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Wrongly accused

(Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the narrative that won second prize in the 2011 WWII True Stories contest. Nuñal got an Apple iPad. The PVB also opened a savings account in his name with an initial deposit of P7,000. His teacher-coach, Cenon R. Agbayani Jr. received P5,000 from PVB.)

MY GREAT grandmother, Josefa Company Nazareno, or Nanay Sepa, was 11 years old when the Japanese arrived in Bohol.

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Josefa was one of four daughters of Don Joaquin Company and Nicasia Flores. She and her sisters Joaquinita, Rosita and Victoria were all named after their father’s siblings who lived in Spain.

Pio B. Fernando, in his book “The Bohol Guerillas in Action,” said the bulk of the Japanese forces landed in Tagbilaran, the capital, on May 17, 1942, establishing their main garrisons in the city and in the town of Guindulman.

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The Company family had owned a big track of land in barrio Mahayag in the town of Trinidad. One afternoon in 1942, Nanay Sepa was herding a flock of sheep when a truckload of Japanese soldiers came. She ran toward their house, which was almost a kilometer away. When she heard gunshots, she ducked as the sheep scampered in all directions.

When the big truck moved away, she went home crying, fearing she would be punished for losing the sheep. But her mother told her the sheep came home on their own and were safe in their enclosure.

Then Nanay Sepa froze in horror when she noticed that the truck she saw earlier was parked near their house. And the soldiers beat up Don Joaquin in front of his wife and daughter. She watched helplessly as her father tried to explain himself.

The Japanese eventually stopped and listened as Don Joaquin explained he was a Spaniard, not an American. Nicasia presented documents proving his Spanish ancestry.

The leader of the team apologized to Don Joaquin and even stayed for a while. Don Joaquin befriended the Japanese and treated them well. He would have a feast when they camped in his estate. Unknown to the Japanese, Don Joaquin was also supplying food to a group of guerillas in the nearby mountains.

Don Joaquin was made barangay captain of Mahayag to help maintain order in the barrio and promote understanding between the community and the Japanese. By this time, Nanay Sepa was the only one still living with her parents. Her sisters and some farm workers fled when they heard of the arrival of the Japanese. Nanay Sepa did not join them because she wanted to be with her parents.

Maruja, as her father called her, was not afraid of the enemy. In fact, she did not even think of them as the enemy. For the 11-year-old girl, her enemies were those who hurt her family.

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Every other day, she went to the Japanese’s camp to deliver food. She brought eggs, chickens and vegetables, the usual ration Don Joaquin asked her to bring. Once, the Japanese came to their house and butchered the largest pig in the pen.

Don Joaquin also continued to assist the Filipino guerillas secretly, even sending them a cow to be butchered. But not all guerillas knew about this. Some of them believed Don Joaquin was collaborating with the Japanese for his own benefit.

Nanay Sepa could not remember any encounter between the Japanese and the guerillas in Mahayag. But she did witness Japanese brutality. They hanged and shot in public a suspected guerrilla, at the center of the barrio, and buried him at the exact spot where he was executed.

When the war was almost over, as the Japanese were leaving and the townspeople were returning to their houses, including Nanay Sepa’s sisters, Don Joaquin was suddenly arrested by the guerillas and accused of being a Japanese spy. He was brought to the town of Talibon, and imprisoned as he awaited trial.

Nanay Sepa and the rest of the family resorted to prayers for comfort. The Japanese were gone, but another kind of war was threatening to break their family apart.

A month after Don Joaquin was imprisoned, a messenger told Nicasia that her husband was going to be tried in public. Nicasia went to Talibon the next day with all her daughters and her younger sister Macaria in tow.

It was a very long walk from Mahayag to Talibon but Nanay Sepa was jumping for joy that she would see her beloved father again. When they were finally reunited with Don Joaquin, they saw his condition was bad. He was kept in a very small, dirty cell in the town hall of Talibon, which cell he shared with a certain Mr. Boiser.

Nanay Sepa’s father was treated harshly in prison. His food was placed in a pair of bagol (coconut shell). Almost every day, he was beaten to force him to admit to the crimes with which he was being charged.

Still, the family reunion brought peace to Nanay Sepa’s heart. She could sense that her mother’s tears were tinged with joy. The happy reunion would not last long, however.

During the trial, which drew a big crowd, the members of Don Joaquin’s family were given the chance to speak and defend him. But their pleas fell on deaf ears. Don Joaquin was sentenced to death, to be shot two days after the trial.

The family could only resort to prayer once again. They could not sleep. Nicasia refused to eat and would not stop crying. Her sister could no longer find the words to comfort her.

The family had almost given up and accepted Don Joaquin’s fate when, as if in answer to their prayers, high-ranking guerilla officers in Cebu heard the news of Don Joaquin’s upcoming execution.

An officer named Musong Sabalones came to Talibon to stop the execution. A very furious Sabalones arrived and yelled at the soldiers in the municipio, even slapping and kicking some. He ordered the immediate release of Don Joaquin.

Sabalones told the soldiers and the people in the municipio, who insisted that Don Joaquin aided the Japanese, that their prisoner also helped the guerillas. Sabalones explained that appearing to help the enemy was the only way for Don Joaquin to protect his family and the people in the barrio.

Sabalones apologized to Don Joaquin, advising him to remain in Talibon for a while until it was safe to return to Mahayag.

Nanay Sepa could not believe how swiftly things changed. They had been in Talibon for a few months. The family was again intact and Don Joaquin slowly regained his strength. His wife devoted her time to caring for him.

The ordeal that her family went through during the war remains fresh in Nanay Sepa’s memory. The experience made her a firm believer that prayers can lead to miracles.

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TAGS: Bohol province, Don Joaquin Company, Filipino guerrillas, Hero, Japanese Imperial Army, Spain
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