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Monday, November 21, 2011

Macrine's Childhod Memories of the Japanese-American War in the Philippines

A Model T Ford, 1930 in Boac, commandered by the Japanese

My first article on this subject was published in Views Hound recently, and was my own personal war time experience. This new story is about the personal experience of my wife Macrine during the Second World War in the Philippines. In comparison to my adventure filled war time story, her experience was confined within the city, although both reflected anxiety, pain and tragedies.

Macrine and her family resided in the town of Boac, Marinduque, the capital of the small and lovely island province in the middle of the Philippines. She was a typical islander who had most of her relatives including her grandparents living nearby or in the next town. Some individuals such as her aunt Blanca moved to Manila for work.

Unlike the larger cities of Manila including my hometown of Iloilo, Boac was spared from any aerial bombing by the Japanese invaders. Life during the war period in the sleepy small town seemed normal, except for the presence of the Japanese troops stationed in town.

She was six years old when the Japanese military invaded the Philippines. She was studying in first grade at the Boac Elementary School. Her family did not leave their home. They stayed in town and had interaction with the Japanese forces who occupied Boac for almost fourteen months, from the middle of 1942 to early 1944.

Macrine was the oldest daughter of Bernardo Jambalos, Jr., a certified public accountant and Elena Decena Nieva, a science teacher. Her younger sister was then four years old. Her paternal grandfather, Bernardo Sr. was a successful businessman who owned and operated several fishing boats. They resided in the coastal village of Laylay about 10 km south of downtown Boac. He had nine children, five boys and four girls.

Her father was the oldest of the five boys. During the war, he continued his practice as a CPA to support his young family. He did not join the guerrilla or resistance movement organized by the locals. However, his four younger brothers were active members in the movement against the Japanese.

The guerrillas had their hideout in the interior of the island. To avoid detection by the enemy, they made covert visits to the town regularly to obtain their food and supplies, and to gather news update about the war. There were some minor encounters between the Japanese and the guerrilla forces, but not as destructive and violent as the war incidents in my childhood island of Panay.

Macrine's maternal grandparents also resided in the town of Boac and were actively involved in the local politics. Her maternal grandfather Juan Morente Nieva was the first governor of Marinduque. During the Japanese occupation period, her uncle was the mayor of Boac. The local officials cooperated with the occupying forces in Boac to keep the peace and order.

The presence of the invaders in the island was unnerving to the local Filipinos. The Japanese were unpredictable and when they felt the need, they would unjustly punish or torture innocent civilians. They established their headquarters in the local elementary school while school was in session.

The Japanese occupation in Marinduque did not meet a lot of resistance from the poorly armed local Filipino guerrillas. The Japanese tried to maintain normalcy by allowing the schools and businesses to remain open. Macrine and her school mates were allowed to attend school. They learned a few Japanese words and strangely, a Japanese military song.

Macrine’s aunt Blanca Decena Nieva was the older sister of her mother. She was single and strikingly beautiful with her mestiza looks inherited from their Spanish ancestors. She had been a hospital nurse for two years before the war. She joined the Philippine army as a nurse and was based in Manila shortly after war was declared.

After the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, they invaded the American controlled Philippine islands. There was an initial aerial bombardment by the Japanese to cripple the Filipino and American forces around Manila and the major cities of the country. Soon it was followed by the landing of Japanese ground troops. There was combat in the streets between the invaders against the Filipino and American troops.

The residents of Manila panicked amidst the bombings and the fire fights in the city. Many civilians were caught in the crossfire. On the first few days of the Japanese occupation of Manila, Macrine’s aunt Blanca became a victim of the Japanese forces. She was shot and died from a Japanese machine gun fire at the doorstep of her apartment.

Blanca and her maid fled from their apartment building. They heard about the arrival of the invading soldiers and the ensuing conflict. They realized they had to evacuate to a safer place. She could have survived had she not returned to her apartment to retrieve her jewelry. Her maid survived unharmed to tell the tragic story to the Nieva family.

When my future mother-in-law learned of the violent death of her sister, she was distraught, angered and devastated with the loss of a loved one. She vowed that she will never forgive the Japanese for the tragedy that befell her sister. She wanted to avenge the loss, but first the family had to grieve for the passing of Blanca.

At the latter part of the war, Filipino and American forces started arriving in the island to support the guerrillas. The Japanese forces were retreating, surrendering and on the brink of defeat in Marinduque. Two Japanese soldiers who chose not to surrender were cornered hiding in the attic of the school, where the local Japanese garrison and prison camp was located.

They were shot dead by the Filipino guerrilla forces. Their bloody bodies were paraded in the town square for everyone to see. My future mother-in-law had her revenge realized. She was one of the many civilians who kicked and spat at the remains of the two soldiers.

Her hatred for the Japanese continued through the rest of her life. She stuck with her vow and never forgave them for killing her only sister. When my mother-in-law was still alive, during social events she avoided mingling in the same table where a Japanese person was seated.

A second incident which affected Macrine, and which she vividly remembers to this day involved the harassment and torture of her grandfather Bernardo. One summer day, a squad of armed Japanese soldiers went to his home looking for him. They suspected him of helping the resistance movement and took him away to be punished for the alleged charge of insurgency.

They tied his hands by his back and took him to the sea where they let him stand in the water up to his waist. Later in the afternoon, the tide had risen and the water level was up to his neck. He was left standing in the water under the sun for almost the whole day without food or drinking water.

There were four other civilians being punished at the same time. They were similarly suspected of rebellion by aiding the guerrillas. They were all cruelly punished with their hands tied on their backs, exposed to the hot summer sun, while standing in the sea water waiting for the high tide to possibly drown them.

Macrine’s grandfather was eventually saved from dehydration and possible death from drowning. The local officials arrived and intervened on his behalf. They conferred and convinced the Japanese troops that he was not involved with the resistance movement, but a respected entrepreneur in the community. The other four civilian men were not released from their agony until they almost drowned. The high tide was already above their heads.

The Japanese troops were not aware that four of his sons were in the resistance movement. There was a an occasion when he was entertaining his unsuspecting Japanese visitors in his living room, while at the same time a group of guerrilla fighters including his four sons and their comrades were in his kitchen. They were securing food, rice and other supplies to bring to their mountain hideaway.

Macrine's experience of the Japanese-American war was not as traumatic as mine. Her family never fled from their home and stayed in town versus my experience of moving several times including staying in the jungles of Panay to avoid the conflict. The Japanese occupation of Boac, Marinduque was more peaceful and uneventful compared to the bombings and firefights in Manila and my own hometown of Iloilo.

The death of her aunt by machine gun fire and the punishment of her grandfather were the two incidents that she intensely remembers from the war. However, today, she informed me that the horrors of that war are almost gone and just a haze in her memory. Time eventually heals the trauma of war slowly, if not completely.

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