My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 3

The Japanese Occupation

People's Cooperation

The security of life through peace and order was the concern of all. The Japanese Military Command with the cooperation of the civil government appointed district and group leaders. It was a mandated duty to report monthly to the Command the movements of people in their charge. They had to maintain peace and order. They were authorized to settle domestic issues and petty differences between neighbors. Identification cards were issued for census purposes.

The Group Leaders had to implement the green revolution program properly. All able-bodied residents were to render a one-day forced labor a month. The forced labor enforcement was for communal projects such as: clearing of road sides and canals; construction of communal buildings, roads and army installations; maintenance of airport; communal health activities and other common welfare projects.

The people's cooperation made our place economically sufficient of the basic needs. Everyone showed sincere concern for the community. There were less robbery, vandalism, burglary and murder since curfew hours were imposed. The people were all too eager to follow.

The youth found contentment in working together in their gardens, doing some handicraft and helping others who needed assistance. In some moments, they were able to engage in their favorite physical activities and sports like basketball, volleyball, softball or sipa. At nighttime, they could be seen in homes singing with their favorite guitars and other string musical instruments. During good weather and moonlit nights, they could be heard crooning their lilting expressions of love to the girl of their dreams. Sometimes, they would forget the curfew hours as they poured their feelings to their ladylove in a serenade. The teenager in me was with them in their quest of happiness even in this period of turbulence, where groupings and assembly were illegal with the presumption of being a guerillista if and when caught.

Although there were no priests who could take care of the spiritual needs, faith in God became stronger. Most families were Roman Catholic. They had put up altars in their homes where they communicated to God in prayer. At 6:00p.m., they recited the Angelus. At 8:00p.m., the devout Catholic homes prayed the Holy Rosary and the novenas to their favorite saints. They also did other religious practices which they believed enabled them to obtain better living condition in this present upheaval. To many, God became their refuge. “The Way, The Truth And The Life.” The turbulence of life brought people closer to God, the Savior.

Money Exchange

To keep the present government economically and financially sound, Japanese War Money was issued. They were in peso denominations and all in paper bills of five, ten, twenty and fifty centavos. These were called Japanese War Notes. The Filipinos later called these “Mickey Mouse Money.” These were used only in Japanese occupied territories. The paper bills were simply designed. Each edge were marked in bold letters: “THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT.” The amount in words, in figures and the Roman numbers were in big prints. The right side was a design of a Philippine landmark.

The organized Mindanao Filipino-American Guerillas, on the other hand, also issued their emergency notes of exchange. Those paper bills had the same denominations and similar with the Japanese War Notes.

Printed on the Five Pesos Treasury Emergency Currency Certificate were: “By Authority of the President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. This certifies that the Commonwealth of the Philippines will redeem this certificate at face value upon the termination of this Emergency, FIVE PESOS, and Mindanao Emergency Currency Board. This was signed by Florentino Saguin, Chairman; Fernando D. Pacana and an Indistinguishable name as member.” On the left side of the Note or Certificate was the Seal of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. At the other side of the bill was written: “By the Mindanao Emergency Currency Board, Philippines, FIVE PESOS.” This note was redeemable at face value after the war, was not devaluated and demonetized. Counterfeiting of this note was severely punished. It was noted though that the Japanese currency was of a better quality of paper than those of the emergency notes.

The money certificates issued by each party were exclusively used in their territories. The holders of these money currency certificates must be extra careful in handling these. If a person was found carrying this note in an enemy territory, it may spell his death. It may mean that the holder was an enemy or a spy.

It was not only by the use of money that one obtained the basic necessities. But also by barter or exchange of goods, like salt, sweet potatoes, bananas, palay, corn and others.

Japanese Schools

In the months of the Japanese Military Occupation the school-age children were kept only in their homes and in the fields. They only ate, worked, played and slept. There was a need for a literacy program that was very important in understanding life but the public schools were still closed.

However, the Japanese Imperial Command in its desire to erase western cultural influences in the Filipino way of life made an Educational Reform by issuing Military Order No. 2, dated February 17, 1942. This ordered the opening of elementary schools in Japanese occupied areas. A campaign for enrollment was made. There were only a few of us that availed of this educational service. Our teacher was a Japanese soldier who could speak understandable English.

