My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 13

Concentration Camp Life

The Tacloban Civilian Internment Camp

The trucks stopped in a place where there were bunkhouses, lined inside an area fenced by barbed and interlinked wires. The guards checked the truck and we were led to a bigger building. At the entrance was marked Tacloban Regional Civilian Internment Camp. The big building was the Civilian Internment Camp Administrator's Office. We were issued a form to fill out. It was an information sheet. After we filled it out, we were interviewed and asked of our relationships. Since Filipinas was just entrusted to us by the Japanese Kempetai, the interviewing personnel referred her to the Camp Administrator, a certain Mr. Salazar. We were informed later on, that Filipinas Reyes was under the custody of the Camp Commander. From that time on we had not seen this cute thirteen year old llocana beauty who had been with us.

The Administration assigned the three of us to a bunker house. Instructions were given to us regarding the proper upkeeping for good health and sanitation. We were informed that we were the last internees' entry from Northern Mindanao; that the internees had been there since the start of the Liberation and had not yet been released. They were waiting for the result of the Investigating Committee to verify if there was really a case of Japanese collaboration. They will be released if there was not enough evidence.

We believed that we were also detained because of the collaboration issue.

As I closed my eyes to sleep, the torturing questions kept popping up. “Is it not that we are looking and asking for freedom? Why are we interned from Misamis Oriental and now here in Tacloban, Leyte? What crime have you committed in this war, sixteen-year-old boy? What status have you obtained in this war, a Prisoner of War by the Japanese Army and now by the American Army? Would you be compensated for what you are doing and experiencing now?” I slept without any answers.

The camp residents here were all suspects as Japanese collaborators. Those proven were already taken to the jailhouse of their provinces. Those who were not proven guilty were released. The internees or residents came from the regions of Mindanao and the Visayas. At the start, I had a very hard time learning the dialects of Hilonggo, Waray, Boholanos, Bicolano, Samareno and the Tagalog. I am a Visayan and I realized how difficult it was for Filipinos to understand each other because of different dialects. We were about two hundred internees inside the CIC Camp.

The camp was strongly enclosed with barbed and interlinked wires of more or less twelve feet high. Numerous Watchtowers properly equipped with searchlights were put up. Guards took turns in watching us with ever-ready guns. Electric lights surrounded the area at nighttime. Our bunkhouse was built of strong materials and erected at a distance from the fence.

Inside the camp were communal toilets, bathrooms, laundry area, a big kitchen, a PX Center and a recreation building. In the wide-open space, game courts were erected, like basketball, baseball and volleyball. Other games that needed space were also provided. Usually, we played in the afternoon and weekends.

An area for gardening was assigned to a group for cultivation. Seedlings were provided by the administration. These made us use or spend our vacant time wisely. Cultivating, caring and watching the plants grow, enabled us to forget that we were prisoners. Our garden was located near the wire fence, under close surveillance.

We were grouped under a leader who assigned us tasks to be done in rotation. The assignment was done in a weekly basis. A group was assigned in the kitchen area to prepare food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another group was assigned to wash and clean the comfort rooms. A group also cleaned the administration building and yards. The building occupants had to always maintain the cleanliness of their area. A team of evaluators composed of the Camp Administrator's Office and area leaders inspected the health and sanitation, beautification of bedrooms, toilets, kitchen, bathrooms and laundry rooms monthly.

In the mess hall, we were taught to form one line. Each one took a mess kit, spoon and fork. Preparation and serving of rice, viands, fruits or salad were managed individually by kitchen helpers. We were served equally. Eating time was also a time for conversation with fellow internees. We started to do our individual assigned tasks after breakfast.

We used our vacant time to do our preferred hobbies. Each one had to have one hobby. I preferred to play or read. One could also visit and talk to a friend or make new friends. For me, making friends could develop closeness, companionship and familiarity with each other.

Times after supper were also learning times. One or two friends would meet in an open space under a building to talk or play cards. Each one of us shared the joys and pains we encountered in this just concluded American-Japanese war. We also narrated the lights and shadows we were experiencing in the camp. Emotions were very heavy. Older ones would sometime pause after a heart to heart talk with us, to stop themselves from crying. Yes, families. The family was always the cause for emotions to break. We always wondered and were worried about the situation of our families. Would his children recognize him when he returned home? How about his wife? How would his parents, friends and relatives regard him being incarcerated in the Tacloban Civilian Internment Camp as a prisoner? These questions asked by my fellow internees added to the many unanswered questions in my mind.

