FIELDNOTES: Seeing and writing home

Tito Genova Valiente

April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. -T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” APRIL is still – perhaps not the cruelest – the cruel month for Bikolanos. But not the way the poet, T. S. Eliot intended it in his “The Waste Land,” where April is deemed a sad, violent month because it ushers in Spring while still around the bleak cold season persists. I think of the cruelty of the month of April after reading personal accounts of the arrival of war – World War II to this city of ours. The account is mainly from Vicente Rodriguez, a lawyer who was the Finance Officer of the Isarog guerilla group and served as deputy treasurer immediately when the war was over. His narrative, “World War II: Wartime Experiences,” appears in a compendium of essays organized by the great Bikolista, Leonor Rojano Dy-Liacco. The war, as we all know, started in December, but in the recollection of Rodriguez, the guerilla forces in the province started to grow stronger within the four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Rodriguez recalls that by the 13th of December 1941, less than a week after the bombing of the bases in Hawaii, Japanese planes were already flying over Naga. But what he described as the “siege of Naga” would take place in April, on its last day and went on till the days of May. Imagine our city in April and May, and its surrounding towns. These would be the months of fiestas. Imagine also our grandfathers, uncles and even mothers and aunts in those years. If we are to believe the account of Rodriguez and all those who remembered and wrote their experiences in those years, our people were not scared of the war. When the announcement that all reservists should enlist for the army, there was a rush from all directions. Those who got assignments were brought to Manila and those left behind had to take the train to Manila. But, as Rodriguez recalls, some of these men just got to Hondagua because the Japanese had already marched up to that area. Rodriguez, in that essay, tells of how after “two months of intensive recruitment, organization and arms buildup, six full companies were organized, [sic] four companies with firearms, one company of bow and arrow men, and one company of service personnel, [sic] to take care of transportation, food supplies, including kitchen personnel (KP).” In narratives like this, the tiny details, the small plots, are the ones that render the feelings of the recollection. This is where the charm and significance of the Rodriguez story can be located. He writes of the group bringing “sacks of rice, dried fish, firewood, camote and other vegetables” to prepare themselves for the objective to recapture Naga. In another account, this time contained in the essay written by Dr. Jesus Hidalgo, we are reminded that the planned siege on Naga was taking place right after the fall of Bataan. In other words, in the big plot of any national historian, the fall of the Philippines marked the defeat of the country. In Naga, it seemed, things were merely starting. Hidalgo writes: “When Bataan at last fell, there were only a platoon of Japanese soldiers left to garrison Naga plus the Japanese civilians who were armed. Ambuscades became more frequent especially by the men of “Turco” and Padua. The enemy began to put barricades at the main entrances of Naga. Curfew was put up at [sic] the last days of April.” Rodrigues talks of foxholes with Japanese soldiers: “There were foxholes at the entrance to Mabulo Bridge, another at the railroad station, at the Panganiban bridge, and the Fuente Colgante bridge. There were also foxholes in Plaza Rizal and Plaza Quince Martires. In what he calls “the Big Push,” Rodriguez writes: “All the day on April 30, 1941, the guerilla contingents from all the Partido towns gathered at the jumped off [sic] area in barrio Hanawan (then a barrio of Pili now a barrio of Ocampo). All trucks in the Partido towns were commandeered by the guerillas to transport personnel and supplies to Naga for the duration of the operation.” Rodriguez notes: “Actually, each company had only about fifty (men). But even civilians from Partido followed the guerilla entourage to Naga, as kibitzers (italics mine) which swelled to more than a thousand.” The huge number of guerillas and civilians is validated in the words of Hidalgo: “Early morning of May 1st, 1942, heralded the guerilla attack with a detonation of a big coconut home made [sic] bomb at the North portion of Naga. Soon gunfire followed and it seemed the guerillas were entering from all sides (italics mine).” It is April once more. It is the fifteenth of April as I write this, from my fieldwork. The streets around Plaza Rizal are busy even at night. The Provincial Capitol has been moved to another town; in its place is a huge mall. Traffic moves slowly around the park and stops usually near the Panganiban bridge. Seventy-six years ago a brave contingent of guerillas, which included a bow-and-arrow group, fought and was able to liberate Naga for several days. Many of those who fought are gone. We who are here have no way to remember the points and places in Naga that they have made valorous. No markers have been set up on any of those places and no lapidary inscription ever memorializes those people and their deeds. April is a cruel month.