March 1945
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Month March 1945

March 30, 1945 — Friday

Early this morning, Tuguegarao was bombed and strafed. The P-51 dive-bombers were strafing with terrifying precision. The Americans probably know we are here. The planes are diving very low –as low as 100 meters above ground. We could hear bombs dropping just a few hundred meters away. Tuguegarao was the worst place since we started this trip. No water. No food. Continuous bombing and strafing. “Seventh Heaven” suddenly seemed better! At 4:35 p.m. the air raid stopped. The whole town was razed to the ground.

Mr. Fukushima, a member of Ambassador Murata’s party, told us to separate our “essentials” from our “non-essentials.” We are to bring only the very essential.

At 6:05 we finished sorting out our “essentials.” We rode our last ride on native soil. We arrived at Tuguegarao airfield at 8:20 p.m. and waited there till 10:55 p.m. for the Japanese plane to arrive. Some of our baggage containing even our essentials had to be left behind.

This was to be my first airplane trip and I was very excited. I sat below the machine-gun turret. A co-pilot sat beside me and opened a package. It was a pilot’s ration. He gave me chocolate out of what looked like a toothpaste tube, some biscuits and yokan. In return I gave him my bag of army biscuits given to me in Tuguegarao. I went up to the turret and saw the deep blue sky. It was hazy and vast and beautiful. I fell asleep.

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March 27, 1945 — Tuesday

We were told that tonight is to be the last leg of our trip. We are going to Tuguegarao. From Tuguegarao, we will leave by plane for Formosa.

March 24, 1945 — Saturday

We had a hard time climbing the steep slope to reach our resting place for the day. We called it: ‘Seventh Heaven.’ It is about 60 meters above the trail. It was so steep and slippery that we had to crawl grabbing the thick grass and whatever branches and trunks we could hold on to in order not to slip back.

The wheels of Maning’s pushcart came off. Maning still had high fever and had to lean on me. His weight plus my water canteen, .36 caliber revolver, 30 rounds of ammo, a blanket, a topcoat, were very heavy.

We were tired and hungry after the 13-kilometer climb. As I lay on the ground, I thought about the hardships we are going through and wondered –are we not actually “playing with Death”? Here we were exposed to Nature’s ferocity and gentleness. We had the mellow shade of large, beautiful trees above. At the same time, there was the biting cold wind. Suddenly, I thought, the fear of not having anything to eat or of being killed no longer bothered me. What really bothered me more was the fear of the Unknown. We were not really playing with Death. We were instead the playthings of Nature.

We started to walk at 6:00 p.m. towards Pingkian, fourteen kilometers away. The mountain trails began to descend and the walk became easier. Even Mama decided to walk. Mama is determined to go through it all no matter what.

We arrived at Pingkian at 11:10 in the evening, 50 minutes ahead of schedule. We had walked fourteen kilometers in five hours! We decided to just spread blankets to lie down. We were too tired to worry about dirt and dust.

March 23, 1945 — Friday

At 6:55 a.m. the convoy came to a halt. After resting for an hour I went with a Kempeitai to cook rice and boil water for lunch. We found a flowing stream about kilometer and a half away. We cooked rice and filled up all the containers with boiling water. I went back alone carrying all the heavy stuff. The path was uphill which made the distance seem like five kilometers! I reached the tend on the hill at 1:25 p.m. dead tired!

We got ready at 7:00 p.m. Reaching a narrow trail, we were told only the cars could pass. Papa, Ambassador Murata, Mama, Dodjie and Maning rode the car, which left at 7:35 p.m. The car was to take them to Kayapa six kilometers away. And then return for Speaker Aquino, Minister and Mrs. Osias, Betty and the two children and my three sisters.

When the car did not return by 9:15 p.m. we all decided to walk. We walked for three hours and covered four kilometers uphill with out heavy load until we finally saw the car. Speaker Aquino and party rode the car while Kuya Pito, Kuya Pepe, General Capinpin and I, together with some of the Japanese soldiers walked to Kayapa two and a half kilometers away.

March 22, 1945 Thursday

At 7:25 a.m., the Japanese escort commander signaled us all to stop. The trucks were made to park under the trees and camouflaged with leafy branches. Our resting place was to be on the slope of the hill. Kuya Pito and I had to carry Maning on a stretcher because he had high fever.

