By Jose Manuel Montalvan +
(We are running an article written by Jose M. Montalvan on Aug. 28, 1955 about his younger brother Antonio, a Cagayanon who was decapitated by Japanese soldiers during the war because of his intelligence gathering work for the guerrilla movement. The article has never been published. We are printing this in the wake of the controversy over the proposal to rename Antonio Montalvan Street in honor of Iglesia ni Cristo founder Felix Manalo.)
TOMORROW, August 29th, is the day of the Decapitation of St. John the Baptist. Coincidentally, on that same day, eleven years ago, a group of prisoners were herded by the Japs from old Bilibid prisons and taken to the Chinese cemetery and there decapitated. Among the well known in that group of heroes were Ozamiz, Elizalde, Roces, Pirovano and others. Much has been written about their heroic deeds. Much has been said about the tortures they suffered at Fort Santiago where they were imprisoned for months before they were transferred to old Bilibid prisons. Yet, little is now known about the heroic deeds of a man in that group whose name––in the words of Commander Charles Parsons, USNR––“should be engraved in the annals of Philippine History among those of other Filipino heroes developed during this war”. So little is known about his heroic deeds that in his own home town, Cagayan de Oro City, Mindanao, he is one of the forgotten. He is none other than the late Captain Antonio J. Montalvan who, with the members of the Manila underground unit, was also beheaded by the Japs on the dawn of August 29, 1944, and died a martyr to the cause.
Being a reserve officer in the P.A. Medical Corps, Capt. Montalvan who was then a 1st Lieutenant, was called to active duty at the outbreak of World War II and was assigned to one of the units of the USAFFE 81st Division in Iligan, Lanao. When the USAFFE in Mindanao surrendered he preferred not to be taken prisoner and took a banca to Oroquieta, Misamis Occidental. In October 1942 Col. Fertig went to Misamis Occidental to organize the guerrilla forces there and Capt. Montalvan was among the first officers who joined the unit. Sometime in November, 1942 Commander “Chick” Parsons came to Mindanao in a submarine from Gen. MacArthur’s Headquarters. He was on a special mission to contact Gen. Roxas who was then in Manila, to send agents to Manila to gather Military information concerning the enemy, to maintain contact among guerrilla units in Luzon, and to establish radio stations in some important points. For the mission of making the trip to Manila, Commander Parsons picked Capt. Montalvan. He left Misamis Occidental by sailboat to Manila via Tayabas in November 1942. He also had instructions to contact certain prisoners of war and civilian internees to gather any military information of value and to arrange for future contacts. As before the war he was the President, Sanitary Division at Iligan, Lanao, in Manila he posed as an employee of the Bureau of Health and was accepted by the Japs, allowed to visit Santo Tomas and to interview some Jap civilian engineers sent to the Philippines to supervise the construction of Maria Cristina Falls hydro electric project in Lanao. From them he was able to obtain some local information and also that of the conditions in Japan. He returned to Fertigs headquarters in Misamis Occidental in December 1942 bringing with him some military information obtained in Manila. Such information was transmitted by radio to Headquarters, SWPA.
In March 1943, notwithstanding increasing danger, he again left Fertig’s headquarters in Misamis Occidental for Manila, to establish an intelligence net under the control of Commander Persons. Up to that time Misamis Occidental was unoccupied by the enemy. The trip was successful inspite of the increased hazards of passing through enemy patrolled waters and of facing collaborators in Manila who were beginning to suspect his movements. This time he posed as a peddler and engaged in buying and selling cloths. He was able to contact Gen. Roxas, Ozamiz and other members of the underground units in Manila. He entered Santo Tomas and gave medicines, cigarettes and good tidings to some internees there. He also succeeded in delivering letters from Pres. Quezon to prominent persons in Manila. The mission was accomplished and he returned to Mindanao with Senator Ozamiz who was then designated to head the attempted coup to take certain prominent Filipinos, including Gen. Roxas, out of the Philippines by submarine. His excellent work was the subject of a long radio report from Col. Fertig to Headquarters, SWPA.
