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My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 14

The Recovery

Homebound - June 20, 1946

Our trip homeward started from the Tacloban Transportation Terminal. We left the place at 1:00 p.m. aboard an improvised salvaged Japanese Army truck to Maasin. There were only few available trucks going to further towns. Only two trucks were available daily to travel to the southernmost town of Maasin. We had no choice but to take this uncomfortable improvised Japanese bus.

The bus started with the engine giving a roaring sound and thick smoke belching. The bus was fully loaded and even beyond seating capacity. The road from Tacloban was better than those of the outskirt. Sand and gravel filled up the lower portions of the road to level it. After leaving the poblacion, the road was different. The dirt road was not maintained. However, the driver could choose for a less bumpy passage. In other parts, there were mud holes. It was a very slow travel. We passed by places heavily ravished by cannons and bombings from the Japanese and USAFFE. The passengers described the places, we passed by and told tales of memorable valor of people caught within that area of combat during the guerilla days. Dulag beach was the place where President Sergio Osmena, General Douglas McArthur and General Staff with its USAFFE Army first landed in the Philippines. This marked the start of the Liberation of the Philippines on October 24, 1944. Sergio Osmena, Sr. was the former Vice President of the Philippine Commonwealth Government. He assumed the presidency when President-elect Manuel L. Quezon, the first Philippine Commonwealth President died in New York in 1944

Along the bumpy, uncomfortable and muddy road we noticed that almost all of the coastal places were ravaged by the cruelty of war. Even the forest areas we passed by had the taste of destruction. Since it was hard to travel at nighttime, we had to pass the night in big towns such as Abuyog and Ormoc. We slept at the bus seats.

Although the towns were badly damaged, signs of rehabilitation, constructions and development of the urban areas were discernible. In the rural areas, I noticed the green farmlands in both the lowlands and the highlands. Food crops dominated the valleys. Coconut trees were the dominant plants especially found along the coast. Most of the tall trees were bending low due to the powerful and strong storms and typhoons that constantly visited the island of Leyte. Houses that were temporarily built were tied up in strong pegs or trees to protect them from being blown away.

Maasin, Leyte

We reached Maasin at twilight after three days of travel. The passengers disembarked by the wharfside close to the market. We were so hungry and we easily searched for cheaper food in their makeshift stalls. After supper, we went to the wharf to look for a ship or boat that could take us to Surigao, Surigao Province.

At Maasin Pier, we took an improvised U.S. Landing Craft Transport Ship to the town of Surigao. With us were many passengers. Our two days and two nights of cruise over the Surigao Strait made me witness more evidences of God's wonderful creation. This was different from the jungle, the plateaus, the true forests whose trees were mostly centuries-old, the settlements, the waterfalls, the rivers and its rivulets, the wide but always muddy Agusan River during the rainy days, the sea travels by battleship and the submarine.

The Wondrous Open Sea Ride to Surigao

The improvised U.S. Landing Craft transport could accommodate maybe only one hundred passengers and cargoes. It was not so big that you could feel the splash of the seawater in your body as it glided in the undulating ocean. We enjoyed this trip but I kept wondering how strong was this sea craft to dare the unpredictable part of the Pacific Ocean? Could we land safely in Surigao? Then I saw farther from our motorized and improvised LCT, a fisherman's banca. It convinced me of the sea worthiness of the one we were riding in. If the banca could dare this so wide an ocean, why not this bigger beat?

As long as I was awake, I kept on watching the splendor and grandeur of the vast open water space. I recalled the passage in the Book of Genesis on the creation of the world. Genesis 1:9-10 “God said, Let the waters under heaven be gathered into one place and let the dry land appear. And it was so. God called the dry land earth and the gathering of waters He called seas. And God saw that it was good.”

Hours swiftly passed on, then, it was dawn. The cold breeze blew over my face. And I awoke. I could not sleep back anymore so I opened the canvass that served as the cover or wind bumper of the shipside. There, in the breaking of daylight were the fishermen in their bancas with Petromax lamps still on. It seemed that they had a good catch as they paddled happily on their way home.

The school of dolphins happily glided with the waves. Their huge and bulky bodies glittered as the rays of the sun struck them. From the snouts of the dolphins spurts of water gushed out like water fountains in the park. It went up and down the sea as it came near and far from our ship. With it were bigger fishes. Now and then, the flying fishes could be seen enjoying and maybe having fun.

