The press proclaimed in bold lines: “American Bombing in Leyte Ceases”.
“In the face of a terrific Japanese attack, the American fleet had abandoned the landing troops which are facing complete annihilation. American forces in the Pacific have been completely destroyed and Manila is going to be spared attacks for a long time.”
I was reading these lines this morning when, without previous warning, American planes came within visible altitude, dropping their bombs on their targets on Manila Bay. The people who are getting to be more hopeful are comparing what the Japanese are claiming and what is actually happening. Obviously, what was annihilated was the Japanese fleet, and the Imperial Air Force has been left without wings.
Today is Sunday, and the UST Chapel was full of devotees. The sermon started just when the bomb explosions were loudest, the pounding of anti-aircraft shots was most resounding and the gloomy staccato of machine guns was most frightening. Many of the faithful were feeling uneasy, glancing towards the door with one foot forward. The preacher, calmly and cooly, exhorted the people to stay in their seats as they were safe within that sacred place. The Mass—a High Mass—went on and the choir continued singing to the accompaniment of the Celestial concert outside.
Later, everybody ridiculed the Tribune editorial which promised peace and a sky free from attacks. It was a known fact that when the newspapers predicted a pleasant time, based on Japanese victories, the American planes—which were supposed to have fled or been destroyed—came attacking with greater intensity.
Expecting us to bite hook, line and sinker, the Tokyo propaganda announced naval victories of unprecedented magnitude. According to the Daihon-ei, from October 12, that is, the battle of Taiwan, to this date, the Americans had lost 49 aircraft carriers, 15 battleships, 26 cruisers, 7 destroyers, 29 unidentified ships, 78 transports, 19 landing crafts—a total of 235. Reportedly, more ships are being sunk, more planes being shot down and Americans being killed. For all the arms, munitions and machinery that the Americans could manufacture, the Japanese propaganda is manufacturing more in bluffs—the kind which nothing could excel in self-contradiction and incredible absurdity. It would be interesting to confront these allegations of the Daihon-ei to the facts of history, this advocate of eternity which usually, if not always, avenges itself against the official propagandists of today who do not look beyond the present fleeting moment.
In view of the fact that the air strategy employed by the Japanese in the first days of the war seems to have fallen into disuse, the propaganda office of Tokyo has launched a laudatory campaign for the Kamikaze contingent, the suicide group of airmen who dive with their planes on the target.
A few days ago, the officer who is occupying Letran paid me an unexpected and unexplained visit. In his broken English he told me, “Now we have very hard fight. But we cannot lose. Now no more harakiri. We smash the enemy.” He was the same officer who, sometime earlier, had told me in fatalistic tones, “I know that I shall die with Manila.”
It’s hard to tell whether the Japanese have changed strategy or they are prepared to kill and be killed, for which reason the soldiers are being assigned the task of spreading this information, in the hope of infusing fear and terror among the enemies.
The press and the radio are driving us crazy with the big talk about the suicide squad. Either they are trying to duplicate the German V-1 or V-2, or to explain the destruction they wrought on the American fleet in the Pacific, since their own fleet has failed to show up after the battle of Leyte and Eastern Luzon, in spite of their claims of resounding victory. So many things need to be explained.
Requiem masses are being celebrated in different churches in Manila in memory of the late President Quezon whose birthday we commemorate today. The masses are well-attended, in spite of the fact that invitations had been secretly made, for fear of the Japanese mascots who might consider the ceremonies hostile. In the past, only the President and his family attended the mass at Letran, after which he would join us at breakfast. Today neither the President nor the chapel was around. The new Letran building would probably not exist for long, as the new occupants are converting the building into an anti-aircraft fortress and if the zealous Americans learn about it, they will certainly destroy it, and kill women and children as they did in Tokyo.
The Vice-Rector of Letran College has returned from a trip to the South. According to him, the guerrillas are continuing their war activities although there is a prevailing state of no belligerence. The pacified zone extends some more into Cebu and Panay, but in both zones, peace is uncertain. The embers of hostility continue glowing and the slightest breeze is apt to enkindle new upheavals which could break out into more destruction and bloodshed. In the principal towns, military outposts have remained. However, they do not interfere with the subversives unless they are attacked. In most parts of the Visayas, neither the virtual sovereignty of Japan nor the nominal sovereignty of the Rupublic is recognized, but there is a modus vivendi more or less peaceful between the Japanese and the guerrilla elements.
The convoy in which the Vice-Rector arrived was close to being attacked by a submarine sighted off Corregidor. A number of passengers saw the torpedo which missed the destroyer escorting the convoy.
Apparently, the rumors were true, and even the most skeptical were now convinced that there indeed were pirates in the coasts.
The Princess of Negros, one of the ships in the convoy, had been machinegunned in a previous encounter some weeks ago. Coming from Borneo with five transports loaded with oil and troops, the convoy, escorted by two destroyers, was attacked as it turned around the southern tip of Mindanao. According to the ship’s engineer, the two destroyers were lifted from the water and were ripped in halves. The transports were fired at with cannons and were sunk. Only the Princess of Negros, because of its speed, was able to escape, but was not spared by shells. It lost its bridge where the captain and another officer were killed.
The captain’s family was notified about the accident by the Japanese Navy, without any details of how and where. The public was kept in ignorance about these dangerous wolves roaming the Philippine coasts. But it was an open secret.
Tonight is Christmas eve, and tomorrow will be Christmas… and although we were far from the Christ Child in terms of his poverty, our present scarcity lessened this distance. Only the new rich could afford the luxury of enjoying turrón, as sugar cost three hundred fifty pesos a bag; or taste a turkey, which cost eighty pesos; or buy a new pair of shoes at one hundred and twenty pesos to one hundred and fifty; or purchase a kilo of meat at twelve pesos.
