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My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 11

The Surrender

An Appeal to Surrender

After an absence of two months, the Reconnaissance plane came back. It kept flying over the the river (which I learned much later as the Umayam River) observing whether there were still enemies in this mountain part. This time, it was not flying low. Perhaps, there was nothing significant to report to the air force which was worth bombing at. Yet, in its third return along the river ways, we kept observing it. We expected that sooner the pursuit and bomber planes might come for its second bombing expedition. However, no other plane came.

We cautiously hid under the big trees, though. As the plane dived and flew lower, leaflets were dropped. We did not pick them up immediately but we waited till the plane proceeded the upper river area.

The leaflets contained information and invitation for the Japanese and all of us to surrender. The leaflets informed that Japan had surrendered formally last September 2, 1945. The Surrender Agreement for the cessation of war between Japan and United States was signed by the Japanese Foreign Minister Shigematsu Namoru aboard the Battleship US/S Missouri. This was accepted by the General of the Army Douglas McArthur. That the campaign for the liberation of the Philippines ended last July 5, 1945.

The leaflets exhorted and appealed to the soldiers who were still in the mountains to come out. The information further stated that the surrenderees could go to Sagonto, a barrio along the Agusan River of Agusan Province. Surrenderees would be treated according to the International Treaty of War Prisoners.

The Jap Lieutenant informed us of their desire to surrender. They wanted us to join them. They all agreed to put down their arms. They already made attempts to give up previously, but they were repulsed by the guerillas. Plans were made whether to travel by land or by the water. All agreed that it was a little bit safer for water travel than on land. Water travel was faster, too.

Our estimated stay in the mountain was already seven months from the time we left Malaybalay on April 18, 1945. The leaflet was dated November 12, 1945.

Since we were already in the Province of Agusan we made a final decision to surrender in its capital town, Butuan. Butuan is in the mouth of the Agusan River. All small rivers merged in this main Agusan River. It was easy to locate. But the information about Sagonto, as the surrendering place was hard to find, as it was not along the main river.

We believed that presently, the settlements along the rivers, either the subsidiaries or main were already abandoned. People evacuated far from these settlements due to the possibilities of Jap soldiers passing by and disturbing their peaceful existence. If we took the bamboo rafts downstream, we may be noticed, but in minutes, we would already be far from them. We could also travel during nighttime, if it was dangerous to do it during daytime.

The decision to use bamboo rafts (gakit) for our means of water transportation was agreed. In the place where we stayed, were numerous bamboo groves of different sizes. There was the biggest bamboo specie called “bontong”, that could be used for house construction. This could also be used for posts and the other main parts of a house. On other hand, the smaller ones, the “kawayan” could be used for flooring, walling and other smaller parts of a structure. These could also be used as water containers. The smallest kind, the slender or oblong ones called the “lakap” also abound.

While the adults were planning the construction of the bamboo raft, Filipinas and I, being the youngest in the group shared a common feeling. We were thrilled with the thought of the coming water or river cruise. We were still in one of the big subsidiary rivers, how much bigger would be the main river? I was already imagining the river cruise in a bamboo raft. In my mind, I imagined how it would be like going up and down the rapids. This means travel was safer and not so tiresome compared with the previous hiking in the many months before we came to this area. More so, there was less danger from all kinds of enemies that lurked in every place of the dry land - the hills, valleys and riversides. Human beings with bad intentions were always on the warpath for those they could victimize.

The Bamboo Rafts

We began to search for bontong bamboo that were matured but lighter and good for rafting. This was for the first layer. The kawayan was for the second and third layer of the bamboo rafts.

We made one bamboo raft out of two bamboo piles. Since we were only four riders plus our food supply, it was lighter for this travel. It meant that its floating capability was manageable. Small rafts could be easily maneuvered. The width was three meters and the length was eight meters. This raft could accommodate at least ten persons. Sturdy woods were pierced between the bamboo trunk sides and in the rear side to make it strong. Then in every meter and a half of the raft another hardwood clamp was placed to bind them together with the strongest vines and rattans. It had to be a very strong raft for we did not know the river conditions yet. There was a possibility that we may pass a very strong rapid that would dash us to the river cliffs or the numerous big rocks. The Japanese soldiers had experienced the strength and turbulence of the rapids, causing them to be washed ashore to our present place. We finished making our bamboo raft in fifteen days.

The Japanese built two rafts of equal dimension, size, and length as ours. Then, sturdy bamboo poles were chosen to steer our rafts.

At the embarkation day, all things necessary for our water travel were placed securely on the raft's platform. The food we prepared for this travel was a sackful of roasted corn. It was an instant food for any kind of weather. It did not easily spoil and did not need any re-cooking. Though, we could cook in the raft, we avoided it. Smoke and the brightness of the fire could invite the attention of people that we might pass by, especially the “enemies.”

