The United States Army concluded that the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ war claims were “fraudulent” and “absurd.” One of those fake stories that he passed off as his own heroics was the story of the real hero who led the Battle of Bessang Pass.
According to Ces Drilon’s exclusive report on ABS-CBN’s “TV Patrol,” the real soldier who spent six months, from January to June 1945, fighting alongside other Filipino soldiers and a few American soldiers against Japanese soldiers was Conrado Rigor Sr.
Bessang Pass in Cervantes, a town in Ilocos Sur, was the location of the last Japanese stronghold in the North. When the Filipino soldiers won the battle, it led to the fall of the Japanese occupation in the Philippines.
According to one of Conrado’s sons, Manuel, his family is in possession of the flag owned by the Imperial Japanese Army general Tomoyuki Yamashita, after the Japanese surrendered it to Rigor. It now serves as an heirloom within the family and is safely stored in a vault in the US.
Rigor was then the commander of the Third Battalion of the 121st Infantry of Bessang Pass, who was acknowledged as the real hero.
Manuel said that the Rigor family decided to reach out to ABS-CBN to tell the ‘real’ story of Bessang Pass. He added that despite being a low-key, quiet family, they wanted to clarify what ghostwriters have written, crediting Marcos as the hero of Bessang Pass.
“Quiet lang kami as family. But when ghostwriters came out with books claiming that he [Marcos] was the hero of Bessang Pass, medyo umaalma-alma na kami. He cannot be. You know, dad is the real hero of Bessang Pass and we’ll rightfully claim that. He cannot do that to us and we have the proof,” Manuel said.
When Conrado died, Marcos even gave the eulogy because he was a close family friend of the Rigor couple.
But in 1964, when a book about Marcos came out, entitled “For Every Tear A Victory,” it made it seem like he was the hero of the battle in Besang Pass.
“The credit was taken from him [Conrado]. Kaya merong tampo ang pamilya as far as the Marcoses were concerned. You know, para bang, why did they allow it? In fact, they did not even correct it. Kumbaga, they basked in the glory of someone else’s credit,” Manuel said.
Manuel added that Marcos was “never in Bessang Pass,” based on the stories of his dad’s fellow soldiers and friends.
The Rigors kept quiet throughout the years because their matriarch and Conrad’s widow served as Marcos’ Executive Secretary for years. They remained silent even when more revelations about Marcos’ fake World War II record came out on both the local and international press.
They only spoke against the Marcoses after President Rodrigo Duterte gave the go signal to have Marcos’ remains buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Manuel said that it is unacceptable for someone else to claim another person’s credit and considered it foul.
‘And after Martial Law, there was no remorse, no apology from the Marcoses whatsoever kaya I’m against his burial,” Manuel said.
He also had a message for the Marcoses and Duterte – to bury the dictator in Ilocos, where he is loved. “Kahit na doon na lang s’ya ilibing, kahit dalawang Taj Mahal pa ang gawin n’yo in his honor, it’s okay, we don’t mind,” Manuel added.
Marcos was not at Besang Pass, says military historian
In her blog article entitled, “Part 2- Marcos’ Medal of Valor ‘highly suspicious’, says Filipino war historian,” Raissa Robles interviewed Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose, a military historian and former chair of the University of the Philippines Department of History.
One of the issues Robles discussed in her article was the Battle of Bessang Pass. She wrote that Dr. Jose told her that based on his research and interviews, he concluded that Marcos was not the hero of Bessang Pass because he was not even there.
In his biography, Marcos claimed that his “greatest” war exploit was his victorious Battle of Bessang Pass.
Robles added that Jose explained how Marcos’ camp started selling him as “The Hero of Bessang Pass.”
“But he was nowhere there. He could not have been there. Bessang Pass is in Ilocos Sur. The battle was March 1945 to June 1945. His unit wasn’t there. He was claiming to be attached to another unit – it was one of the 14th Infantry – it wasn’t there,” Jose said.
Asked where Marcos’ unit was, he replied, “It was somewhere else. His particular unit – the 14th Infantry – was supposed to guard the flanks, not fight. The ones who were really in the thick of fighting, I knew some of them and some of their children. They very vehemently said he (Marcos) was not there,” he added.
Jose also mentioned Conrado Rigor in his interview with Robles.
“One of the commanding officers there was (Conrado) Rigor. I missed (interviewing) him but I met his son and daughter,” Jose said.
Rigor authored a book called “Road to Bessang Pass.”
“The Marcos side distorted things because the real hero of Bessang Pass was Rigor and others, not Marcos,” the historian noted.
“That was a great injustice, which two other books written by war veterans Ernesto Rodriguez and Bonifacio Gillego also pointed out,” he added.
Jose said that when Rodriguez wrote about how critical he was of Marcos’ guerilla stories and it was serialized and later published by the tabloid We Forum, Marcos shut the tabloid down and had all of Rodriguez’ books seized.
More proof Marcos was not at Bessang Pass
Primitivo Mijares, who wrote the book “The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos,” quoted a 1974 Philippine News article. In his interview with the Philippine Free Press in April 1965, then Congressman Sergio Osmeña Jr. said, “Those who actually fought at Bessang Pass say that they had never seen Mr. Marcos there or his whereabouts… There are those who attest to the fact that Mr. Marcos was during all that time at Luna, La Union, attending to military cases as a judge advocate.”
In a Philippine Star article, File No. 60: Debunking the Marcos war myth,” written by Joel Ariate Jr. and Miguel Paolo Reyes, they noted some of the contents of File No. 60 that proved Marcos was not present at Bessang Pass during the fight against Japanese soldiers.
File No. 60 showed a letter from Marcos, dated May 1, 1945, complete with the letterhead of the GHQ of USAFIP , NL in Camp Spencer in Luna, La Union, where he asked Col. Russel Volckmann, C.O. of USAFIP, NL, for permission to “return to Manila… to permit [him] to join [Ang Manga Maharlika], as “the only reason for [his] being attached to the 14th Infantry [of USAFIP NL] was [his] inability to return to [his] own organization.” Marcos also wrote that “[his] presence in [his] organization is indispensable as the secrets, documents and funds of the organization are in [his] possession alone.”
However, Volckmann reportedly denied Marcos’ request, saying that Ang Manga Maharlika “is not among the guerilla units recognized by Higher headquarters,” and “it is therefore believed that his trip to Manila… to report to an unrecognized guerilla organization would be futile.”
Marcos’ letter only showed that in the middle of the battle he claimed to be his greatest WWII exploit, he requested a transfer to Manila.
Mijares also noted the lack of mention of Marcos’ name in the articles and books written by generals Carlos P. Romulo, Jonathan Wainwright, and Douglas MacArthur, among others, even when Marcos’ writers claimed MacArthur and Wainwright recommended Marcos for high military honors, which was later questioned by the US Army.
Mijares wrote, “Immediately after World War II, when Filipinos talked about their heroes, the names mentioned were Villamor, Basa, Kangleon, Lim, Adevoso and Balao of the Bessang Pas fame. Marcos was totally unknown.”
Later, Mijares mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again, and his young son was abducted, tortured and killed allegedly as a revenge or warning for the older Mijares’ expose on Marcos.