Kuya Pito and I cooked rice. We placed too little water at first and had to keep adding water. We added too much water! The rice became lugaw!

We were told we are to travel at night because during the day we might be spotted by the American planes and by the guerrilla. We were to rest during the day. But, then, we had to boil water, cook and do so many things and I am not used to sleeping during daytime. Too bright.

At about 7:00 p.m. the soldiers removed the camouflage branches on the truck. We were on our way. After two hours, the road stated to get narrower. At one point the outer wheel of our truck was dangling over the precipice! A loose stone could mean the end! The soldiers got out and started digging to widen the road as we inched our way forward! Below us was a very steep and deep ravine. I could hear my heartbeat and heavy breathing as we slowly moved on -a meter a minute. After five hours we came upon a high stretch of the mountain trail. It was already daylight.

March 21, 1945 Wednesday

It is 6:30 p.m. We are ready for the journey. Everyone is tearful. It is very touching. The people we are leaving would have stayed with us to the very end. Now we are leaving them. We may never see them again.

We left exactly 9:25 that evening. We used three cars and four trucks. Papa, Mama, my three sisters and Dodjie used the first car. Speaker Benigno Aquino, Betty and her two boys, Minister and Mrs. Camilo Osias took the second car, Ambassador Murata and his secretary Mr. Masaki, rode in the third. Kuya Pito, Kuya Pepe, Maning and I boarded the third Army truck which also carried our luggage. 40 Japanese soldiers, with their supplies and equipment, used the three other trucks.

How beautiful Baguio was only three months ago -and how badly battered it is now! I asked myself, “Where are we going?” I really don’t know. All I know is that we are heading north, that we are still in the mountain trails of Benguet, and that with all my thick clothes I am shivering from the cold.

March 20, 1945

Our new friends repeatedly asked us if we had not feared that such human slaughter would occur; if we did not have any inkling that the Japanese would make such a bloody exit.

Frankly, neither did we foresee or at least suspect such. Had we known it, we would not have submitted to it like lambs. Never did we imagine that a human being, even if he were Japanese, could go down to such a low level of brutality.

March 18, 1945

I visited Muntinlupa, the new prison site. Not a political or criminal prisoner was left. When the Americans were about to arrive, they were liquidated without let-up, until the Chief henchman, disgusted with the sight of blood, shouted, “Always kill, kill. You go.” And so was saved a handful of prisoners who were already by the death wall, among whom were Fr. Rufino Santos and a boy of nine. Days before, a group of thirty were able to escape and join the guerillas.

Now the cells are occupied by the former prisoners of Los Baños who are being rehabilitated before being sent home. I heard the story of their liberation from their own lips. As I listened I could not tell whether I was listening to a detective story of Sherlock Holmes or to a script of a Hollywood comedy. They all tallied in the details of their accounts.

At dawn of the 23rd of February, the day the liberators entered Intramuros, the 250 Japanese soldiers who were guarding the prisoners of Los Baños were starting their ceremonial greetings to the sun and the Imperial palace and their routine calisthenics. From the skies, a hundred gigantic shadows fell on the ground like shadows of great scarecrows. Simultaneously, from the thicknesses of the mountains surrounding the camp emerged some two thousand guerillas who had posted themselves around the prison camp during the night. Their firings synchronized with the attack of a hundred and fifty tanks and amphibian trucks, catching the prison guards unaware and sending them scampering to the nearby bushes like scared rats. They burned the barracks and within a few minutes, the two thousand internees were moving out of the lagoon, the men on foot and the women and children in the amphibian trucks. At the beach, other vehicles were waiting for them. The enemies posted at nearby hills, who were still asleep, finally woke up and fired their artillery, wounding a soldier and a liberated internee while they were boarding the watercraft. They were the only casualties. The three-pronged attack was as spectacular as it was successful.

They crossed the lake and landed at Cabuyao which had been liberated by the guerillas. There were some fifteen thousand of them so well entrenched that now, after four weeks, they had not been displaced from those mountains. Among those liberated were seven Dominican priests, about a hundred members of other religious orders and more than two hundred sisters.

