My Uncle's World War 2 Experience In The Philippines - Part 12

The Surrender

Community of Floating Houses

It was probably four o'clock in the afternoon. The rafts were always steered in the middle of the river. At regular periods, we observed people partly hidden by the riverbank. We waved at them and announced the surrender. We noticed that ahead of us were houses. We wondered why there were houses in that wide and deep river. With all caution, we announced again and again our identity and our intentions of peace. There were floating houses lined along the riverbanks. The houses seemed empty but not abandoned. We alighted in the middle of the floating houses. Our rafts were tied in one of them. We signaled to our companion soldiers to tie their rafts too in one of the floating houses. The announcement that we made in the Visayan dialect made the women and the children to come out. Some men who after knowing that our intentions were good, came out too. They could be guerilla soldiers because they had firearms.

Manong introduced himself as the Mayor of Malaybalay who was kept hostage by the Japanese Retreating Forces together with his family. We conversed in Visayan and after few hesitations, the mood of the river settlers towards us changed. The apprehensions, fear and defiant attitude turned to hospitality, friendliness, cordiality and understanding for both parties. They requested their women to give us something to eat.

An exchange of ideas ensued. It turned out that one of the men in the floating houses was a guerilla leader. The armed men were his followers. They had sighted us upriver and had been monitoring our movements since then. After getting to know us they accommodated us graciously. Their most available food was brought to us. We shared some to the Jap soldiers who were meek as lambs in their rafts. These civilians' hospitality and charity touched the ego of the Jap soldiers. They later on joined us with a happy mood.

The "Kokang"

It did not take long to establish peace and goodwill with our hosts because we used the Visayan dialect to communicate with them. There were also some Manobo or Bukidnon words used in the conversation. Ma Biang, a native of Bukidnon spoke this dialect well. She became so acceptable to our hosts. I knew how to speak this dialect because of my exposure to the native Bukidnon children. The two of us acted as the interpreter between the civilians and the soldiers.

The tale of our seven-month hike with the Japanese Army Retreat and our battle for survival in the forest evoked a feeling of pity from them. They brought more of their edibles. The Japanese soldiers reciprocated also by giving what they had while saying akokang, kokang, kokang.. “There was an exchange of goods between the men. We too had our barter of goods with them and their children. We distributed our corn supply to them as a gesture of gratitude.

In the process of barter or kokang, we tasted and ate for the first time the United States Army K-rations such as bread, butter, cheese, corned beef and others. One of the Jap soldiers removed his bayonet and scabbard. Smilingly, he handed it to one of the men. In gladness, the man went to his house raft and got his piglet. The two butchered it. Helping hands assisted in making it into a very delicious viand. The cooked piglet's meat was distributed to us. If for months, you had not eaten such a delicious and tender meat, properly cooked and served , how would you act and how would you eat it?

Guerillas' Assistance to Surrender

Manong told the guerilla leader about the Japanese soldiers' desire to surrender to the American authorities. He was so glad that he was made an instrument for the surrender of these soldiers. Perhaps, they were the last Jap Squad to formally surrender via the water passage. He told the radioman to come to him. A meeting was called by Manong to plan the surrender. It was represented by the Jap lieutenant and aide, the guerilla leader and aide then Manong and I. It was agreed that the Japanese soldiers would surrender peacefully to the guerillas. The guerillas would work for the formal surrender to the American Military Authorities. A walkie-talkie message was sent to the Americans in Butuan, Agusan Province. It was learned that the surrenderees shall be transported to the main land. We did not include ourselves because we were civilians.

While afloat in these raft houses, my curious mind sought answers to the following questions:

“Why do they live in floating houses? Would not these houses be carried away in shreds down to the sea if there would be a great flood?”

I learn from observing them that their main source of livelihood was river fishing. Their catch was sold to the farmers and in the nearby towns. Their secondary livelihood was mat weaving and loom weaving, utilizing abaca fibers. Their rafts were of three tiers of big bamboo secured tightly with strong rattans and vines. In case of strong flood, they would move out to a safer area. During dry season, they went farming; selling their mats, sinamay cloth, bags, bamboo and rattan crafts and also other forest products.

While we were waiting for another water transportation to take us to Butuan, the guerilla leader told us of their encounter with the Jap forces, a month ago. It caused the bombing of the river ways in Bukidnon-Agusan provinces. Guerilla groups in the mountains recorded and reported to them the conditions of the Jap retreating forces.

