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Battle of Palawan (21st Century Crisis)

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The Battle of Palawan
Part of: War in Mindanao and Sulu
XXX
Filipino constabularies in Palawan armed with Bolo machetes, guarding a coastal market against possible MFA fighters
Location Palawan Island, Balabac, Bataraza
Result Palawan Front
- Filipino victory
Bataraza Front
- Moro victory
Balabac Front
- stalemate
Belligerents
Ph mnlf-tripoli Republic of Mindanao
Late 19th Century Flag of Sulu Kingdom of Sulu
Flag of the Philippines Philippines
Commanders and leaders
Ph mnlf-tripoli Ahmad G. Piang
Ph mnlf-tripoli Salipada Pendatun
Ph mnlf-tripoli Ferdinand Abdul-Salazar
Late 19th Century Flag of Sulu Sultan Jainal Abirin
Flag of the Philippines Elpidio Quirino
Flag of the Philippines Antonio Torres
Flag of the Philippines Fernando López
Flag of the Philippines Lakandula Ruiz

The Battle of Palawan (Filipino: Laban sa Palawan, Spanish: Batalla de Palawan, Malay: Pertempuran Palawan) known as Operation Completion (Malay: Operasi Selesai) was fought between the de facto Republic of Mindanao and their ally, the Kingdom of Sulu, against the Philippines from September 4, 1955 to November 5, 1955 for control of the islands of Palawan, Balabac and Bataraza. It was the first and only overseas island offensive by the Mindanao Free Army, the armed-wing of the Republic of Mindanao, which had previously and recently gained many decisive victories against the poorly-led Filipino forces and had recently merged with the Royal Sulu Army.

The MFA set it sights on Manila, and Gumbay Piang wanted to invade Palawan and use it as a base to lead an attack on Manila and western Visayas. Successfully doing so would fully capitulate the Filipino forces and likely, force the Philippine government to grant Mindanao and Sulu its independence.

The Mindanao Free Army began by shelling the southern and eastern coastlines of Palawan, as well as attacking and raiding ships of ill-equipped Filipino naval forces around Palawan, and conducting raids against police stations and military bases in Palawan. Two more offensives were unleashed on the non-defended western and northern coasts. With such little resistance from poorly-equipped Filipino soldiers, which numbered few, Salahuddin expected Palawan to be taken within a month. The Mindanao Free Army had initially achieved Phase 1 of the invasion, which was to knock out outer defenses and resistance of Palawan.

Tired of their losses in Mindanao, the few Filipino forces as well as the Palawan Constabulary, that were present on the island, mounted a stubborn resistance, surprising the Mindanao Free Army as the two engaged in brutal house-to-house fighting, street-fighting, farm and forest warfare and even knife, machete and sword duels between the Kris-Kampilan Battalion of the Mindanao Free Army and the Bolo Battalion of the Filipino Armed Forces. Even with little ammunition or supplies left, Filipino soldiers fought using whatever they could, using non-conventional weapons and even tools, such as Bolo machetes, home-made spears and even chainsaws. This resistance was enough for reinforcments to arrive, and drive the MFA forces out of Palawan, turning the tides in their favor. Villagers, civilians and farmers also joined the effort, establishing armed civilian groups against the MFA who now had to rely on stubborn will to achieve their goal of taking Palawan against a superior force, failing to achieve Phase 2 of the operation.

In spite of this, the Filipino forces failed to take the islands of Bataraza and Balabac, both inhabited by Moros who supported the MFA, causing the Filipinos to retreat back mainland Palawan. 

The battle had done two things. For the Republic of Mindanao, it showed that they had underestimated the Filipino army. For the Philippines, it had boosted morale and helped Filipinos re-gain faith in their military. It is also regarded by military historians as having saved Manila and southern Luzon from an MFA attack.

Though despite losing, the Mindanao Free Army fought with a stubborn will, and inflicted large-scale and traumatizing damage and losses to the Filipino forces. both militarily and phsycologically. While acknowledging a possible defeat, Gumbay Piang, the President of Mindanao promised, "We may lose the battle in Palawan. The Filipinos may win, but we'll make sure they won't be able to celebrate their victory."

Both armies were initially shocked, as the Mindanao forces didn't expect such a valiant resistance from the Filipinos, and the Filipinos never expected the Mindanao Free Army to ever attempt an offensive outside of the island of Mindanao. It is considered one of the fiercest battles of the War in Mindanao and Sulu. 

The battle had also forced both armies to change their principles. The Mindanao Free Army, which had set it sights on the neighboring Sabah, a former British colony and future state of Malaysia, was forced to abandon its plans and shift all of its focus for local offensives. The Filipino Armed Forces had to place Manila on tighter hold, and enact curfews for many barangays and suburbs. 

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