We dreamed, envisioned and hoped for an early release to lead a free life with our families and community. I found friends inside the camp like Felix Kaalim and Gregorio Dacaroon from Agusan, Cagayan. I also met unknown relatives from Bicol and Samar. I also made acquaintances with the people from Leyte, Samar, Iloilo and Bohol.

There was no boring evening for me. Friends and acquaintances would not tire seeing and conversing with us. We did not tire in recalling our fantastic, horrible and joyful war episodes. The younger ones loved to tell with nostalgia their “exploits” on serenading, courting, fiesta celebrations dance affair, first kiss, marriage proposals, marriage expenses and marital life with children. Our personal concern for our future made me determined to have a grand vision; to live a life beyond the ordinary; to pursue my education; and after my release here, I must be optimistic because life is what I make it. I must go on as long as I have life in spite of the haunting memories of the war. My life then in this camp should be lived in adherence to the rules and regulations set by the Camp Administrator.

Strengthening the Faith

I realized since I had participated in this war, that I should know more about GOD who brought me safely from the horrible faces of death in the mountains of Bukidnon and Agusan Provinces. Had I died, as many had died in the pathways, in the rivers, in the canyons and everywhere, I would have been in hell. But God allowed me to live that I might seek him. I was not certain but one thing was certain, a man must look for his Creator and strive to live with Him in heaven forever. Where and how could I find Him?

The Camp Administration had allowed evangelists of God to come and spread their beliefs. There was a freedom of religion. The religious tolerance gave us - the unbelievers, lukewarm Christians, non-Christians and strong believers in God the chance to practice the religion of our choice.

The Roman Catholic Church had a ten o'clock mass every Sunday morning. Different religious sects and denominations had also their services and school every Sunday morning, noon and even evenings. My curious and adventurous nature and thirst for knowledge led me to different religious sects. In joining their ways of worship, I found out that they have one common God. This common God is called and adored differently. Their practices differed. Others have long hours of service, while others have only almost two hours. My participation in the masses, church services, Sunday schools put me in a dilemma. I asked Him, “Which way or religion, Lord?” In my mind, God was telling me to just go, attend and participate in any religious faith. Surely, I would find the answer later.

My attendance to these services and Sunday schools eased my spiritual sufferings. My young mind slowly opened up to do some spiritual awakening not only of myself but also to those who were close to me. Listening to the sharing and testimonies about other people's lives during the services had awakened me to do something later in life for those who are unfortunate. In times of group gatherings, some of the faithfuls cried, shouted and talked aloud in quivering voices to praise and adore God. It seemed too, that my spirit was uplifted to the One God Almighty, God the Father, full of mercy. God, the Omnipotent and Ever Merciful.

Manong and Ma Biang also fully realized that there is God. One-God in three Divine Persons - The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. HE is a Living God, the God who gave us the will and intellect to choose between the good and the evil. HE does not interfere in whatever actions we take unless we call on Him for assistance and ask Him what we need. HE is a forgiving God, merciful Father.

It was in going to mass and attending Protestant services that I saw older people trying to make amends for the faults and sins they have committed against God and their neighbors. To my observation, three-fourths of the camp populace had found God in their hearts. They joined Sunday masses and other church services. They happily attended, participated and joined in church worships. Most of them were not ashamed to make the sign of the cross and say “Alleluia, Praise the Lord!” and other religious words. Protestants were not ashamed to carry with them the Bible which were given free.

The songs! I was not a good singer. Yet I tried to memorize the tune and the lyrics of the Catholic and Protestant songs. I loved them. I just hummed or whistled as a manifestation that I loved the Lord God. When I sang, hummed or whistled the religious songs, my low emotions were uplifted. The sorrows, pains and doubts slowly vanished. Since then, I always joined church masses, services, worships and Sunday schools. Because of my desire to praise and adore the Lord, HE made me learn how to sing.

The Protestant pastors baptized new converts. I became renewed without being baptized. I must had been baptized when I was a baby since my parents were Roman Catholics. In the evenings, there were group sharings where the newly baptized testified freely about finding Jesus in the CICamp. The participants became ardent listeners to their tale of happiness. I even listened on how they expounded clearly the words of God.

One fifth of the populace was not yet converted to any Christian religion. They refused to attend the services and listen to the words of God. They did not care about their body and spirit. Some were brought to a psychiatrist and to a hospital in Tacloban for treatment. There were few who lost their hopes due to heavy problems. They did not know how to solve them. They would not even listen to friendly advises and counselling. Their ignorance of the ultimate end, their non-concern of the world and God led them to commit suicide, became huramentado or run amuck and lost their sanity. This kind of people were often loners.