When the men in the banca spotted us, they already hatched a plan to annihilate us before we could reach this area (the river crossing to the place of Sagonto). They had stationed their men by the riversides. We were sure to be “dead ducks” then if the Jap soldiers were the lead rafts for they were the identified enemies. Our participation as lead raft changed their plan of attack from “annihilation to compassion” from “bushwalking or attack covered by bushes” to “wait, if they shoot us.” The alteration of their plan was due to our strategy of placing the civilians' raft first; women standing at the center of the raft; the hoisting of the dirty cloth as a sign of surrender; the loud and clear announcement of “to surrender”. These made them hold their fire.

The Landing Craft Transportation (LCT) Ride

More Filipino soldiers came in a banca. They asked where we came from. We informed them of our plight from Bukidnon, passing the pathless and untravelled plateaus, mountains, canyons, streams and rivers. Many questions were asked especially on why we were with the Japanese soldiers.

A Landing Craft Transport Barge arrived. It looked like an elongated box of covered steel that could float and run even on dry land. At the other end was a platform where the machine that made it move was placed. The LCT can carry soldiers and some loads to be delivered to the seaside or riverbank. This barge came from Butuan with the purpose to fetch us. We were told to get in. Inside were some Japanese soldiers ready to assist the new surrenderees. Some civilians from Butuan also took the free ride to be back in this place. Most of us just stood and squatted inside the barge.

The time must be six o clock in the evening. Fog surrounded us again. The barge machine started and it caused the LCT to move back a little then turned. Even darkness was about to cover the area, we still travelled downriver. The trip was like rafting in peaceful water. All I could hear was the machine and the conversation of people inside. While observing the passengers I felt sleepy. After a while I dozed off. Then, Ma Biang awakened me. We were already in a place where the sides of the river were lighted. I could hear people talking, walking and running. An announcement was made that we had reached the Butuan Wharf. It must be half past nine o'clock in the evening. We were told to wait for instructions before we disembark.

The Jap soldiers were taken to the Japanese Internment Camp in the town while we were lodged at the Provincial Jail for a night's rest. While inside the jailhouse, I asked the jail guard if he knew of any other civilian refugees or survivors that came from the province of Bukidnon. Others were also asked and they answered in the negative. We then realized that we were the only civilian survivors in that longest retreat that lasted for seven months. Wow! What a travel just to surrender!

The Battleship Ride

Tiredness possessed me. I did not know that it was morning already. Without taking breakfast we were told to board the Battleship anchored at the pier. We obeyed and walked towards it. I was amazed by its huge size. Big cannons and anti aircraft guns were there. The deck was very wide. There were Navy men in their white uniform busy doing their assigned tasks. We ascended its movable strong stairways up to where we, the passengers, were allowed to stay. The U.S. Navy men were all cordial. Yet I had the feeling of inferiority because I was with the tall, white and uniformed men who spoke a different language. However, I tried to think that my diminutive size and color was not hindrance to communicate with them. I greeted them with a big smile and said, “Hi, Joe!”

Inside the battleship, we looked for a place to stay. The Japs were with us. We were in an enclosed room. We could not see the outside world. We did not know where we were going. I tried to peep at the porthole, but it was too high. There was nothing to do but to tell stories and go to sleep. The good sea weather easily lulled us to a good rest. We were awakened in time for the distribution of food.

An order for us to prepare for landing was heard from the loudspeaker. The battleship cruise did not make us feel dizzy. It was probably, six thirty in the evening when we disembarked. The place which I heard later was Bugo, Cagayan, Misamis Oriental. As we disembarked from the ship, I kept on looking back with the thought, “Could I ever ride a huge battleship again?”

That night, all the passengers were lined up along the Bugo beach. We were part of the Japanese soldiers' line. While waiting for the dispatch order, I noticed that some of the soldiers in the line were complaining of some pebbles of stones hitting them. The sound of “ouch, awy, bakairu, ano ni, “and other expressions of pain were heard. I looked around. I saw about fifteen meters away, some civilian men, women and children holding sling shots. It was possible that they were the ones who rained the Japanese soldiers with stones. Some still hated the Jap soldiers and had not yet lost the feeling of animosity against them.

A number of six by six army trucks arrived. These were used to transport the Japanese soldiers. The four of us were in another truck. Our truck was the last in the convoy. Less than an hour later, we were already in an army camp fenced with barbed wires. The Camp Sentinels checked us and we were told to proceed to the headquarter. All of us, went down from the truck and the Jap soldiers were told to go to the Japanese lnternment Camp. After a time of consultation by the U.S. Army Officers, we were escorted to another camp, where we met some Filipino civilians who had been kept there.

