During the War

When I was 11 years old my elementary education was interrupted. On December 8, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Air Force launched a sneak attack on the Philippines and bombed selected military installations north of Manila.  On December 10, 1941, the Japanese Armed Forces invaded the northern part of Luzon. There was commotion in the town and people started to evacuate to the hills, to the smaller barrios, to any place away from Toril and Daliao as the rumors was that the Japs were coming in from the sea.
At the outbreak of the war, my father was in Manila attending a medical convention along with other doctors from Davao. Manila is about 600 nautical miles from Davao City or about 5 days by steamer. There was no land transportation from Manila to our place because the Philippine archipelago is composed group of islands separated by seas. During this time all sort of transportations and communications ceased, so my father was trapped in Manila and no word from about his situation. Our assumption was that he could have gone to Pangasinan which is about 6 hours by land transportation and join up s with his relatives and waited till the situation became normal again during the occupation.

My mother handled all the arrangements of our evacuation from Toril. She packed our clothing in boxes, some of the medicines from the drugstore which were deemed essential and necessary in time of war, and other things we would need to survive the war. My parent’s distant relative, the de Guzman family, who originally came from the same province as that of my parents in Pangasinan, who also were my father’s client,  invited us to stay with them in their big house  located in Muleg, a small town on the hill located about 10 km. from Toril. They had a large tract of land planted with several kinds of fruit trees. The house was two stories high with a small turret above it and from which we could see Davao Gulf at a distant.

We were crowded in the house as the de Guzman’s married children and their families were also living in the house. My mother and we children were sleeping on the floor in the living room. Things seemed to be ok as we were just one big family and there were other children in the household for us children to play with. We had fun exploring around the orchard and sampling the different kinds of fruits available. On Sundays, the local people would show up and gather around the sari-sari (variety) stores and watering hole places and to drink tuba (fermented coconut juice) just like they did before the outbreak of the war. There would be a single or double volley ball games being played with bets made on who was going to win.
The atmosphere in this local gathering of people was just like they would normally do during peace time and no discernable concerns were evident although other parts of the Philippines were being invaded by foreigners. In other days of the week, the place would be deserted as the local people would be back doing their own things to sustain their livelihood.

The Toril/Daliao towns were ghost towns at this time as the feared foreign invaders were expected to arrive at any time.
For the following several days, things were quite and there would no news or rumors as to what was happening elsewhere. Life was on hold and looked at the next day for what it would bring. Then in the morning of December 20, 1941,as we went up to the turret and gazed towards the Davao Gulf, we saw that the gulf was  inundated  with dark objects which we were told by the elders that they were  Japanese warships, of different types. We didn’t hear any sounds or flash of lights coming from the warships that would suggest bombardment. In the next day or so, words were passed around that the Japs were coming and that we should assemble in the street and turned in any guns in our possession to the conquerors. This was the first landing in Davao and the troop strength consisted of two battalions.

 So, we all gathered around including the local people and waited for the conquerors to arrive. I had my father’s shotgun slung around my shoulder. My father used to hunt boars with his friends in our coconut farm in Sta. Cruz, in Tagabuli to be exact. As I remembered, the conquerors were well mannered, polite, smiles on their faces, taller than the resident Japanese, better looking and speak a few words of English. I turned over the shotgun to an officer. I believed these were the Japanese frontline soldiers who were programmed to be nice and friendly to the Filipino civilians.

Now that the Japanese Imperial Army have occupied the province of Davao and there was hardly any resistance offered by the combined American/Filipino army who had retreated to the forested interior part of the island of Mindanao. Mindanao is the second largest island in the Philippine archipelago and is composed of eight provinces, and Davao is one of the provinces. Since the semblance of peace and order reigned for awhile, people in the hills started to trek down to Toril and Daliao to survey the homes they left behind and to buy whatever they needed.

My mother and me and other friends on a few occasion had to walk to town and checked on the house, brought back with us essential things and medicines from the store that my mother could use for barter. We could only bring a limited amount as we had to carry in our shoulder and had to walk quite a distance to our temporary residence. My mother would not wear her dentures so that she would not appear to be conspicuous and attract the attention of some sex-crazed Japs. It was with apprehension as we approached the town as we did not know what to expect from the Japs occupying our town.  As we got used to their presence, we go to town more often to bring back medicines, rice, and other essentials things we could carry with us.