In the shallow or not so deep sea we could see the presence of coral reefs in multi-colored rock formations. They were the homes of beautiful rockfishes, the octopuses, eels, crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans. Big or giant clams could even be found among the coral reefs. The abundance of marine life in the coral reef region was admirable.

The Islands that we were able to see in that journey were the Dinagat lsland, Siargao Island and Bucas lsland. According to my co-passengers the sea around us was full of fishes; that the islands we saw from afar had good beaches but were always visited by typhoons. The Philippine Deep in Surigao Strait is one of the deepest in the world.

Surigao Province

The Province of Surigao is a part of mainland Mindanao. Here we arrived at 4:00 p.m. As the boat neared an old and undeveloped wharf it stopped its engine. Perhaps it was waiting for the Wharf Pilot's instructions where to berth or dock. At the wharf, were numerous people who were buying and selling, dock men, peer porters and perhaps relatives of the passengers who were waving their hands with handkerchiefs, and loudly calling the names of their relatives.

The boat moved to the pier and moored at wharf side Children of school age were there on the wharf edge too calling the passengers' attention, as they dived into the seawater asking the passengers to throw or drop coins to them. They seemed like aqua men and mermaids, which we locally called “Ukoy and Sirena”. They lured us with their swimming antics so we threw coins to them. It was fun to see them frolicking and gracefully catching the floating coins that the passengers threw. The coins which they caught were then placed inside their mouth then they dive again and catch more coins.

Before going down the ship, I gazed as far as my sight could reach and filled my brain with the geographical knowledge of Surigao, Dinagat, Burcas and Siargao were its neighboring islands. All these were facing the North Pacific Ocean the area where typhoons originated. It was also said that mineral resources such as metals, nickels, gold were stored underneath the province. The pier porters rushed in to take the passengers’ belongings. It took us time to go down due to the crowd at the boat's passageway. At the dock side, warm welcome was shown by the parents, children and relatives to the arriving passengers.

It was a touching welcome that we had witnessed. We envied our co-passengers very much. No one welcomed us for we were strangers.

Agusan Province

Hunger was our companion when we arrived in Butuan, Agusan. Our first activity was then to ask where the market was. After eating, we looked for the bus terminal. Since it was already dark and there was no night travel, we requested that we be allowed to take our nights rest on the bus seats.

The vehicle that we took could accommodate only around forty passengers. It was an improvised Japanese truck converted into a bus. It was similar to the bus in Leyte. The bus left as soon as it was filled with passengers. The road near the town was good. But as the bus travelled further, the roads became narrow, muddy and full of potholes. The driver had to steer the bus to some better part of the road but most often it was stuck in the mud. Passengers had to push the bus so that it could go on farther. In spite of the bad road, the bus kept picking up additional passengers and placed them on the rooftop.

The bus ride was tiring, painful and very uncomfortable. Not only did we go down when the bus had to be pushed from being stuck in the muddy road but we also had to alight from the bus when it crossed an old wooden bridge and the overflowing streams and brooks. In one of the river's crossing we had to wait for hours till the flood subsided. As the slow bus prodded on I noticed that Surigao and Agusan were agricultural provinces.

Our travel to Butuan, the capital of Agusan Province lasted for a whole day. The market became our resting place. We had been in Butuan when we let the squad of Japanese soldiers surrender to the Americans. It was then dark and we were not able to see the place in its entirety. The town was situated by the Agusan River. Their market place was only temporary. During the rainy season, most of the places in Butuan were submerged in flood waters. There were no good streets yet. Houses were built with long posts so that even with floods, the residents need not leave their homes. There were some few high grounds though. I saw many rice fields along the roads.

Misamis Oriental

Gingoog, a prospering town of Misamis Oriental was our next destination. While we were resting our aching and tired bodies in Butuan, we were informed that the road to Gingoog was similar to the Surigao-Butuan road. There was a river which was not passable by trucks or motor vehicles. We decided to hire a banca from Butuan to Gingoog. The weather that day was not good. It was so windy and there were heavy rains. The sea was rough. We waited for the typhoon to calm down and it did calm down after an hour of waiting. The hired boatman told us that the typhoon would soon pass away, then we could resume our travel.

But we found out that in the sea, the waves were still lashing furiously. The banca was rocked so terribly but there was no turning back for us. Waves after big waves whipped our banca and the rocking and swaying made us sea sick. Every time the waves rushed at us, water filled our banca. But it could not capsize because it had an outrigger. The passengers hastily removed the water from the banca while at the same time pleading for Jesus to stop the typhoon. The boatman struggled to keep the banca close to the shore.

