This tadpole-shaped island, 6.5-kilometer long and 2.5-kilometer wide, is the first thing that visitors see upon entering Manila Bay. Because of its strategic location in the entrance of the bay, it served as a fortress of defense from attacks by enemy warships for many centuries.
Geologically, the islands of Corregidor and Caballo are remnants of a volcanic crater that was last active more than one million years ago. The two islands are still classified by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology as a potentially active volcano.
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.
During Spanish time, Corregidor was attacked many times by foreign invaders. But the biggest attack that changed Corregidor forever happened in May 1898. A naval squadron led by US Navy Commodore George Dewey launched the attack on the island and the rest of Manila Bay.
In 1902, the island was organized as an American military reservation, and the Board of Fortifications chaired by William Howard Taft recommended that key harbors acquired during the Spanish-American War be fortified. In 1908, the island became a Regular Army post and became known as Fort Mills.
During the height of the American colonial period, the island was practically a showpiece of the rich American town in the Pacific. The sheltered Fort Mills was considered highly-valued real estate, where the US government spent more than $150 million building defense installations and comfortable living quarters for their soldiers and their families.
They built 105 kilometers of paved roads and trails and 31 kilometers of 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, and they had restaurants, a church, public market and more.
The island was divided into three: Topside, Middleside and Bottomside. The Topside was where the Army headquarters, the barracks for enlisted men, parade grounds, the Officers’ Club and the lighthouse were located. The Middleside was the location for the officer’s quarters, barracks, hospital, service club and two schoolhouses, while on the Bottomside was the three large piers, the Malinta Hill and Barrio San Jose.
When the Second World War broke on 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.
On December 30, 1941, Manual Quezon and Sergio Osmena were inaugurated and President and Vice-President of the Philippine Commonwealth for the second term outside the Malinta Tunnel.
MacArthur used Corregidor as 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 the island, he recited the famous line “I Shall Return.”
Bataan fell into the hands of the Japanese on April 9, 1942, and the last remaining bastion for holding out the enemy – island of Corregidor – finally surrendered on May 6, 1942. The heavily-damaged island became a Japanese prison camp for the three years that followed.
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.
How to get there
Most visitors to the island go there on a day tour via Sun Cruise that leaves the CCP Complex at 8 a.m. and returns at 5 p.m. Travel time takes around and hour and a half. Daytrip package costs P2,549 per person on weekends. The package includes roundtrip ferry transfer, entrance fees, guided island tour and buffet lunch.
A longer but cheaper way to reach Corregidor is to drive north via NLEX, then exit from San Fernando and continue drive to Dinalupihan, Bataan, turn left to Roman Highway and continue drive to Mariveles, Bataan, enter the Kamaya 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. The regular 40-passenger boat from Kamaya Point takes passengers to and from the island for a round trip fare of P250 per person. Upon arrival in Corregidor, pay the entrance fee of P150 per person.
What to see, what to do
Those taking the day tour usually go around the attractions on a tramvia-converted-bus with a guide. But for those who have plenty of time to explore, it is better to do it on foot or a bicycle using a map.
Visitors should visit the ruins of the Mile-long Barracks and Cine Corregidor. It is also worth checking the old photos and war memorabilia at the Pacific War Memorial Museum. At the side of the museum is the Pacific War Memorial with its circular dome and Monument of the Eternal Flame of Freedom.
Another attraction is the Malinta Tunnel that took 10 years (1922-1932) to complete. It was the last stronghold of the joint Filipino-American military operations before the Japanese occupation. Today, visitors can watch and listen to the Lights and Sounds show inside the tunnel.
The island also has one of the country’s oldest lighthouse. The Corregidor Lighthouse was completed in 1853 to guide ships to the entrance of Manila Bay on their way to the port of Manila.
Where to stay, where to eat
It is possible to stay overnight on the island. Corregidor Hotel has an overnight room rate for two with breakfast for P2,000.
Those on a budget can camp at South Beach. Camping fee is only P50 per person. Campsite can accommodate tents for big group, and it has plenty of bathrooms and comfort rooms.
Food is available at La Playa Restaurant. Those on package tours get free lunch of pork or chicken with paella at La Playa.
But for those on a budget, they can simply bring pack meals from the public markets of Mariveles or Balanga.