My efforts to socialize with my fellow prisoners led me to find out that those who had the guts to live have multifarious questions about the existence of God. Such as; Who is He? Why did He allow the war to happen? If He is really a good God? Why can't He eliminate the bad ones and retain the good ones? Why all these present painful predicaments? If He knew that we were not collaborators, why can't He release us by dictating the administrators to set us free, so we could be home to our longed-for families? Why did He allow some people to be rich and others to be poor?

Family Communication Problem and God

Three months of stay inside the camp had passed. Yet, we did not receive any letter or information from anybody about our families. Any letter would have alleviated our nostalgia and homesickness. Most often tears would freely flow from our eyes thinking that our relatives did not care about us. Back home, our beloved families must had considered us dead. We were not able to inform them of our whereabouts since May 1944. Nobody told them about us. We believed that we were the only survivors in that longest Japanese retreat from Bukidnon.

That war brought so much pain and hurt. Those who were out of jail were liberated maybe because of many factors. But we, the three Pimentel's were still imprisoned. We were free only in mind and spirit. Our predicament was unknown to our families and relatives. How we longed for somebody to visit us. How we longed to receive letters from them.

We realized that there was a need to talk to someone who would listen patiently to us and who would not judge us. We need someone who would do something positive to help us without antagonizing our already hurt and aching ego.

One of the Catholic missionaries had time for me in one of their visits. He said that in our travel to God's heaven, we are like pilgrims. So a pilgrim must prepare for his travel. Preparations include the basic needs of life such as a guide and a staff. These will lead and support us when we fall on the way. God had given us the Guides: the Holy Bible to help the Christians; and the saints whose lives showed us the examples on how to find the way to God. As Jesus Christ himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life … ”

Our Bible Study had helped me much. Passages were read and explained by the leader in application to God's desire. We tried to memorize the passages that affected our present living and the dwindling of faith.

Bible Study is not meant only to inform people about God, the Supreme Being. But also to transform people after knowing Him. Then to love and serve Him to the best of our abilities. It is a transformation of the spirit. The reading of the Bible is a must for all Christians. It is a way to know God more deeply.

Run Amuck (Huramentado)

Despair was the common emotional sickness of the internees. The strong believers of God found a way to lessen the grave emotional stress by continual communication with Jesus Christ. They found solace in His Presence. Others did, not care. They did not know how to share their problems. They believed that there was no solution to their problems. If there was, they could no longer wait. They could not wait for the slow wheel of justice to turn in their favor. They had been detained for a number of months or years and there was no decision meted on them. The letters from home comforted them to be patient for deliverance, but for those who did not receive letters from home, it was aggravated by hopelessness and despair.

Magno M. was one of our co-detainees. He was a Waray. To him, he was not a Japanese collaborator. He was just working for a living in the Japanese occupied town of Abuyog, Leyte. He was married with three children. In one of the family's visit, he noticed that one of his sons was not present. He was gravely sick with malaria and the other children were malnourished. He heard too, that his wife had another man. In one of our conversations, he told me that he was imprisoned after Leyte was liberated. Since then, he was expecting his release but until now there was no complaint lodged against him. He could not bear the situation of staying inside the camp. The loneliness, the children's health, their basic needs, education and his wife's infidelity were to much for him to bear. In his deep silence and for not being freed, he lost his sanity. He ran amuck inside the camp.

A very sharp bolo was in his hand. A red handkerchief was tied around his head. His eyes were so red, but staring blankly to any direction. He could not keep his balance properly. He ran and shouted defiantly to anybody. The sharp bolo in his hand glistened in the sun. He brandished it wildly in any direction.

A detainee, busy in his work, was unaware of Magno's dementia. He was struck by Magno, he instinctively parried the blow, but was wounded in his arms. The other detainees who saw the incident shouted, “Huramentado, huramentado, huramentado!” Some helped the wounded victim to be away from his path. Magno continued his rampage. Everybody was in panic. There was a stampede. Cooler minds suggested to stay calm and called the camp guards.

I was in his way. Seeing him with the sharp bolo brandished wildly in his right hand made me immobile. I wanted to run but I could not move. I was frozen with fear. Instinctively, I squatted and looked straight into his eyes. With my quivering lips uttered, “Noy Magno, Noy Magno, ayaw akog tigbasa!” (Don't hit me with the bolo!) At the same time I prayed, “Jesus, my Lord, save me!” This was only what my quivering mouth could say. Our eyes met and we stared at each other for minutes. Later, he moved to another direction still harassing others who fled with fear. The camp guards arrived and he was subdued. They took him to their jailhouse.