This movie-like comedy was preceded, five days earlier, by a Herodian tragedy which undoubtedly motivated the risky liberation of Los Baños. In the nearby town of Calamba, the subhuman beast had sacrificed more than six thousand persons. This was narrated to me by six priests who stayed at El Real. The shouts of the victims of bayonet thrusts could be heard in the whole town during the whole morning. In the afternoon, the priests were arrested together with other townspeople and were made to line up along the road. Their hands were tied and their eyes blindfolded. Then the atrocity! Shrieks and shoutings cried out to high heavens. After more than an hour, they brought the priests to the macabre scene. Their turn of judgment had come amidst the screams of the victims and the grunts of the beasts. They commended for the last time their souls to the Creator. They had assumed this state of resignation born of innocence, undisturbed by the mental sensation of the cold blade that was about to butcher them.

Suddenly the heinous act stopped but not the screamings. There was a long discussion among the henchmen, after which they were untied and their blindfold removed. They never found out the reason for their miraculous liberation. They could not tell whether they could attribute it the fact that the assassins got fed up with so much bloodshed, or whether one of them who was less blood thirsty, interceded in their favor.

A few days later, after trekking through forests and fields, they arrived at Santa Rosa.

Two Dominican priests and a Jay brother did not have the same luck. They were Fr. Merino and Fr. Diez who were in Los Baños. On the day the prisoners were liberated, they were taken by a Japanese and the American amphibian trucks could not wait for them. When the people in the mountains went back to the town on hearing the news that the Americans had come, the Japanese were in town waiting for them, and massacred them, the two Dominican priests included.

Massacre was committed in all towns of those provinces. In Tanauan, the hometown of Laurel, soldiers went from house to house before dawn and killed everybody they found either with bullets or with blows. Some five thousand were slain in San Pablo. The people of Lipa were ordered to evacuate. Those who failed to do so were killed. But for those who fled, soldiers were lying in wait to kill them on the way. There was a conservative count of 15,000 dead. Even those in the mountains did not escape the bloodthirsty vampires. They were hunted like beasts in barrios and mountains. Only those who succeeded in crossing to the liberated areas were saved from the diabolic fury of these children of Heaven. That was how the Bishop of Lipa and a number of priests of that diocese were saved.

Through the towns of Batangas and Tayabas which least suffered during the occupation, passed Genghis Khan in katana and Attila in kimono.

March 17, 1945

I made a double round of the devastated city. As I viewed the kilometers of ruins and rubble, innumerable mansions, palaces and hotels burned, blown up or razed, holding back my breath every time the stench of corpses became unbearable, my mind was filled with deeply engraved squadron of gloomy silhouettes, sketches of apocalyptic visions, and the chanting of Jeremiac lamentations. It is impossible to transcribe all these on cold mute and blind paper. Neither Poe with his raven, nor Dumas with his dungeons nor Blasco Ibañez with his horsemen, could capture in words this immense picture of desolation. For one who had not seen this, it is impossible to believe or imagine it. And even if believed and imagined, it could not be reproduced. Everyone, soldier or civilian, who has visited this place, repeated the same refrain: “I never could imagine anything like this. It is horrible.”

Let us trace this sorrowful route which I trekked, pointing out to the imagined tourist these fields of solitude and sadness, as if we were viewing a newly excavated Pompeii or some famous Roman ruins.

To the west of the University, along España and P. Noval, three blocks of houses were burning. Scorched doors revealed the frustrated attempt of the arsonists and their plan of total destruction. The Centro Escolar at Azcarraga and its surroundings had been razed.