Rafting to Surrender

We left the settlement that became our temporary home (which I learned later as Walo) and the promontory where food was in abundance with mixed-emotions: painful, horrible and joyful remembrances; the place where we had eaten continuously good food and viand, the kindness of the Japanese soldiers who brought us here and allowed us to co-exist with them in a true measure of Christian love; the arrival of exhausted sick and dying river victims who were cared by us without expecting any reward; witnessing men who died in our presence: and, witnessing the suffering of the dying due to exhaustion, hunger and sickness. Though I tried hard to forget the acts of cannibalism and assassination, they followed me even in my sleep. The promised scholarship of my Japanese friend which could no longer be true made me cry. The camote and salt tragedies; the stupidity of bombing only a squad of Japanese soldiers and five civilians, thereby causing one civilian woman's death, and Ma Biang's battle to survive bomb shrapnel wounds without proper medical attention and the discovery of an effective medicinal herb that we named makauli, were too hard to erase from my mind.

It was on a cold and foggy dawn that we made our last glimpse of the place. “Good-bye Walo, we wouldn't forget you.” The four of us had misty eyes as we rode on to our new but still unnamed home on a raft river cruise.

Manong told me to be the front controller of the raft. My main duty was to see to it that the raft would not bump into the sides of the river, rocks, tree stumps and other obstacles in the river. He would be at the rear to pilot it. We had strong bamboo poles for proper guiding of the raft. We had a smooth travel so that I was able to conjure some thoughts on love. I believed that LOVE was with us on our journey to freedom and later to our beloved home. The presence of the enemy with us all the more convinced me that the spirit of love was with us. The thought inspired me to be a good raft controller. I prayed to the Greatest Navigator for a safe travel. I prayed as I have never prayed before. Much more because we did not have any idea of the river situation and we were inexperienced rafters. Suppose there was a waterfall? A whirlpool? Or very strong rapids? “Greatest Navigator, help us!”

The platform was slightly roofed against sun and rain with large banana leaves. Here Ma Biang and Filipinas stayed. They were in the elevated portion so they could easily be recognized as civilians.

Although we were neophytes in our new role as front controller and Manong as rear pilot, we had to dare and assume the jobs. There was no more turning back. This was another challenge of our lives. To us, we were alive till now because we were men who dared the unknown. We dared to solve the problems of life as it came with proper use of the intellect, will and courage. So, we had to do our jobs to have a safe aqua travel. Its now or never. My new assumed role reminded me of the motto. “If at first you don't succeed, try and try again.”

On we went a-floating! We were at the rear of the three bamboo rafts. The two rafts of the Japanese led the way. I thanked them for being the lead rafters. I had to carefully watch them. Here we went…rafting to surrender into the uncharted river… the first step of returning to our land of happiness.

It thrilled me, white floating to see and observe:

the flora which was so beautifully, naturally and artistically arranged according to their colors and hues; the existence of the plants in their robust growth showed that there was an unseen hand that gave them the tender loving care;

the fauna like the deers, wild pigs, the monkeys and others, that silently appeared at the riverbanks and stealthily disappeared among the lush green shrubs and the brown trees;

the different kinds and sizes of bird of varied colors, sounds and calls that flew freely in the wide and open blue skies; some of them just ran, hopped and walked;

the caves in varied sizes and of different mouth formations which made them home for living creatures;

the beautiful natural spots, of waterfalls, whose unequal flow to the river basin below sent its mists, thus forming the unparalleled beauty of the merging of the primary colors of the rainbow;

Oh yes, as we beheld the waterfalls from above a great height, we were filled with awe for the falling waters which were like the silver hair strands of the enchantress of the mountains;

the huge rocks, the steep cliffs and the boulders that became a haven for rare birds, crawling animals as salamanders, lizards, snakes, etc.;

the ancient trees of different sizes and colors; some of which were fruit-bearing and most non-bearing but nevertheless contributed to the great panorama. All told the tale of the Great Creator's love of His creatures.

the river fishes and other river dwellers, as they frolicked, played and foraged their food in the food-abundant riverbed. How I envied them in their natural habitat. But what puzzled me was their way of existence. The bigger fish preyed on the smaller fishes. Yet, they still multiplied in number, even if they existed by preying on each other.

All these magnificent sights of Mother Nature stirred my greatest desire to look forward to the horizon, which was said to be our final destination. My eyes were always focused ahead to stir the raft to its right position as it was being carried by the river flow. Ecstatic thoughts were in my mind. We were on the road to physical recovery and liberation from the months of starvation. While steering the raft, my lips opened up with praises to God and I said aloud, “Lord God Almighty, let us win in our fight for survival. Let us not surrender to our weaknesses and to our present enemies. Take us to the Christian civilization.”