I felt pity for Magno. He was out of his mind. When he was brought to the jailhouse, he showed no remorse. He did not say anything. He just looked blankly at people. Knowing and feeling that I was unhurt by the Huramentado, I remembered what I recently read in the Bible, “Know that I am with you. I will protect you.”

The Collaboration Issue

This was the sixth month of our languishing in the CICamp. Manong decided to find out from the Camp Administrator what crime we had committed. Why it took so long to render justice for us. The Camp Administrator told us that we were accused of Japanese collaboration. The explanation was that we cooperated with the enemy. It was a crime to cooperate with an enemy that destroyed the nation. The delay in rendering justice was caused by lack of information on the crime they alleged to have been committed by us. There were also no direct accusers against us. We requested them to hurry with the gathering of information.

At CIC, I got a chance of seeing some school children passing by our camp. They were so joyful in going to school. I envied them and I felt that I had been wasting my time here. Maybe, it would be alright if I had really committed a crime against the Filipino people. I had not. Instead, we had helped the people of Malaybalay from the hardships they had encountered when the enemy caught them. We had helped them by the humane implementation of the laws, peace and order, economic upliftment and security of life. How I wished I could be home very soon so I could go to school and enjoy my boyhood. My youth was wasted here in this concentration camp.

I had the urge to shout loudly to ventilate the pains of being detained. I wanted to let the world know that the Liberators did not really liberate me. They were keeping a young man who had helped the country by being a member of the guerilla movement; who had been an observer of Japanese movements; who was a hostage or a prisoner of the Japanese retreating forces for seven months; who had helped a squad of Japanese soldiers to surrender; a prisoner of the Fil-Americans Liberation at Baloy, Cugman, Cagayan and here in Tacloban, Leyte. I was the only youth in the Camp. I would like to cry, but I remembered the advise of my parents that the youth should not cry, but find means to solve the problems. This youthful principle made me hold my peace. I had to bear my almost bursting unstable emotions in silence.

The passing of school children in playful movements, their unrestrained laughter and shouts, their display of the books of learning and their good English discussion made my 1941 school days came alive. What these school children were doing was what I had experienced too. How I enjoyed God's precious gift to a free boyhood. But here in the camp, the true boyhood were just memories.

I knew we did not collaborate with the Japanese Forces. I believed that we just shared a moment of existence without believing in their ideology. I started to have bad dreams. My experiences of witnessing deaths and murders returned in my sleep.

A Congresswoman's Visit - Senyora Meding Fortich

The loudspeaker paged our names and told us to report to the Camp Administrator's Office immediately. A visitor was waiting for us. We hurried immediately, wondering who our visitor could be.

In camp Administrator Salazar's Office was a tall and fair lady. She was so dignified in appearance. She had a Spanish mestiza profile. She stood respectfully to greet Manong and us. They had a warm handshake as Manong exclaimed “Senyora Meding!” They had a grand meeting. Ma Biang was so enthusiastic and so glad that Senyora Meding had visited us All of us were all smiles as we looked at each other in acknowledgement of this surprise visit from a respected friend

Senyora Meding was the nickname of endearment of the people of Bukidnon for Mrs. Remedios Ozamiz Fortich, the Congresswoman of Bukidnon Province. She married the former Congressman of Bukidnon, Carlos Fortich, Sr. who died from an assassin's bullet. He was the son of the Honorable Manuel Fortich, the Builder and Father of Bukidnon.

The Fortich family, including Senyora Meding, knew Manong. He was one of their political leaders.

Her visit was truly a surprise. Perhaps, she was informed by the CIC Administrator regarding Manong's request for an early solution of our imprisonment.

Manong told Senyora Meding that we wanted to be released the soonest time possible. He also asked her to inform General Manuel A. Roxas of his case. It was General Roxas who wrote an order for him to resume his Mayorship in Malaybalay in 1942. (General Manuel A. Roxas later on became the first elected President of the Philippine Republic.)

Mrs. Remedios O. Fortich promised that she would do her utmost best to settle the case. As she left, we uttered our sincere thanks and our warmest tight handshake in gratefulness of her visit and an advance thanks for our release.

Then Ma Siang asked her husband what crime had we committed. He answered softly and tenderly. “My crime.”

Freedom At Last

It was the seventh month of our stay in this camp. Should we have to wait for some more days? Patience seemed to be waning from us and the other prisoners who have lost their hope and their sanity. Had the liberated Philippine Government really found a case against us in order to prolong our agony?