Since we were all beginners in learning the Japanese language, we started with syllables and their equivalent in the Japanese writings. We enjoyed the pictorial and character writing in syllables or in words. Later, we were issued a reading and writing primer.

In the military classroom, we learned about Japan as a country; its people and their livelihood; their culture and traditions from the past to the present; their language and their writings; their unquestioning worship of the Emperor and his role in the Japanese way of life. I had fun but I always wondered about the Japanese feudal history which was replete with stories on the role of the samurai; their costumes; their regard for women; the punishments of the person caught committing a crime; their strong defense of personal honor and their strong belief in Shintoism, and Buddhism. They emphasized their great desire to improve the living condition of Asia. Later in our study, the principles of the Greater East Asia-Co-Prosperity Sphere were disseminated. The spiritual rejuvenation of the Filipinos, the teaching and propagation of Niponggo, the diffusion of vocational and elementary education and the promotion of love of labor. (Agoncillo 1967) were implemented.

My great desire to acquire even a meager knowledge of their language, both written and oral, made me close to the soldiers. We sang Philippine and Japanese songs such as “Fujiyama, Miyoto.” Their national anthem was still very clear in my memory.

We were made to understand that the purpose of their fight against the United States was to make the whole Asia as one under Japan's leadership. The slogan then was “Asia for Asians!” through the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and be a world power.

A friend, who was a Japanese soldier volunteered to tutor me of their language and how to write it properly. It was one of their ways to follow the exhortation of the government which was to develop a civilian-soldier closer relationship. My hunger for education and adventure to other lands even only in stories were partly fulfilled by him.

Curfew Hours

All the people were informed that curfew hours start at 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 am. This was strictly enforced. All should be home by this time. Anyone caught loitering will be punished depending upon the gravity of the act. The night became so tranquil. The parents were relieved of their nightly worries over their grown-up children. They were already home safe and sound. The broad daylight news no longer carried the subject of robbery, burglary, vandalism and other crimes in the neighborhood. Drinking of bottled wines and the locally made wines, such as tuba, pangasi, agkod, lambanog were done moderately.

Social Gatherings and Recreations

There was not much restriction imposed on the civilian population. The sport lovers were allowed to clear and use the area for any games they would like to play.

The games played by young and adults, male and female alike were the volleyball using a locally made rattan ball; basketball using a homemade rattan ball; softball by using a branch of a tree as a softball bat and for the ball, an unusable cloth tied around with a durable binder; and sipa still using a rattan ball. The children played patintero, marble shooting, jump the spines and others that the children could think of.


There was also the market day. In an agreed day, the people gathered at a selected site where they can buy and sell. They brought their farm products, other stuff like garments and all others that could be sold and bought. The market day was called Tabo, which meant “to meet”. This was just like a fiesta celebration. The people were dressed in their semi-best. Clothes and locally woven fabrics called sinamay were exhibited. There were more vegetables and fruits displayed. Large cattles, pigs, poultry were sold at a cheaper price than during ordinary market day. The eateries and food stalls were lined at the side area with their delicious and very satisfying preparations. Wine-drinking spaces can be found too.

Running, walking, jumping, pole climbing and boxing eve competitions were held during the Tabo. A prize was usually given by the management.

Cockfighting was also one of the favorite games of the people. A space was provided for this activity. The best cock was brought to the cockpit to fight.

Other games were card playing and the kara y cruz and hantak.

All these temporarily gave the town people a respite fro the burdensome thoughts brought about by the war. The Japanese soldiers, though, kept watch from a safe distance as the people conducted their economic as well as social activities.

War Horse Caretakers

The Japanese Cavalry arrived and stationed themselves in our place. The cavalrymen in their dirty and dusty uniforms sat rigidly on their mounted leather saddles. They looked so tired. Yet, to us, they were arrogant and proud as they sat on their big horses. They were led by a regal-looking, stiff-necked and samurai-bearing captain. Upon his loud order, the cavaliers alighted simultaneously and got off their very tired war-horses. They dismantled their saddles and removed their packs. Then they tied their horses in nearby trees. They thoroughly looked around the vicinity and gazed at us in scrutiny. We were only in our shabby clothes.

We were three boys of the same age, who were so curious yet awed by soldiers riding on big stallions. We found them different from those who came earlier. Our curiosity lessened our fear for these newcomers and invaders. We went near to observe them as they alighted from their horses hoping to be able to touch the saddles and the huge animals.

