I woke up at about seven in the morning. Soon I joined the family at the dining room. We took breakfast together, consuming, in part, the leftovers of the party last night. We then immersed ourselves in comments on the said gathering. Suddenly the telephone rang. I took the call. It was Colonel Lejano, of the Philippine Constabulary. He asked for my father. Duly advised, the latter went to the phone. Following the usual greetings, my father was silent, intently listening. After a few moments, he cried out: “When did it happen? How dastardly!”
Immediately he expressed his thanks and hanged up.
we were quiet the whole time. Our eyes were pinned upon my father. Then he announced with grave mien: “The Japanese have bombed the American naval base in Pearl Harbor. War has broken out!”
Suddenly, we were all gripped with stupor, indignation and fear. We could not shake off our puzzlement in the midst of absolute silence.
Then, one of my uncles –I cannot quite recall who– asked: “Where is Pearl Harbor?”
No one could give an answer.
My father suggested that we tune in on the radio. While one of my ousins proceeded to do so, I ran to the porch to pick up our copy of The Manila Daily Bulletin, of which we were subscribers. I turned it over to my father without delay. He read aloud the headline on the first page: “50 Jap Planes Bomb Hawaii.” We knew now where Pearl Harbor was. My father went on to read to us the whole story, the salient points of which were that it was a surprise attack from some Japanese aircrafts launched from carriers; serious damage was caused; there were numberless victims; immediate mobilization of the armed forces of the United States had been ordered; and a state of maximum alert in the Philippines was now being observed.
With his providential sense of reality, my father, after deploring the enemy’s boldness, told us that there was no time to lose, that we all had to be on the move. We poised to listen to him for at home –where we were three families living together—my father was the voice in command.
He continued: “First of all, let us withdraw some funds from the banks for any immediate eventuality. Next, let us make some purchases to cover prime necessities. Lastly, we will have lunch here, following which we shall leave for the town of Montalban, where a patient of mine has some dependencies reserved for us at my request of sometime ago, in case of emergency such as we faced.”
I must confess that my father’s prudent precaution pleased me. But, I could not help remembering that in the recent past no one among us gave credit to his auguries and warnings. His insistence on preparing ourselves to meet a possible armed conflict found no echo in any of us, for we thought him too much of a pessimist, when not an outright alarmist. Indeed, there were times when we had to banish a smile or so upon seeing him come home with purchases of some medicines or foodstuffs by way of precaution. This morning, however, his undeniably good guess filled us with embarrassment, which we sought to dispel with our unanimous assent to his suggestions.
And then, Aunt Carmen, one of my father’s sisters, hurriedly requested him to attend to her eldest son who had experienced a fainting spell. Once led to his bed, my father examined him carefully.
After insisting that he should remain thus confined for the moment, he prescribed a sedative.
“War neurosis!,” he informed us in English.
Our first casualty. Will there be some more?
In due time those of us working OF employed departed for work.
For their part, our aunts—my father’s sisters—went to their respective banks to withdraw the necessary funds and, later, made the pertinent purchases. Eventually | came to learn that Aunt Carmen, when almost at the bank entrance, suddenly realized that she had forgotten her bank book. For lack of transportation, she had had to walk back home, to retrieve the book. Hurriedly she walked again to the bank, which fortunately was still open to the public.
For my part, as usual, I boarded the streetcar that took me to Plaza Lawton in front of the Bureau of Posts. Thence on foot I headed for nearby Intramuros—the walled district of the city redolent with secular lore—to the Dominican Church to hear Mass at the chapel of the Virgin of the Holy Rosary. Today was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation. | received holy communion and with intimate fervor I beseeched Divine aid for my family and the country in general.
When | stepped out into the streets, the newsboys were crying out the latest news: emergency joint session of the Congress of the United States upon call of President Roosevelt; concrete and hair-raising details of the Pearl Harbor disaster; fear of an imminent air attack here. Also on foot, I reached the Court of Appeals, where I was employed as secretary of Justice Mariano Albert. I had hardly entered my office room when the phone rang. It was Justice Albert. He said he was not coming but instructed me to direct and supervise the transfer of all the court records in our lockers to the general archives of the Court for security reasons. I availed myself of this opportunity to request him for permission to absent myself this
afternoon in order to help in the evacuation of some family members. He acceded unhesitatingly.
