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My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 8

Cannibalism

The Massacre

Although our walk was slow, we kept on moving. Edible plants became very scarce. Water was far from our reach. But we had to live. Our destination was still unknown. Yet, we had the determination to survive, so we kept on moving. Then another great challenge was upon us when we reached a plateau of hard rocks and hardwood trees. All of us felt thirsty but we only heard the rippling waters and the booming sound of the river as its water fell down the canyon. There was nothing to drink. Plants were available but not edible. Around were whitish rocks which yielded no water. Our hunger and thirst were almost unbearable. Then fog fell, the sign of dusk appeared. Tiredness overtook us in the afternoon's coldness. So, we started putting up our shelter in spite of the gnawing hunger and thirst. Perhaps we could forget the agony of deprivation when we were asleep.

In the continuing journey to the unknown, we began to blame ourselves. We could just have followed the path of the Japanese soldiers instead of turning to another direction. Our problem about food even grew worse because after putting up our camp, we found out that we had company, the family of Captain Martinez, the head of the Bureau of Constabulary of Misamis Oriental. They were with us during the briefing for retreat at the Kempetai's Headquarters. His wife, seven-year old daughter, his mother and a helper were with him. Like us, they were also released by the Kempetai and had taken the same direction as ours.

Captain Martinez was the lone male in his group. He was busy putting up their shelter and the ladies, perhaps, were preparing their food. We intended to visit them as soon as we had finished our shelter. They were not able to see us due to the thick shrubs, boulders and trees. We were hidden from their view. Besides we tried to make less sounds and noise while the Martinez's were loudly conversing with each other.

Suddenly, we heard gunfire shots, simultaneous with the shouts of pain from women. More pain-filled shouts for assistance followed, then, an immediate silence. The gunfire and the cries of pain alerted us. We carefully looked in the direction of the shots. We saw three Japanese stragglers attacking the family of Mr. Martinez unmercifully. The Japanese stragglers did not notice us. We were hidden from their view due to the big trunks of trees and boulders. Thick shrubs also covered us. Our distance from them was probably about one hundred meters. The immediate silence terrified us. Manong and Captain Alviar made signs for us to be silent. They made efforts to go and inspect the commotion. They were restrained by the ladies as they had only pistol and a few bullets to fight the stragglers.

Meanwhile, we huddled together in a safer place, while the men watched intently on what was going on in that unfinished shelter of murder. We decided to wait for a while for any development. The abrupt ending of the agonizing cries meant that all could be dead. Silence and readiness were our better defense. However, the adults made some plans in case the stragglers noticed us.

Later from that place of murder, we heard the gleeful voices of the murderers. They seemed to be very busy. They built what seemed to be a camp fire. Later, the smell of roasted meat wafted strongly in the breeze. We looked at each other. All silently concluded that the murdered family had been cannibalized. As this developed, I asked myself, “Whom would I pity most? The cannibals or the cannibalized?”

Had the stragglers became insane that they were able to kill and eat human beings? Did they not pity the weak women and children? I could have cried for the Martinez family. But no tears could flow from my dehydrated body. In my deeper discernment, perhaps, their death was a relief. In death, there are no more physical struggle and agony for an uncertain, undetermined destiny. Let them all rest in peace. I was puzzled, though. Did God answer their prayer for rest? But, why did they suffer such kind of death?

Darkness came. Silently, we decided to hasten for a silent getaway before the killers could notice us. This cannibalism in the twilight caused fear in us. Cautiously we withdrew from our encampment. We were so careful in our movements. Our ears were so alert for any foreign sounds. After scaling a distance from the danger zone we began to feel secure. Only upon seeing that we were already in a safe distance did we huddle in a very big tree trunk. The huge trunk and massive root sides could protect us from any sudden assault. As there was no time to look for food, we just slept our hunger away. The group was without supper that night. Each one of us took turns in watching for any imminent. danger. I was not able to sleep well due to the abject, degrading, inhuman and bestial act of those Jap stragglers. Dawn appeared and all of us rose early in that misty morning. We noticed that we were overlooking the foggy valley below.

I glanced in all directions and deduced that we were perhaps in the peak of that mountain area. The cliff side temporarily eased my emotional disillusionment to the new horizon in my life. My heart was singing, “I am on the top of the world looking down in God's wondrous creation.” Up in the sky the miracle of God's sign of love to humankind appeared. It was a rainbow, whose ends were in the mountains and to the sea. What a beautiful bridge it would be if it were truly a real one. Did God promise Noah a rainbow? Ah! I was still young to comprehend the difference between a promise and a reality.

