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A return to Manila

india Updated: Mar 05, 2008 22:58 IST
A return to Manila

This was my third visit to Manila. The first was in the late 60s on an inspection tour of military attaches. And the second was in 1974 as head of a military delegation from our National Defence College (NDC). Nowadays, the Philippines capital is not on the regular tourist beat and one has to follow certain procedures for entry. Fortunately, my host, the son of a retired General and a senior employee of the Asian Development Bank, ensured all hurdles were overcome expeditiously.

As an ex-serviceman, I was impressed with the War Memorial built by the Americans. Architecturally simple in design, the walls had names of all the American and Filipino soldiers who gave their lives in defence of the country against the Japanese in World War II. Enlarged wall charts showing the extent of Japanese conquests in South East Asia and the Pacific regions and how they were recaptured in phases.

The other high point was my trip across Manila Bay to the fortress of Corrigedor. With air superiority, the Japanese had planned to capture this stronghold in 50 days. It took them five months. When its fall was imminent, the US President ordered General Douglas MacArthur to be evacuated despite the General’s reluctance to do so. There is a statue of MacArthur on the spot where he bid farewell to his troops with his famous words: “I shall return.”

Driving past the presidential palace and the Indian ambassador’s residence brought back memories of two incidents. The NDC delegation was to make an official call on the president. We had passed through two rings of security and were just about to enter his office when the security chief came up to me pointing to a smart Sikh Air Commodore. He wanted him remove his turban otherwise he would not be allowed in. My explanation seemed to have no effect. “He no go in,” the security chief kept repeating. “If he no go in, then all of us no go in,” I replied.

At that moment, the doors opened and the ADCs requested us to enter. We stood our ground. For the next few minutes, there was much coming and going of ADCs. Then to our pleasant surprise, the President came out, greeted us warmly and took us all inside. The First Lady, known for her large collection of shoes, joined us and we had a most lively discussion on the social problems of the country. Interestingly, the same Air Commodore would go on to become the Chief of our Air Force.