I decided to come up to Baguio, partly for reasons of health, and partly to lessen the burden of the Seminary community. Food shortage in Manila has reached alarming proportions, and as I am unemployed by force of circumstances, I am more of a burden than a help. (I have to confess, however, in foro interno, that the nervousness caused by the bombings has a lot to do with my decision.) I accepted the invitation of two families—that of Tomás Morató and that of Mr. Pratts, who, with their whole families, organized a caravan of 60 persons in three cars and six wagons loaded with utensils and supplies. The trip, even in these tempestuous times, was a pleasant one, full of exciting adventures.
We left with the group of Mr. Pratts on October 31, composed of three wagons and a car. Not knowing that the Philippine Constabulary outpost in Balintawak has been reinforced with Japanese police, we passed without stopping. The first three vehicles were able to go through in spite of the pointed guns of the sentry, but the last one had to stop when the Japanese sentry was about to fire at it. The outpost officer shouted and threatened the passengers, slapped the driver three times on the face and ordered the examination of the luggages and the search of the owners, who were ordered to line up to be slapped on their faces. Mr. Pratts, on learning what had happened, turned back and showed the papers authorizing the trip, thus saving the passengers, including Father Sádaba and the famous Spanish comedian, González Anguita, from the slaps.
After two hours of delay, the convoy proceeded without further incidents. Activities went on as usual in Bulacan, we noted. Pampanga was desolate, with abandoned fields and empty towns. There were very few people in the street aside from the military, and the houses were uninhabited, except those occupied by the Japanese. Families who were able to evacuate had gone to Manila, Baguio or to towns far from the main thoroughfares. First they were driven away by the Communists, then by the marooned troops, and now by the bombings. During this three-day journey we observed that Pampanga has remained the most desolate among the town of Luzon.
We arrived at the Bamban River on the boundary of Tarlac. We found that the bridge had been swept away by the strong current. As the night was fast approaching and we did not dare encamp at night in the ghost town by the road, we decided to spend the night in Minalin, a town eight kilometers from San Fernando where a friend and a countryman of mine, Fr. Daniel Castrillo, was the parish priest. We were thinking that we could take the Nueva Ecija Road on the following day, and since we made a complete turn, we would be hitting the Baguio road in Tarlac. We did not consider the hosts, namely the guerrillas.
Fleeing from Scylla (the Japanese), we ended up on Charybdis. Hardly had we set forth on the soil of the open neighborhood which was awed by such an usual caravan and had not seen a motor vehicle in many months, when a guerrilla contingent came to the convent to investigate what kind of guest we were.
Satisfied with our innocuous characters, they guaranteed our safe stay among them. Everyone, including the guerrillas, respected Fr. Daniel, who had given away almost all of his belongings and provisions to help those who are in need.
They asked us for paper and a typewriter ribbon for use in transcribing the orders, notices and communications they received by radio. They told us that in one of the last air raids, an American pilot bailed out of his damaged plane, landed near this town and was harbored by the guerrillas. The first thing they salvaged was the radio transmitter and receiver.
After the first group of guerrillas, a second group from another town came. Then another, and still another, until almost all groups from the different parts of the whole province had paid a visit during the whole night. The first groups were courteous, the others were rather aggressive. We were surprised at how fast the news of our arrival had spread. Fr. Daniel explained to us that the guerrillas had a well-organized system of espionage, runners and network. They are now unified and better-disciplined after the purge of radical and undesirable elements who, in the past, had been committing atrocities. Such atrocities are no longer being committed now, or if ever, very infrequently. They collect the harvests, either from the farms or from the warehouse, leaving the owners with two or five sacks of rice for planting anew. In a place near Minalin, several thousands of young men equipped with rifles, have assembled for training. The Japanese are masters of the principal roads, but the towns and barrios far from the roads are controlled by the USAFFE. As of now, each group respects the others in armed peace. Officials of the national government, the mayors and the constabulary are acting like the three proverbial monkeys. They see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil.
