I remember the war | Inquirer Opinion
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I remember the war

I was only seven years old when World War II broke out, but it left me with many images of events and people that mattered most through the three long years of Japanese occupation.

Right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my whole neighborhood in Marikina trekked through the rice fields and brooks going eastward to Barrio Mapunso at the foot of the Sierra Madre. We reached Mapunso in the early evening and the barrio folk readily offered us food and shelter. The next day, the menfolk lost no time in gathering building materials from a nearby forest. They started to build cogon-thatched, stall-like huts with walls of sawali.

Every now and then war planes would appear in the sky and everyone, young and old, would rush to a small cogon-and-sawali chapel. They would stretch out face down while shrilly directing their prayers for safety at a faded portrait of Jose Rizal mounted on an altar-like bamboo structure. Some of the women in our group joined in the prayer while the menfolk and children including myself just observed what was going on.


After about a week, our evacuation center was ready. Four to five huts were joined together with a common kitchen in which the mothers prepared food and chatted. The menfolk stayed out under the trees, telling one another how easily the Americans could trounce the enemy and we would have peace again. I heard people saying that the war would last for mere months, or a year at most.


We children had the best time of our lives—climbing trees to gather all kinds of fruits in the forest, and swimming in a nearby stream. Each meal time was a big picnic full of story-sharing, jokes and laughter.

But very soon the food supply that the families had brought began to dwindle. There was no more news about the end of the war. One by one the families started to walk home. Eventually the schools opened again and I was admitted to Grade 2 although I had not finished Grade 1. The textbooks we used were mangled, with some pages torn off and every picture referring to America covered with opaque black paper. The pictures of US Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, our President Manuel Quezon, the US and Philippine flags, and American houses, fruits and flowers were similarly covered. In arithmetic books the dollar signs were changed to yen signs.


When nobody was looking, I would try to lift the black paper to look at the pictures underneath.

On Mondays we would sing the Japanese anthem and the Philippine anthem. After singing we would bow to the rising sun and then we would listen to Radio Taiso and, to the counts of “Ich-ni-San-si-Go-rok-sich-has-nini-San-chi-Go-rok-sich-has,” move our heads, arms and feet together, inhaling, exhaling and squatting. I enjoyed studying Nihongo and I felt proud to recite Nihongo poems during school programs. I also learned to read and write in that language.

As days passed the Japanese soldiers became abusive. Everyone dreaded passing through a Japanese-manned entry gate. The guard would slap anyone, young or old, who forgot to bow to him or failed to bow correctly. People talked about how cruel and harsh was the head of the Japanese company in Marikina, a Colonel Habuta, and I can’t forget the day he came to my neighborhood, with two fierce police dogs, looking for an American pilot who had bailed out of a burning plane. He must have miscalculated where the poor guy fell from the sky.

Zoning or “sona” was done almost every week to ferret out suspected guerrillas. Japanese soldiers would bang at every door, tramp into the house, ransack drawers, and take anything they wished. All the males would be hauled to a small clearing at a crossroads near my home. I would peep through a hole in the window to see what was happening. One by one they would face a man with a bayong over his head, which had two holes through which he could see and point out who should be bound with iron chains. The bound men would then be taken to the big house that served as Japanese headquarters about 20 kilometers from my home.

According to my uncle Pilo who was seized during a sona, there were three torture chambers in the house marked 1, 2 and 3. In the first chamber the prisoners were beaten black and blue or given the water treatment. A hose would be used to introduce water into every orifice in the prisoner’s body until he admitted being a guerrilla. The second chamber was where prisoners were hung by a rope wound around their thumbs. My uncle’s thumbs were nearly cut off because of his hefty build. Had he not confessed to the crime of being a guerrilla supplier, I wouldn’t have heard about these chambers. But when he was caught again for the same suspicion, he just disappeared from the headquarters. The third chamber was a concrete dungeon where the owners of the house used to store water. No one among the prisoners thrown into the dungeon was seen alive again. It yielded human skeletons when the Americans came.

But all these sufferings were nothing compared to the fear and agony that gripped Marikina on Feb. 10, 1945. Everything is still clear in my mind. We were about to eat lunch when war planes roared in and hovered above us, with the deadly rat-tat-tat of their machine guns. We all ran to our air raid shelter. There we were rocked by earthquake-like tremors as we listened to bombs exploding. Our prayers were drowned by the noise of the planes swooping down and rising in the sky.

When the sky cleared, we discovered a bullet lodged in our narra dining table. Later, we learned that US planes had bombed and annihilated almost the whole poblacion.

Hundreds of people were killed and the biggest Spanish-type houses in the area were reduced to heaps of debris or gaping holes.

Fear of another attack made people flee across the Marikina river going west. We had to cross the river on foot because the bridge was earlier blown up by the Japanese troops as they made their retreat from Manila to Montalban.

How did the adults explain the incident of American pilots attacking the very people they wanted to “liberate” from the Japanese? The adults said the US troops had been fed wrong information: that the Japanese were in the poblacion of Marikina.

Even 70 years ago, misinformation could happen.

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Elena Cruz-Cutiongco, 80, was an English teacher at the UP Integrated School. She retired in 1999.

TAGS: abuse, Japanese Occupation, torture, Violence, War

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