It was not yet five in the morning when we woke up. We were served some hot coffee and nothing more. Without any delay and following hasty farewells, we departed for Manila. Before doing so, my father explained to those who would be left behind why I was joining them to the city.
Darkness was still upon us when we initiated our trip. Hence, we drove with dimmed lights, as ordered. Somehow I experienced a certain anxiety that escaped description. As we approached Manila, two Constabulary enlisted men halted the cars. They told us to step out and remain lying down by the roadside, because the capital city—almost on sight—was being subjected to an air raid. We willingly complied in all haste. From where I found myself I could neatly watch the anti-aircraft lights, which, as if in a sword-duel, crisscrossed their ray beams in search of the enemy. it was not possible for us to hear any explosion, be it from bombs dropped or from cannon fire.
After some twenty minutes, as per my arbitrary estimate, the anti-aircraft lights ceased illumining the skies. With the first rays of dawn, we could make out the contours of Manila, with no sign, however, of any fire that might have possibly been produced by the air attack. The Constabulary enlisted men advised us that we could resume our trip. I knew not what infused sciences these road guardians might possess, for all this time they had stood by our side and I could not quite understand how or when were they able to ascertain that the danger was over. Anyway, it was for us but to obey, gladly at that, for we were eager to reach Manila.
We entered the city when the sun had risen, even if some sort of a fog enveloped the place with a grayish veil none too welcoming. The awful impression that the city made upon me defied any description: cold, sordid, desolate, depressing, and sad. A few persons ambled about with sorrowful and concerned mien. There was slovenness all around, as of a forsaken city. Both the private dwellings and the public buildings seemed to be injured victims judging by their window panes covered with tapes and adhesives—a security measure to avoid their splintering out in case of bombing~—and they resembled dark-robed mercenary weepers due to the black curtains that complemented the night blackouts.
This adverse impression was reiterated to a higher degree when we arrived home. Our windows were also covered with black cardboards. When we went up, I picked up the newspaper left at the house porch. Its first page featured an official denial of the rumor reportedly going about since last night that the city’s drinking water had been poisoned. My father wished to be reassured. He asked me to put him in touch with the director general of the Metropolitan Water District who was his personal friend. When on the line, the director confirmed the report that the city water was safe for drinking purposes.
For my part, I took over the management of the house, up to now being handled by my younger brother. I gave the pertinent instructions to the cook, the houseboy, and the laundrywoman. Meals must be attended to; the house should be scrubbed and dusted; the dirty linen ought to be washed. I had never before realized how many and varied were the home chores to accomplish! Blessed be the housewives!
In due time I reported for work. I greeted my boss Justice Albert to whom I recounted my doings of the past days. Without the least censure, he merely assigned me the day’s work. The air raid alarm was suddenly on. Someone soon assured us that the attack was apparently outside the city limits. I, therefore, chose not to interrupt my work. When at noontime I made ready to leave, I advised Justice Albert that, with his permission, I intend to take the afternoon off. He told me that he would do likewise.
Close to four in the afternoon, we paid a visit to Montalban. A physician and his family, my father’s friends, joined us. He had requested my father to look for a place for his family and asked that he be allowed to stay with us temporarily in the city. My father obliged. When we, therefore, arrived in Montalban, through his personal acquaintances he succeeded in installing the doctor’s family in a house next to that being occupied by our family members. While we conversed with the latter, an uncle of mine showed up, bringing along with him my youngest sister, who, for reasons that are now of no moment, had been reared by him since birth and had been staying with him up to this day. He told my father that, under the present circumstances, he would not dare assume the responsibility of watching over her safety. My father, then, decided that my sister remain with my aunts and other relatives staying in Montalban.
Seeking to avoid, as usual, that nighttime overtake us we proceeded to return to Manila while the sun was till up. Along the route some military sentries ordered us to halt. They asked for our identification cards. Notwithstanding the fact that we all had our papers in order, they showed some distrust with regard to the physician, whose features were Castillian and who wore a moustache. In fact, his father was a native Spaniard and, besides, Filipinos were not likely to sport moustaches at this time. The suspicion, | seemed to understand, stemmed from the rumors going around for sometime now that the Spaniards were, or may be, “Fifth columnists” of Generalismo Franco, who was believed to be an ally of Japan. Nevertheless, thanks to the personal assurances of my father, who vouched for the Philippine nationality of the party concerned, we were allowed to resume our trip, which fortunately came to its end with no other untoward incident.
Once in the house my father asked his medical friend to shave. He did so, if with unhidden annoyance. At the moment we were seventeen males–family members, friends, and household help—residing in this house. Although some of them contributed to the common expenditures, the greater majority did not, even as we declined to ask them for their share. Let it be for the sake of national solidarity, so direly needed these days!
At dinner time we tuned in to the radio commentaries of Ignacio Javier (pseudonym of a lawyer, who, later, would be my partner in a law office and, much later still, named ambassador). No matter how much he would seek to mollify his listeners with his impeccable English and his gallant phrases, the news he commented on brought us the conviction that we were experiencing serious setbacks in the war front. He did not report on any victory, however localized. All the communiques confined themselves to extolling the valiant defense put up by our forces in the different combat zones, but not one word about any offensive movement or any attack carried out by them. lt was only the undisputable prestige enjoyed by General MacArthur among us that dispelled any possible defeatism.
Suddenly we were interrupted by some gun-shots seemingly directed against our house. After putting out the only light on in the house, we peeked out of the window to ascertain what it was all about. We saw the air raid wardens coming to our place. They knocked at the door. We greeted them. They told us that they had been compelled to fire two warning shots, for they had caught sight of a ray of light filtering out from our house, something that violated the existing regulations on “black outs.” We carried out the pertinent inspection and, surely enough, we found out that part of the black tape covering one of the external windows had fallen off. We immediately fixed it up. With our regrets, we bade them good-bye.
Following a brief table-talk, which was marked with much despondency, unguided by any previous accord we all felt that it was best for us to retire for the night.
It was not yet eleven o’clock when we all did so.