(Editor?s Note: The following is excerpted from the essay that won fifth prize in the 2011 WWII True Stories contest. Padilla got an iPod Touch, while his teacher-coach, Francis Eliezer Castro Garzon, received a token from PVB. Padilla is an incoming freshman but because of his family?s financial hardship he will not be enrolling this coming school year. Offers of scholarship to Padilla may be e-mailed to email@example.com or sent by text message to 0918-3824061.)
?War is delightful to those who have had no experience of it.??Erasmus
SOME PEOPLE said Lamberto Nogoy Miranda of Candating, Arayat, Pampanga?Apung Intung to family and friends?was a traitor but there were many who believed he was a hero.
Now in his eighties, Apung Intung is about five-foot-six tall. His face has lines and wrinkles, like permanent marks of his struggle, sacrifices and courage.
I started the interview by asking him about life before World War II. His face lit up as he recalled childhood memories.
?Life then was simple and peaceful,? Apung Intung said. ?We used to weave baskets, hats and other products using ebus (a plant belonging to the palm family). We caught fish at the Pampanga river after the floods. Softball and volleyball were the popular sports in our barangay. We also played moro-moro, chasing after our playmates in the vast rice field to ?capture? them.?
But when asked about the war years, he paused for a minute and looked outside the gates. His face was clouded with sadness this time.
He said in 1941, when news about the Japanese invasion spread, sights of men and women enlisting for military or civic service became common in every town.
?I joined the guerrilla force, motivated by vengeance and anger. The cruelty of the Japanese against our people was unthinkable. They called us Changkoro or not human, justifying the rape, torture and murder of our women, men and children,? he said.
In 1942, the commander of Philippine-American forces in Candating gave the order to engage the enemies in Santa Barbara, Nueva Ecija, to help the 22nd squadron already fighting the Japanese.
By the time the Candating unit arrived, 20 of their comrades were already dead. The Japanese hid among the anyasan (tall grasses) and shot at the guerrillas who could not see them.
Apung Intung realized it was no longer a game of moro-moro, or a race to the finish line, but a fight for his own life and those of his comrades. Though it was his first real battle, he was fearless.
?The enemies were invisible. Our troops were being fired at but we did not know where to shoot. Then one of our companions, Cpl. Santa Ana, discovered where the Japanese were hiding so he took an incendiary bomb, loaded it in his Garand rifle and fired at the enemy. The bomb hit its target and the enemies ran in all directions. We shot every enemy in sight. Though I was a neophyte, I killed at least six Japanese ...
?Later that afternoon reinforcement from other Japanese camps arrived and we were outnumbered. A retreat was called by our ground commander. Many of our comrades were left behind, including my friend, Leonisio, who was fatally wounded.
?More encounters followed after Santa Barbara and our squadron was always in the frontline.?
As a guerrilla, he said, he was trained to value courage and strength and to exhibit resiliency even in the most grueling situation. But when alone in the dark of night at camp, he said he cried for his fallen comrades and friends.
?I believe,? he said, ?that war can bring out the worst in man.?
Both sides committed atrocities during the occupation, he recalled. Filipino prisoners of war (POW) were either tortured or killed. ?The same was true for Japanese POWs captured by the guerrillas,? he said.
Before the war ended in August 1945, Apung Intung said their squadron fought its last battle in Baliti, a small barangay near the Arayat mountain in Pampanga.
Not the enemy
Something was different this time. They did not realize they were shooting at Filipino POWs. Apung Intung said it explained why the ?enemies? did not wear Japanese uniforms but were only in shorts and T-shirts.
His suspicion was confirmed when a man broke from the enemy line and ran toward the guerrillas. As the man neared, he recognized Emilio Mamangun, brother of his squadron mate Ricardo Mamangun.
Ricardo also recognized his brother and laid down his arm and ran to meet Emilio and embrace him. Ricardo and his brother dropped to the ground to avoid the gunfire.
But Apung Intung?s comrade, Cpl. Santa Ana, thought Emilio was a Japanese soldier trying to kill Ricardo. Santa Ana aimed at Emilio?s head but Apung Intung was able to stop him before any shots were fired.
Apung Intung then urged his comrades to retreat. But two days after the Baliti incident, Apung Intung was investigated for a possible court-martial.
His superiors alleged he committed high treason. His rifle showed he did not fire a single bullet, seemingly an indication of cowardice and of his attempt to aid the enemy.
His Kapampangan superiors blamed him for the failure in Baliti.
When Apung Intung was told to explain himself, he stood up and justified his act by saying, ?Nunq barilan ku la detanq tau na reta balamu beril ke mu rin inq kayabe ku kenq linya (If I shoot those men, it is like I?m shooting at my fellow soldiers),? he said.
He added that the men were POWs, made to fight for the Japanese under pain of torture or death.
He said it would have been a different thing if they encountered the Filipino police. He would have gladly finished off all of them because they voluntarily joined the enemy without compulsion or threat.
?But the men we encountered in Baliti were our own men who needed our help, not our bullets. The real enemies were hiding in their trucks watching us annihilate each other,? he told his superiors.
After he explained himself, the officers from Laguna stood up and applauded him for his wisdom. The tribunal, after a brief discussion, found no probable cause to charge Apung Intung with treason.
After the war, the Japanese were shipped back to their country to be tried for war crimes, while Filipino POWs were released immediately. The POWs Apung Intung?s unit encountered in Baliti were grateful to him for saving their lives. Emilio Mamangun became Apung Intung?s best friend after the war.
His story made me realize that the measure of a hero was not always his skill in battle but his great heart in saving innocent lives.