CAMALIG, ALBAY –- The historic Japanese war tunnels in this town will be one of the new tourist attractions in Albay province.
This as Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has included in his top priority tourism program onsite and offsite development around Mount Kitwinan where a network of Japanese tunnels remain preserved and converting them into this municipality’s and the province’s eco-historical tourism attraction starting next year.
The local governments are optimistic the quaint yet rich historical tunnels will enable tourists to connect to the past and see how the ingenuity of the conscripted Japanese soldiers worked in the war that was.
“This town has its own piece of historical past contributions from the Japanese occupation people must know about aside from the iconic ‘Pinangat’ and the Hoyop-Hoyopan and Calabidongan caves”, said town Mayor Carlos Irwin Baldo, adding that his administration has vigorously launched its tourism master plan early this year.
In February this year, the municipal government held a soft launching of the war tunnels of Mount Kitwinan as its eco-historical tourism attraction. A month later, the scheduled major launching was called off when some residents found vintage bombs in one of the tunnels.
The network of tunnels is manually constructed beneath Mount Kitwinan by hundreds of enlisted soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army during the height of their occupation of Albay. The reason is obvious, the Japanese found the use of tunnels as an effective means of transporting their equipment and mobilizing their troops to elude Americans soldiers.
The mountain offers a panoramic view of majestic Mayon Volcano and Legazpi City.
Its height was an advantage to the Japanese. Overlooking the Lignon Hill and other mountains in Legazpi City with war tunnels, Japanese soldiers can detect impending naval and air assaults by American forces or offensives in progress in their other strongholds.
After the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese, the tunnels of Mount Kitwinan generated a lot of stories from the locals about the war such as the exploits of local guerrillas and discovery of hidden treasures and the potential of more gold and precious minerals hidden and left out by the fleeing invaders.
A tedious process of authenticating local historical and individual accounts by some surviving witnesses of the Japanese rule in Camalig is being undertaken.
These documents and accounts are being studied carefully and the National Historical Institute has been doing parallel research about Mount Kitwinan during the Japanese occupation, said Jed Villanueva, the municipal tourism officer.
Another hindrance is the scant historical document about Mount Kitwinan there having been no recorded major battles in Camalig. The National Historical Commission shares this predicament.
The Japanese Imperial Army left in haste when American forces decisively defeated them after the bloody Leyte Gulf Landing in October 1944. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was a decisive naval exercise by the Allied troops against the Japanese Imperial Navy in the Pacific that included four major naval battles: the Battle of Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Cape Engaño and the Battle of Samar.
American forces landed in Sorsogon and in Legazpi City. A brief resistance from the Japanese Imperial forces was recorded in Bacacay, Albay and in the port villages in Legazpi City.
At present, telecommunication companies, radio and television broadcast stations make use of the same height advantage of Mount Kitwinan by erecting and maintaining their towers on its peaks and shoulder.
Mount Kitwinan sits astride the villages of Tinago, Ilawod, Gotob, Mina, Gapo and Sumlang stretching from the Poblacion up to the eastern part of the town encroaching part of the adjacent municipality of Daraga, Albay