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

The Japanese Occupation

Arrival of the Japanese Occupation Forces

A reliable report reached the Municipal Mayor of Malaybalay that the Japanese Occupation Forces would kill anybody who would delay their advances to occupy territories. This made us jittery. The goal of the invading forces was Malaybalay, the capital of Bukidnon. The Japanese Planes paved their way in advance.

The Jap Army truck ferried their army equipment and personnel. This was preceded by army tanks, cannons, anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, mortar guns, and other form of weapons for the infantry division. As they arrived in Malaybalay, they found the place a “No Man's Land.”

Days later, some civilians joined them in the town proper.

We heard of some American and Filipino Soldiers regrouping in the nearby barrios. The Japanese pursuit and bomber planes kept bombing and firing at group of houses. We were also constantly fired by machine guns and bombed in Bugcaon. A Jap bomb fell two meters away from me. I really felt that an unseen hand shielded me from harm and guided me to a shallow trench. My life was perhaps spared so that I may live to share my experiences. The constant air attacks and the fear that a Japanese squad on patrol may find us and lead us to our death made us decide to evacuate to a farther forested area in a high mountain. Manong decided that we stay in another remote sitio of Guinyuran, Valencia, Bukidnon.

Sitio Guinyuran is a high mountain plateau. We hid farther from the sitio proper to a forest area cleared by kaingin. We felt safest here. Some of Manong's policemen in Malaybalay joined us with their families. Manong chose this place because he believed that it was hard to have a peaceful co-existence with the enemies. The kaingin area was cultivated for our food supply. The green revolution program started with the cooperation of the policemen’s families.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Occupation Forces established their garrisons at the Bukidnon Secondary Normal School. Their army cadres were put up in strategic points. The Japanese Officials occupied big buildings as their official residences. Japanese outposts were put up in nearby barrios. Their coming to Malaybalay was only slightly opposed by the local army. The United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) could not resist the mighty invaders. They were almost down and out. The Japanese Sentry Outposts were put up in strategic places to check the entry of the Fil-American Soldiers and other members of the resistance movements.

Gen. Manuel A. Roxas and Men Surrendered

Manila was declared an open city. The Fil-American Forces checked the invasion of the Japanese Forces in Corregidor and Bataan. That perhaps caused the delay of the Japanese Army Forces invasion in Australia. The General of the Philippine Army, General Douglas McArthur was ordered by the President of the United States of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to take command of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) with the General Headquarters in Australia. Lt. General Jonathan Wainwright assumed the Philippine Army command. The Philippine Army at this time was in a beleaguered state. They fought but could not resist the mightily prepared Japanese Imperial Forces. Perhaps, to lessen the Philippine Army carnage, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright accepted the defeat of the Philippine soldiers to Japanese General Masaharu Homma sometime in May 1942.

The relentless campaign of the Japanese Forces against the scattered Fil-American soldiers in the mountain areas of Misamis Oriental, Davao, Cotabato and Bukidnon made some heroic resistance. The Filipino and American Army Officials united these struggling soldiers and organized the guerilla unit. The soldier guerillas desired to continue the fight but they could not withstand yet the superior might of the conqueror. So, they stayed mostly in the mountains and far-flung barrios waiting for the return of the strong United States Armed Forces in the Far East. These soldiers would rather die with their boots on and suffer physical pains for love of country.

General Manuel A. Roxas, together with some high-ranking officials of the Philippine Army and some of their men decided to surrender to the Japanese lmperial Command in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. The surrendered soldiers were so haggard, fatigued, and so weary in their tattered clothes. Others were sick due to malaria, insect bites, diarrhea and hunger. They were weak physically but they were soldiers who preferred to stay alive. They came marching from the different parts of Bukidnon and the neighboring provinces.

Casisang, USAFFE Internment Camp

The surrendered soldiers were detained in barrio Casisang, more or less four kilometers away from the town of Malaybalay. Casisang is a wide plain with level land where cogon grasses and Dinog trees abound. It was accessible by the proposed Sayre National Road that would connect Bukidnon to the province of Cotabato. At that time, it was just a dirt road. Tents and temporary huts of bamboo and round wooden posts were placed. Cogon grasses which were abundant in the area were used as roofing, walling and even flooring or mats. A small canal for drainage was dug around the tents and huts to prevent rainwater from flooding their resting area. Food was prepared in the open. Crude kitchens or cooking areas were built by the surrenderees themselves. Water was taken from the nearby brook and well. Trench latrines were dug and walled by cogon grasses in a one and a half meter deep by half a meter wide and one and a half meter long.