The first group of guerrillas who came to visit us wore medals and crucifixes around their necks. Other waves that followed had their guns strapped on their shoulders. Some were aggressive and rude, who wanted to have the whole caravan in hostage, together with the vehicles and baggages to bring them to the mountains. Fortunately, the rest of the guerrillas objected, especially those from the town, and so we were spared an unpleasant and unfortunate fate.
Someone smelled that Mr. Pratts had some arms. And because he could not deny it, Mr. Pratts proposed to enter into a gentlemen’s agreement with them: that he would place the two pistols on the table and they would choose the one they liked. And so they did. One of the commanders—that was how the guerrilla chiefs were called—placed his hand over one pistol and another commander placed his hand on the other pistol. When Mr. Pratts objected, they replied, “Guerrilla tactics, sir.”
After spending a sleepless night due to the continuous visits, we decided to leave at dawn before the guerrillas could notice our departure. But the town guerrillas came and cautioned us against taking the Nueva Ecija road. Their comrades from Mexico and Arayat would be waiting for us and could hold us in bondage. We asked them to accompany us, but they said that they did not have authority to impose themselves on other guerrilla groups who they described to be savages.
They insisted that we return to Manila. The town Mayor, fearful like a Nicodemus, approached us and made the same suggestion. We decided it unwise to proceed considering the danger to which we would be exposing the women, and we returned to Manila restless, hungry and besieged by the military police and by the air raids.
The search at Balintawak was a meticulous as it was vexatious, but we were spared the caresses on the face.
Three days later, armed with passes from Minister Recto and the Chief of the Military Police of Quezon City, we embarked on our second trip, this time in a processional of ten cars and trucks. Our arrangement was that once we had passed the Japanese line, we would proceed, each on his own. The passes, however, proved to be powerful talismans in appeasing the fury of the watchdogs who guarded the approaches to the city.
We arrived, unobstructed, at the Bamban River, whose bridge has not yet been repaired. The current had subsided and we could cross it. But only after waiting for two hours in the middle of the river, to give way to the interminable processions of army trucks. I could not tell if the sun scorched as much in the Sahara.
On making the ascent to the river bank, we hit upon a rock with a bang. The engine broke down. We were stranded at the edge of the compound of the Bamban Sugar Central, in company with a Japanese sentry who, with a sullen and grimacing face, ordered us to keep our
A soldier who was occupying a nearby house approached us, more out of curiosity than charity. We showed him our pass which he read and brought to his officer. The latter hurriedly came and reproached us for not having shown it to him earlier. He said he would take us to the hotel and organize a feast, with a banquet and dancing. We had no way of refusing his invitation, in spite of the fact that we did not feel like being treated to a feast by Japanese within sight of the guerrillas, who were surely in town. In a last-ditch attempt, Mr. Pratts tinkered with an unexpected piece in the engine, and it suddenly started. We left doubly glad.
A kilometer before Camp One at the entrance to the Baguio Road, we had to pass five check point. Soldiers with bayonets awaited us at each outpost. They accosted us, looked at the magic pass, and allowed us to go through. However, we were told at Camp One that the road was closed, and so we passed the sleepless night there. Three of us priests in the car of Mr. Pratts got into one of the trucks which had just arrived, leaving the car of the Pratts family. There, the full moon above us failed to evoke poetic fantasies; rather it brought back thoughts of the bombings and landings.
Unable to distract our hearing or deviate our imagination from the chirping of crickets, the croaking of frogs, the monotonous murmur of the streams, the whisper of the breeze, we went through a sleepless night.
Decidedly, I did not count either as poet or as a guerrilla fighter. Hardly had the Japanese sentry shouted “Take it away”, and we were on our way on Kennon Road. At each corner and on every bridge, we were stopped by sentries who poked their guns at us, asking for cigarettes when they found that we brought nothing worth confiscating. They seemed more like highway robbers than guardians of security. Our short odyssey ended at mid-morning on the Dominican Hill in Baguio, where we intended to stay around until the final reconquest of Luzon, if the actual lords are going to permit us.