Baloy Civilian Internment Camp (CIC), Barrio Cugman, Cagayan, Misamis Oriental was now our new address. There were already eight interned civilians. When they learned that we were the new “arrival”, they amiably welcomed us. They helped us in placing the beds or cots and beddings to the tent assigned to us. After an hour of getting to know each other, we were told to go to the kitchen and dining hall for our food.

“Really good, delicious and cooked food were in abundance! Wow, wheww, wow! At long last, it was the first real food that we had after seven months of fasting and abstinence.” Imagine eating the American foods that we only heard from the People in the floating houses. We had to eat it slowly. No hurry. We were now in safe hands. Chew, grind, chew, munch and swallow. Uuhmmm, uhmmm, how tasty and how satisfying. Our stomachs were so full. But we anticipated that the uncontrolled intake of food would later caused us indigestion.

A soldier was assigned to take charge of us. He led us to the PX store room for some packed and canned goods. We were brought to the Supply Room for our woolen blankets, mats, pillows, towels clothing and toiletries. We took all these things to our tent. We had all the necessities for a decent existence. I slept soundly that night with all the comforts that we had long missed. My sound sleep was disturbed and interspersed with joyful dreams. In my early rest, my mouth and lips kept smiling and my eyes though heavy were twinkling in delight. Who would not? At last, we had the comfort we had missed eight months ago. I seemed to be living in a millionaire's comfort. So, I thought that I would never remember the seven-month ordeal of war.

Morning came. My feeling was light. I had the best sleep ever, I thought. The weather was not so warm. The singing of some birds were highly appreciated. I went to the comfort room whistling and greeting everybody whom I met. I washed my face and cleaned my teeth with my fingers. Such a splendid day. Then, all of us went to the dining hall for our meal. There, we met new acquaintances. We washed our eating utensils and returned them to the utensils rack. We were learning and doing the usual daily chores in the camp.

In Baloy, Cugman Civilian lnternment Camp, we had more time knowing each other. Closer acquaintances were developed. Family and family backgrounds were traced with known relatives mentioned. The events before the war were recalled. The fascinating happenings of prewar days were told. Dreams were revealed in a dreamy manner. Experiences of happy and unhappy events were told and retold.

The main reasons why they were placed in the Internment Camp were suspicions of being Japanese collaborators and of crimes during the liberation. The common ground on the collaboration issue was working during the Japanese regime. But it was for their families to survive. In order to live, they worked in any area that the Japanese placed them. They did not do any harm to people and to their native land. In their narration about their lives, I realized that their war experiences were not as horrible, dreadful, pitiful, thrilling and full of suspense as ours. They were all matured people. I was the youngest, I thought.

Days passed with the sharing of life's joyful and sorrowful episodes. Friendship bloomed among us. All were hopeful that we would soon be set free to lead our own lives.

On the seventh day, the eight civilian internees were released. No crime had been filed against them. After they bade good-bye to us, we the Pimentels asked ourselves, “When would we be home, too?”

On the eighth day of our stay in the CIC, all the Japanese soldiers in the Baloy-Cugman Japanese Prisoners of War Camp were transferred to the main Japanese Prisoners of War Concentration Camp distributed throughout the Philippine Archipelago. The white American soldiers that guarded our camp were also transferred. They were replaced by the black American soldiers. They were not informed about our case in the camp. We were also not informed that we were the only internees left in the wide fenced internment camp.

A day passed. We wondered that no one had contacted nor had given us our food supply for the day. Luckily, a stray horse got inside our camp grazing. I drove it away. The black American soldier who was guarding the entrance gate of the camp saw me. While he came nearer, he surveyed the area where I came from. He saw my companions and directly proceeded to them. After a short conversation, he took the four of us to their PX store. He told us to get the food that we could carry. “Unbelievable! A day ago, we had no food, now we have it in abundance.” Before we parted with the guard, we told him of our desire - that we be allowed to go home.

He nodded with a smile.

Two days later, we were told to pack-up all our things and to carry whatever we could take with us, like blankets, etc. “To your home” said the soldiers. The six by six army truck was already there. We boarded the army truck in joyful spirits. The eastward route that the truck took was the route leading to our home in Malaybalay. Inside the truck, we were all smiling. For sure, we were on our way to our hometown. Sitio Puerto was the junction leading to Malaybalay. The truck took the northeast direction. We were dismayed. I asked Manong, where they were taking us. It was back to Bugo beach. They were not sending us home then, but where?

The Submarine Ride

A queer U.S. Ship that looked like a giant cucumber was berthed not far from the Bugo Beach. The truck stopped at a short distance from it. As we went down from the truck, an American Officer approached and told us to go and follow him. We ascended the steel ladder, still following him. Before we got in, I made some side-glances and focused my eyes in this kind of boat that we were told to board in. It was an elongated kind of steel ship. Except for the passageway, it was totally covered. There was nothing of interest externally. I asked the officer the name of this kind of ship. It was a submarine.

