Perhaps you had never heard of Tacloban before last week’s monster typhoon pummeled the provincial capital in the central Philippines.
Yet it has a rich history that includes Ferdinand Magellan’s stop nearby in 1521 as his ship circumnavigated the globe, bringing with him Spaniards who would ultimately colonize and influence the Philippines for centuries.
U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur famously returned to the Philippines in World War II when he confidently strode ashore a beach near Tacloban in 1944. The statue honoring him survived the latest storm.
Tacloban was also the childhood home of Imelda Marcos, famous for her shoe fetish and as the wife of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Her nephew is currently the mayor of Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 that briefly served as the Philippine capital near the end of World War II.
The city’s airport, which has served as the hub for relief efforts so far, also has historical significance dating to the Japanese occupation during World War II. As The Wall Street Journal reported:
“Although the airport in Tacloban has been destroyed, the airfield, built up by Japanese forces, remained largely undamaged and has been key in allowing military aircraft to land supplies. More military forces are on the way to help with the typhoon relief effort, with the USS George Washington aircraft carrier on its way from Japan to offer support.”
Magellan’s Visit: The Portuguese explorer landed on Eastern Samar Island, just across the Gulf of Leyte from Tacloban, according to historical accounts.
Shortly after reaching the Philippines, Magellan was killed in a battle on nearby Mactan Island. A monument now marks the spot, though he is not fondly remembered by Filipinos, who see the explorer as heading the first wave of Europeans that led to centuries of Spanish colonial rule.
MacArthur’s Return: Japanese forces landed on Tacloban in 1942, leading MacArthur’s forces to withdraw from the Philippines and inspiring his most famous line: “I shall return.”
Sure enough, he came back on Oct. 20, 1944, at the nearby Red Beach as the Americans advanced and the Japanese retreated in what was to be the final year of the war. Tacloban then served as the capital of the Philippines for four months, from the day MacArthur returned until the end of February 1945.
To honor MacArthur, the Philippines built a 10-foot bronze statue of him. The monument also includes six others, including Filipinos, who were with him when he returned. MacArthur’s likeness and all the other statues survived Typhoon Haiyan except for one, which toppled face down in the ankle-deep water.
Imelda’s Hometown: Imelda Marcos grew up in Tacloban before she married Ferdinand Marcos, who served as president for more than two decades. Before his ouster in a popular 1986 revolution, he was known for his authoritarian manner and corrupt rule.
With her stylish appearance and extravagant lifestyle, the first lady often attracted as much, if not more attention than her husband. And she will forever be remembered for the nearly 3,000 pairs of shoes she left behind when she and her husband fled the Malacanang Palace in Manila.
During the Marcos rule, Tacloban benefited from a number of development projects. The first lady, who has waged a long-running battle with the government over the legitimacy of her financial assets, is now 84 and has been a member of the parliament for many years. Last month she filed papers to seek another term.