In December 1943, he was again sent to Manila (his 3rd trip) with the same special mission of obtaining information concerning the enemy. He carried codes and instructions to certain radio stations established in Luzon. In his sailboat he also took with him two radio operators with their equipment and ammunitions with instructions to take them somewhere in Bondoc Peninsula.
During his missions to Luzon he made Tayabas his stopping place from where he used to make trips to different points. Near Tayabas, during the month of February 1944, he contacted Col. Bernard L. Anderson, Commanding Officer of USAFFE guerrilla unit, to whom he delivered messages, a supply of medicines and some propaganda materials. There he also contacted other guerrilla leaders.
Sometime in April 1944, while preparing to return to Fertig’s headquarters and while waiting for Capt. Pettit and Lt. Schafer of Col. Anderson’s unit who were to go with him to Mindanao, he was captured by the Japs in Tayabas and take to Ft. Santiago. In June 1944, with the group he was transferred to Bilibid prisons where they were tried and sentenced to be executed. In the trial it was brought out that he was the Liaison Officer between Parsons and Fertig in Mindanao and the underground intelligence unit in Manila to which Roxas, Elizalde, Ozamiz, Roces, Pirovano and others belonged.
Of him the following persons have these to say:
“Captain Montalvan made several trips from Mindanao to Luzon during the enemy occupation of the Islands. He was a brave and outstanding soldier and performed his missions with utter disregard for his own life. Captain Montalvan’s untiring efforts contributed materially to the success of operations in the Philippine Islands.” – Bernard L. Anderson, Lt. Col., Inf.
“His services, of which I have personal and intimate knowledge, were performed fearlessly, with a marked degree of patriotism and with utter disregard for his personal safety.
“His intrepidity and constant risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, brought success to several important missions before resulting in the loss of his own life.” – C. Parsons, Commder, SNR
“I have read the statement of Commander Parsons, dated September 22, 1945, and wish to confirm every fact stated therein relating to the activities of Captain Antonio J. Montalvan, M.C., Philippine Army.
“I desire to certify further that, having personal knowledge of the facts as thus stated by Commander Parsons, I believe that the services of Captain Montalvan merit formal recognition by the authorities concerned.”––Manuel Roxas.
As a recognition of his services performed above and beyond the call of duty and for his patriotism and outstanding courage in the face of his hazardous assignments which contributed to the success of his important missions, he was given the posthumous awards of the Distinguished Service Star and the Distinguished Conduct Star by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The Defenders of Bataan also gave him the posthumous award of a Merit Certificate. In the City of Manila a memorial was erected in honor of the group of which he was a member. In that memorial their remains rest, marked with this epitaph:
“To the Memory of those brave Filipino men and women who, undefeated in defeat, carried on the fight after the fall of Bataan. To those who while not bearing arms, organized, supplied, and furnished valuable information to the resistance and liberation forces, and who in doing so laid down their lives so that we who are standing here today might live.
“This memorial is dedicated in particular to those herein named who on the morning of August 29, 1944 executed by the Imperial Japanese Army for their fearlessness, invincivility, and extraordinary valor. It is dedicated in general to all the known and unknown heroes of all resistance movements all over the world who fell in the struggle for liberty when the fight seemed hopeless and the night was darkest.
Did Captain Antonio J. Montalvan die a hero? Strangely enough, in the City of Cagayan de Oro, one or two of those concerned allegedly answered “no”. But why? Not long ago, the City Mayor constituted a committee to draft a list of local heroes whose names are to be engraved on a memorial which the City intends to erect in their honor. It was allegedly reported that the name of Capt. Montalvan was purposely omitted on objections or suggestions of a ranking member of said committee and one or two members of the City Municipal Board for the alleged reason that he was executed by the Japs for his “blackmarket” activities and not on account of his intelligence work with the underground units. What an injustice, indeed! Was there a man from Misamis Oriental in general and Cagayan de Oro City in particular, who gave so much for the cause during World War II? The official records of his war activities speak well for him. So, here is a hero, unsung in his own native town!