A. Paulita Roa
LIFE during the Japanese occupation has a semblance of normalcy though Cagayan has lost much of its luster. Many lived in fear while food and other basic commodities were scarce. Many Kagay-anons worked for the Japanese and some local women were married to them. Among the available work for the men was the building of the Japanese barracks and the Lumbia and Patag airports. As the district head, Raagas was ordered to recruit men in his district to do construction work. They were to be paid in kind like sugar and soap. He collected the payment for his men and would double the number of laborers in his report to the Japanese. The extra goods that he received were secretly sent to the guerrillas like Andres Bacal of the 109th Division.
In time, Raagas was known to the Japanese officials and he was able to gain their trust especially because of his closeness to Mayor Mendoza. This proved to be providential for he was able to save many lives. The first one happened in his barrio when the Japanese tied two men to a coconut tree and was about to execute them. Raagas pleaded for their lives and the men were saved. In 1944, the war intensified and rumors were rife that the American troops were coming to liberate the country. The Japanese became more cruel and aggressive to the point that the Kagay-anons left town and sought refuge in remote places.
One early morning, many families gathered in Kiraba, a marketplace in Bulua. They were set to evacuate to an undisclosed place. Suddenly, Japanese soldiers came and arrested thirty eight of the men. With their hands tied behind their backs, the men were made to walk on a single file to the poblacion of Cagayan. From Bulua, they walked to Bayabas and then, they reached Bonbon. There, they saw Raagas who stood by the road and watched them passed by. Several of them shouted, “Leon, sunda kami unya!”
Among those who were arrested were Dodo Lago, the father of Bonbon primary school teacher Piedad Lago-Padilla, Julio Mendoza, Gregorio del Puerto and Maximo Labita of Iponan. Raagas immediately went to the dreaded Kempetai headquarters that was at the back of the old Lourdes College building when he was told that the men were brought there. He talked with the Japanese officials and successfully negotiated for their full release before the end of the day.
Then tragedy struck the town. The Japanese discovered Mayor Mendoza’s secret ties with the guerrillas. They arrested him and his family in Sitio Comon, Ilaya, Lapasan. Twenty-eight members of the Mendoza family, including the mayor, were massacred by the Japanese. Only one was able to escape and he ran to Raagas and warned him that he will be the next one that will be executed. Previous to this tragic event, Alberto Martinez, an interpreter of Col. Todo Butai, a battalion commander, secretly sent him a note that his life was in danger.
Losing no time, Raagas and his family fled to Tambahan, Alubijid where other families of District Eight evacuated. The area was situated near the mouth of a river. Acting on a tip, the Japanese soldiers went to Tambahan looking for Raagas. They scoured the area shouting, “Pantareon, pa uri!” (Pantaleon, go home). They were angry that he outwitted them. But their search was fruitless for the family had already moved to another secret location.
October,1944 – Cagayan was heavily bombed by American planes. The Macabalan wharf and other prominent landmarks like the St. Agustine Cathedral, the Bishop House, Ateneo de Cagayan campus were destroyed. The guerrillas were in direct communication with the American forces. by this time, the Raagas family were in Kibaghot, Laguindinan. From their hideout, they saw the aerial bombings of Cagayan. Then on May, 1945, they went back to Bonbon and started their life anew.
After the war, Raagas resumed his position as Teniente del Barrio of Bonbon. He pursued the project that was close to his heart by reopening the Bonbon Primary School with Julio Bautista, the maternal grandfather of Reps. Rufus and Maxie Rodriguez as the first post-war teacher. Shortly afterwards, he had the honor of establishing the Bonbon Elementary School in a permanent site with the help of Mayor Justiniano R. Borja. This is his most enduring legacy to the many generations of children in his beloved Bonbon.
Pantaleon Ebalig Raagas died on March 4, 1967. His memory lives on especially to the families of the men whom he courageously saved from the clutches of death at the time when he lived among the enemy.