After awhile, we moved further inland to a different house owned by the family of Juan dela Cruz, a friend and client of my father. They had a large house with a downstairs accommodation which was unoccupied and offered to us for our use. This was a much better situation as it provided us privacy as compared to the first house where we slept in the living room at night and with no privacy.
It was while we were staying in this house that my father showed up one day after a dangerous voyage from Manila which took him several months to join his family again. According to my father’s accounts of this perilous journey to be united with his family, it started when they were about to board a ship, M/S Corrigidor, in Manila bound for Davao on December 8, 1941. He and his fellow passengers attended a medical convention in Manila. He missed the boat because his companion over-slept and he stayed behind with him as they had a previous agreement to be together. Unfortunately, the ship struck a mine while leaving Manila Bay and sunk. It was the last southbound ship to leave Manila. It was not known how many on board the ship survived. There were three of them who decided to take the chance by whatever means to make the trip to Davao. At the outbreak of the war, there is no public land or sea transportation and all transportation movements were those utilized by the Japanese Forces. However, there were outriggers, small boats fitted with sail, called vintas that ply between islands at night under cover of darkness to avoid being intercepted by Japanese patrol boats.

My father and two other persons from Davao City started their journey from Manila, traveling by whatever means that were available at that time and by foot. They have to work their way to Sorsogon Province, which the most southern tip of Luzon. From there, they hired vinta to take them to the next island and then traveled under cover of darkness to elude Japanese patrol boats. The middle of the Philippine archipelago is a group of large islands, known as the Visayan Islands. The islands they used as stepping stones in their trek toward the big island of Mindanao are the provinces of Samar and Leyte. In most instances, traveling was on foot since transportation during this time was paralyzed, on occasion, they hitched ride on carabao-drawn cart, on calesa (horse-drawn buggy) that would take them short distances. Since my father knows how to speak a few words of Japanese, from his previous employment as a Japanese plantation physician, they were able to hitch-hike on Japanese trucks going along their way on condition that they loaded up the truck with sand or gravel or military supplies. Their last destination was the big island of Mindanao. 
They reached the northern province of Agusan after crossing a narrow strait of sea between Leyte and Mindanao. In Agusan, they started their journey southward by riding a canoe-like boat down the river and by foot when other means of transportation were not available. After crossing the province of Agusan, they finally reached the northern boundary of the province of Davao, their final destination. It had taken them several months from Manila to Davao, under dangerous war time conditions, encounter with barbaric, unfriendly Japanese soldiers, deceases, fatigue, hunger and bandits looking for somebody to rob.
Conditions in the villages of Toril and Daliao at this time were not peaceful yet as Japanese soldiers were around with their rifles and bayonets attached to the muzzle. The officers have the long sumarai sword dangling on their waist and a handgun strapped to their belts. Town people were nervous to the sight of armed enemies who didn’t speak English except to convey their wants with sign language. However, people who had evacuated to the hills came to Toril on Sundays for commerce and to buy supplies and then went back to the hills as they completed their purchases or lost their money in a betting at the cockfight.

The main Japanese landing force with all their might took place on ------ 1942 for the occupation of the province of Davao. Also, separate Japanese occupation forces landed on different parts of Mindanao to establish a foothold on their conquered territories. The American/Filipino army retreated to the mountains to establish their bases and the Japanese forces pursued them and engaged them in sporadic guerilla style warfare.
When the Japanese army had control of the city, the town and villages along the coast, a semblance of peace and order began to take effect and the fighting between the US/ Philippine army and the Japanese forces was taking place deep in to the interior. Some sort of government was established and new currency was issued for commerce. Town people who had evacuated at the outbreak of the war, started to drift toward the towns and villages they left behind. Their houses and variety stores were still intact since there was no street fighting or bombardment occurred. My family started to move to town, back to live in our own house. My mother resumed her drugstore business and my father started seeing some patients. However, drug supplies were very scarce, so the drugstore only sold those medicines that were left behind before the evacuation. The upper half of the second floor of our house was commandeered and occupied by Japanese officers for a short while.

The town of Toril was alive again just like war had not set in. People had returned to the town and villages. There was the usual cockfighting event on Sundays and commerce was flourishing.
The Japanese authority set up a puppet government ran by Filipinos and granted the Philippines independence with Jose P. Laurel as the president.  I was about thirteen years old at his time. My parents decided to send me to a Japanese school located near Toril and I didn’t know why I was the only one in the family being chosen. I enjoyed going to school but I didn’t remember learning to speak Japanese.

