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No Free Lunch

Hot rising sun

In his narrative account of the onset of the Japanese occupation at the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture (UPCA) campus (now UP Los Baños or UPLB) during the 1941-1945 Second World War, my late father Celestino P. Habito wrote: “Overnight, the formerly coy and soft-spoken Japanese proprietors of refreshment parlors specializing in mungo-con-hielo and halo-halo metamorphosed into bemedaled, grim-faced military officers. Their gracious smiles had disappeared… How truly clever, the way they disguised themselves! And completely fooled were we, gullible, hospitable Pinoys that we were. They even married local women to allay any suspicion. Now, the full impact of their having been military spies in our midst dawned on us like the bright scorching sun on a hot summer morning.”

Itay would have celebrated his 100th birthday last weekend. In his honor, we his children launched the publication of a handwritten manuscript he wrote in the early 1990s, his narrative account of the war years in the UPCA campus in Los Baños. I remember thinking, at first glimpse of the manila folder inscribed with the title “The Oppressively Hot Rising Sun Over the UPCA Campus,” that he was merely alluding to the summer heat in Los Baños. Only much later did I realize that it was his picturesque way of titling his firsthand narrative, on how invaders from the “land of the rising sun” took control of his beloved alma mater.

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His passage on the Japanese shopkeepers-turned-military officers particularly struck me. It confirmed what I had been hearing elsewhere from other elderly people, of how numerous Japanese men were already in the country as gardeners and manual workers prior to the Second World War — then suddenly donned military uniforms when the war broke out.

Those of Itay’s generation are thus most likely to give credence to the not uncommonly expressed fear that we face a similar prospect with the large numbers of Chinese workers now flooding the country. Apprehensive netizens describe groups of “military-age Chinese men” seen living together in condos all over the city, even in houses in posh villages like Ayala Alabang, reportedly paid for in cash.

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My business friends dismiss it as unwarranted paranoia. It’s all about money, they say, and all these men are here simply for the money to be made from lucrative Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (Pogos). As the industry’s primary clientele are Chinese gamblers in the mainland, we are told that their employees necessarily must be Chinese, or know the language well. The real estate industry is reaping the benefit of Pogos’ seemingly relentless growth in demand for office space and staff housing. Lately, Chinese construction workers have also become a common sight, particularly in China-funded construction projects.

Only time will tell whether or not suspecting these men to be covert or would-be members of China’s People’s Liberation Army is unwarranted paranoia. My father’s historical account suggests that we can’t dismiss it outright, and today’s commemoration of the fall of Bataan should remind us that never again must we surrender sovereignty to a foreign power.

Having written of the cruelty he endured and witnessed in the UPCA campus, Itay came out of the Japanese occupation emotionally scarred, and like many Filipinos of his generation, seemed negatively predisposed to the Japanese for the rest of his life. It was thus somewhat ironic that his eldest son, my brother Ruben, was to spend 20 years of his life in Japan as a Jesuit, coming out of it with nothing but praise for his Japanese hosts. Itay and Inay found themselves donning Japanese kimonos at his priestly ordination there in 1976, with what we could only imagine to have been mixed feelings on their part.

We found it fitting for Kuya Ruben to end the book with an epilogue, wherein he heaps praise while raising a challenge for the people of Japan, who, in his words, “I have come to love with my whole heart.” Clinching it all, we have welcomed into my own family a Japanese son-in-law, who with my elder daughter recently gifted us with a delightful new grandson — half of whose genes trace to the land of the rising sun.

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TAGS: Celestino P. Habito, Cielito F. Habito, Japanese Occupation, No Free Lunch, UP Los Baños, World War II
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