By midday, the weather changed. The bright sun that was formerly hidden by the clouds appeared. The ferocious winds now became balmy and the waves subsided. We sighed in relief when we reached barrio Magsaysay. Our lunch was taken there. The weather improved greatly. From Magsaysay we paddled our banca to Gingoog. The sun was still bright but there was no available transportation to take us to another town. We slept after a short tour of the town proper.

Balingasag was the next town for our stopover. We looked for buses or any transportation for that town. Our informants told us that the road leading there was not good. So there was no transportation available till the roads were improved. Our only resource was to take another banca ride to Balingasag town. A boatman readily agreed to take us there but for a good sum of money for the boat hire.

Tagoloan town was nearest to the boundary of Bukidnon. The approach to the town was by the Tagoloan River, which was perhaps one of the widest rivers in Mindanao. The rivers of Northern Bukidnon flowed to this river then to the Mindanao Sea. I saw the place was visited by flood and the river was full of debris and uprooted plants and trees.

There was a government ferryboat. It could load only two medium-sized trucks and some passengers but it did not dare to cross the raging flood. Though the ferryboat was connected with a one-inch wire cable from both sides of the riverbanks, it could not risk the lives and precious cargoes. More passengers were marooned in both sides of the river. The ferry men explained to us the dangers that the ferry boat might meet if they cross while the flood was high and the water current was strong. The cable connecting the ferry boat might break, and the boat might be hit by the uprooted trees, clump of bamboos and logs.

It was better to be patient and wait for the flood to subside. We would rather be alive than be brought home lifeless due to reckless decisions and impatience. We waited for two days and the flood did subside. The huts built by the enterprising business folks of the place became our temporary dwellings. Food was in small eateries. Different food and drinks were available for the stranded passengers.

While waiting for the resumption of our trip, I let my youthful mind and heart assess the unnecessary destruction of the pre-war works of arts. The exquisite architectural designs were wantonly destroyed and some vandalized. It seemed that this war had devastated what our old folks had established and cherished. Many Filipino homes of semi-permanent structure and of artistic designs were reduced to rubbles. Though I was still young, these happenings greatly dismayed me.

The flood subsided. People in both sides of the Tagoloan River flocked to the ferryboats for the ride. At last we were able to cross the river. An improvised Gl Jeep, utilized as a passenger vehicle, took us to Puerto, Cagayan, Misamis Oriental. Puerto is the gateway to Malaybalay, our home.

Malaybalay

The news of the Mayor's return spread fast. Close relatives and friends came. All wanted to hear the resurrection story of their long lost leader. They were so surprised to see us. They had not heard of anyone who joined the retreat to have returned. They thought that we could never come out alive. The Malaybalay folks had considered us dead. “What happened and how did you escape death?” These were the questions often asked. We were so glad to meet them with their warm hugs, embraces and kisses. But we were not able to answer all their questions thrown to us.

Our home? They were destroyed, ransacked and only a habitable room was left. But, whatever it was, we were home. Home at last!

Views and Reflections On War

The news of war in the newspapers, the radio reports And other media information could create awareness to people. It would prepare them what to do for themselves and their families if war would happen.

The preparedness of a nation depends on the adequate acquisition of modern arms, ammunitions, fighting equipments and machines in land air and sea. Well trained, disciplined and loyal men and women should defend their land and families.

Family solidarity is the best defense to fight war. Each member should work for means to protect the common interests of the family. Every member of the family may be able to affect other people and together could help in making the country stable and progressive.

When the enemies came to our place, we regarded them with hatred. We think of them as horrible people and murderers. It takes time for goodness to bring back the proper attitude. Not all enemies are bad.

All people are created by God but because of man's fallen nature, they have corrupted and did not believe in God's goodness. They were ruled by hatred, greed and envy, which were some of the principal causes of war.

The leaders and their individualistic principles of victorious leadership made the followers rebellious. The followers cowered in fear when the strict leader rose to power.

It is not a complete victory if the subjects always cowered. in fear. Rebellion and insurgency would rise to oppose the tyrants. There would be no slaves if there were no tyrants, said Jose Rizal.

Economic instability is one of the causes why the vanquished cooperate with the victors. Poverty is the greatest cause why people rise in rebellion.

If peace and goodwill to men are the driving forces of the victorious army, rebellion and insurrection would not take shape.

Organized guerrilla warfare, peaceful rallies demonstration and picketings are good means to check the abuses of those in power. The disregard of the human rights should be avoided.