What I remembered was I came first in a race that was arranged by the school for student s of my age. I suspected my parents wanted me to be occupied and not to be loitering around with other kids in the neighborhood. Life seemed to be normal and there was no news about the guerilla fighting in the interior or whether the Americans would be returning. I still managed to spend some time to be with my friends. We went to a nearby rivers to swim or mess around, and on the way home, I carried home a small trunk of tree to use as firewood in our kitchen, go to Daliao where there was a wharf from which we jumped from it and swam about 150 ft. to shore and did this for a few times before we headed home. There was no news about local Filipinos being shot or beheaded by the Japanese without being tried in court as the justice system was suppressed, although it was common understanding among the Filipinos that these sorts of things were common day occurrence. Quick justice was instituted by the Japanese and this was manifested in the form of a firing squad or beheading with a samurai sword. Filipinos who had offended, abused, slighted, took advantage, cheated the Japanese residents before the war were remembered and when their own people had now conquered the Philippines, revenge were meted out to those offending Filipinos by the their quick justice methods.

In 19--, words started to spread around that the Americans had reached Palau Islands and were on their way to the Philippines. Later, there was news that American planes had bombed some suspected Japanese military installations in some parts of the Philippines. The Japanese occupation soldiers were getting nastier, kicked those who did not bow to them, yelled commands in Japanese and quick to used their rifle butts on the civilians. There were a lot of Japanese troop movements going places. These Japanese soldiers’ behavior made the local civilian populace nervous and people started to make plans to head to the hills again. This time we evacuated to a different place from the last one, to a village known as Marapangi, where my parent’s friend, Atty. Jose Joaquin, had a house and a large tract of land.
My parent had a house constructed there fronting a 50-60 feet wide rushing shallow river. We also had a small air raid shelter dug in the ground. Some of our friends, who were from Toril, also built houses not very far from us. My friend and I had fun swimming in the deeper part of the river. There was a swampy area near our place and I placed a baited hook with small frog on the water and left it there over-night. The next morning, I observed that the tall grass were kind of disturbed near the place where I left the bait. I pulled the string and a big catfish was on the other end of the line. We had fish for super that night. Occasionally, we kids wandered near the town for a look-see. Each of us had a sling shot and used it to shoot at the bigger birds. On a few occasions, I accompanied my father to attend to sick calls some distance away from the house and I carried his black medical bag, followed behind him on foot, on a dirt path through wooded areas and farmed lands, going by scattered peoples’ huts. It was peaceful and serene, just the cackling of the chickens, the quacking of the ducks, the mooing of the cows and the children voices were all the sounds that punctuate the environment as though the world was at peace.

Then, one day, we heard the faint sound of motorized vehicles coming from a distant. We realized then that those sounds were distinctly different from the sound we were used to hear. The sound seemed to come from a long column of military vehicles, advancing toward their objectives. We soon realized that the invading Americans had finally arrived and that there was no battle sounds or no resistance from the Japanese forces. It took 3 long years of waiting when to be freed again and to have our liberty restored. It was a long time to be under the subjection of these barbaric and cruel invaders. I hope this war have taught these Japanese the painful lessons to be shamed and to be defeated for them defeat is a dishonor to their character. The Japanese forces were expecting the American forces to land from the sea and the Japanese gun placements along the coast were constructed with this expectation. However, the American forces landed from the east by land, rendering the gun placements along the coast to be useless. At that night, we rushed to the air raid shelter because of the deafening sound and shrieking noise coming from overhead. This shrieking and ear-wrenching sound was as frightening as the artillery bullets penetrated the calm air. These artillery fires were directed further up the hill where the Japanese forces were observed to be retreating. There were rumors that the Japanese were killing Filipino civilians whom the Japanese encountered on their way to their retreat. Luckily, where we lived was not the retreat path of the Japanese since they took the road into the interior to hasten their retreat.
My parents decided that the family should evacuate our place and this time moved back to town, to our house. Part of the American troops set-up their base at the out skirts of the town and we felt safer in town than up in the hills. On a few occasions, my friends and me wandered to the American base kitchen, drawn by the smell of pancake and bacon being cooked and we carried with us a container, just in case there would be left over pancake dough to take home.

At nights we heard gun fire and saw streaming lights from tracer bullets fired at Japanese snipers who came down from the hills. In the mornings, we saw the dead Japanese soldiers on the ditch. Regular flights of low flying American twin engine bombers, B-24’s, flew overhead towards the hills to drop their bombs along with fighter planes on strafing runs on the retreating Japanese forces or on their encampments.