The interior of the submarine had passages linked to different rooms. The rooms had hatched doors that when closed; no water could get in. It had different floors called decks as the upper, middle and maybe lower decks. I heard the machines functioning. I only saw a part of the upper deck, where arsenals for fighting were ready for use. We were placed in an open space on the second deck. We were told that we were not allowed to go to other rooms. At our occupied space, I kept wondering, where was this submarine going? Where were they taking us? How would this ship go underwater? Would the seawater not get in or seep in, thus drowning everybody in it? Could we breathe properly if we are already under the ocean? How would the ship reach its destination safely, when we could not see anything underwater? Could it defend itself against enemy attack? How? What… ? When… ? Questions which remained unspoken began to return.

The loudspeaker announced that the submarine was leaving Bugo. The machines' change of tempo proved that it was starting to leave. I had the great desire to witness how the submarine would descend underwater, but we were not allowed to loiter around. The submarine was now travelling underwater and we were breathing normally. The lights were on and the submariners were busy doing their assigned works. I did not notice any uncomfortable movements in this underwater journey. It was unlike the ships that travel on the surface which were easily shaken by the waves. The shaking of the ship by the waves caused seasickness among the passengers. The rhythm of the hammock-like movements inside the Sub made me reflect again:

I rode on “my feet” in traversing the vast land expanse of forests and rivers, mountains and hills; I rode on different animal backs; I rode on a raft manned by ourselves, who had no experience of rafting; I rode in a battleship; on trucks, cars; and now a submarine. Could I also ride in an airplane? This was indeed a memorable and unique experience of a lifetime. Who could have experienced these kinds of rides. My deep reflection gave me a good sleep till I was awakened by the noise of some men distributing food. Due to the enclosure of the submarine and the continuous electric lighting, I lost track of the time.

The loudspeaker announced that we were in Tacloban, Leyte. The instruction was to prepare for disembarkation. The submarine then surfaced. Later, we were in an open space of the submarine. I breathe and breathe the different kind of air. A fresh salty breeze kissed my face and the night perfume embraced my whole body. Tacloban beach welcomed us all.

Tacloban by Night

Army trucks were already lined up to take us to, maybe, the Internment Camp again. My inquisitiveness and curiosity urged me to thoroughly investigate and observe the place. The beach that we were in was peopled by the new arrivals from Cagayan, Misamis Oriental. All were instructed to fall in line and be ready to board the trucks that will take us to places already intended for us. At a distance were some of the curious civilians. There were huts and stalls selling foods. The huts and stalls were lighted with Petromax and kerosene lamps.

In the Tacloban Gulf were numerous ships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, PT boats, landing crafts and other naval armada facilities. Of course, there were also fishermen's boats that were lighted to lure the fishes for an easy catch. All the ships and boats that were lighted made the area a Sea of Light. In the wharf were also passengers coming in and out. Those who were going to take the boats to the nearby island of Cebu, Samar, Bohol and other places were waiting for the arrival of their ships. They had cargoes with them. The arrivals moved on, some with cargoes on their heads, the others on their shoulders and others had their cargoes in their hand. Some mothers with babies or children by their sides were part of the throng of people. By the ship sides were bancas doing their wares. All people were busy in the wharf. The sea was calm and the night seemed to be daytime with all human beings always on the move for existence.

We left the pier through the trucks that brought us to our place of internment. The trucks traveled on a dirt road. There were potholes that made the truck and the passengers bounce up and down. Coconut trees abound in the area. The houses were of temporary structures. They were mostly roofed with nipa palms, cog on grasses or coco leaves. Some of the posts were of big bamboo stumps. Most of the walls were made of woven nipa and coco palm leaves. However, there were also semi permanent buildings of lumber.

My observation was focused mostly to the houses which were built closer to the ground. Some even had ropes tied to their houses that was anchored on coconut trunks or tied to big pegs pounded deep to the ground. I asked Manong about it. He told me that it was to prevent their houses from being carried away by the strong wind. Leyte is one of the provinces in the typhoon paths, it being near the Pacific Ocean.

Tacloban poblacion was different from the wharf area. More buildings that were semi-permanent dotted the area. Business stores were still open doing business with all men and women, especially the American soldiers. It seemed that this place did not feel the pangs of war because the air was full of slow and fast music. It made me more alive when I heard the blare of rhythmic music, the language of the soul. The Army truck reached its destination, the Tacloban Regional Civilian Internment Camp.

Continue to Part 13

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