Atty. Tecla San Andres-Ziga next showed up. She was engaged in some research work for Justice Albert. Full of anxiety she asked me: “Mr. Molina: War has broken out! What would you advise me to do?”
“In the first place, get in touch with your husband and, then, if need be, withdraw some funds from the bank to face eventualities,” I answered.
She asked me again: “Will you, therefore, allow me to absent myself?”
I said yes, for I was sure that the Justice would have told her the same thing had he been here.
When Mrs. Ziga left, I supervised the transfer of the records carried out by my typist Orellana and my messenger called Catalan.
Then the telephone rang again. It was a call from home, urging me to return soon. I was told besides, that, according to the radio, Japanese planes had bombed Baguio, Cagayan, Pangasinan and Tarlac. In reply I gave assurances that I would not delay my return any longer than necessary. And I resumed the supervision of the transfer of the documents. I took pains in ensuring that they were safely kept.
With my task over, I advised my office personnel that they could take the afternoon off. I left the Court at about eleven in the morning. In no time I hailed a calesa—no taxi could be found around-—to take me home. During the ride, the rig driver gave vent to his uncontrollable anger: “Murderers! Cowards! Safe in their planes they mercilessly drop their bombs spilling out death everywhere! If only they were on solid ground and engaged in hand to hand combat, our bolo would certainly give good account of them. We would simply mince them into minute pieces.”
I noticed that there were many people in the streets. Goaded by haste, men and women rushed in all directions. Shock and fear were in their faces. But I noticed no panic anywhere. The motorized traffic
seemed monopolized by military vehicles. I had no way of finding out where they were bound for in their mad race. In one of the public parks I saw a military group setting up an anti-aircraft cannon. The newspaper vendors continued crying out the latest developments, confirming what I had been told over the phone at the office. It seemed utterly unreal to me that our local cities and towns were being subjected to air raids, accustomed as I had been up to now to hear the radio and view the cinema newsreels publicize the bombings of some such foreign cities as London, Berlin, and Paris.
I arrived home safely. I found my family members busy with the baggage. One of my aunts distributed “Agnus Dei” relics among us all. My cousin seemed to have recovered somewhat, although still confined in bed. Following the arrival of my father and my uncles, we all shared a hasty lunch. After a brief respite, with all preparations completed, we made ready to depart. Unexpectedly a cousin of mine and his wife showed up.
He asked my father: “May my wife join those evacuating to Montalban?”
My father said yes.
We proceeded to take our places in the three cars available. Again unexpectedly my cousin’s parents-in-law, with two of their children, also arrived. They informed us that they had been unable to travel by
train to the province of Camarines Sur where they had intended to evacuate, because the trip had been cancelled. They, therefore, asked my father whether they could join us. Visibly annoyed, but, at the
same time, fully understanding their predicament, he told them to board the cars.
When it was almost four in the afternoon, we departed with the cars in single file. It was most impressive to watch the flood of people in all sorts of vehicles and many of them on foot, rushing away from the city. Manila was bleeding herself dead. I wept within me. My eyes for the first time were witnessing the spectacle of a people visited upon by war. I was aghast. The discordant and disconcerting note in all
this was afforded by a group of young men playing basketball in a public place, seemingly unconcerned with the drama unfolding in our land. On simply seeing them, I experienced some physical pain of sorts. On the other hand, I failed to see any military element anywhere, save for a few carriers loaded with troops and war materiel. I deemed symbolic the lone figure of a young military guard with helmet and gun, keeping watch on top of the aqueduct at the outskirts of Mandaluyong, close to Manila.
The afternoon was about to expire when we reached Montalban, a secluded town surrounded by hills, commencing to wake up suddenly with the influx of hundreds upon hundreds of refugees who invaded the place. We drove to the house of my father’s patient. Unfortunately, hers was a terminal case. Pinned down on her bed, she could not step out to welcome us. My father greeted her in her sickbed and introduced my uncles, after we had all been cordially greeted in welcome by her children and other family members. I could not imagine how we could all be accommodated, for the house was rather small. Anyway, the elders took care of this matter. Fortunately, there was a solution to everything for the moment.
