Remembering the Japanese occupation
As the 70th anniversary of the Japanese Occupation of Cebu approaches, it is time to look back at those tumultuous three years when life was sometimes just within hair’s breadth or the tip of a bayonet.
Make no mistake, Japan has since been a very important partner in the nation’s development and is indeed one of our significant sources of Official Development Assistance, but the past cannot be forgotten. It is also healthy to not forget how base and inhuman people can become in times of war and learn from such an experience.
Six or seven 30-minute upcoming episodes of our “Kabilin” television show on SugboTv Channel 14 are devoted to aspects of this period in Cebu’s history. And I have been criss-crossing the breadth and width of Cebu looking for veterans as well as civilians of that war to end all wars.
I have never in my life travelled in so many places in such a short time of three weeks, visiting makeshift tunnels in Buhisan built by the Japanese immediately after they conquered Cebu on April 10, 1942, concrete anti-tank barriers and bunkers along the once impregnable Ilihan line in Toledo City set up by Filipino and American soldiers, and massacre sites in Barili, Alegria and Moalboal towns, as well as in Cebu City. The most touching of them all was talking to survivors of the great massacre in Barrio Dapdap, in the island of Pilar, Camotes.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview the few eyewitnesses of the summary execution of men, women and children, hundreds of Pilar’s residents and evacuees from nearby islands, all in retaliation for the deaths of Japanese soldiers who swam to shore as their navy ships on the way to Leyte province were blasted to smithereens by U.S. bombers overhead.
I was told of how these people were tricked into attending a meeting at the local chapel sometime in October 1944, supposedly to avail of free passes by the Japanese forces only to end up dead. With bodies decomposing and unburied for weeks, it was only when the Americans arrived that something was done to them: the entire chapel was doused with gasoline to cremate the dead inside and end the overpowering stench. Testimonies were then obtained from survivors who had begun coming down from the hills. This became one of the landmark cases of war crimes against Japanese commanders in Cebu. Later, one of these Japanese soldiers by the name of Shimizu would come yearly to Camotes on a medical mission and to assuage the unforgettable pain that this singular event brought upon innocent people.
I have also been intrigued by testimonies, not just in Dapdap, but also in Tudela, Alegria and Moalboal, that the main culprits of these grisly events were not Japanese but Korean conscripts. In fact, in Moalboal, an eyewitness told me that the first wave of soldiers were so kind as to ask residents for chickens and eggs and other foodstuffs, leaving quietly without fuss when these were not given. These same soldiers warned when they left some time in 1943 that Koreans were going to take over and things would turn ugly.
Perhaps the Koreans, disliking their colonization by the Japanese, were making the latter look notorious; after all, who is there to know whether one was Japanese or Korean? Whatever the reason, the war was brought to our shores by the Japanese and they later paid dearly for it, with two atomic bombs eventually wiping out two of their great cities. Sadly, nothing ever justifies the evil that characterizes all wars.
Today we proceed to Tabuelan town to visit a Japanese war cemetery inside a public school and on to Caduawan on the Borbon-Tabogon border to see the Japanese surrender site there and then to Bogo City interview another war veteran.
Last year, the last survivor in Dapdap, who still bore bayonet wounds from the back to the front of his torso, passed away. I should have done these interviews 20 years ago when there would have been many more testimonies and war wounds that we should never forget.
* * *
The Cebu Normal University Museum opened last week an exhibit to remind everyone of the horrors that attended its old administration building when it was the headquarters of the dreaded Kempei-tai, the Japanese secret military police. On exhibit are photographs and accompanying biographies of those who were tortured there, including those who fought to free them. Among these are the living witnesses former Mayor Mario Ortiz and his wife who were there during the inaugural ceremonies. Please find time to visit the exhibit and spread the word.