(Last Tuesday night, I-witness documented the Battle of Manila. The documentary tackled the Pre-World War II Manila to its destruction. Was dubbed as the Queen City of Pacific for its modernity and rich hybrid of Western and Eastern culture. Manila made its inglorious bow as every ultramarine Hispanic architecture buildings crumbled as bombs explode, signs of progress reduced into rubbles and its people inhumanly treated. The once model city of gentleness, refinement and advancement was dead. Let me share this article I’d written two years ago for my previous blog. This was never been published.)
(Rape and Massacre in Ermita. Painted by Diosdado Lorenzo. The painting tells the story of Japanese brutality and monstrosity during World War II)
It is a bright mid-morning of February 15. She’s busy slicing onions and string beans. She’s my grandmother. Mother of my daddy. Lola Viring, that’s what we call her, knows the purpose of my visit. She smiles upon seeing me and starts to share her childhood stories as she prepares the afternoon lunch. Born in the late 1930’s, she witnessed how the Philippines experienced downfall in the hands of Japanese and how in 1945, the Philippines rose again from the wrath of devastating war.
“It was a terrifying experience that was 1945”, Lola Viring says. Her voice starts to tremble. Fear seems to engulf her once again as she recalls her childhood in the time of World War II. Philippines being a US allied was controlled by Japanese Imperial Forces in 1942. On the other side of the world, Hitler and Mussolini were aiming to conquer the Europe. The Emperor of Japan was dreaming of controlling the Pacific. December of 1942, Manila was declared as an open city to avoid the city’s destruction as series of bombs were dropped in different parts of Philippine Island.
Lola Viring was born in Zambales. As she grow up, it is a common sight to see Japanese doing rounds in town proper and streets. People were quiet and careful with their words not to provoke the Japanese soldiers. Fear loomed in their little town. “We can’t play in the streets. The glimpse of bayonets and riffles make us scared.” She shares. The terror is all around. Food was scarce, money had no value and even illustrious old rich families were forced to sell their priceless furniture and heirloom in exchange of bag of rice. “You may not believe, but those old Spanish mansions you see in our Poblacion had been uninhabited by the owners. They feared the Japanese and makapili. No crops were produced in rice fields.” She adds. Baronial estates of rich families or haciendas were left uncultivated. Agriculture was neglected. Whatever available foods present were used by Japanese for their own consumption.
“It is a hard time. Children were under nourished. Some were dying in hunger. We rly on fruits and vegetables in the mountainside or plant edible veggies in tin cans and pots. You don’t want to experience it”. She answers as I ask her how horrifying is to live during that time.
“Some people resorted to stealing than dying on hunger. Even the gold teeth fillings of the dead weren’t spared. The call of grumbling stomach was strong than the values and principles the Filipinos have during that time.”
The return of MacArthur, the infernal islands of the Philippines was hoping for liberation. “Upon hearing that MacArthur had returned, we were overjoyed. But our joy was only short lived. Before the full liberation, we experienced the double brutality and inhuman treatment of Japanese”, she says.
It took few months before the other parts of the Philippines was liberated. Thousands of bombs from Japanese and Americans were dropped in every parts of the island. “We were all scared. The sky was filled with jet fighters and I can see the falling bombs. The sound of exploding bomb brought shivers to us”. In a young age, the trauma to live in a place of violence is just like a punishment for a heinous crime you’ve done.
(Doomed Family. Painted by Dominador Castaneda. Depicts the tragic scene of horrors of the war. Countless victims of inhumane treatment of Japanese soldiers.)
“People rushed to hide undergrounds. Our fathers dug underground tunnels that will shelter us during air raids and Japanese patrols.” She recalls. “We were all praying inside the tunnel. We don’t know where will that bomb explode or been dropped.” “Crying babies were been thrown up and pierced by bayonets. Maiden were been raped, mother’s breast were been amputated and left dying in pain. Fathers and sons were been killed.” Her voice again is trembling as she tells what she saw. “I still remember when we were all inside the tunnel. The temperature inside is hot. My baby sister is crying because of the uncomfortable temperature. One of our neighbor said that my mother should kill her child or else all of them will die if the Japanese find out their hiding area.” My great grandmother did not do the insane suggestion of her neighbor. “Every big houses in Poblacion witnessed the horrible crimes of world war. Sometimes those houses were been burned down by the Japanese.” She adds. “The world war had brought me trauma on violence. I had seen it in my eyes how babies died. How young maidens were unable to speak after their purity was grabbed, and the expressions of parents who lost their kids and orphaned children” “Care for the liberty you have now. Our liberty to have a happy childhood was been robbed by the war.” The world war may destroyed the Philippines, but it never extinguish the fire of braveness in the Filipino heart. “We should live and must live. We need to stand up.” Lola Viring’s story is a common tale during the world war. But her story, is a lesson to all of us Filipinos. We need to stand up after we fall. Our country for almost 4 centuries, colonized by different countries. And now that we’re free, do we still remember the history that makes us Filipinos? Do we still value our past? Or do we just ignore the hardships of our heroes and all those people who sacrificed their lives for us, the new generation, witness the freedom that we have?