Suddenly, the two leading rafts of the Japanese soldiers head were drawn by the strong water whirlpool. They struggled to keep it away from the whirling waters. Perhaps, because of the length of the rafts, they were not drawn underneath, but the rafts were pulled to the side of the river cliff. In their struggle to avoid being destroyed, they went to a shallow part. Manong and I avoided the passage they took and went closer to the other side of the riverbank.

Manong and I shouted, “We are on the rapids. All hold tightly on the raft!” Everybody did as instructed. I tried my very best to steer the raft safely at the same time observing keenly the two rafts that were ahead of us.

One of the leading rafts hit the cliff side causing it to be out of balance. The riders were thrown to the water. They frantically clung to the raft. It was indeed a blessing that their raft did not overturn, although part of their raft was destroyed. They pulled the raft with all their might, to avoid being carried by the current until they arrived at a shallow part of the river. Not so far from their place was a very strong rapid which could be more damaging. Manong and I braced ourselves against the rapids. Our keen observation of the two rafts gave us the insight to steer our raft to a safer passage. I held the bamboo pole tightly and concentrated on what to do if we encountered a much swifter current of water. Manong always gave me instructions that I followed instinctively. I did some slight pushing of the cliff side, zigzagging along the protruding rocks and the uprooted trees and branches that got stuck among the big rocks. I learned to do strong pushes to avoid the swirling flow of the river.

The dangerous rapids seemed to lure our raft to surrender to their power. There was always the possibility that we would experience the fate of the lead rafts. In many instances, as the enigmatic river tried to carry us to its heaving bosom of disaster, we could only shout “Jesus, help us!” and made the Sign of the Cross. This was pleadingly said in an instinct to life preservation. I had the feeling that as we called for God's assistance, the good Lord helped me and He made my hands agile. The raft was now out of position because of the strong current.

There was always the danger of ramming the raft to the rocks and or being overturned in the raging water. The rapids might destroy the raft and throw all of us. We panicked terrible but then there was a blessing of calm in my mind and with Manong My hand moved with rapid dexterity in steering the side of our raft to safety. We maneuvered our raft against the extra ordinary power that we encountered with the rapids. When we thought of almost giving up, we found ourselves out of danger. We heaved a sigh of relief and felt the surge of life as we took deep breaths of fresh air. But rest for our wearied arms had to wait until we were completely out of the strong current.

We stopped by the side of the river. Ma Biang got some roasted corn for our snack. While chewing the already hard roasted corn, we happily expressed our grateful thoughts. We were spared from the fate of the first rafts. In my case, I was astonished to find the strength I had in navigating safely through that dangerous part of the river, in spite of my young age and frail body. We believed that we were protected while in the rapids by the Greatest Mariner. We called upon Him and He answered us.

After a brief respite, we continued with of our river voyage. There were still water threats which made us uncomfortable but not as nerve wrecking as the previous river rapid experience. The afternoon water travel fascinated me again. The color of the environment changed from the rising of the sun to its setting down. The phenomenon displayed in the sky was grand. As I looked up the mountains from where we came from, its view was now different. Dark clouds hovered above it. It was surrounded by mist. In another mountain view, the rain was falling. The river from where we left was now foggy. The mist also surrounded us but we rowed on.

Dusk came in our one-day river voyage. We found ourselves in the mouth of a very wide river. Manong said this must be the main Agusan River. He said that Agus is a Visayan term for flowing water and “Agusan” meant the river where all other rivers flow.

Agusan River was so muddy. It would always be muddy after the rains in the mountains. Brooks, streams, rivulets and rivers emptied their contents here and in union contributed their load to the Mindanao Sea. We disembarked at the river's crossing for the night's rest. There was no sign of any settlement. Our raft was tied to a trunk of a tree that had big drooping branches at the river. A crocodile was spotted. It dragged its heavy belly to the river and disappeared into the water. Agusan River then, was a crocodile-infested waterway.

After taking our roasted corn for supper, we securely anchored our raft. In case of a big flood we would not be easily carried down the river. We slept in the higher platform of the raft keeping precautions against crocodiles and other reptiles which may attack. The night was cold with buzzing big mosquitoes disturbing our sleep. The frogs too, kept croaking with the cicadas joining in their choral display of voices. The fog blanketed us in our nocturnal rest.

