Few Kagay-anons today are aware that the first camp commander of the Philippine Army’s biggest military camp in Mindanao was a Lumad (native Kagay-anon).
Major Jose Manuel Corrales Montalvan was initially assigned as Cadre Commander of the 2nd Misamis Oriental (Machine Gun) Cadre at Camp Bulua (present day Camp Edilberto Evangelista) in Cagayan, a post he served in from January 1-Dec. 31, 1939.
When the camp was renamed Camp Evangelista, then 1st Lt. Montalvan was appointed its Camp Commander and Mobilization Center Officer on January 1, 1940, a post he served up to the outbreak of World War II.
Dr. Montalvan, who was also known as Ñor Peping, was born on March 17, 1903 in present day Cagayan de Oro (then known as Cagayan de Misamis, capital town of the Segundo Distrito de Misamis, and later as Misamis, Cagayan under the American regime) to Jose Gabriel Montalvan, a retired Spanish soldier from Belmonte, Cuenca, Spain who was assigned by the Spanish government to the Philippines and Concepcion Corrales y Roa of Cagayan de Misamis.
In 1927, he was graduated with honors (3rd highest) from the Philippine Dental College, Manila with a degree of Doctor in Dental Surgery (DDS).
Upon his return to his hometown in 1928, he practiced dentistry and became one of the first teachers of the Ateneo de Cagayan (present day Xavier University) and was its Commandant of the Corps of Cadets.
Dr. Montalvan was commissioned a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1928, was trained and successfully completed the U.S. Army Extension Courses. From 1933 to 1937 he was the instructor for Military Science and Tactics at the Ateneo de Cagayan.
However, the lure of a full-time career in the newly formed Philippine Army proved irresistible and he resigned from the U.S. Army Reserve and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant, Infantry Reserve, of the Philippine Army on July 16, 1936. He was called to active duty training at Camp Murphy Training School for Reserve Officers (Infantry), assigned as Company Commander of the training officers company, and graduated No. 5 with a general average of 90.7% in 1938.
While assigned as the first camp commander of Camp Evangelista, he graduated from the School of Military Law and Courts-Martial Procedure, Camp Keithley, Lanao in 1940.
Upon his induction into the U.S. Army Forces – Far East (USAFFE) on September 6, 1941, he was appointed Division Finance Officer and Division Quartermaster of the USAFEE’s 102nd Division.
Later, he was appointed Division Inspector General, 102nd Division, USAFFE, with Headquarters at Tankulan, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon then promoted to Captain, Infantry, in April, 1942.
Following the surrender of the USAFFE forces in Mindanao under Gen. William Sharp to the Japanese Imperial Army on May 10, 1942, Dr. Montalvan was taken as a prisoner-of-war (POW) by the Japanese and detained at the Ateneo de Cagayan campus which had been converted into a POW Camp.
“During his captivity he developed polyneuritis, which caused his leg to become shorter, as a result of the hard labor he underwent in prison when he and others would carry sacks of potatoes and coffee under the rain, soaking their only clothing in their bodies,” recalls his daughter Annabel Montalvan Corrales.
“One night after such experience his whole body became numb and his leg started to give him extreme pain. The doctors at that time did not know what it was but was later diagnosed as polyneuritis.”
However, he successfully escaped and joined his family in Talakag, Bukidnon. He walked for days to Talakag, away from the road, because the Japanese were looking for him. Again, the rains came and soaked his clothes. When he got to Talakag he had very high fever and the polyneuritis he contracted became worse.
He then proceeded to Misamis Occidental to join the guerrillas of Col. Wendell Fertig, commander of the United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP) in Mindanao, which was made up of escaped prisoners-of-war and Filipino and American soldiers and civilians who refused to surrender to the Japanese.
Between 1942 and 1944, USFIP forces raided Japanese occupation forces in Mindanao and provided valuable intelligence to the Allied forces.
For his military service before and during World War II, Dr. Montalvan received the following awards and decorations: Philippine Defense Medal; American Defense Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal; Philippine Republic Unit Citation Badge and the U.S. Distinguished Unit Badge.
Following his polyneuritis, Dr. Montalvan reverted to inactive status on July 11, 1946 and was promoted to the rank of Major, Infantry Reserve in January 20, 1950.
“He suffered so much under the hands of the Japanese and often got slapped for no reason,” Ms. Montalvan said. “Many years later, that Japanese that put him under hard labor came back to Cagayan de Oro to apologize to him and to others he tortured. And my dad readily accepted his apology!”
He resumed his duties as a professor of Spanish at the Ateneo in 1949 and took up law at the Cagayan Law School of the Ateneo, graduating with a degree of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) in 1953, passed the Bar exams and was admitted to the Bar in June 1954 and established a law practice.
He married the former Mercedes Acero Roa of Cagayan de Oro City and with whom he had six children: Marrieta, Daisy, Annabel, Eduardo, Consuelo and Antonio.
Dr. Montalvan passed away on September 21, 1978, his patriotism and service to the country and military apparently forgotten by the new generation of Kagay-anons.
To rectify this situation, Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez (2nd District, Cagayan de Oro) and Rep. Maximo B. Rodriguez, Jr. (Abante Mindanao- Party List) filed House Bill 4735 with the 15th Congress during its first regular session seeking to rename Camp Edilberto Evangelista to “Camp Jose Montalvan in honor of a Kagay-anon and Mindanaoan war hero who fought against the Japanese to protect the freedom of the Philippines."
Camp Edilberto Evangelista in Barangay Patag, Cagayan de Oro City, is the largest military camp in Mindanao with an area of 129 hectares. It is the home base to the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division and covers the Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions.
The explanatory note to the HB 4735 reads in part: “It is readily apparent that Major Montalvan is a war hero who fought against the Japanese in order to ensure that the Philippines retain its independence. He gave up the best years of his life to fight for our country. It is therefore appropriate that he be honored by renaming Camp Evangelista into Camp Jose Montalvan, in honor of a Kagay-anon who risked his life for our country.”
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