I passed by Sampaloc where the two churches, convents and hundreds of houses showed marks of the devastating beasts. I crossed a pontoon bridge across the Pasig near the Rotonda. The whole of Pandacan, which before was covered with gas and oil factories, with warehouses and depots, is now a heap of burned steel and wood. I crossed more bridges across esteros. At the left, I could see what used to be the Paco railroad station, the shoe factories of Hike and Esco. The whole place up to La Concordia and to the south, as far as the eyes could see, are all debris. I proceeded through Herran. At one side, Looban, were the properties of Perez Samanillo. At the other side were the factories and offices of the Tabacalera: burned and busted walls. I cruised along Marques de Comillas and San Marcelino: the church and the seminary of St. Vincent, the St. Theresa’s College, the English Club, houses and more houses, walls and roofs as if eaten up by leprosy. We turned along Concepción. The YMCA was levelled. The Sternberg hospital was demolished. City Hall was battered at its rear portion. As we turned into Taft Avenue, we saw the Legislative and Agriculture buildings reduced to rubble. In front were the Philippine Normal School, the Jai Alai, the Casino Español, the Red Cross, the Philippine Columbian Club with their roofs blown off and their windows exuding tears of smoke and carbon. To the right were the University of the Philippines, the Ateneo, the Assumption, St. Paul, the Bureau of Science, all desecrated. In Baclaran, along Harrison, the eyes revolted and the heart broke at the sight of that sorry mess. Changing sceneries, we proceeded to the Boulevard to watch the protruding — not floating — Japanese fleet which was hinged rather than anchored to the Bay. The merchant and war vessels of the invincible Japanese forces, numbering some one hundred, peeped out of the water, some on their aft, others on their fore and others showing only their mast — all in ridiculous postures hardly worthy of sons of the Mikado. They would be there down on their knees for all eternity, as silent but eloquent witnesses, confronted with the desolation of today and the splendour of tomorrow: the desolation caused by the entrails vomited out from their swollen wombs. It was the navy which entrenched themselves behind the buildings and people of Manila, blowing up and burning both as the liberators hunted them and caught up with them. Among the dead and half-buried boats, the liberating vessels scour the bay, by now cleared of enemies, both visible and invisible.

We continued our tour through Malate and Ermita. What used to be luxurious hotels and beautiful mansions now appear denuded, roofless, revealing their interiors, tattered and bleeding. Others which were of stronger materials, appear intact but their internal wounds are so serious that their interiors are torn down, as if abused by seven heavy spirits. Hotels, clubs and official residences which were the last bulwark of the suicidal assassins look like the Egyptian tombs of three hundred years ago. All the warehouses and offices of the Port Area are in ruins. Only the new Customs building is partially usable. I did not even attempt to cast a glance towards Fort Santiago, this dungeon of torture and martyrdom of thousands of heroic souls during the past three ominous years; these infernal dragons which during the month of December and January last, had devoured hundreds of illustrious lives so mysteriously; these crematories where more than two thousand men of Intramuros died of thirst and hunger during the past month. Resolutely, I entered the walled city, with a holy fear and a revolting feeling, thinking about the victims and the henchmen. Heavens! This was the abomination of desolation of the holy city. The lordly ancestral mansion of families belonging to the noblest lineage in the Philippines, the Colleges, convents and churches of three centuries of history, the hospitals and government edifices founded by the first Captains General were nothing more than mounds of dust being blown by the winds — the dust of the centuries.

In the midst of this jungle of corroded and desecrated walls the church of San Agustin still stands. It is providential that this temple, the oldest in the Philippines, the only structure that withstood the earthquakes that rocked the city from 1645 to 1880, the imposing and historical building around which the social and official life and history of the Spanish Philippines evolved since 1606 when it was completed by the Augustinian Antonio Herrera, son or nephew — it is immaterial which was which — of the divine Herrera who was immortalized in the Escorial, tomb of Legazpi and the first captain generals, this artistic monument of times past, remains standing on its feet and that its wounds could easily be healed. It is a drop of balsam in the sea of bitterness which drowns the whole religious and artistic soul.

The Cathedral, the churches and convents of the Franciscans, the Recollects, the Capuchins, the Jesuits, Sta. Clara, which made the City of Legazpi sacred; the hospitals of San Juan de Dios and St. Paul, the College and Abbey of Sta. Isabel, municipal building, the headquarters of Spain, Fort Santiago, and other monuments and relics … fallen leaves shaken by the savage wind. The University of Benavides, with greater destruction than the temple of the Sun, is like the pyramids. The thick walls are like a ring broken into pieces; only a small part remains intact. Its fortresses are in ruins.

Saddened by the tour I made of this sorrowful way, I left the sacred place. I turned my gaze and it pained me to see the skeletal remains with its dented head towering over the ruined fortress. It was Letran.

