Diary of Victor Buencamino

April 26, 1942

The concentration camp in Capaz for Filipino and American war prisoners looks like a graveyard. Only there are no tombs and mausoleums and headstones. Instead, there are thousands of walking corpses, breathing skeletons, lying, sitting, crawling, shuffling aimlessly in a bare, treeless, sun-scorched, desert-like area. Capaz is the bivouac of the living dead.

Everywhere suffering humanity walked, squatted, slept, died. There was a cold chill in my heart as I beheld the gruesome sights wrought by the war: a blind officer begging for water to quench his thirst; a young soldier pale and yellow with malaria, shivering on the sand; an old colonel with a blackened leg begging for medicine; an Igorot private shouting deliriously; hundreds of youths with tattered, blood-splattered rags clamoring for food to appease their hunger; an officer on a crutch wandering pointlessly; thousands of dust-begrimed, mud-stained, bony, skeletal, emaciated, sunken-eyed youths fighting for the slow drops of water trickling from a single faucet; hundreds lying limply on the ground waiting for the eternal sleep; a rigid corpse with a smile on his face.

I arrived in Capaz at one o’clock after taking lunch in a nipa hut in Angeles with Arturo Tanco and Dr. Katigbak. In a small house in Capaz, we met Dr. Agustin Liboro and young Enrique Albert. They were preparing medicines for the sick. They did not know how they could send the medicines, but they were going to try their best. The Japanese prohibit the sending of medicines to war prisoners in the concentration camps. They have not permitted the Red Cross nor any relief organization to give succor to the prisoners.

Oscar Jacinto accompanied me to the town convent. There I met Victor Tizon, mayor of Capaz, and Fr. Marcos Punzal. We were told that the only persons authorized to enter the prison camp were: the governor, mayor and teniente del barrio. I persuaded Mayor Tizon to please accompany me inside the camp. I told him I wanted to look for my son. There were rumors that he is sick.

We passed through a narrow, dusty road crossing the camp. On either side of the road were the temporary shelters for the prisoners: on our left were the Filipinos and on the right, Americans. Many prisoners were carrying tins varying in size to fetch water. The main problem in the camp was water. I was told afterwards that the lives of many young boys could have been saved if water could have only been given them.

I saw the camp hospital. It was no hospital at all. It was a morgue. The men were piled on the floor without pillows nor covering. There were no medicines and very limited food and water. It was a transitional station between life and death. A doctor said mortality in the camp was as high as a thousand a day. Some claim it was more.

For a while we had to stop our car. There was an endless line of stretchers. The American soldiers stood at attention. We took off our hats. I counted 60. They were to be buried in a plot reserved for the dead. One soldier carrying a stretcher suddenly knelt and collapsed. He too was dying.

Outside the camp were thousands of mothers, fathers, sweethearts, relatives, friends, trying to see their loved ones. But the sentries were adamant, stern, strict. Their bayonets were fixed, their fingers ready on their triggers. Around the camp, there were makeshift look-out towers with guards armed with machine-guns. Any prisoners approaching the barbed fence by one meter would be shot.

I saw Mrs. Ciocon. She was there all day waiting for an opportunity to see her son. Mrs. Zobel was there too. Jake, she said was an orderly in the Commandant’s office. Mrs. Gruet was also there. She was able to reach the Commandant’s office. “What do you want?” said the commander curtly. “Please,” she said in tears, “is my son alive? Is he in camp?“ The Japanese looked at the records, read the names, then he stood at attention, bowed low, paid homage to the mother of a war hero. “Madam,” he said, “your son is now in a better place.”

As it was getting dark, we decided to return home. Before leaving, I gave a bundle containing a can of coffee, some sugar and quinine capsules and sulphathiasol to Mayor Tizon. “Please,” I said, “try to give this personally to my son.”

On the way home, we met more people in cars and trucks and jitneys and carromatas going to Capaz. I saw Dr. Escoto and he told me that he was able to go inside the camp. “Philip is sick,” he said.

When I arrived home, I told my wife and kids about the sad conditions of the prisoners in Capaz. To break the loneliness, I told my daughter Neneng, to switch on the radio.

A Filipino official was giving a speech praising the magnanimity of the Imperial Japanese Army.

 

 

2 Responses to “April 26, 1942”

  1. […] Particularly gripping are his entries for April, 1942, when on one hand, he is wrestling with increasing Japanese interference and intimidation –including his being summoned to the dreaded Fort Santiago, where other members of his staff had already been summoned and in at least once instance, tortured– and on the other, frantic for news about his son, particularly after the Fall of Bataan, when on the same day he received condolence messages and news his son was alive. Then, he recounted the grief of parents and his own search of the concentration camps. […]

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