We still hoped that we would be released, but when? We had the will to keep on living and our solution was to pray to God. It was said that “where there is a will, there is a way” to set us free.

Finally, our names were paged again to report to the Camp Administrator's office. We wondered why we were called. Did we have another visitor? Who would it be?

Inside the Administrator's Office, only Mr. Salazar was there. His staff was taking a coffee break. He welcomed us and we took our seats. Mr. Salazar, a former governor looked at us happily. Then, silently handed a piece of paper to Manong. As Manong got hold of it, he said, “Your release paper. No crime committed.”

He rose from his seat and congratulated us warmly. All of us gathered near the table and read it. The Release Paper stated that we were cleared of the collaboration issue and be released on June 12, 1946.

Our emotions ran high. We were taken by surprise! “Is it true that we are free?” Joyful laughter erupted then it was followed with a grateful expression to Mr. Salazar. Our faces were full of smiles. Our mouths opened and uttered words of gratefulness. I looked up to heaven and quietly said, “Praise the Lord! Thank you, God!”

The clerk was ordered to prepare our clearance papers and the things issued to us be returned to the Supply Center. On our way out from the Ex-Governor Salazar's office, I whistled the “Whispering Hope” tune. The three of us held hands from the office and seemed to walk in a trance. The feeling of jubilation and ecstasy enveloped us. I looked at Manong and Ma Biang, who gleefully remarked , “Is the feeling that we have now similar to others who have long been in captivity or imprisonment?” Yes! We felt like our parrot bird back home, which often sang a sorrowful tune to attract attention of its kind. It would hop, fly and keep on looking for ways to be free. The parrot entertained us with its antics. People got amused as it moved and played with me. But I knew that the bird was longing to be with its kind, to live and produce more parrots, to fly everywhere. That parrot was very sick inside the cage. When I let him loose, his wings grew stronger and made a dash through the open skies uttering a joyful sound. Then it returned to the window fluffing its colored wings, turning and nodding its head to me. It flew to the nearby branches, then hopped, hopped, hopped and looked at me. It spread its wings slowly again by the window, flew around the house twittering thrice, then back to the tree and after some more attempts to fly, my parrot was gone. I believed we were like that of a freed parrot. “How sweet is our freedom after we tasted the bitterest bitter pill of imprisonment.”

We packed our things up hurriedly. Friends and acquaintances came to bid us adieu. They uttered goodbye smilingly but their eyes could not hold back the falling tears. Painful, was it not? Parting is such a sweet sorrow. We, who were freed, will surely miss them, too. Their felicitations were answered with “May you be freed very soon.”

The gate was opened for us. We waved our hands to bid them goodbye. The air outside seemed different to us now. The air inside and outside the gate was perhaps the same, but with our packs on our back, the air was lighter, fresher and unsuffocating. Ma Biang with an emotional voice, said to us, “Gerry and Mon, We are free! We are free! We are now breathing the air of freedom. The freedom to move to wherever we want to go, the freedom to do whatever we want to and the freedom to think and talk whatever we wish! Free!”

We walked briskly outside the premises of the Tacloban Regional Civilian Internment Camp. After walking a distance, we stopped and had a last look of the camp and prayed, ” O Greatest Judge, decide on the cases of the internees soon. Most of them had learned their lessons and had accepted You as their Lord. Send them on a mission of your love through their families, neighbor and community. Amen.”

The Camp Commander had given us money to take us home to Malaybalay, Bukidnon. We were given debriefing and more information where to take a boat ride from Tacloban to Cebu then to Northern Mindanao in lligan or Cagayan. The other ship route was from Tacloban to Maasin, the southernmost town of Leyte. From Maasin to Surigao of Northeastern Mindanao. We chose to take a bus ride to Maasin.

While waiting at the Tacloban bus terminal, I walked a few meters for a fuller view of the surroundings and beheld the living tales of the town's destruction and the present rehabilitation that the residents made. The view cause the return of the first Japanese Air attack of Malaybalay in my mind. With an unbridled language of love of God's goodness to us, my mind with the help of the Holy Spirit let loose the songs I had learned in camp. “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host. Praise Father, son and Holy Ghost. I offer you praise, O Father Lord of Heaven and earth, because what you have hidden from the learned, you have revealed to the children. Lord, I am searching for you. I am searching for you, my God. For you alone are the joys of my life. Lord, I am searching for you.”

Continue to Part 14

Arts | Non-Fiction | Regional | Asia | Society | Military

QR Code
QR Code my_uncle_s_world_war_2_experience_in_the_philippines_-_part_13 (generated for current page)

Advertise with Anonymous Ads