I crossed the river through one of the pontoon bridges built over the foundations of the former Jones bridge. The zapos, as our Mexican friends called their enemies, did not respect either God or Mammon. The whole of the commercial district from Quezon Boulevard to the sea, and from Azcarraga to the Pasig had been dynamited and burned. I cast my sight through the length of the Escolta, Plaza Cervantes and Dasmariñas, then cruised along Rosario, turned to Rizal Avenue — all a jungle whose cedars and oaks showed their mutilated trunks, burned, blackened and divested of all verdure and foliage, and whose shrubs had been chopped off: such was the view presented by those modern skyscrapers and the old Chinese establishments. The breadth of a giant — a portentous machinery recently imported — was blowing over those pulverized and dislocated bones, charred and smashed, flying all over the vast ossarium, and prophesying, like another Ezekiel — over the numerous skeletons both metaphoric and human. In the manner of a great restorer, it infuses the breadth of life into the remains capable of renovation, reviving what appears to be a recently excavated mausoleum, and collecting the ashes, burying them with glory.

I went into the district north of Azcarraga and I was surprised to see an area of two kilometers, as long and as wide as an airfield or a football field. It was the district of Tondo, burned by the soldiers of Yamashita, Japanese and Filipinos, and levelled by the motorized spades of MacArthur. In the midst of all these, lay the skeletal remains of a Church.

The pearl was polished and cleaned, but it had lost the greater and the better part of its luster. More than two-thirds of its area carried the mark of the apocalyptic beast. The official count has not yet been completed, and already seventy-five thousand buildings have been reported destroyed. The loss was estimated at two billion pesos. This estimate included only the fixed assets. The cost of others is incalculable. I noticed that in these devastated areas were situated the more sumptuous residences, banks, flourishing business houses, factories and the best equipped offices. All these were a total loss. What the Japanese did not steal, the fire devoured. What the fire did not devour, the bombs pulverized.

Behind the devastating plague of the Japanese marauders was an army of parasites — the looters and opportunists — who, hardly had the demolition troops blown up a building, preyed on whatever was saved from destruction, more violently than the fighting men. Many of them paid highly with their lives in the hands of their competitors or by stray bullets or by booby traps or bombs, planted by the retreating Japanese. But they could not be contained.

Those who saved their lives had only their lives to save. They lost their property and belongings, one or all the members of their families and, in many cases, one or more parts of their bodies. It was as if an anarcho-communist revolution had broken out devastating houses and properties. Like death, it was a major cause of the loss of property. There were no poor nor rich: all that was left were mendicants. Those who were rich before were now poor, and the poor of some years ago became rich for a while and are now poorer than before. The rich had given up their wealth in the material sense, and had grown the wiser morally and spiritually. Those who were not poor in spirit had been impoverished in both senses. How public morality has degenerated! Less of heroes, more of the timid, much more of the coward. The unfortunate travellers who were left alone by the Japanese thieves after divesting them, were further robbed by others of what they had been left with. Others died on the way. Only a few who went through, having been saved by some Samaritan who at the expense of life or death, came to their rescue. Each one showed his true color. The gold was melting, the tinsel piling up in dumps.

If not for the limitless generosity of the US Army, we all would have died of hunger. They fed those who did not have anything to eat nor the means to obtain it. They fed and clothed those who had lost everything. Those that they employed, they paid with a good wage, selling them food and clothing. The government did not have a single centavo in revenue, nor were there any prospects of having any within several months. The PACU was spending some half a million pesos a week merely for salaries and wages in the city.

Manila, March 6, 1945

I returned to Manila, this time for good. These officers were so accommodating that they were willing to go two hundred kilometers just to please us. But, in order not to absent themselves from their posts during their tour of duty, they travelled during the unholy hours of the night. Never had I experienced such cold weather in the Philippines. It reminded me of Siberia. Our host, a phenomenon that he was a captain at 24 and weighed 280 pounds, had to put on his leather jacket. With my frail body and with my tropical garb, I was shivering all over.

The mountains to the east of Bamban were still shaking under the thunderous pounding of our friends in the 43rd Division. Without giving enough time for rest and the disposal of casualties suffered in Rosario and the road to Baguio, the High Command transferred part of the Division to Zambales and part to Camp Murphy in New Manila for a mopping up operation of Clark Field and Antipolo.

That night, when I heard their cannon rumbling, I whispered a prayer for our liberators, our best friends who up to this time were still with me, the bravest and the most generous.