FAST BACKWARD: Lasang Lumber Dock

Fast Backward by Antonio V. Figueroa

As its name suggests, the lumber dock of Lasang, host to many historic events, was situated in Lasang, a barangay north of Davao City; it was owned by Lasang Lumber Company, a wood firm registered in the name of a Japanese civilian. 

It was through the facility that ammunition, hardware and enemy troops destined for Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol), an internment camp, were landed and transported. Supplies intended for the Lasang airfield nearby were also coursed through the dock.

Located close to the Lasang riverway, the dock, constructed from hardwood and concrete, was situated near an airfield and accessible by rough road and railway to the penal colony, just 17 miles (27.36 km) away.

There’s scanty detail that can be gleaned from records about the dock. As a lumber quay, it could have been used as hub for cut timbers, flitches, and sawn logs, and also for berthing and mooring of launches, the fastest and most preferred transport available for heavy commodities.

During the war, the dock became the arrival and departure of area for American prisoners of wars (POWs) detained at Dapecol. After Davao was bombed and taken over by the Japanese Imperial Army, ill-equipped dockworkers at the wharf, chiefly Filipinos, defended it against being used by the enemy. 

In ‘The Deserter’ (2016), J.P. Gonzales wrote that the stevedores fought alongside “with a few policemen and army regulars” in repulsing enemy incursions from the sea. Lanao-born Abu Benghalid, son of a Moro datu who was working in the dock as security guard, was one of those who secured the quay only to end up as a POW at the penal colony.

The dock is prominently included in wartime chronicles over a year after Davao City was bombed by Japanese planes on December 8, 1941. This was the time when POWs from Luzon internment camps were relocated due to congestion. 

John C. Shively, in ‘Profiles in Survival: The Experiences of American POWS in the Philippines During World War II,’ (2011), wrote: 

“At midmorning on November 7, 1942, the Erie Maru tied up at the Lasang Lumber Dock near Davao City on the southern coast of Mindanao. The prisoners had been at sea for eleven days. For them, it had been a pleasure cruise compared to the hell they had endured for five months at Cabanatuan. They did not know what was in store for them in the new camp, but some… now wondered if they should have taken over the ship when they had had the chance… His salvation in escape would now have to be made through the jungles and swamps of a wholly unknown and hostile island.”

Erie Maru was a decrepit hellship compared to a pigsty; it was one of the numerous floating coffins commissioned by the Japanese to deliver POWs to internment camps.

Maj. Jack Hawkins, one of ten prisoners who later escaped from the penal colony, recounted that upon reaching Lasang, some of them were shuttled on motorboats to the shoreline. 

A year before Davao City was liberated on May 5, 1945, the Lasang dock again entered the history books for its role in the hasty transfer of hungry, unkempt and emaciated POWs after the Filipino American guerrillas were about to liberate the prison camp.

After Dapecol was locked on June 6, 1944 as an incarceration camp, the Japanese authorities decided to move the POWs to Cebu so the guerrillas would not be able rescue them. With ten Americans and two Filipino convicts having successfully escaped already from the facility on April 4, 1943, the enemy forces wanted to use the inmates as shields.

Around 1,240 POWs, tied together, blindfolded, and forced to stand, were hauled to the Lasang dock, where they were loaded on the Yashu Maru, an old freighter converted into a prison ship, for their next destination. 

Sally Mott Freeman, in ‘The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family’s Quest to Bring Him Home,” (2017) poignantly wrote about the tragic event:

“Once on the docks, the men were ordered to sit in the hot sun for hours while the trucks left to collect the rest of the prisoners. Anchored out in the harbor was a single ship: a rusted freighter with Yashu Maru printed on its side… When the second group of prisoners arrived those that were removed from Davao in April to work on the field were not among them… In the peak afternoon heat, the prisoners were ferried out by launch to Yashu Maru, and the dreaded boarding begun.”

It will be an interesting narrative if we further research will provide us details on what happened to the historic dock after the war was over.