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For Dr. Higinio A. Mendoza, to die for his country is something that one should be proud of.
He chose to face death rather than betray his country and his people. Before he died, he left these words to his family and fellowmen: “Do not be afraid, don’t be sad. Not many are given the privilege to die for his country.”
His name is famous until today. Even the younger generations heard Mendoza almost everyday, especially for multicab drivers and commuters en route to the city’s plaza. His memory is immortalized in the place where his remains were entombed, in the city’s main plaza, the Mendoza Park. The provincial headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Barangay Tiniguiban is also named before him.
He is a medical doctor by profession, served as the Governor of Palawan from 1931 until 1938. He earned his higher studies in Manila and in the United States of America (USA), where he studied medicine and afterwards work there.
He was also known as a leader who led the move to pass a Provincial Board resolution expressing Palawan’s desire to be annexed to the United States of America as one of its States.
When then Interior Secretary Elpedio Quirino visited Puerto Princesa, Governor Mendoza delivered a speech in which he said that Palawan was abandoned and neglected by the then Commonwealth Government of the Philippines in Manila because it was a poor province with insufficient number of voters. He was vocal in criticizing the national authorities back then whom he said, neglected their needs such as ports, hospitals, roads, schools and public works.
Higinio was elected governor in 1931, winning by a landslide, was reelected in 1934. He ran for the third time, however, he lost the reelection bid when voters from Cuyo and the rest of the Calamianes Islands voted for his opponent. It was a consequence of his decision to transfer Palawan High School from Cuyo to mainland Palawan. Higinio was firm to his belief, that the only provincial high school should be in the mainland to make it more accessible by many young people.
After serving as governor of Palawan, he went on private medical practice. He continued to give free medical services and medicines to the poor and the needy.
Now on private medical practice, he continued to serve the needy, giving free medical services and medicines to his constituents. He underwent further training as a medical and reserve officer in the Philippine Army Medical Corps. During that time, war was brewing and the brave man that he was, already anticipated what was going to be the worst scenario: Fight the enemy to the end. With that, he organized the first guerrilla force in Palawan.
During World War II, people would often gather in front of Higinio’s house everyday. He is confident that resisting the enemy would be the best thing to do and he hoped that one day, the United States of America would liberate our country very soon.
Before the Japanese invasion in Puerto Princesa, he made sure that all the inhabitants already left town, including his family, whom he relocated to barrio Babuyan. When the Japanese came, he was the last to leave.
Before the mass evacuation, Higinio attended a meeting organized by then Governor Gaudencio Abordo. With provincial officials and leading citizens attending, and him dominating that meeting, everyone unanimously voted for a “Free Palawan Government”, a de facto form of governance by Palaweños at some safe place in the forested areas in the northern part of the island. This made Palawan as one of only three provinces in the country to establish a free government, with its own currency.
Higinio’s guerrilla unit was designated as Company A of Palawan Special Battalion. Its main role was to ambush Japanese patrols as an offensive and defensive force, focusing on jungle warfare.
His movement eventually grew in number and continuously expanding, threatening local collaborators, who appealed to the Japanese to hunt him.
Sadly, one of Higinio’s soldier was captured by the Japanese soldiers. Higinio’s men himself was the enemy’s guide that resulted to his capture in his hiding place in Sitio Jolo, Tinitian, in Roxas town.
Despite being in Japanese captivity, Higinio was allowed to make a speech in public. In one of those instances, he said: “It’s good that they chanced upon me in the house with my family. Had I been in the camp with my soldiers, there would be much bloodshed and I would never surrender,” an article of Business Mirror quoted the late governor, Dr. Higinio Mendoza.
In the fateful day of January 24, 1944, Higinio was executed in Canigaran, Puerto Princesa upon orders of Japanese officials.
It was only in 1947 that a group of civilians found his remains but his skull was not in the grave. They are now buried in a memorial marker at Mendoza Park.
Higinio would have escaped death had he accepted allegiance to the Japanese flag. But he refused not to serve in the Japanese government. Because for him, loyalty to his country and to his people is more upright, and should be his paramount consideration. He willingly offered his life for the people of Palawan and for his country.