Since I had my afternoon off, I decided to go to the movies, hoping to be able to see the film “Hold Back the Dawn,” featuring Charles Boyer and Olivia de Havilland, two of my favorite stars, inasmuch as yesterday’s air raid prevented me from doing so. Was I not behaving rather frivolously? Most probably, yes, but I must admit that this day, I was weak before the temptation. May God hold it not against me!
Almost at the same hour as yesterday and in a taxicab as well I was driven to the Capito! Theater at the Escolta street. I arrived on time for the matinee session, which entailed a fifty per cent discount in the ticket price. When I entered the theater hall, | found very few persons inside.
“It must be the early hours,” I said to myself with the unconfessed purpose of assuaging my conscience scandalized at my meager sense of responsibility.
The screening had, as yet, not reached its mid-part, when it was cut off. The lights of the hall were turned on. A representative of the management stepped into the stage to tell us, “Ladies and gentlemen: I am not sure whether you have heard from here the air raid signal. The fact is that enemy planes are reportedly approaching. You should, therefore, all vacate the hall immediately. Should the raid cause no damage to this locale at the end, you may return to watch the rest of the screening.”
Hastily, but not in disarray, we all stepped out into the main lobby. Although I might have wanted to do so, I could not go out in the streets, for the air raid wardens banned anyone from doing so. It was only at that moment that we heard the wailing tone of the air raid alarm. Late again! What do I mean by “late”? Why, it need not have sounded at all! To be sure, had we not agreed—or had we?—that Manila was an open city? But, the Japanese insisted on their stand. They, therefore, attacked us once more. Wretched!
Indeed, they showed up in no time. The unmistakable zoom as from a beehive revealed to us their presence. Those close to the external entrance of the lobby scanned the skies and told us loudly that they had spotted some twelve aircraft.
“It seems they are headed for the bay,” someone volunteered a guess.
“What for? There is no longer any vessel or ship docked there!” another commented aloud.
“What then could be their target?” asked a third one in full anguish.
The reply was given us by the explosions of the bombs launched, from whose deafening sound we could surmise that they were attacking the district of Intramuros, quite close to the place where we were. Such was likewise suggested by the visible rattling of the place we were in. Some minutes later—once again, it seemed endless to me—the planes flew away and shortly thereafter the “All Clear” signal was on. Since the theater suffered no damage, | repaired back to the screening hall—with manifest frivolity, that is true—to watch the rest of the film.
On my way home, those travelling with me in the streetcar assured all that the bombing had been leashed upon Intramuros. But there was nothing military left in that zone! What could have been the target of the raid? Sure enough, when the streetcar reached the front of the said district, we could see huge billows of smoke and sporadic giant flames, although it was hard to pinpoint where they were coming from.
Soon after | arrived, my uncle—the coast guard captain—also came home. He was distraught and gasping for breath. With tears in his eyes he disclosed to us, “I no longer have my ship! Long before the arrival of the enemy planes, | was ordered to run my vessel aground and to leave nothing on board which eventually could be of use to the Japanese. I, therefore, directed my ship headway towards the Tonso seashore, where it ran aground. Next, I ordered the destruction of anything of military value. To the officers and crew, finally, I gave authority to carry away whatever they pleased from the ship. For my part, as a sole souvenir, I have brought this cruet stand of silver and glass.”
Early in the Evening someone—I cannot remember who—informed us through the phone that this afternoon’s raid bombed the College of San Juan de Letran —my ever dear Alma Mater— as well as the Intramuros Primary School, the Supreme Court and a part of the old building of the University of Santo Tomas, which harbored the Faculty of Civil Law, where I attended classes until the start of the war. Again, many private residences were burned and destroyed. But, what was most sorrowful was the bombing of the secular Church of Santo Domingo, which ensconced the miraculous image of the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary, so closely linked to the history of the Filipino people. Fortunately, said image had been spared, for the vault in which she had been deposited did not suffer any damage. I recall now that, during the first days of the war, my professors at the Letran College had disclosed to me that President Quezon himself had suggested to the Dominican friars, official custodians of the said image, that the Government take charge of transferring it to a safe place, probably in the island of Corregidor. The Provincial Council, however, decided that the image remain in the company of her devout people, sharing the latter’s vicissitudes. Indeed, she had just done so, with the loss of a roof of her own, much like so many families in her neighborhood.
In his usual broadcast, radio commentator Ignacio Javier, with fine irony and bleeding words, touched upon this afternoon’s tragedy. After reviewing the victims of the air raid—churches, colleges, civil courts, and private dwellings—he heaved off: “All, doubtlessly, legitimate military objectives!”
At the sight of this brutal signature of military actions, I was heavy with perplexed fear. With this vandalic exploit, the enemy bared open his vile condition. It was clear that the Japanese respected no one. Since, therefore, as it may seem obvious, we were to be forsaken into their hands, what fateful days awaited us! If, as could be seen, everything and everybody ran the risk of being deemed legitimate military objectives by the enemy, this meant that proper security measures ougnt to be taken.
“There is no other recourse than to build an air-raid shelter,” my father told us.
After a brief exchange of views with my uncles, it was decided that a shelter be constructed on the ground floor of the house immediately below the dining room, whose flooring was made of tiles, which may offer additional protection. It was agreed, then, to immediately advise the technicians accordingly.
This decision afforded some relief. We all hoped it would produce results.