Liberation of Panay is a special non-working holiday

Liberation of Panay is commemorated every March 18 as a special non-working holiday in the islands of Romblon, Guimaras and Panay. 

The declaration of Liberation of Panay as a holiday is by virtue of Proclamation No. 430 signed by then President Corazon C. Aquino in July 21, 1989 or “An Act Declaring March 18 of every year as Victory Day in the Islands of Panay and Romblon including the cities of Iloilo and Roxas.”
Proclamation No. 430 also included the island of Guimaras considering that it was part of Iloilo province in 1989.
This year marks the 76th commemoration of Liberation of Panay. The historical event traces back in March 18, 1945 when guerilla forces in Panay and Romblon Islands assembled on their respective locality for a final assault against the Japanese Imperial Army. The historical attack eventually ended World War 2.

Liberation of Panay – Text of Proclamation No. 430

“The Free Panay Guerilla Forest, 6th Military District, composed of the officers and men of the 61st Division Philippine Army (USAFFE), who preferred continuing the fight to surrendering after the fall of Bataan, together with those of other units of the United States Army Forces in the Far East and the civilian volunteers from all walks of life — lawyers, doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers, fishermen, farmers and students — who joined the underground resistance movement — harassed, sabotaged and decimated the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces in the islands of Panay and Romblon throughout World War II in the name of country, freedom and democracy;” it highlighted.

“March 18, 1945, is of great historical and sentimental significance to both the veterans of the 6th Military District and the people of Panay and Romblon because it was the day when the Free Panay Guerilla Forces launched the final assault on the Japanese Occupation Forces coinciding with the landing of the American Liberation Forces at the Tigbauan beach as prearranged between Col. Macario Peralta, Jr., founder and overall commander of the Free Panay Guerilla Forces and Lt. General Robert L. Eichelberger, Commanding General of the 8th United States Army,” stressed its historical significance.

It emphasized that “Panay and Romblon annually observe Victory Day on March 18 to commemorate the liberation of the islands and the sacrifices and valor of the Free Panay Guerilla Forces.” 

Therefore, President Corazon C. Aquino declared March 18 of every year as Victory Day in the islands of Panay and Romblon, including the cities of Iloilo and Roxas.

The Liberation of Panay: A historical account

The Liberation of Panay is an account written by Ma. Cielito G. Reyno, History Researcher II of the National Historical Commission. The written piece is posted at the Philippine Veteran’s Affairs Office Website and with photos, entitled: The Liberation of Panay, March 18, 1945

Liberation of Panay - 5

The re-conquest of Central Visayas by the Allied Forces, beginning with Panay Island on March 18, 1945 was motivated by their strategic value and concern of leaving their huge populations at the mercy of  Japanese Occupation forces. The aim was to capture the Visayan waters’ navigation routes, which would reduce the travel time of US supply ships navigating between Leyte, site of General Douglas MacArthur’s return in October 1944, and Luzon, where the campaign of liberation by Filipino guerillas and US forces, was already in full swing.

The Allied Forces’ retaking of Panay on 18th of March 1945, capped the liberation campaign begun three years earlier by the local guerillas. Practically the whole island was already a liberated zone, courtesy of the 6th Military District, (around 20,000-strong towards end of the war), under the command of Colonel Macario Peralta, Jr. In truth, from the early days of the Japanese occupation, much of Panay had been under the joint administration of Governor Tomas Confesor, who was Panay’s governor during the
Commonwealth era, and of the resistance fighters led by Col. Peralta.

In October 1944, Peralta received an order from General MacArthur to prepare Panay Island for the landing of US forces there on March 18, 1945. Preparation involved two parts – intensification of gathering of intelligence, particularly on changes of the enemy’s movements and positions, which
were crucial to the Allied landing plan; and the continued harassment of the enemy in order to disorient him and limit his movements.

Liberation of Panay

The 6th Military District carried out the order until the final phase of the
struggle began in January 1945. From Lawaan, Antique, the 6th MD moved its headquarters to Cabudian, Duenas in Iloilo Province to begin preparations for the last battle with the enemy. 

The guerrillas’ primary targets were the Tiring landing field, which had been garrisoned by some 250 Japanese soldiers, and the city proper of Iloilo itself, with more than 2,500 enemy troops scattered all over the city. A radius of obstacles, however, comprising of garrisons, pillboxes, breastworks, etc. – existed around the city. These were the challenges the guerrillas had to overcome before they could capture their targets.

Full-scale attack began in early February, with units of the 6th MD approaching from various directions,
north, as well as from northwest of the beach, and from the north road. Engagements took place in sundry sites: sitios Jibaoan and Takas in barrio Mandurriao, Iloilo City and the towns the towns of Pavia Oton, Molo, San Miguel, La Paz, and Tigbauan, the last two with Japanese garrisons.

Jaro, where the Japanese had erected garrisons in several places and buildings (at Barrio Balantang; at the Jaro Municipal building, at the Javelosa and Charito buildings) was the site of heavy fighting – also occurring along the Jaro River, in Barrio Buhang; Dungon Creek, etc.).

Several thoroughfares (Jaro-Iloilo, Tigbauan-Oton, Jaro-Pavia, and Takas-Jaro roads) saw the guerrillas scoring against the enemy, thus obstructing flow of enemy reinforcements and supplies. The sandy stretch from Dumangas in Iloilo to Capiz’ northern area, was also guarded by the guerrillas, to prevent the enemy from attacking guerrilla positions in Jaro.

Fighting also took place in several places in Capiz- Culasi and Lantayan, Tinigban on Pooc Hill; and in Antique- in the capital of San Jose de Buenavista, where the enemy had a stronghold.

On Guimaras Island, 150 guerrillas assaulted the municipal building, which had been converted into Japanese barracks. Meanwhile, the garrison at Bagongon Point on Pan de Azucar Island, northeast of Iloilo, was captured by the guerillas on February 19.

The battle for Panay extended until the end of February with enemy casualties exceeding 700. The battle resumed around 7th of March, after Peralta’s return from MacArthur’s headquarters in Leyte. This time, the guerrillas had air support from US planes.

In the early morning of March 18, US naval forces arrived off the southern waters of Panay. Immediately, minesweeping operations were conducted, under the protective firing from destroyers, directed at the enemy positions on the island.

Liberation of Panay
The Liberation of Panay photo from Ma. Cielito G. Reyno

Soon, troops of the 40th Division led by Major General Rapp Brush, of the United States’ Eighth Army (under the command of General Eichelberger), landed on the beach of Tigbauan, 22 kilometers to the west of Iloilo City. Instead of meeting the enemy, however, they received a rousing welcome by Filipinos, civilians and fighters alike, led by Col. Peralta and elements of the 6th Military District. 

Meanwhile, with US ground forces advancing into Iloilo City, and the blocking operations of the 6th
MD, the Japanese forces were forced to abandon their last stronghold and retreat to the hinterlands.
Mop-up operations were later conducted on the rest of Panay, Guimaras and other islands.

On the 20th March, General Eichelberger and his contingent entered a city freed of enemy troops,
but welcomed by crowds of cheering Filipinos. On 22 March 1945, General MacArthur officially
declared Iloilo City liberated.

Text and photos are from “The Liberation of Panay, March 18, 1945” by Ma. Cielito G. Reyno, History Researcher II of the National Historical Commission, Philippine Veteran’s Affairs Office

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