The Captain communicated with us through sign language accompanied by a loud voice which to us were just sounds. However, we later on took the Captain's way of talking to us.

In that very first encounter, we were told to take care of the horses. Though we were terribly afraid of the big animals, we were more afraid of the soldiers who owned the horses. Their eyes seemingly looked like daggers and to disobey them could be a disaster.

we had 'been familiar with horses but the stallions used' by the new batch of soldiers were huge ones and they seemed to be waging war with us, too. It was good because there were three of us who were “commissioned” to take care of the horses, so our hesitations turned into curiosity and challenge.

A Japanese calvary man taught us how to hold the rein and control the horses. The three of us had to come close to those stallions as we were taught to hold the reins. At that very close range we noticed that the horses were tired, undernourished, and some were sick.

When some of the horses were unsaddled, flies alighted on the bare backs of the horses that had already ulcers. In some sickly horses, maggots were already crawling, causing bad odor that invited more pesky flies. A nearby grassy area was selected for their pasture. When we led the horses to their pasture we realized that these animals were also vulnerable just like us and their Japanese masters.

We thought that the task of pasturing the horses was just a temporary errand. The three of us prepared to flee from the presence of the calvarymen. But the captain noticed us and signaled us to come to him. In the presence of his cavalrymen, we were told to be the regular help in feeding the horses and tending especially the sick ones. They would expect us around on the next days.

We went home. Our home was not so far from the grazing place. As we left them, we talked to each other about the cavalrymen. The matter of caring for these sick horses bothered us. “Are we given work with the horses? Are we now considered servants of the Japanese?” We asked each other. The next morning, the three of us met and we agreed to pasture, feed and care for the horses. We were very cautious but gradually, we lost our apprehensions and fear of the horses. The three boys and the war-horses became friends.

As days passed by, we were drawn closer to the horses and we thanked God for it. Most of the horses recovered from their ulcers and had very good rest. In the fourth day, the captain came and smilingly requested us to care for the very sick horses only. They took the horses that were healed and used them to patrol the other distant towns. Six ulcerous horses were left in our care.

We continued to care for the horses which seemed to have trusted us. We patted and rubbed their bodies as we talked to them. Patiently, we washed the ulcers with guava leaves and poured kerosene or creoline to kill the maggots. Our crude way of treating the ulcers and other horse diseases removed the stinking odor of the decaying flesh. The maggots died, the flies no longer hovered over the horses and later disappeared. The horses healed fast. We laughed in glee at our ingenuity and the successful experiment of treating the horses. Our newly acquired knowledge on “veterinary science” made us dub ourselves as “Quack Veterinarians.”

Every time the horses saw us they would make a neighing sound and when we were near they would wag their tails and blink their eyes. We patted their bare backs and eventually we were riding on them. As we held the reins, we let them walk by a kick of our heels. They did walk. We felt the joy of riding these huge horses. I let one of the horses trot. Oh, oh, what a thrill bouncing up and down on the horseback and the fresh winds brushing my warm body. In my glee for this horse ride, I had it galloped and I fell down the soft grasses laughing. Luckily, there were no bone dislocation and body aches. My two companions too, had the same feeling of joy.

I learned to saddle, ride and alight from this huge horse. My friends and I felt proud sitting on the horseback, with rein in our hand, we let our chosen horses gallop and then in jubilation we shouted, “Hiya, Silver, Away!” I lost my balance again and fell off from the horseback. But I learned to hang on the horse neck.

We soon found ourselves having horse races. But fifteen days later our fun with them was ended.

Captain Nakamura and his men took the rejuvenated horses, our friends away. The separation caused us pain. We shed some tears but that taught us how to let go of the thing that had become dear to us.

The cavalrymen left. There was not a memento or remembrance in gratefulness for our fifteen days service as horse caretakers. Oh yes, we were not compensated for our services. Mamerto, Bartolome and Solomon remembered only this, “Taksang, taksang, arigato and sayonara” from the horse riding soldiers of the Rising Sun.

The experience, nevertheless was something we were grateful about. We learned from that experience. The service we rendered to the conqueror, taught us how to live harmoniously with the enemies. On top of this, we had experienced the joy of riding big stallions.

Continue to Part 4

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