A bridge, a real one was what we, the wandering pilgrims were seeking to lead us to the place beyond the sea. I was just sorry because it was only a vision of a desire after all the tribulations that my body and soul had already suffered. Oh, yeah, the rainbow! Was there really a pot of gold in that rainbow’s end? I again wondered. The old folk's legend said so. What a joy it could be to know that the pain and sufferings we had were just a prelude to happiness! What was the meaning of the rainbow's appearance to our life now?

We were leaving the area of slaughter, but the phantom of the five innocents who were killed haunted me. I paused for minutes and prayed to God to save their souls. In my communication with Him, I told Him that those victims left their blissful home to serve people. Their love of family brought them together “for better or for worse” even experiencing the most difficult and dangerous travel rarely done by any person. The months of perilous journey was not of their own making but by the invaders.

The Descent

Hurriedly but carefully, we snaked down the very steep canyon while always looking for a better place to go down. Sometimes, we would slow down for fear of slipping and landing on the rocks below. The descent was so difficult. A gnawing hunger was felt by all of us. For the past three days, we ate only shoots and buds of young trees and drank the hard-to-secure saps and juices of rattan and vines. Without water, we were getting weaker. But with or without water, we had to go oh. We took a step, slid down, held on to plant nearby in order to keep our balance and then after a deep breath, step again, again and again avoiding to step on the loose rocks. Everybody was so careful not to hold on the young plants which could be uprooted for if we slipped and fell down, we could be badly bruised or crippled. As we held on to the sturdier plants, we also touched the ants, the spiders and leeches. These added to the agony of our lives.

In every step that I made I had to make sure that my bare foot was properly anchored. Now and then, we took long, deep, breaths. As we rested, I asked my companions of the same question they wanted to ask, “Why are we taking this very dangerous passage?” The answer was always, “because there was no other way that we knew of. My knees trembled. My body ached. But there was no choice. Down we go for if we go up, we would meet the stragglers.

I was the lead man in this descent so I could not complain much. Really, we were so exhausted and we were still far from the river below. The group rested every other step and then continued zigzagging down for a better passage. The weather was cold , but we were perspiring hard. We already had bruises in our feet and hands. With great efforts and determination to fight hunger and fatigue, we came at last to the valley and the river.

All of us looked for a place by the riverside, a place where we could lay down our overly exhausted bodies. I saw a big flat stone. Without any hesitation, I laid down my tired, shaking knees and trembling body. On top of that stone, I closed my eyes for a rest. After the short rest, my body regained its lost energy. I went down to the river and soaked my feet in the cold, cold water. There was a curative and soothing effect of the water to my body and my emotions.

The water's efficacious cleansing made my body active once again. My feet moved with ease on the silvery glowing water while my companions surveyed the valley with keen scrutiny. After my swim, I noticed at the other side of the river a verdant kaingin clearing which was full of edible plants. My stomach reminded me of the long delayed hunger. We decided to cross the river later to avail ourselves of its produce. I scoffed water for a drink and picked up some of the edibles like the waterweeds and ate them raw. Later the snails, shrimps, crabs and other river dwellers gave me satisfaction. Oh, they were so delicious especially when eaten fresh. At last, we were able to replenish our ebbing energies. We had in abundance green food supplies and water in this valley.

Manna and Death

We kept on looking at the other side of the river. It seemed that this green and verdant kaingin could really satisfy our need for more food. The decision was to cross it. Crossing the river was not easy. It had strong water current. With our weak bodies, it was dangerous to cross. We thought of crossing the river not individually but together. With tightly joined hands, we crossed it fearfully. The strong and cold water almost carried me down. I slipped and floated. It was good that Manong held me tight and I was able to stand firmly again. Others too, slipped but the united strength prevailed. We were not carried downstream. At last, we reached the shallow part and ran fast to the riverbank for a rest. Then we proceeded to the land clearing. In here, we beheld the planted edible plants in abundance.

At this point in time, we considered ourselves already experienced and skillful in facing any danger. Our eyes became sharper and ears keener to detect any sign of harm. We also learned to note sounds made by human beings. We believe that the natives planted the crops in the kaingin but did not reside there. The planters just visited the place at a certain time to determine whether the plants were growing and ready for harvest There was no sign of recent visits from any human beings. It was the common opinion that after planting of these crops the natives disappeared farther for they were afraid of the Japanese soldiers. Our observation though was that this place had not yet been found by the advance party. There was a lean-to shelter, but seemed be unused.

This forest clearing yielded corn that were already forming their ears, camote (sweet potato) that had already edible tubers lotya, gabi, bananas, papayas and sugar canes.

