Visiting Palawan Special Battalion WWII Museum, Plaza Cartel, and a whole lot more
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On the first day of our Puerto Princesa Heritage Tour, I, along with other travel writers, visited Iwahig Penal Colony and watched the fireflies light up Iwahig River like the stars on the night sky. On the morning of the second day of our tour, I just rested in Canvas Boutique Hotel. Our tour for the second day was to start on the late afternoon, so I spent most of my morning chatting with my travel buddies about the previous day’s tour, and looking back at the pictures I took.
Before lunch time, we gathered in the lobby to leave for Microtel by Wyndham Puerto Princesa, where we had our lunch. Microtel was a beautiful beach front resort. It had a peaceful, sea-side location that overlooked the white sand Emerald Beach.
The restaurant was located beside the hotel’s pool which made everything about our alfresco lunch more refreshing. They served us classic Filipino dishes.
Our appetites were boosted by the local kinilaw, which is, contrary to common belief, not passed to us by the Spaniards. Kinilaw has been served on the Filipino dining tables even before the colonizers came.
For our main dish, we had their special Sweet and Sour Prawns—beautifully deep fried deveined prawns in sweet and sour sauce. We also had Sinigang na Bulalo for our main dish. It was bulalo with a sour broth akin to sinigang, a twist in the classic bowl of cow bone broth that I particularly found interesting.
Grilled Squid was also one of our main dishes. The squids were grilled to perfection—they weren’t overcooked, so they weren’t chewy, and the fresh onions, cucumber and tomatoes garnish was a perfect combination for the smoky flavor of the seafood.
The restaurant’s uniquely cooked Chicken Adobo was also served to us. Unlike your typical plate of adobo, the restaurant’s version involved removing the skin of the chicken and rolling it with the bone at the center.
To end our lunch time meal, we had some fresh mangoes and very red slices of watermelon for dessert. We chit chatted for a while before going back to our hotel.
Later that afternoon, we prepared for our late afternoon tour. At exactly 4 o’clock, we left the hotel for our first stop for the day—Plaza Cuartel. Plaza Cuartel is located in Taft Street. The plaza is a peaceful area that overlooks the blue Palawan Sea at one side, and that is covered by trees and a well-maintained landscaped garden in the other side. Aside from aesthetic appeal, however, Plaza Cuartel has a deep, historical significance. The plaza was an old WWII garrison where 143 American prisoners of war were burned to ashes. Located around the plaza are tarpaulin stands that told us more details about the Plaza, including some old photos and other historical details.
Across Plaza Cuartel is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral—a Gothic style blue church built on an area that is believed to be the place where the first mass in Puerto Princesa was held. Walking around the area, despite being a tourist, gave me a sense of its significance. The building looked relatively new and younger than most buildings built during the 1900s, but I felt the antique elegance of the structure.
Our next stop was another historical landmark, Plaza Eulalia, a plaza named after a Princess Eulalia. The pre-colonial Philippines’ form of government, I recalled, comprised of classes and the Plaza was named after the daughter of the Queen during that time.
Nearby was the Governor’s Residence. We were not able to visit the residence since it was not maintained, but our tour guide told us that the authorities had plans of rehabilitating the place. Our tour guide said that the Governor’s Residence would be transformed into a museum or an events hall sometime in the near future, since it is a tourist attraction and at the same time historically significant as well.
Our final stop—and might I add the highlight—for the day was at the Palawan Special Battalion WWII Memorial Museum. The museum is privately owned and maintained by Higinio Buddy Mendoza, whose guerilla father was killed by the Japanese forces during the Second World War. Mendoza, with his deeply rooted connection with the war during 1940s, had a lot of interesting war artifacts kept in the museum.
One of the artifacts I found really interesting in the museum was an old typewriter that was used by General Douglas McArthur. The machine was obviously aged, but the way the museum preserved the artifact was simply amazing. I was almost able to see the little memories contained in each row of the old typewriter’s rusty keys.
Collection of artifacts in the museum included a WWII vehicle, a wide collection of vintage guns and ammunitions, original and replicas of military uniforms of WWII veterans from various countries, and those famous paper bills during the Japanese Occupation, the “mickey mouse” money.
At one corner of the museum was a list of the names of the 1,000 Palawan guerilla fighters that belonged to the Special Battalion. The Special Battalion fought against the Japanese soldiers during the 1940s, which I assumed Mendoza’s father belonged to as well. I stood in silence in that corner for a while and inhaled the aura of that old, undying sense of nationalism.
I looked one last time at the walls of the museum before leaving. The walls are simple and old, but they were proud and meaningful. I left the museum with a deeper appreciation of the Filipino guerillas who fought for our freedom.
It was almost dinnertime when finished our second tour day, so we unanimously agreed to have dinner right away. We headed to Le Terrasse Restaurant for dinner.
Many thanks to Palawan Tourism Council, USAID, Rajah Travel, Provincial and Puerto Princesa City tourism offices, Canvas Boutique Hotel and Philippines AirAsia for making this trip possible.
For inquiries about Puerto Princesa City Heritage Tour Package, you may contact them via email: [email protected] or call them at (632) 894-0886 local 1504. Visit their website at www.palawanliberation.com or follow them on facebook www.facebook.com/palawanliberation.
To encourage tourists to visit Puerto Princesa City, Philippines AirAsia flies 5x daily from Manila with promotional fares now available via www.airasia.com. Fly-thru service from Kalibo to Puerto Princesa is also available with seamless connection via Manila.