TEXT & PHOTO: Kaycie Gayle
When the driver stopped the engine of the car I peeked at the window and have seen an old gate. Having a thing for heritage edifice, I stopped for a while to marvel at the old structure and snapped some pictures of it. The shabby look of it proves that it has been built a long time ago. This is actually a remnant of a military fort from the yesteryears hence making it historical. Just from the name of this park, one would have an idea of what it was before. ‘Plaza’ meaning a public square and ‘Cartel’ meaning military barracks, hence it is a military barracks that has turned in a public square. Although I do not know the story behind it fully yet, I just went on to enter the peaceful park.
Remnant of a military fort
Peaceful public square
Concrete pavements dotted with trees and benches welcomed us. It seemed just like any ordinary park that you can stay on when you want to stay for a bit to relax, but when I approached the displayed narratives about the history of the park, I started to get curious. In it was written the name of Glenn McDole, whom the driver explained to us was one of the survivors from the Palawan Massacre during the World War 2 when the Japanese forces decided to kill the prisoners by burning them alive on December 14, 1944. Many perished and only eleven prisoners were able to survive and escape the mass execution in which McDole was one of them. Hence, after several years, he wrote a book, entitled the Last Man Out (2004), about experiences they had so it would never be forgotten.
Narrative Standee about the Palawan Massacre
As I learned the story, I looked around again and see the landscaped garden, the colorfully designed pedicabs, and the fountain thinking who would have thought that a massacre has happened here. Just looking at it at present you wouldn’t trace its grim past except when you read the narratives and see the bronze commemorative marker of the quad-pyramid memorial on the right side of the walkway where the names of the casualties are listed. On top of it is a statue of a skinny guy tangled on a barbed wire which seemed to be depicting the American prisoners’ condition in those times. Meanwhile, at the far end is a nice view of a body of water which the driver told us to be Iwahig. Silently, I imagined that it may be the direction they went to and swam to escape. As we were ushered back to the entrance, the driver called us to peek at the steel bars which leads to the narrow opening of the underground tunnel. He said that it was where the American soldier-prisoners were deceptively kept to be burned alive. Despite I haven’t known them, sadness and pity on the soldiers who suffered surged on me upon looking at the gloomy tunnel. Peeking at the underground passage is like having a glimpse of its dark history, ergo I looked again inside the gate to remember that it is now a park enjoyed by the locals, tourist and even frequented by lovers. Looking at the ruins has made me realize that this quiet old place has beautifully transformed from a cage that witnessed the cries and sadness of the prisoners and soldiers to a park that is now witnessing love and appreciation.
Plaza Cuartel us located in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.