The Japanese Army provided not just enough food provisions but also medicine. Then the higher command appointed General Manuel A. Roxas to be the Filipino commander of the Internment Camp. He established a splendid cooperation with the Japanese Administration resulting in the civilians' entry to this camp. There was an improved treatment of the war prisoners.

Our Evacuation Place

We were evacuees. We lived in a very unstable period. We were always on the run. The basic needs such as food, clothing, bolo, instruments for fire-making and other implements were always inside our packs. Our enemies had known some signs in the forests to detect the presence of man by the smoke during daytime and light at nighttime. Then, a Reconnaissance Plane would be observing the area. Later on, the Japanese Zero Fighter and Bomber Planes would then indiscriminately drop their lethal loads. Our safety from these vulture-like flying machines was provided by the shadow and shade of the century-old trees.

The most deadly fear was the constant attack of the Japanese Foot Patrols. They had a Juez de Kutsilyo campaign where they shoot people at sight, especially if these people showed some signs of rebellious resistance. We also developed plane phobia. The foot patrols of the Japs which were scattered in different direction made us decide to stay away from the nearby barrios and sitios, where they had sentry posts.

We moved to Sitio Guinyuran hoping that it would give us a peaceful evacuation place because it was on a high-forested plateau and the trail was passable only by man. The incoming persons ascending the trail could easily be spotted from our “fortress.” The land was so fertile, giving us a promise of abundant produce. The cold atmosphere always watered the plants to vigorous growth. Wild animals and birds like pigs, monkeys, deers and chickens abound. We caught them by means of la-is, lit-ag, gahong, bangkaw, pana, tirador and pusil.

We were living contentedly in our evacuation place. The lush growth of our crops, the tranquility and the clean environment made us forget the hardships and turmoil brought about by war. We seemed to live in the “Garden of Eden.” Even the passing of the Japanese planes did not bother us in our new found idyllic life where contentment seemed so easy to attain.

Resumption of Mayorship

Then our placid lifestyle was stirred and it took a new twist. Two unknown men came and asked for the Mayor of Malaybalay. We were taken aback. How come they knew the position of my foster father? How did they know that we were in this place? We did not have any outside contact since we came to this place. The two men introduced themselves as soldiers of the Philippine Army. They had a mission to deliver the letter to the Mayor of Malaybalay who was on evacuation. The letter came from General Manuel A. Roxas, a Philippine Army General and Camp Commander of the Casisang Internment Camp.

The letter was addressed to Mr. Gerardo M. Pimentel, Malaybalay, Bukidnon. It was a request order for him to resume the Mayorship of Malaybalay. This was accordingly for the protection of all people; which included the civilians, the soldiers who surrendered, the captives and the guerillas. The order was done in accordance with the agreement of the Japanese Military commander and General Manuel A. Roxas. The instruction was to leave our evacuation place and be at Barrio Valencia, in the afternoon of the second day upon the receipt of the letter. A Japanese Army Truck convoy will take us back to Malaybalay. What a great surprise that was for us!

Manong and his wife, Manang Siang, could not do otherwise because it was an order. In the late afternoon of the second day, we were already at Valencia. General Manuel A. Roxas and the Japanese Military Commander met us with their army trucks. There was a cordial introduction and welcome. A brief meeting among them ensued.

We were back to Malaybalay in the fourth week of January 1942. By the first week of February 1942, he resumed his position as a Mayor after a proper turnover from the acting town administrator.

Cooperative Leadership

A triumvirate leadership was formed.

The Japanese Military Commander whose name escaped my memory, was to implement the policies and to follow the instructions and decrees of the Japanese Imperial Command in a humane manner as well as to protect the occupied lands. He was a wise Japanese Official and was slow to anger.

General Manuel A. Roxas was then representing the USAFFE soldiers, including those who surrendered, about to surrender and the guerillas. He was so concerned about their welfare. He did not have a hard time in getting the attention of the Japanese Military Commander and the Municipal Mayor for the proper implementation of the Articles of War, and for the protection of the prisoners. He saw to it that they should be humanely treated.

