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The wartime boy

A. Paulita Roa

DEC. 7, 1941: At dawn on this fine Sunday morning, more than a hundred Japanese fighter planes took off from several aircraft carriers that were just 230 miles north of Hawaii. Their sole mission was to bomb and totally destroy Pearl Harbor, a major American naval base. Battleships, storage tanks, dry docks and base facilities were totally destroyed while scores of persons were killed. The surprise attack of this great magnitude prompted the United States government to declare war against Japan.

Dec. 8, 1941: In the sprawling grounds of the Ateneo de Cagayan campus, young high school students in their military uniforms stood in attention as they waited for the mass to start for it was the feast day of the school patroness, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. As Fr.. James Haggerty S.J. recounted in his book, “The Guerrilla Padre,” he showed the wire that he just received to the other priests about the Pearl Harbor attack and the American declaration of war. No mass was said that day, instead there was the terse announcement about the war with Japan. They advised the students to go to their respective homes and prepare for the inevitable.

Because the Philippines was at that time an American colony, Japanese planes came the day after Pearl Harbor and bombed the major military installations in the country especially in Luzon. Talks about the looming Japanese military invasion started to circulate as many left their homes and evacuated to far flung areas where they believed the enemy could not reach them.

This is a series of articles about the saga of the family of the foremost Kagay-anon historian, Filomeno M. Bautista as told to me by his son, Thaddeus a.k.a. Teddy. We were members of the Cagayan de Oro Historical and Cultural Commission from 1998 till his death in 2014. Teddy distinguished himself as a genealogist, who did voluminous research and published the genealogies of the Neri- Chaves, Roa, Casino and Abellanosa clans. Whenever, he shared to us his experiences as an eight year old boy when World War II broke out, I would try to write them down. and I regret that I was not able to take down many of his stories.

This is written in memory of my dear friend and colleague, Teddy. I am sharing his stories to the young generation who never really knew what it was like to live in the darkest and bloodiest period of our nation’s history.)

Teddy Avancena Bautista clearly recalled that it was on Dec. 23, 1941 that the town of Cagayan (Cagayan de Oro) experienced the first aerial bombing by Japanese planes. This made his father, Filomeno decide that it was now time to leave town with his whole family – wife, Hospicia and children aside from Teddy, Filomeno Jr., Henrietta, Rolando and Dulce Deanna. After packing their belongings, they went to the Mindanao Bus Terminal (now the Magsaysay Park) in Divisoria where the manager, Felix Acero helped them board the bus for a special trip to Balingasag together with the Frias and Pacailoga families.

From the población of Balingasag, they went up to their farm in Casa (now Olot) where they had an abaca plantation that was located in the foothills of Mt. Balatucan. The farm was formerly owned by Casa Smith Bell. From their place, the Bautistas had a panoramic view of Cagayan, Macajalar Bay and the mouth of Cagayan River. They witnessed several bombings of the town by the Japanese. According to Teddy, it was in their farm that the guerrilla movement in Balingasag and outlying areas was organized by Capt. Rosauro Dongallo, Clyde Abbott, the farm manager, Tony Pedrosa and other individuals.

Life at the Casa seemed to be idyllic and Teddy’s mother was busy tending to her orchid collection. However, a group of fierce lumads known as the Maghats robbed and killed several farmers in their area. The following night, Teddy’s uncle Jose who married a lady from the Moreno clan came with the town mayor and several men to fetch the whole family and transferred them to a house in the poblacion.

By the mid 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army came and immediately after that was the surrender of the American forces in Sumilao, Bukidnon.  The surrender also marked the start of the guerrilla movement in Mindanao. The Japanese tried their best to hinder and stop the guerrillas but in time, it became a very powerful force with many supporters all over the island. In Balingasag, Teddy was among the crowd of onlookers who saw several suspected guerrillas who were about to be publicly executed, but a big group of armed men suddenly appeared and rescued them. They opened fire at the Japanese most of whom fled except for a Capt. Okamura and some of his men. They ran to the belfry of the Sta. Rita parish Church and sought refuge there. The guerrillas set fire to the belfry and as Okamura and his companions ran out to escape the fire, they were brutally killed. One guerrilla openly ate the liver of a dead soldier in fulfillment of the vow he made after his whole family was massacred by the Japanese.

After this gruesome incident, the Bautistas hurriedly packed their belongings and left Balingasag for fear that they might become victims of a brutal reprisal by the Japanese. This act was locally known as juez de cochillo. Also, they were reliably informed that Japanese military authorities were looking for the family patriarch, Filomeno, who was the municipal councilor of Cagayan. He was also the author of the book “Glimpses of Mindanao” published in 1939, it contained the socio-economic profile of all the provinces in Mindanao and for this, the Japanese wanted to appoint him as their consultant. His brother-in-law, Herminigildo Avancena was the town mayor who abandoned his position and left Cagayan for the hills because he did not want to serve the enemy. He was active in the guerrilla movement.

The family headed to the next town of Lagonglong and settled near Sapong spring where they tried their hand in planting rice. They were fortunate to have an unexpected source of food coming from the tall tipolo tree that stood near where they lived. Many locals believed the tree to be inhabited by powerful nature spirits. Devotees would go there to offer food and sometimes a live pig. After they left, the family would heartily partake the food offerings. On moonless nights, Teddy and his family could hear many people conversing, music, laughter and of horses racing around the area near the spring. When they lighted a torch to see if there were people around, the music and laughter suddenly stopped and the place was eerily silent and dark.

However, the family did not stay near Sapong spring all throughout the war. Whenever harvest time was near, Teddy’s father would go to the forest and looked for a site near a creek or a river where the family can stay. For the Japanese would come and harvest most of the crops of the local farmers and stayed in nearby towns for sometime. As soon as he found the ideal site where the family will temporarily camped, he would set up all the needed provisions. He and the boys would dig a small tunnel and placed a bamboo chimney on top. It was to serve as their kitchen area and cooking was done usually at night. The smoke coming out from the chimney was immediately fanned out so it will spread quickly. This was to prevent a column of smoke from forming so it will not be seen by the Japanese who erected an observation tower to look for smoke from the hills. When they saw one, they would immediately go to the area with their dogs to investigate.

The food that they ate was varied and sourced in nearby places or in extreme cases, they ate out of their personal possessions. For sugar, the sweet tuba was boiled till it became syrupy and this was to sweeten their coffee or mixed with cassava flour for pancakes. Salt was taken near the sea in Lagonglong. On those rare times when they had pork, they rubbed it heavily with salt and let it stand for a week. Then, it was washed with water then cooked in a variety of ways. They had pancit with buko strips instead of noodles and paired it with shrimps taken from Sapong spring.

The most difficult period of the war was from 1943 to 1944. Teddy recalled that they ate nothing but bananas for one whole week. He and his brothers would go to abandoned farms after midnight to harvest bananas. They were also adept in strangling chickens for food. They did all these  silently and without talking for fear that at anytime, they might be heard by the enemy and get caught. On an extremely hard time when they had nothing to eat, his parents took out their leather belts and shoes, boiled it for 24 hours, then sautéed it with green onions and this was their food for many days.


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