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Commentary

Heal the children

/ 05:12 AM December 31, 2017

It is not true that time heals all wounds. It is not so among children. Their experiences, particularly memories of pain, extreme loneliness, physical abuse, and atrocities of war, are etched in their minds for life. Even in the twilight years of men and women, unless overtaken by Alzheimer’s Disease, it only takes a spark to flash back images of feelings as vividly as the day they were felt.

My own recollection of Christmas in 1943 when my sisters and (aged 6, 7 and 8) dared visit our father at the Kempetai station in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, is proof that in children’s minds, there is such a thing as “forever.”

Our father had been languishing in jail for three months. He was arrested for giving shelter to two American prisoners of war (remnants of the Bataan and Corregidor debacles) who had escaped being burned alive in an old water-impounding hole. News that Gen. Douglas MacArthur was preparing to return and retake the country apparently made the enemy forces jittery.

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Thinking that by serenading the Japanese officers with Christmas carols, we would be allowed to see our father, we bravely marched to the Kempetai headquarters where prisoners were held. But barely halfway through our first song, my sister, who was carrying the bottle of guava jelly for Papa, got so nervous that she dropped the precious bottle and cried. With the jelly splattered on the floor, the officer sent us out. Unable to see our father, we went home crying and trembling in fear.

This is what I find worrisome about the future of our children in Marawi and other kids caught in areas of conflict elsewhere. Even if we rebuild their homes, their schools and their cultural environment, bringing them back to normalcy and social stability may take a lifetime process. They may never forget the smell of gunfire, the assaults of hunger and of fear, the delirium of the sick and the dying, not to mention the stench of death that choked their senses.

Those who survive wars of attrition know this too well. Their testimonies are more vivid and authentic than the narration of historians.

Modern warfare is such that it takes only two things to start one: a stupid mind that thinks he will survive it, and a compulsive mouth that shouts the order to fire. Unfortunately, this generation seems to have more than a fair share of world leaders afflicted with this behavioral disorder. Fast on the draw but slow on foresight, they spew brinkmanship and braggadocio which keep the human race teetering in terror, fearful that the widespread devaluation of life could hit them anytime without rhyme or reason.

The world must therefore be wary of such men. For with the flick of a finger, they can incinerate the whole of humankind.

True statesmen do not flaunt power. They use power to address the roots of war: poverty, injustice, corruption—and in this country, you may add political indigestion, from the highest levels of governance down to the smallest barangay.

* * *

Eva Maggay-Inciong, a former history and political science teacher, spent her childhood days in Puerto Princesa during the war years, and “longs to retire on that beautiful island” of Palawan.

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TAGS: Christmas celebrations, Eva Maggay-Inciong, Inquirer Commentary, Japanese Occupation, warfare
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