Mayor Gerardo Pimentel had established excellent rapport with the military commander and General Roxas. He had the full trust and confidence of the civilians and the guerillas. He constantly pleaded for humane treatment of the captured civilians and suspected guerillas who were caught by the Japanese soldiers who continuously patrolling the barrios and sitios. His mind and heart was dedicated to serve the beleaguered citizens. He was seen serving even late at night. He was even roused from sleep by calls made at midnight and at dawn. Although the Military Rule by this time was supreme over the civil government, yet in my militant boyhood, where I had an easy access to the areas of the protagonists, there were fewer abuses committed by both parties. The Mayor was always there with his fatherly attention when needed.

Our small house provided a welcome refuge to all. The Japanese Military Commander and General Roxas were often seen in the house discussing matters of military and economic importance. The trio could be seen together in big activities for the welfare of the people. In my observation, my foster father and General Roxas were the best of friends then.

My intimate knowledge of General Roxas did not last long for he was called to Manila to assist His Excellency, Jose P. Laurel, Sr., President of the Japanese-Philippine Republic. The great Filipino General left a lasting imprint in my boyhood. He regarded me as an adult, showed to me a fatherly concern over my welfare and inculcated in me the love of God and country. He gave me an inspiring food for thought in the service to fellowmen. Behind his military stature and position was an ever-ready smile and sincere concern and love for lowly folks.

Internment Camp Visitation

I used to visit the USAF FE War Prisoners at the Casisang Internment Camp. I felt so sad and worried while communicating with them and upon observing their living conditions. Of course, in our first appearance in their camp, there was a happy welcome for me and my friends. In our visits, we brought with us fruits to be shared to the prisoners. It was a joy listening to their suspenseful war exploits and their encounter with death. In their narration, the Jap planes were really a terror to them in their fight to defend our country. Our presence in the camp lightened their war-torn bodies and sagging spirits. To the married men, their fatherly welcome to us was an expression of their love for the family members left at home. It seemed that they were making us the substitute of their missed sons. The common remark in our presence was, “Our boys must be like you now.” Then tears fell down from their war-strained eyes. The unmarried soldiers loved to play with us.

These prisoners of war had to do all chores by themselves. Most of them wore tattered clothes and some went half-naked. They had uncut long hairs and unshaven beards. Soap was scarce so they took baths without any bathing soap. Washing of clothes was done in the crudest way. Most of them had body lice and on their clothes were ticks. Their bodies had many lice and tick bites. The general theme of our cordial dialogue centered on their families, their great hopes and desires to be home.

As days passed, their temporary dwellings were improved in barracks style. They were quartered in bunkhouses and had wooden beds. The maintenance of cleanliness, orderliness and peaceful co-existence was given to the group leader who was subject to the camp commander. The prisoners were assigned by the group leader to routine activities within their quarters.

Before anybody could enter the Internment Camp, one had to pass through the sentry outposts in the main entrance. The camp was surrounded with interlinked and barbed wires.

Watchtowers were placed at the sides of the camp area with two or more sentinels assigned to prevent escapes. In approaching the guards, one had to bow three times and utter their Nippon greetings of”Konichiwa, kumbawa, arigato, sayonara,” with both hands on the chest. One was then bodily frisked and all things that were brought were inspected before allowing them to proceed inside the camp. We had to be accustomed to their stern and searching look, authoritative voice, 'mechanical' movements and bowing as a sign of respect. I believed that their behavior was a way of inculcating discipline and obedience to the vanquished. Our reaction to their bowing and body frisking was unfavorable, but we could not do otherwise. Respect to the elders and the victors should be done. Inside the camp, there was a totally different way of living compared with the outside 'world'. “Obey before you complain,” was the rule.

Substandard health and sanitation had to be accepted. Sickness, especially malaria, and diarrhea prevailed. The Camp Administration tried its best to check these diseases. Family visitation was allowed by the Camp Administration on a limited time only. It was a joy for the soldiers to be visited by the members of their families. During these visits dry picnics were held inside the camp. It was also a time for frolic and fun especially with their young children to enjoy the presence of their long-absent father.

