers long and 2.5-kilometers wide, is the first thing that visitors see upon entering Manila Bay. Because of its strategic location, it served as a fortress of defense from attacks by enemy warships for many centuries.
During the Spanish rule, the island was used as a station for customs inspection. All ships entering Manila Bay were required to stop and have their documents checked and “corrected” at the island, and so it became known as Isla del Corregidor or Island of Correction.
Throughout the Spanish era, the island witnessed several attacks from foreign invaders. But the biggest attack that changed Corregidor forever happened in May 1898. A naval squadron led by United States Navy Commodore George Dewey launched the attack of the island and the rest of Manila Bay. On May 4, 1898, the few remaining Spanish soldiers on the island finally surrendered, ending the 328 years of Spanish presence in Corregidor.
In 1902, the island was organized as an American military reservation. In 1908, the island became a regular army post and became known as Fort Mills. The three neighboring islands were also fortified and became army posts: Caballo Island as Fort Hughes, El Fraile as Fort Drum and Caballo Island as Fort Frank.
The Americans built 105 kilometers of paved roads and trails and a 31-kilometer electric railroad track. The island also had an electric trolley system (tramvia), elementary and high school buildings, a hospital, a movie house (Cine Corregidor), a bank (a branch of Philippine Trust Company), a swimming pool, a baseball field and a nine-hole golf course. There was also a small village (Barrio San Jose) at the bottomside where the Filipinos lived. The village had restaurants, a church, public market and more. During the height of the American period, there were between 15,000 to 18,000 people who stayed on the island.
When the Second World War broke in December 8, 1941, the Japanese invaders started their conquest from the north via Lingayen Gulf and from the south via Manila. By end of 1941, the combined Americans and Filipino troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur started retreating to Corregidor and Bataan Peninsula, and for the next four months Corregidor became the temporary location of the Philippine Government.
MacArthur used Corregidor as the headquarter of the Allied forces until March 12, 1942, when under the cover of darkness, he was evacuated on four PT boats for Mindanao, where he was eventually flown to Australia. Before he took off from island, he said the famous line “I Shall Return.”
Bataan fell into the hands of the Japanese in April 9, 1942 and the last remaining bastion for holding out to the enemy – island of Corregidor – finally fell on May 6, 1942.
The heavily-damaged island became a Japanese prison camp for the three years that followed. But by February 1945, the combined allied forces finally liberated the island from the hands of the Japanese.
After the war, the island became a memorial for the gallantry of the Filipino and American soldiers who died fighting for freedom. Many monuments – such as the Pacific War Memorial, Filipino Heroes Memorial and Japanese Garden of Peace – were built to commemorate the many lives lost to bring freedom back to the Philippines and the rest of the Pacific. Still, most of the war-ravaged buildings were left as they were to remind visitors of the valor of the Filipinos and the American soldiers who died on the island.
How to get there
The quickest way to reach Corregidor is to book a tour via Sun Cruise, where guests take a ferry from CCP Complex. A day tour costs P2,350 (weekdays) and P2,549 (weekends and holidays) and it includes ferry transfer, guided tour of the island and buffet lunch. It takes about one and a half hours from CCP Complex to reach Corregidor.
An alternative is to take the M/B El Corregidor from Camaya Point in Mariveles. It only takes 30 minutes from there to reach the island. However, this will require driving north via NLEX, continue to Bataan province either via San Fernando-Olongapo Road or via SCTEX, then continue driving via Roman Highway all the way to Mariveles, Bataan. Enter the Camaya Point Road, park at the Barangay Alasasin Day Care Center and then enter the MAAS (Maritime Academy of Asia and Pacific) and take the M/B El Corregidor boat to the island.
Fishing boats may also be rented from Cavite City, Naic or Ternate. The crossing from Cavite takes about an hour.
What to see, what to do
Visitors to the island can now enjoy the island in three ways – riding, biking or walking.
The usual way is to join the guided tour riding a tramvia bus or a jeepney. The tour takes about two to three hours, and it will take visitors around the island. The tour includes visit to the ruins of Mile-long and Middle-side Barracks and Cine Corregidor, Batteries Way, Hearn, Grubbs and Crocket; the Pacific War Memorial and the Eternal Flame; Japanese Memorial Garden; the MacArthur Statue; and the Filipino Heroes Memorial and the Corregidor Lighthouse.
Light and Sound Show at Malinta Tunnel is available for P200 and Lateral Tunnel Tour for P250. Kayaking, ATVs and zipline activities are also available for a fee.
Those who wish to take a more leisurely tour of the island can either do it on foot or on bike. Sun Cruise now offers a Biker’s Package for P1,700. This includes round-trip ferry transfer, registration and bike cargo fees.
Where to stay, what to eat
The 31-room Corregidor Hotel is available for those who wish to stay overnight on the island. Lodging fee is only P1,500 additional for those availing of the packaged tour.
Another option is to go camping. There’s a huge camping area complete with toilet and bath facilities at the South Beach where the old Barrio San Jose was once located. Camping fee is only P50 per person (this is in addition to the P150 registration fee).
For dining, buffet lunch is available for those on a packaged tour. The cafeteria at the Corregidor Hotel also serves other Fililpino and Continental dishes.
For those on a budget, however, it is best to bring your own food. There is also a MacArthur Café near the registration area, but it only serves limited merienda dishes.
Unlike any other island in the Philippines, Corregidor is not about trying the food and relaxing under the shade of coconut tree – it is about paying tribute to the heroic struggle and sacrifices of the soldiers who fought and died for us to gain our freedom.