Amazed at this discovery, we asked ourselves, “Is this a part of the Garden of Eden?” “Is this just a reward from the Almighty God for us trusting Him during that long hunger? Is this God's manna for us?” We were like the hungry people of Moses. Lifting and focusing my twinkling eyes to the heavens, I prayed, “Father in Heaven, we thank you for our good health and for the food you have given us now. Amen.”

My mind and heart in an instant let loose some loving praises to the Lord, Our God. “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, HE made its pretty colors. HE made its tiny wings. “

In this first taste of good food, I greedily picked any green tender young camote leaves and dug young camote tubers. I ate them raw. They were so sweet. Even the newly formed ears of corn did not escape our hungry appetite. In eating the young ears of corn, we just removed the outer hard covering and ate raw the soft tender and delicate cobs, including the golden tassels and the soft young leaves. Oh, the food that God gave us were so sweet and delicious! All of us had our fill to the brim.

The time to relax came. Contented, we took our nap under the trees. The sun was bright. Later, we put up our lean-to shelter with banana leaves as roofs and matting. The river was my favorite area due to its “dwellers.” I could not resist its invitation. I accepted its alluring and cleansing whispers. I went again to the river and swam. Then, I did some scoffing of the shrimps, crabs, and small fishes living under the stones. I only went up to share my catch with others. As the water in my body dried up, I went down again for a dip and to catch more fishes and the like for food. I only stopped my very long water exploration and swimming when I began to shiver from coldness. But I felt very much refreshed. In gratefulness to the Almighty God, I offered this prayer.

“Our Father, who is in Heaven, holy be Your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

As we partook of the delicious food, which was manna to us; the memory of the cannibalized victims came back. The cannibalism was done because of hunger. We were enjoying the bounty. Could there be more others who would suffer the same fate as the Martinez family? However, that night, our lean-to was very refreshing. It invited us to a good rest and sleep. We slept soundly and with full satisfaction. The banana roofing had given us a splendid shelter.

At dawn, I woke-up my bedmate, Corporal Nicanor Buadlart. He was still a fat man despite our food shortage. He did not move. I kept pushing him. There was no response. I called his name and felt his pulse. “Kanor, Kanor, wake up. It's already morning!” He was stiff and cold. “He is dead!” I shouted. His death was caused perhaps by over-eating or maybe of high blood pressure or “bangungot.”

Since we were so eager to be on the trail again we dug a pit of two feet deep and buried his body in that island of green forest. His grave was marked with a wooden cross made up of two branches tied with a vine. Thus, the death of the robust corporal soldier made me realize that death was not only for the thin people but also for the robust and healthy. Before and after we had buried him, each offered a personal prayer to God entrusting his soul to Him. Then we said our petition of One Our Father, three Hail Mary's, and one Glory be to God and an ejaculation of “May your soul rest in peace through the mercy of God.” This was the way we were taught in our religion. As we parted, I said an epitaph: “Here lies in the bank of a great river the body of Nicanor Buadlart, the brave and faithful Philippine Constabulary soldier.” In silence, we proceeded to a still unknown destination.

The Camote or Sweet Potato Prize

“Tramp, tramp, tramp!” I mumbled a song. “I'm happy when I'm hiking on the beaten trail. I'm happy when I'm hiking, pack upon my back.” The path led us again to the common trail used by the retreating Japanese soldiers. I hated it. It was disgusting to see more death, but we had to follow it for easy travel. The path led us to another forest clearing or kaingin. It was a wide one, but oh, so bare! All the plants were uprooted. The uprooted camote vines were all in disarray. The wild pigs could not do it in such manner. The soil was not upturned nor was there a pig print. It seemed that the soil disturbance and plant destruction were caused by the main retreating forces that had passed through it.

Since it was eating time, we picked the sprouting camote buds and without washing , ate them raw. The other edible plants did not escape our hungry appetite. Even wild ferns did not escape our menu. The camote fruit or tubers were what we needed. We searched even for the small ones. There were none. We believed that somewhere in this topsy-turvy land clearing, a big sweet potato or camote was awaiting us. Diligently, the six of us patiently followed all the unpulled living camote vines and roots.

After an hour, one of us shouted ecstatically, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. I found one big camote!” Ma Siang's excitement caught our attention. We ran to her, as she carefully unearthed a big brownish camote. The group surrounded her as she held the seven-inch-in-diameter camote. Each one took hold of the treasure. Each one hugged and kissed it.

Ma Biang was overjoyed. Who would not? Its size and smell was already a guarantee of a satisfying meal. Her diligence and patience was rewarded. This was found outside the camote patch in an almost grassy area. Ma Biang had diligently followed the long roots to its end. Her diligence, perseverance and patience paid off.

