Diary of Antonio de las Alas

August 20, 1945, Monday

As usual, we woke up early in the morning, about 5:30. We used to go to the Mess for breakfast at 6:00 o’clock, but this time we went after 6:30. The stock exchange was opened also very early. Some transactions were immediately registered. But it continued to be weak. In the Mess, we noted that the usual truckloads of colonists that started here everyday for the construction site of the new stockade were absent. “Oh, there will be no work,” everybody remarked. The usual time for lining up came, but there was no “fall in” command for the construction workers. The sour face of the Sergeant was absent. We went into our quarters triumphant.

We had hardly rested when the bell for call for work sounded. To us it sounded like a death knell — bells tolling when somebody was dying or had died as practiced by the Catholics. We sank into our costs, as if we had “lost everything in a rapid stream” (a Tagalog expression when one is in a position of dejection, “Para kang naanuran”). We went out of our quarters and there we saw the hated Sergeant calling men for the new stockade construction. He had to do this because the men were not expecting that there would be work anymore. The stock prices tobogganed down. Unlike in previous hours, the descent continued, not halting even for a second. At 10:30 a.m., the lowest level until then was reached. The market was extremely weak. There were many sellers and hardly any buyers. There was only one brave fellow who continued buying, Mr. Bayan. His optimism continued.

The crisis did not come until 3:15 p.m. upon the arrival of Lt. Hagonberg. De la Rama, already very impatient to know the truth, asked him point blank, “Is the rumor now very strong, that we will soon depart for Manila to be released, true?” The Lieutenant answered without any hesitation, “There is no news about your release.” A heavy thud was heard. It was us like a log dropped over our beds. The market crashed. In the wake of the collapse we saw nothing but men with their chins rested on their hands. It was again reminiscent of the scenes at the stock exchange in Crystal Arcade Exchange when favorite stocks suddenly collapsed. We were lucky that although we claim to have already absorbed the American way of life, there was one feature of it that we had not imitated. In America, among the speculators in Wall Street, cases have been registered where reputed millionaires invested all they had and more in stocks hoping to be multi-millionaires. Sitting in front of the tickers, they watched the market constantly. They watched the value of their stocks go down and continue to go down to the point where if they sell, they would be headed directly for the poor house. A case was reported where the investor dropped the ticker’s lace paper, dismissed all his employees, entered the inner room to his private office, got a glass and the whiskey bottle, and began to drink. When already groggy but not yet completely drunk, he scratched a pathetic note of farewell to his family, laid it carefully on the desk, placed a paper weight on it so that it would not be blown by the wind; pulled out a revolver from his deskdrawer… the rest need not be told. The next day, there was the usual obituary notice. Many similar cases were reported. If we had imbibed this way of life, there would have been one or two for whose soul’s repose we would have been praying.

But something else was happening. At first attributed to Atabrine and to the malaria sickness itself, but later discovered to be the result of mental anguish caused by our unjust, illegal imprisonment, many became crazy and many more were showing signs of mental derangement. Three were already outright insane. Our prominent professor was becoming very eccentric and it is feared that he is going insane. A few others are said to be similarly situated. There is such fear and panic that everybody’s actuations are looked upon as a sign of lunacy. Zulueta said that he is afraid that he is also suffering from some mental illness due to the uncertainty prevailing as regards our release. In response to his remarks, someone related this story: The wife of a Chinese died and he was very much affected. He was continuously crying. While the coffin of the deceased was being lowered, he squatted on the border of the “fosa” (hole where body is buried) and cried: “Oh, take me with you, I want to die.” A man behind him gave him a push and he almost fell. The Chinese told the joker: “Huwag ka bilo bilo.” Translated, “Don’t be joking.” (“Bilo bilo” is really “biro biro” but Chinese cannot pronounce their R’s.) So we immediately told Paco Zulueta, “Huwag ka bilo bilo”.

The stock exchange continued to go down. But a faint pulse could still be detected. It was still breathing. But only Bayan continued vigilant. We noticed, however, that although his optimism had not died out, he was not effecting any actual transaction. At 5:30 p.m. an almost imperceptible reaction was noted. This is due to the fact that Reyes came and insisted in the genuiness of the radiogram. Cortez insisted that work at the new stockade was ordered stopped. Those who worked at the new camp arrived and they were besieged with questions from everybody. News were conflicting. Some said they continued working; some said they did all their jobs; some said they were merely ordered to clean and they were relieved of their responsibility for equipment, etc. As each one had his own version and nothing was clear, Rodrigo was called in as he is alleged to know more inasmuch as he had been talking with the Captain in charge of the construction. He reported that it was true that an order was received in the morning to stop construction work and the people who worked on the site that morning were ordered just to clean the premises. But in the afternoon, he said, the order was changed so that construction had to be continued. We passed the night with pessimism.

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