The Pagaeaw-aeaw tragedy
WWII True Stories Contest WinnerBy Janz M. Sampaton
Philippine Daily Inquirer
For 8-YEAR-OLD Edgar Orola and other residents of the municipality of Banga in Aklan, Oct. 21, 1942, was supposed to be a day of excitement and joy.
Before that day, town Mayor Lorenzo Duran Jr. and lawyer Jose Orquiola called a meeting to inform the residents about the Japanese Imperial Army’s arrival. The mayor ordered the people to welcome their foreign visitors.
Before sunrise, Edgar set out for the “crossing” with his half-brother Diogenes “Genes” Retino, his cousins Frederico Jr. and Rodolfo Rigodon and his father Perfecto. People from Banga’s different barrios were already there to welcome the Japanese.
By 7 a.m., there were over 300 welcomers although Mayor Duran and Orquiola were not among them. As there were not enough seats for everyone, Genes suggested that they use church pews.
At 7:30 a.m., Luis Macahilig and Genes divided the people into two groups. Genes, with Frederico and Luciano Trompeta, led the first group. The second group was led by Macho Trompeta, Perfecto and Rodolfo.
At 8 a.m., Luis and about a hundred members of the first group left for Barrio Libas while the second group stayed at the crossing. On the way to Libas, the group could hear people singing as they drank coconut wine.
It was about 9:30 a.m. when a certain Molong reported that the people in Libas had been killed by Japanese soldiers. But nobody believed him. Some even got angry at him.
At 10:30 a.m., 10 Japanese soldiers reached the crossing. “When we saw the Japanese soldiers, everybody shouted, ‘Banzai! Banzai!’ until they came to the crossing,” Edgar said.
A Japanese captain with his interpreter stepped up to the rotunda, while the soldiers had their machine guns ready. The interpreter asked in Ilonggo, “Who have guns in their homes? Do not be afraid because we will not do anything to you.”
Macho Trompeta raised his hand. He was asked to approach the soldiers. When his daughter Sianing said, “’Tay, I’m coming with you!” the soldiers also called her up front.
Father and daughter’s arms were bound. Gene Robi, another resident, began to sense that something terrible was about to happen. He jumped from his chair and ran but was shot by a soldier.
The interpreter asked again, “Who have guns at home?” No one answered. The interpreter told the captain (in Japanese) that no one else had guns.
The Japanese officer waved a little red flag and shouted, “Ready, fire!” The soldiers fired at the unsuspecting Bangahons in the assembly.
“I could hear the bullets whizzing past my ears and making horrible sounds when they hit the chairs beside me,” Edgar said.
Hundreds of people lay lifeless at the crossing rotunda. The blood of the eager welcomers covered the municipality’s landmark.
“My eyes were half open and I saw everything they did,” Edgar said. The massacre was seared forever in his young mind.
The soldiers went around to make sure everyone was dead. The living were brutally kicked and stabbed with bayonets.
“I saw a Japanese soldier approach. He stabbed me with his bayonet and I screamed. He stabbed me several times and kicked me in the back. I stopped moving and pretended to be dead even though I was in a lot of pain,” Edgar said.
“I saw the captain stab with his saber the buttocks of Tay Vito. As blood spurted, a few drops hit my head because I was so close.”
After making sure everybody was dead, the soldiers proceeded to Barrio Bacan to search for more people.
“When they were far enough not to see me, I stood up slowly,” Edgar said. “A man who was still alive told me to run.” But Edgar could not run because of his injuries.
Edgar, despite the severity of his wounds, was miraculously able to cross Mantac Road and climb Manduyog Hill where he saw their helper “Oyo” with his rooster.
When Edgar asked where Oyo was going, the latter replied he was going to a cockfight.
“What?” Edgar blurted out. “You’re still going to the cockfight after almost everyone at the crossing has been killed?”
Oyo did not believe Edgar until the latter showed his injuries.
“Oyo immediately put down his rooster, lifted me and rushed me home,” Edgar said.
Saved by herbs
When he got home, Edgar told his mother about the death of his father, who was sitting beside him during the massacre. Without a doctor and medical supplies to treat him, Edgar’s sister used medicinal herbs to heal his wounds. The therapy worked and Edgar survived.
“I thank God for the second life he gave me,” Edgar said, showing the scars from his near-death experience.
He also heard the story of what happened to the group that went to Libas from his brother Genes, who was one of its leaders.
At 9 a.m. (30 minutes before Molong showed up at the crossing), the same group of Japanese soldiers that almost killed Edgar entered Libas.
The first group welcomed the soldiers, just like the crossing group did, with “Banzai! Banzai!”
The soldiers instructed 20 or so group members, including Edgar’s brother, to fall in line. Genes was at the head of the line.
With their arms tied behind their backs, they were made to stand at the sidelines. The other welcomers were killed the same way as those at the crossing, shot with machine guns and stabbed with bayonets.
Two soldiers were left to guard the survivors as the rest proceeded to the crossing.
The Japanese returned to Libas around 4 p.m. and brought their prisoners to the municipality of Balete. Some of the prisoners fainted from hunger as they walked the long way to Balete. Instead of helping them, the soldiers kicked them and forced them to stand up.
Reaching Balete at 11 p.m., the prisoners were brought to a hut beside a bridge. By then, Genes realized his hands were loosely tied and he could escape but Luis said, “Do not escape for we will be released tomorrow.”
The next day at about 6 a.m. they were again told to fall in line. Luis was told to put his head on a railing. His head was cut off.
Ten people were killed that day. The remaining 10 were returned to the hut.
Genes prayed fervently to San Rafael, the patron saint of Balete whose feast day was to be celebrated on Oct. 23. Around midnight, Genes felt his arms come untied. He untied the two people nearest to him but was unable to help his cousin Frederico.
Genes and his companions planned their escape. He told them the guard would light a cigarette at about 4 a.m. and they would tackle him and run.
At 4 a.m., they did as they had planned. Although the guard tried to hold him by his shoulder, he was able to escape.
Genes walked through the mountains of Balete, reaching the crossing at 6 a.m. and seeing the dead bodies being eaten by dogs, cats and rats.
“Fortunately, he was able to reach our house safely before we evacuated to Barrio Toralba,” Edgar said.
Edgar Orola, the boy who survived the massacre and lived to tell this story, is now 78 years old.
(Janz M. Sampaton, a consolation prize winner, is a third year high school student at Sped Kalibo Integrated Special Education Center. He was mentored by teacher Allan S. Gomez.)