How Vigan was saved in the war (First part)

IT IS EASY to be swept up in the historical romance of this place while walking Crisologo Street and other nearby streets.

There is one particular romantic version of how Vigan survived the bombing during the Liberation period. This story was related by a German SVD priest, Fr. Joseph Klekamph, who served as procurator of the seminary during the Japanese occupation.

In those days, Father Klekamph became the adviser of Captain Fujiro Takahashi, the commanding officer of the Japanese Kempetai in Vigan. The Japanese officer was married to Adela Tolentino, a beautiful Ilocana lady whom he seems to have been very much in love with and by whom he had two daughters.

Perhaps it was due to Adela’s influence that Takahashi developed an interest in the Catholic faith and became close to Fr. Klekamph.

Furthermore, the priest had the Captain’s trust by virtue of his nationality (the Japanese and Germans were allies being Axis powers together with Italy) and Takahashi came to Fr. Klekamph with his problems, whether personal or pro-fessional. Unknown to Takahashi, the priest was a naturalized Filipino citizen.

In the final days of WWII, when the Japanese forces were retreating from Laoag passing through Bantay, Takahashi wanted to burn Vigan before leaving it but when he approached Fr. Klekamph with the idea, the priest advised against it.

Takahashi understood the concept of hellfire and eternal damnation which the priest used. The Japanese officer next proposed burning the houses of known supporters of the underground but again was warned of the consequences on his soul.

The priest likewise advised against the burning of the Kempetai headquarters (now CAP building) which the Japanese wanted to do to destroy important Japanese military documents and ammunition but was prevented from doing so using the same argument.

Pursuing his psychological advantage, Fr. Klekamph also managed to save the Filipino POWs still languishing in the Kempetai’s prison from execution by appealing to Takahashi’s sense of compassion. The priest persuaded Takahashi to leave the keys to the prison cells with the understanding that the prisoners would only be released after the Japanese had been gone from Vigan for several hours.

Late in the evening, the family of Takahashi were brought to the old seminary as previously arranged under the protection of Fr. Klekamph against possible acts of retribution from the guerillas.

As soon as Takahashi had left with all the remaining Japanese soldiers in Vigan to join his retreating comrades from Laoag, Fr. Klekamph immediately sent word of their departure to the Fil-American forces in Tangadan Ridge near San Quintin, Abra through a relay of runners.

(To be continued)