Dawn came. Living creatures began to move. Birds sang so loudly, maybe praising the Lord and greeting the golden sunrise. Due to the titillating and harmonious music heard by the riverside, the animals moved causing the rustling of the leaves. The surrounding rustling sound and brightness greeted us when We rubbed and opened wide our eyes to witness the opening of a new day in the tree-filled riverside. The fog slowly disappeared. Everything was bright and beautiful. We took our roasted corn for breakfast and drank water from the river. The raft was untied ready for the river odyssey once again.

The Civilians in a Banca

The river was getting wider and our raft drifting became slower. We hoped there would be no encounter with rapids anymore. As I gazed at where we were going, I noticed some trees. More trees were in the river. More streams emptied themselves here from a valley. As we continued rafting, the river was getting wider and deeper. The riversides had signs that in the past, there were people inhabiting the area.

We stirred our rafts to the shallow part of the riverside. It was an abandoned settlement with plenty of edible crops. We wanted to gather some food for our supply like bananas, root crops, and others. While gathering food, we kept ourselves on the alert, ever ready against human enemies. We also gathered some sugar canes. Having filled our stomach to the fullest, we resumed our water travel.

As usual, the Japanese soldiers' rafts were ahead of us. So far, there was no human encounter. But we still anticipated it. Since we had passed settlements, there could be settlers who might be gathering their food supplies, too.

“Oh! look, look, look! There is a banca ahead of us with maybe three persons in it. They seemed to be civilians!” I shouted in surprise, as I pointed to the direction. My companions and the soldiers ahead of us saw them too. At the wink of my eye, they disappeared from view.

The civilians had seen us. They saw the soldiers on the two rafts. We were sure that we would be reported by those people especially that they sighted us with the Japanese soldiers, rafting down river. We could be attacked by guerillas and other river settlers.

Manong signaled the leading two rafts to stop by the shallow riverbank. They stopped and we had lunch of fresh vegetables, raw sweet potatoes and bananas. We discussed how to be safer on our travel downriver. The presence of the civilians on the banca pre-empted the danger we would likely encounter.

Manong presented his plans: That we, the civilian raft would lead, the Japanese, follow at a good distance;

That we will let the women, sit on the platform dressed in any available bright colored garment during daytime, so they could be distinguished as civilian and women;

That, in any place, where there could be listeners, we should shout loudly and clearly, “On the way to surrender!” many times;

That in the rafts there should be a pennant or any symbol of surrender to be displayed; and,

That their firearms should only be near them to show that they were sincere in their desire to surrender.

This plan was agreed by all of the soldiers. The journey downstream was resumed after the short discussion. We were now the lead raft. In the afternoon, we did not notice anything unusual. It was agreed that we take the night rest in a riverbank which was deemed inaccessible to human beings.

Early in the morning, we resumed our trip. We were in a marshy place where land could be seen only from a distant. The plain, it seemed, was covered with water. It was a rainy season and there was flood. In a higher land area, we saw fire and smoke. It was a sign that there were residents. The flow of water here was very slow. We left the large watery area and were in a place where the water did not overflow the riverbank. There was land on both sides.

Upon our arrival in that area, we became acutely conscious of our surroundings. We started to use all senses to detect any slight sound and movement that may signal the presence of enemies. Our instincts and observations told us that there were persons behind the river bushes, under the trees and in the riverside sounds. They were peeping and observing us. The women showed themselves visibly. We shouted, “We are civilians! Japs on the way to surrender!” This announcement was made often in areas where we believed some men were watching us.

On the other hand, the Lieutenant and his soldiers had developed full trust and confidence that we would not betray them. Their firearms were filed in their platform. The riversides showed that we were in an active community. Edible plants were seen from afar. No people could be seen though, but we were sure that they were just nearby with their tools of defense ready, to be unleashed if we showed some antagonistic or defiant moves. We continued to shout our announcement to surrender.

As we proceeded on rafting, I looked up to God and said “Unto Thy hands, Oh Lord, we commend our spirits.”

It was noontime. Though we were used to eating our hard toasted corn, I did not have the appetite. We were feeling the anxiety, apprehension and fear. Any moment, the settlers who were disturbed by our presence might fire on us. We could be in a dangerous place where people hated the Japanese soldiers. Death could be certain. The women had to keep on standing to be very visible and a dirty white torn clothing placed in a pole to signify our intention to surrender.

Nothing happened that late afternoon. However, we saw men darting, crawling, kneeling and standing behind the trunk of trees. Perhaps, they were awaiting some orders to fire. Our shouts of “Civilians! Jap soldiers on the way to surrender!” were said clearly and loudly many times. It reverberated in that area. We shouted again and again while I closed my eyes expecting for bullets that may not miss me. “In you, Oh Lord! we entrust our fate.” In that area, we had our longest wait for the volley of death. We were already in the river bend, but not a gunfire was heard. The Good Lord spared our lives!

Continue to Part 12

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