Our guests were leaving the College, going French style. They took with them all that was theirs and all that was ours. Among the latter were chairs, beds, tables, cabinets, the refrigerator, bulbs, lamp shades, all amounting to thousands of pesos, specially now that they were irreplaceable. We were disillusioned by the belief that independence would extend to us the pleasure of having our whole building back. But other soldiers were coming in with beds on their shoulders and installing themselves in the divested building. They were sure to be groping in the dark tonight, as their predecessors took all the bulbs with them. It seemed that it was common practice among these soldiers to leave nothing behind whenever they transferred quarters. One of them, whom we approached in complaint and protest, justified such conduct saying that when General Kuroda had to leave the palace of the American High Commissioner which was converted into the Japanese Embassy, all the furniture was taken out, and Mr. Murata had to stay at the Manila Hotel until the Embassy had been refurbished.
An unpleasant incident took place yesterday in Letran. Two officers and an interpreter came to the office which, as it was the first day of classes, was then filled with school children and their parents. They were asking a Filipino teacher of Nippongo why he wrote a letter in Japanese, on our instance, telling our Japanese neighbors that they had broken down one of our walled up windows and were hauling stones and rubbles from the burned portion of the building. Apparently not satisfied with the explanation of the teacher, they pounced on him with a chair and slapped him several times. I was then out of the office. The people were scared and left in a hurry. The interpreter wanted to deal another blow on the teacher but was stopped by one of the officers. They were also asking for Father Honorio Muñoz who handcarried the letter to their headquarters with the intention of punishing him also. They left, with the promise of returning in the afternoon to settle matters.
We proceeded to the Spanish consul and he took off, together with one of the Fathers, to the Military Administration where an order was issued to our guests not to molest us.
This morning, the Commander of these “gentlemen” called me to his office. I was worried that he would perform the second part of the tragedy, but he limited himself to a lecture on good neighborliness. He said that we must consider ourselves as members of the same family. As if we were the offenders! In parting he warned me that the next time I ask for help from higher authorities and not from him, he would throw us out into the streets. As I feared that my further explanations would only infuriate him more, I kept quiet. It was easy to militarize a civilian, but it was impossible to civilize some military men. They continued getting stones from the premises, claiming that everything was the property of the Imperial Japanese Army.
Letran celebrated its alumni day very simply last Sunday. As a matter of fact, it was more successful and better-attended than could have been expected. The University of Santo Tomas also celebrated its University Day today, but not without incidents. Before the war, on this day, the establishment of the Commonwealth was also commemorated. The military police suspected that such coincidence was intentional and was an attempt to revive a suppressed national holiday. Hence, Father Vice Rector was ordered to stop the festivities and to give an explanation as to why they were being held. Showing the program, he clarified that the feast had always been celebrated for so many years in the past, long before the Commonwealth was born. The prohibition was then lifted, but when the Vice Rector replied that they were no longer interested in the festivities as the students and professors were already notified of the suspension, he was asked to continue just the same, as if nothing had happened.
We had to suspend the special high school classes, after learning that other colleges which opened similar classes had been investigated and ordered to close. The new regime does not approve of gatherings of young people without its permission. However, we obtained permission to continue with the classes in the secretarial course, which consists of typing, stenography and bookkeeping, on condition that we would not allow the use of any textbook.
On the elementary level, the textbooks to be used are prescribed to the exclusion of all others. All those subjects, the textbook of which are included in the list of prohibited books, had been abolished, so that the teaching of geography, history, government, and English grammar is not allowed. Only one book is permitted each for Reading, Arithmetic, Conduct, and Hygiene. English has been tentatively authorized as medium of instruction. The plan is to eliminate it gradually, substituting it with Japanese.
All passages and everything which is considered objectionable have been eliminated from the approved textbooks. Pages where the names of places and persons pertaining to Europe and America are mentioned were covered with thick paper. Consequently, these books induce the curiosity of the pupils. Even the pictures of Quezon and Osmeña and the Filipino flag, as well as all references to them, were also covered.
Religious instruction is allowed, but only under two conditions: that it would be carried out outside the regular class hours, and that no textbooks or catechism books would be used.
The school year was divided into four, called the quarterly system. Between quarters there is a week of vacation. This system was already being debated upon last year, advocated by Camilo Osías, but it was rejected by most educators and by the public. Since Osías is now the Deputy Commissioner of Education, and since this is the school calendar used in Japan, it was easily imposed by the Japanese technical advisers.
Yesterday, the college was officially opened. Instead of the 900 students we used to have, we now have only 90, including the special high school students. Apparently the people have become indifferent to studies, and the school no longer attracts as before.
The students are noticeably serious. The uncertainty and torment surrounding them has left its mark on their personalities. They show less of their typically carefree and playful attitude of the past years. I have the impression that they would mature before their time, and like the fruits which ripen prematurely, they would be old before their time.
I had been accustomed to teaching 25 to 30 years old students. It is quite a contrast to be teaching third graders now. It is a violent contrast that benefits me perhaps more than the children.
The Bureau of Private Schools sent us notice that we had been authorized to re-open elementary classes. At the end of a month and a half of inspection, questions, scrutiny of textbooks, and after we had lost all hope of securing authorization since the building was partly occupied by the Army, we received notice that we could start classes.
We did not, however, have any illusions about the number of students who would enroll in these times of uncertainty and scarcity. A month and a half ago, the public schools were opened. Now, merely fifteen days from the issuance of the permit, the private schools are being required to accept enrolees. It is not easy. Very few families can afford the tuition and transportation expenses.