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Rethinking the Memories of War

In between writing, I have been looking over these photos in 1945 of war-torn Manila. This is the same book I have written about, Manila 1945. The Rest of the Story. Special Commemorative Edition, co-edited by Lucky Guillermo and Peter C. Parsons.

Even as its topic is grand, World War II, there are these small stories that make it to the documentation. The book is able to do this recovery by asking individuals together with established historians to share their account and research on the war.

In February of 1945, the war in Manila was about to end. The ending to three years of violence and deprivation pushed Filipinos to feel God had abandoned them all together.

War is always monumental. It is when we are able to gather the small memories about those years, whether the memories were our own or shared by those close to us, that we see how most of the remembering is aided by simple tales.

I have not seen any collection of autographs of the war in Bikol. There are numerous accounts but these are again monumental recollection of the heroism of soldiers and other fighters. We do not get a sense of what happened to the civilians, especially when the war was about to end.

Were the days also similar to the February in Manila when the Japanese soldiers went on a rampage, actions that led chroniclers to call those days the Rape of Manila?

My father had stories as a young man when he, and some friends, pushed a cart all the way from Magarao up to Buhi. On the cart were sacks of palay. Their wish was that no Japanese soldier saw them or that the sentry be in good mood that day. In some of these trips, which he called “adventure,” they encountered often Japanese soldiers who would either hit them on the head or slap them if they were not able to execute the proper bowing. It was also the practice of the Japanese soldier at checkpoints to check the sacks with their bayonets thereby causing holes on the container, from which rushed the prized rice down to the ground. They had to plug the sacks with anything once they were far from the soldiers lest they lose what they had walked for.

This story of my father seemed light compared to the photos I see in the book on Manila of 1945.

Manila would be liberated in the month of February but the entire country would still be fighting the war until September. In Bicol, the liberation force would arrive in May.

Between February and May, what atrocities took place in Bicol? Were there massacres of civilians? Were people dying of hunger. The books I encountered are about battles. The stories I often hear is about the duplicity of the guerillas in the region.

In the same book, there is an essay titled The Role of Filipino Guerillas during World War II. This was written by Col. Emmanuel V. De Ocampo who would much later assume the post of Chairman Emeritus of the Philippine Veterans Bank.

In the said essay, De Ocampo wrote: “When the war broke out, we were ill-prepared. And it was a very surprising thing to see. Surprise Number One: why we were ill-prepared. My own cousins from Negros Occidental were assigned to the area of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. How can a battalion of Bisayan-speaking people be assigned to Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union when they didn’t even know what the word for rice in Ilocos?”

The writer was being light about the past but indeed the country – the Filipinos – were never prepared for that war.

De Ocampo, in his essay, provides a compelling map of the geographical distribution of the guerilla forces in the Philippines during the war. Immediately, one sees how the huge area of Northern Luzon had spaces where no guerilla force was identified with them. On the map, however, we note the Bicol region with numerous lines corresponding to the guerilla forces spread all over the region, with the names of the leaders clearly labeled. Vinzon’s and Boayes’s groups had lines attached to Camarines Norte; Miranda Unit and the Camp Isarog Guerilla Force of Padua for Camarines Sur; Camp Balintawak Guerilla under Zabat headquartered in Tabaco was for Albay; and, Escudero Guerilla Force under Escudero for Sorsogon but with base in Matnog. Escudero would also cover Masbate, and parts of Ticao.

There are even more intriguing details on the map: A guerilla force based in Ligao under Sandico had a command operating in Quezon province; another group named Tacerua operated from Marinduque but was also linked to Burias; and, from Tablas Island in Romblon was the Guerilla unit of Lapus whose reach was up to Sorsogon and Ticao.

Was there ever a single command over these forces? The boundaries covered by these guerilla units were not clear. Imagine the implications then of the feuds and territoriality that ensued from said situations.

There is a personal account from my grandfather, Elpidio, who recalled how it was difficult for them in Ticao to welcome any guerilla force because they were not sure if they belonged to Escudero or Lapus. In the Poro farm, which had a bluff overlooking Ticao Pass, they made sure there was a food for all guerillas passing by.

What about collaborators? In the paper of Eden Gripaldo, Japanese Adventure in the Bikol Region, 1941-1945, she summed up the responses of the Bikolanos during the war: resistance and collaboration.

In Manila of 1945, there was a scene more horrible and terrifying than the deaths all over the streets of the big city, and this was the procession of collaborators, guarded by American MPs or military police and, in some, by guerillas. Those photos showed another death, the death of honor, which cannot be healed, forgotten or forgiven.

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