A few months after the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941, enemy troops arrived in Mindanao, disturbing the placidity of the mountains in the Zamboanga peninsula and killing even innocent civilians.
Thus began the recollections by Claro Ducusin Cabading Sr. of his worst ordeal in life. The former Christian missionary is now 106 years old. He was born on Aug. 9, 1906, to Felipe Cabading II and Flora Ducusin in San Juan, La Union, which makes him a GI (genuine Ilocano).
Claro had a simple life as a miner in Luzon when he was lured by President Manuel L. Quezon’s pronouncement that Mindanao was the Land of Promise. He settled among the rice fields of Kiamba, South Cotabato (now Saranggani province), where he busied himself tilling the land given by the government.
Inspired by an American missionary named Mary Holsted, who visited the churches in Maitum, he decided to become a missionary himself.
But first Claro needed to complete his formal education in Zamboanga City. The trip from Kiamba to Zamboanga was long and arduous but, driven by his passion to serve God, he survived the journey.
In the city of the Chavacanos, he enjoyed his lessons in theology at Ebenezer Bible Institute. “My dream started to become real,” said Lolo Claro in a low voice. His special friend, Pastora, soon followed from Kiamba and enrolled in the same school.
Not long after graduation, Claro and Pastora married. Their firstborn was a boy they named Onofre. Then they had a daughter whom they named Flora.
Starting a mission
The family settled in Pasonanca, in the northern part of the city, and the couple started their missionary work.
The bombing that heralded the arrival of the Japanese disrupted not only the family’s life but also Claro’s ministry among the Subanuns.
Lolo Claro was teary-eyed as he recalled the scene of wailing mothers, crying children and worried men trying to find out what was going on. As he peeped through the window, he saw people running like mad dogs in different directions, carrying things they considered of value.
He urged his confused wife to get their children ready for a possible evacuation. Two women helped them with a few things they needed to bring along—grains of rice, a kaldero, a lantern, some petroleum.
Lolo Carlo remembered saying a prayer: “God is going to lead us.”
As they heard the bombing again, he yelled to his wife, “Ikkatem dagita kurtina balutem dagita ubbing (Take down the curtains and wrap them around the children)!” They were soon running wildly while yelling a warning to the others.
Eyes closed, Lolo Carlo recalled one scene in particular: It was of his wife running with baby Flora in her arms and suddenly dropping to the ground because her knees were shaking.
“Dagan ta padulong sa bukid (Let’s run towards the mountain),” Claro shouted to the rest of his Cebuano neighbors. “Although we were running in fear, I remembered this verse in Psalm 46:1: ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ We sought shelter where we could rest for the night,” he continued.
Lolo Claro said he bought nipa roofing so they could build huts. But then they had to deal with another problem. The rice they had brought was all gone. Lolo Claro recalled that the women had cooked porridge to try and make the rice last longer and feed the children for a few days.
Faith and common sense
Drawing on the bayanihan spirit, Claro led his companions in planting vegetables and spices, which grew abundantly. They kept a portion of the produce for their consumption and bartered the rest at the poblacion (town center) for rice and salt.
“We survived with the help of God,” he said.
But the owner of the land they had occupied came and, with his men, drove them away. “We left without any question,” he recalled sadly.
As the Japanese advanced, the group kept moving farther away. Claro then remembered the pastors who had told him that if things got worse, he could head for their place.
One pastor allowed him and his group to stay in a house he had built, where a neighbor could provide them with water and food. The pastor even had a garden planted with corn and vegetables that Claro and his companions could harvest and eat. Two of the pastor’s children would go fishing and bring the group their catch, along with a plentiful supply of bananas.
“God is also leading you,” Lolo Claro told the boys gratefully.
But their stay in the pastor’s house was also temporary. They had to move again after hearing that Japanese soldiers wanted to recruit Filipino men to join them.
One night, informed that the Japanese soldiers were coming to the mountain where their settlement was, they hid themselves and later witnessed from afar the enemy troops killing a Cebuano neighbor and a Russian who was trying to flee.
The next morning, they rode in bancas until they reached an uninhabited island planted with coconuts.
In that remote area, Claro suggested digging fox holes for their temporary dwelling. They covered the holes with dried leaves. At night, they could not build a fire or even smoke, fearing the Japanese would discover their location. As a result, most of them contracted malaria from mosquito bites.
Lolo Claro said mothers sang lullabies in hushed tones to put the children to sleep and keep them quiet.
He organized the men into fishing groups. Although they would catch more than enough for a few days’ consumption, they had no salt to preserve their catch.
Pastora came up with the idea of using lahing (mature coconuts that have fallen from the trees) to make coconut oil for frying the fish.
Lolo Claro said when he went looking for lahing with his wife and a group of young men, a tall, slender American holding a revolver appeared from out of nowhere. The young men scampered away. Pastora signaled Claro to do the same but he refused, “Saan ka nga ibati ditoy (I won’t leave you here).”
Trying to stay calm, Pastora asked the American what he was doing there. The American said he was just checking if there were some Japanese in their group.
“Praise the Lord, we escaped again by His power,” Lolo Claro said.
A concerned civilian who had kept them posted about the movements of the Japanese invited them to move to Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, where they could live in any of the Ilocano, Bisaya and Ilonggo communities. It was going to be a safer place and they would get help from the man’s relatives.
Claro continued his ministry there under the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, the same congregation he left in Kiamba.
Reverend Claro Ducusin Cabading Sr. might not have fought in the war but his heroism, courage and, above all, faith in God during the Japanese occupation are worthy of emulation and admiration.
(Lille Faye N. Sarayan, a second year high school student of Davao City National High School, is one of three consolation prize winners who will each receive a iPod Shuffle from the Philippine Veterans Bank. She submitted this narrative based on her interview with Claro D. Cabading
Sr. with the mentoring of her teacher, Romel D. Babiera.)