Remnants of World War II still live in historic Tacloban

By Nikka Garriga

TACLOBAN CITY, LEYTE--The province of Leyte boasts of a rich culture and history that traces its roots during the World War II under the Japanese invasion.

This island province is embedded in our history books, and even around the world, for two historic events: the arrival of General Douglas MacArthur in October 20, 1944 and the expansive Battle of Leyte Gulf against the Japanese Imperial forces.

Decades later, remnants of its historical past are still evident in some parts of the city. This is seen mostly in the old buildings and even houses that still stands, bearing in its structure the distinct architectural characteristics of the 1900s.

In fact, if you happen to be touring the city, Hotel Alejandro in P. Paterno Street is one landmark you cannot afford to miss.

The building was constructed in 1931 as the ancestral home of Dr. and Mrs. Alejandro Montejo and has since played host to social gatherings even before the War broke out.

It then served as an evacuation site for displaced families as well as those from neighboring towns affected by the waging conflict against the Japanese forces.

The residence was then turned to a hotel inspired by how its rooms its tenants, who occupied one room per family, managed to survive the battle.

In keeping with its enriched past, Hotel Alejandro dedicated a room full of pre and post war mementos displayed for the viewing public for free.

The story of how the collection was assembled by Alejandro “Alex” Montejo Jr., can be read in the exhibit’s entrance. It began initially as a photo exhibit intended for the Leyte Landing Golden Anniversary back in 1994.

“I went to radio stations appealing for support from the public who could lend me their photos with a promise to return them after. The outpour of public support inspired me more,” he said in the statement.

About 600 photos from the Pentagon were also added courtesy of then US Embassy Information Attache Frank Genista.

Some of the owners have donated their photographs while others no longer claimed them, prompting Montejo to display them in the hotel instead.

The exhibit now houses over 550 photographs which are also displayed in the walls in each of the lobby of this 5-storey-building. Each picture tells of a different tale--from the early years of Leyte, the onset of the Japanese occupation to the devastation brought about by the war.

“Liberation was 65 years ago as of this writing. As years go by, the era is kept alive down memory lane because of the photos. People of my generation are getting scarce and only a few can tell the experience of war, but these photos will,” Montejo says.

How the people of Leyte managed to come through to the flourishing province it is now is living proof of the Filipinos inherent resilience.

***

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