NEGROS veterans of World War II usually commemorate the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Army in Negros on September 11 but this date is incorrect. The actual date of the surrender is August 30, 1945 at an “exclusive” ceremony in Hacienda Sta. Rosa in upper Murcia. I describe it as “exclusive” because only one Filipino guerrilla officer, Lt. Colonel Placido Ausejo who served in Oriental Negros, was allowed to participate in the formal surrender.
There was secrecy in this surrender at a far flung area because the Americans feared that Filipinos would attack the Japanese to extract revenge for the years of Japanese occupation that caused loss of lives and properties. Filipinos had plenty of reasons to harm their former occupiers.
Prior to surrender of Japan on August 14, Japanese stragglers who were caught by civilians were tortured and executed. The Americans wanted to prevent any incident since the war had already ended and there are civilized ways of making the guilty pay for their crimes. Of course, Filipinos who suffered or lost relatives and properties had also lost sense of civilized behavior.
When the main line of defense of the Japanese in Patag collapsed after relentless shelling and bombing by American artillery and aircraft, Lt. Gen. Takaishi Kono moved his forces farther deep into the forest to Sulfur Springs where artillery and bombers were less effective. The war had to be fought by the infantry. Sulfur Springs (one was large, the other small) are difficult to reach even today and the Tinagong Dagat provided the Japanese meager means of survival. However, food eventually ran out so that Kono sent out foraging parties to secure, at least salt needed to prevent dehydration.
Japanese and American notes that I was able to retrieve revealed that Filipinos would catch the Japanese and torture and kill them but Filipinos were also charitable that they shared their meager supply of salt to the enemy. Many of those in the foraging parties were not really Japanese but Chinese and Koreans and they were spared only when they were able to prove they were not Japanese. The Japanese had conscripted, mainly for labor purposes, Chinese and Koreans in their occupied area in China and in Korea. Some did not return to their units and were taken in by the Americans to whom the Filipinos turned them over.
The reports of these conscripts gave the Americans information of the state of the enemy. The Japanese were starving, the sick and wounded were left behind as the others moved into the jungle. Most of those who were too sick to move asked for bullet or grenade to commit suicide.
There were attempts to break out of the Silay and Marapara Mountains but a party sent out to look for the way was intercepted in Murcia and all were killed. The diary recovered from a dead officer provided further information of the enemy capability and attempt to break away.
The Japanese plan was to link up with the forces in Cuernos de Negros, west of Dumaguete. The units there, although under Cebu, also attempted to link with Kono but failed until the surrender and they went down to the city although their officers reported to Sta. Rosa for the ceremony.
After Japan sued for peace, Lt. Col. Joe S. Lawrie, commander of the 503rd Regimental Combat Team, received instructions to effect the surrender of the Japanese in Negros not later than September 3.
Lawrie called on the Japanese to send representatives to Bacolod to discuss the details for the surrender. He had dropped leaflets informing the Japanese of the Imperial edict. A staff officer of Kono reported to Lawrie and returned to Kono to relay the instructions of the surrender considering that the Japanese troops were spread out in the mountains. Two more meetings were held and finally the date and place were set – 9:00 o’clock, August 30 in Murcia.
Lawrie told his troops to be in their best uniform, that the ceremony was top secret and that machine guns should be brought to the scene to prevent Filipinos from coming close and taking revenge.
Kono and 1,400 soldiers surrendered that day. After he turned over his sword, he collapsed. He alone was tried as a war criminal and hung. Others surrendered in San Carlos, Sagay and Dumaguete. Over 7,350 Japanese died, 3,350 from starvation.