Opening of schools, both formal and informal education, help promote the citizenry's good intention for a better world of humane justice. The theological education in faith, hope and charity greatly promotes goodwill to men and peace on earth.

Knowing the language of the two opposing nations will minimize misunderstanding. Both disputing parties should plan conferences, meetings and other means of communications and that the agreement should be truly implemented.

Retreat is not a sign of cowardice but a way of having time and a safer place to analyze and evaluate the present situation to find out and plan for strengthening action against the opponent.

Death could be anywhere and everywhere. It does not respect status or power. It comes usually when you are unprepared and do not like to die. There is so much death in WAR!

My war experiences have caused me to value human life. Man is a very special creation of God. We are made in His image and likeness.

Love for one another is the greatest mandate of the Creator. The message means that the Christian must do good for the common good.

The war truly made me realize that there is a living God. A God that is so good. A God who gives us the liberty to choose between good and evil. HE does not impose on us HIS will. HE has given us the intellect and freewill. If our choice is wrong and evil, HE is ready to forgive us. A sincere and humble act of contrition is what HE need.

As I bring into conclusion my personal accounts of World War II, let me now give you my general views of war:

War takes place because stronger nations vie for power to be recognized as the greatest in the whole world. Too much power leads to dictatorship. A dictator controls the life and living conditions of men.

The manufacture of arms and ammunition has no other purpose than to kill and be killed. It is a big, expensive and a very lucrative business of death.

The nations offering arms supply for effective war strategies feel superior and great. They do not fully realize that the end result of the war is devastation and destruction that may even affect his nation.

It also destroys family relationships. It leads to ill feelings against family members when during and after the war, they would know who were those accused of collaboration.

War also eradicates the existing civilization that could be regarded as history by itself. The living past should not be destroyed for it is a way of seeing the real mirror of the country and people. We learn more by knowing our past.

The war victims do not like war to happen again. Only the proud, the inexperienced, those hungry for power and arms dealers desire it.

In war, the sacredness of man, as an image of God is disregarded by some. In the times of survival, man is treated or regarded as an animal.

Man seeks the refuge of God, mostly when he is in the state of pain and sufferings. Where there are sacrifices and hardship, man feels the need for God.

After the war, the victor and the vanquished are both humbled.

The Love of God is the easiest way to obtain lasting peace yet it is the hardest to actualize. As the Bible reminds us: NOT ALL OF THOSE WHO CRY OUT, “LORD, LORD,” WILL ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD BUT ONLY THOSE WHO DO THE WILL OF THE FATHER!

The World War II Claim Benefits

When we arrived from Tacloban, we saw that the people were busy filing their war damage claims. The early claimants had already received their benefits. This seemed to be the answer to my question, where did people get their building funds that resulted to the fast construction of bigger buildings. Others who were pessimistic of the enemy's sincerity to pay the war damages filed late. Others were still waiting the approval of their claims from the Philippine War Damage Commission.

The government assisted the filers by establishing the War Damage Claim Office. But more private fixers appeared and charged at a certain fixing interests. These fixers approached Manong. He refused their offer. He could do the filing by himself.

There was a money-boom from the War Damage Commission. Semi-concrete and concrete buildings arose. More laborers were needed. Unemployment was not a social problem then.

Japan was forced to pay the war damages it had done as a vanquished nation. The War Damage payment was so provided in the Treaty of Surrender with the United States.

The World War II Claim Benefits. The war benefits and claims presented to us were:

1. Compensation of war services as members of the USAFFE, Philippine Army, Philippine Scouts, Philippine Constabulary and the recognized Philippine-American Guerrillas.

2. Compensation for Properties Damaged: as buildings, motor vehicles, large cattles, other animals, crops, etc.

3. The unrecognized guerillas had to file the necessary papers for recognition duly certified by a notary public.

4. The Prisoners of War had to produce papers duly certified proving the truth of said claim.

I did not file any of these war claim benefits. My youthful principle would not allow me to go to people asking for their certification of my past war services. What happened in my teenage life was just regarded as a great memorable event in my life. A life of learning where no established university could offer a subject or course on war and survival.

My World War II experiences were just like obtaining a university diploma in the World University of Experience. Perhaps, a Diploma certificate “The Life's Battle in War and Peace” may suffice as my compensation instead of my war damage claim. Presently, I would be very contented and happy to whoever will read and listen to my World War II epic to abhor war in any form.

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