For the unvisited soldiers, a great feeling of loneliness dominated their emotions. More often, tears would fall down their cheeks upon seeing happy families in a reunion. The family visitation is just like a fiesta where loved ones brought foods, fruits and delicious viands, the favorite of the visited ones. What thrilled us boys, were the affectionate and romantic greetings of lovers. That was also the time for establishing closer relationships with the other relatives.

The Japanese Occupation Soldiers

My early exposure to the Japanese Soldiers gave me enough knowledge about these yellow-race, Asian neighbor. My good impression of the Japanese businessman in the town helped me develop a positive mark on these soldiers, the invaders. They were not at all bad but due to their being invaders, they had to appear ferocious. A part of these occupation soldiers came from the country of Korea.

All of them had an unselfish devotion to Emperor Hirohito, their man-god. Their unswerving devotion to him were mirrored by the soldiers' “robot-like” obedience to him as a supreme commander. Loyalty to the Emperor was the greatest sign of discipline. Loyalty was so inculcated in them since childhood. As the sun rises in the early morning all of them kneel with hands extended and heads bowed paying tribute to the rising sun. Their flag had the symbol of the Rising Sun.

The Japanese officials' wore uniform which to my young eyes was a smart bush jacket. A samurai and a pistol that was most often a German Luger were tucked to their hips. These officials wore distinct caps different from an ordinary officer. Their boots were either leather or canvas. Their rank can be identified because it was printed on their shirt lapel, breast pocket and on their cap.

The soldiers were in brownish uniform. In their hips hang their mess kits, their water “canteen” placed inside a multipurpose aluminum cup and a cooking aluminum container called hango. There was also the bayonet. A helmet or a netted helmet for camouflage purposes or a cap with a loose cloth attached to it was on their head, perhaps for cooling effect. Their gun was always at their side.

Their presence in any gathering caused fear in us because we might be made as target of their anger. Their loud and mandatory voices with hard-to-understand language drew us farther from them. We were always wondering what they were trying to say. Thus, we had a problem of communicating with them. We were always under suspicion not only by the Japanese. But we also feared the guerilla might perceive us as collaborators if we were seen in the presence of our enemies. To avoid misinterpretations, we pretended to understand them when they talked. We became “nodding” human beings. Any false movements, non-cooperation and speaking out ones' thoughts would cause imprisonment.

In this state of existence, some people had to collaborate with the enemies in order to survive and co-exist with them. This was also a way to escape punishment, to erase the doubts and the suspicion of the Japanese on the person caught. The struggle for survival resulted to betrayal of even closely related family members. There was an unstable emotion of people. We felt so much uncertainty because of the presence of spies among our people.

The civilian seemed to walk on a tightrope. If you were in the Japanese territory, you always become a suspect of being a Japanese collaborator by the guerillas. Likewise, if you happened to be with the guerillas and the Japanese Foot Patrol caught up with you, you would be a suspect as being in league with the guerillas.

Looking back at that period, there were a lot of deprivations and the constant fear of the Japanese. One day they could be friendly; the next day, they take people and torture them without compunction.

I sensed how people had to be very careful about their communication. The people’s freedom of speech and right of abode were greatly curtailed.

The Japanese gave instructions using the Japanese language, Niponggo. The objective was for the people of Bukidnon to imbibe their culture which carried with it the fanatic loyalty to the Emperor.

Plant to Live

The unstable living condition in the town resulted to food shortage. To solve the problem, the military and the civil government issued an order for all people to make use of all vacant lots in the poblacion or town center. The grassy, abandoned and unused lots had to be fenced and cultivated. It had to be planted to all edible cereals, vegetables, root crops and fruit trees for family consumption. The residents obeyed willingly and industriously cooperated in the “plant to live” mandate.

All the members of the family started working on the greening of the town for food sufficiency. It was a “green revolution program”. Everyone worked on their own backyard. The “green revolution” developed close neighborhood ties. Neighbors exchanged knowledge and expertise in planting vegetables, poultry and animal raising. Land owners did not complain. They did not ask for any share for the use of their lots. After several months of tilling and planting, their idle lots had become productive.

It was a joy to see busy people in their family backyards momentarily forgetting the predicament that the war had brought them in. Food supply became abundant. The excess garden products were sold at very cheap prices. Usually, they were just given free for neighborhood sake. Close and strong family relationships were developed as they helped one another in the spirit of bayanihan.

Continue to Part 3

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