The unearthed camote was heavy and bulky. This was like gold to us. We decided not to eat it immediately. This would be cooked and shared to everybody only when hunger would already be unbearable. All could wait. Just by looking at the camote, we felt partly satisfied. We agreed that this will be “one for all and all for one.” Each one would take turns in carrying it. At a start, the finder was the first caretaker. Ma Biang gently and carefully placed it in her knapsack. I took turns in carrying it.

The Sweet Potato’s Toll

Since the camote was found and properly secured in Ma Biang's pack, our conversations were mostly centered on its size and availability when hunger would be unbearable. The most common remark was, “It's God's manna.” The day passed in our seemingly joyful hike.

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We did not know that one of our companions had an evil plan. This companion held-up Manang Biang with his 45 caliber pistol and forcefully took the camote from her knapsack. Devilishly, he herded us under a big tree and ordered us to only follow him. His gesture was abnormal. He held, patted, smelled, and opened his mouth to mimic eating the camote. We thought that it was only a joke for he was our respectable captain of the Bureau of Constabulary. But we begun to doubt when he took Rosario forcefully with him in his separate shelter. The two cooked the camote after washing it in the river. We observed him keenly with anger and hate. He greedily ate it in full satisfaction and gusto. What a fool! Was this the respectable captain now? What should we do to him in order to stop his folly?

We were not able to sleep well that night in our temporary lean-to shelter. An idea popped up and so we talked in whispers. At midnight, the four of us silently left our shelter and cautiously went up the steep mountainside and moved up. In that, so dark nocturnal ascent, we had our hands bruised again from holding on to anything to keep our balance. The coldness made my knees very weak. We stopped for a while, gasping for breath then moved up again. Insects crawled in our body. But we did not mind these night creatures. We were so focused on escaping even if we were being bitten by them. The ascent continued even when we were in pain.

At the break of dawn, we were already in a plateau. The four of us rested in a nearby stream. After regaining strength I went to the nearby stream to drink, then planned to go catching edible stream dwellers. I bent down the stream to drink but I saw above the stream two decaying corpses of Japanese soldiers. I stopped drinking and vomited the water from my mouth. Then a sudden sound of an automatic pistol reverberated. Bullets whizzed by us. Whew, whew! It was rather close. Who was shooting us? Who was attacking us? Why was he shooting at us?

I wanted so much to look for the fool who shot us. But we were so surprised and scared for our lives. We scampered to any direction for safety. Not one of us was hit. Minutes had passed in silence. My senses were all honed for this eventuality. All of us hid in fear. My ears became so alert to the sounds and movements in the surroundings, discerning even the sound of the lizard's movements. My eyes keenly focused even on any shadow of the incoming danger.

Crawling and peeping in between the shrubs and bushes, I tried to find out who the culprit was. It was hard to figure out who shot us three times in succession. I deduced that it must be the fool captain that we had left behind with Rosario. He was the only one among us who had pistol.

Sh, shh, shhh. Yes, there was a rustle of grasses near the shrubs. I prepared myself for a snake-like attack and defense. To my surprise, it was Manong. The four of us were separated in our escape. It was a blessing that the two of us were united again. But how about the women? Where were they? Later, we heard a shout from afar.

It was Ma Biang calling and pleading for us to appear. She was kept hostage by the war crazed captain. We decided to continue hiding but we planned to find a way to rescue Ma Biang. We moved on. We made sure that our movements would not be detected by the crazy captain. We moved towards the direction of the river as we expected them to go to the river too.

We planned to waylay the mad captain in one of the river bends. We walked faster than the captor of Ma Biang and Rosario. The women hostages could slow him down. The path we took proved to be very dangerous due to the presence of the stragglers, Japanese soldier. The main Japanese Forces were already far ahead of us, as shown by the tracks and the abandoned shelters.

While we were resting by the riverbank on the next day, three Japanese soldiers surprised us. They were fully armed. If they saw any resistance from us, they were ready to shoot us. It was a miracle they did not raise their arms against us.

I began to be terribly afraid of these stragglers because of the massacres I had witnessed. I asked God for protection. I did not want to fight with them. As the soldiers approached us, we called and greeted them in their language. I talked in Niponggo. They were surprised to hear me talk in their language. Their war-like countenance became friendly. We introduced ourselves. We told them why we were with them in the forest and the Retreat.

Then Manong told them that we had women companions. But they were with the civilian Captain and were taken as hostages. It was our desire to free the women. The Japanese soldiers promised to assist and cooperate with us.

Continue to Part 9

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