At about five thirty in the afternoon, with darkness threatening to ensue as was usual this time of the year, my father pointed out that it was time to return to Manila. It was agreed and decided that the women and the children of our group should stay behind until further notice. All the males were to depart immediately before nighttime caught up with us in the highway. It was then that, in a discreet manner, which did not prevent me from overhearing, one of my aunts requested my father to allow me to remain. Aware of my annoyance, which I did not bother to hide, my father—he must have had his own reasons for acceding to the request—sought to sweeten the pill so as to dissuade me from going back with them to Manila.
He told me: “You know? It seems to me very convenient that some male member of the family stay here to take care of our evacuees until the situation clears up. Would you mind assuming this mission?”
My father very wll knew that his every suggestion was virtually a command to me. Besides, if by acceding I helped solve a conflict, which escaped me as yet, I did not consider it proper to refuse. Most grudgingly, therefore, I yielded, notwithstanding the ridiculous stance I would be exposing myself thereby.
This paragraph of frewells I would rather omit for they were too painful; Yet. I could not help overhearing one of my uncles taking his leave thus: “Until eternity!”
My father quickly came to the rescue, with his pledge: “We will be seeing you tomorrow!”
Soon we lost sight of the speeding cars bound for the capital.
At this temporary dwelling, they assigned my eldest sister, who was ill, one of the few beds available. My cousin’s mother-in-law, who previously –out of sheer civility, I imagine– had told me she would not mind being offered the smallest nook of the house, now weepingly complained to me that she had been given just a cot on the ground floor of the house. All the rest must sleep on the floors of the living and dining rooms, together with the other family members of the owner of the house. For me, they set up a sofa by the side of a window.
When the clock struck six thirty, we were asked to have dinner immediately, because at seven sharp the electricity supply would be cut off from the municipal government center by way of a security measure. The chaotic disorderliness of the heaps of trunks and bags and bundles of our baggage made it impossible to locate the china and silverware. I had to make use of the lid of an “Oatmeal” tin, for a plate, where I was served some rice and two sardines. I only had a fork to use. It need not be said that I ate with no appetite at all. Shortly after dinner, the improvised beds were set up. Hardly anyone talked and when there was any conversation, the same was carried out in a low pitch, adding further to the depressing atmosphere surrounding us all in the midst of darkness.
Deliberately I isolated myself from the rest. I watched out from the window as I consumed one cigarette after another. Mentally I reviewed today’s events and I noticed two incongruous items: first, the fact that I had brought with me, as my sole luggage, the “Revised Penal Code,” as commented by Justice Albert, duly autographed by him. What need had I for this book now? How was it that I did not select any other from my private library? I could find no answers. And, secondly, the attempt to commit to memory the arguments I had elaborated for a class debate scheduled to take place in a few days hence at the Faculty of Civil Law. Was it possible that I had failed to realize that no such debate was going to materialize at all?
I began to notice that those about me had already fallen sound asleep. But I couldn’t. From the window I sought to picture something about the town. An idle task. The external darkness prevented me from succeeding in the attempt. I, therefore, chose to raise my eyes to the skies above, where I observed numberless sparkling stars. A light breeze refreshingly caressed my face. I found myself surrounded by an aura of peaceful tranquility. And, yet, we were at war. Such a painful contrast!
I wondered when men would learn to emulate the order and harmony of nature.
But, as against this reproach, I asked myself, “What about earthquakes and typhoons and volcanic eruptions?”
I remembered my conversations with my classmates last night. It seemed a century ago! I became aware of my failure as a prophet: “war will not break out until April or May next year.” What would my classmates say now? Worse, what had become of them today? Silently I offered a prayer for them.
Suddenly I was interrupted by the cries of a man in a bicycle riding along the town streets. I could hardly make up his features by the weak light of a lantern attached to his bicycle.
“Enemy planes sighted on their way to Manila,” he kept repeating in an involuntary imitation of one Paul Revere of American history.
I looked out the window. I stared at the skies. I failed to see anything. From afar I seemed to hear some explosions. Then, once again there was silence and darkness. Soon I fell asleep.