Today I repaired to my office for the last time. I came walking through the difficult streets of Intramuros spoiled by a host of debris, holes, and trash. The ruins of the Letran, Santa Catalina, and Santa Rosa Colleges, that hurt the eyes, resembled skeletons of ominous profile. The whole area that I covered on my way to the Court was deserted, save for the presence of a few residents who raked into the blackened remains in the hope of retrieving something useful to them or as a souvenir.
Once at my desk, I became aware that hardly anyone worked at all, starting with myself. We all chose to exchange stories of our respective experiences these past days. Justice Albert, for instance, told me, “My son Charlie—a navy commander graduated from the Annapolis Naval Academy in the United States—is in command of a mosquito boat of the Philippine Navy, now affiliated to that of the United States. I learned that some days ago he was subjected to a sustained attack from the American artillery in Corregidor island, which mistook his ship for an enemy vessel. Fortunately his skill avoided his boat from being damaged or, worse, sunk. But, as of now, l ignore his whereabouts. On the contrary I know for sure that my other son, Alex, is with the combatants, who, upon superior orders, have withdrawn to Bataan, where they make ready to establish the last line of defense against the Japanese.”
Close to noontime, I was asked to see the Court’s finance officer. When I entered his room, I met some of my colleagues.This officer informed us that, upon orders from President Quezon, he was to give each of us the equivalent of three months’ pay, by way of a bonus, not only as a reward for for services rendered under difficult straits, but also as an aid for the coming days, since the Court would be officially vacated starting today until further notice.
In a token of farewell, the finance officer uncorked a bottle of champagne. With shrunken hearts we anticipated a toast for the coming year. Visibly sad, we all took our leave afterwards.
Upon reaching the house, my father invited me to accompany him, together with my two uncles, to inspect the house of one of his patients that had been damaged during the air-raid of the neighboring Camp Nichols a few days ago. The purpose of the visit was linked to the decision taken to construct an air-raid shelter under our house. He wished to acquire more detailed knowledge of the effects of an aerial bombing, particularly the trajectory of the shrapnel produced thereby. The house we were to visit might probably afford us some concrete details.
Shortly after lunch, therefore, we travelled to the said house in Pasay. We found it uninhabited. Nevertheless, we ambled about in the garden, from which we could also view the house, now bereft of outer walls. We noticed that some four bombs were dropped in the garden, judging by the number of open craters, each of which seemed to be some one meter and a half in depth. The shrapnel embedded in the nearby trees and in some parts of the house allowed us to establish the trajectory of the said shrapnel. We ascertained that from the point of explosion, the shrapnel followed an angle of some thirty centimeters from the ground level. Therefore, if one remained below that level, he stood free from the risk of being wounded by shrapnel. The only danger, then, rested on a direct hit, but that was just sheer “bad luck”—were we being fatalists or providentialists? Upon contemplating this ruined house, It was impressive to find out how it had been blown to smithereens as if it were made of cardboard or paper. For instance, it was amazing to witness the inverse position of the refrigerator and the minute pieces left of the furniture. We left the house with a bad taste in the mouth, but far more convinced of the urgent need to construct a shelter in the house.
We next drove to the University of Santo Tomas In Intramuros, taking due care to avoid the damage done to the city streets by the bombings yesterday. When we stopped at the Benavides Plaza in front of the University, we noticed that the latter had experienced the destruction of its right wing, which had become exposed to public view with the falling off of its outer wall. We spotted several Dominican friars and some professors—personal friends of my father—as well as a number of students, all engaged in retrieving books, equipment, and other articles, to be transferred to the new dependencies of the University on España Avenue at quite some distance from this walled district. We lent them a hand. We had an opportunity to see the ruins of the Church of Santo Domingo, which was now but a piece of a wall dripping with “black blood.” All around us was sheer desolation.
In due time we left Intramuros, bound for the buildings of the University of Santo Tomas on España Avenue. Just as we proceeded to enter through the main gate leading to the university Campus, we were met by several army trucks that transported the students of this university, who had been incorporated into the United States army and, up to now, had been quartered here. we reciprocated their farewell salute by extending the right arm with the index and heart fingers in the form of a “V”, which was the victory sign adopted by the allied powers. We did not know the destination point of these nove! combatants, who were full of enthusiasm. No one had been able to
tell us or cared to do so.
When already at the main building of the university, we greeted several friars to whom we expressed our sympathies for the damages and loss experienced. Less discreet than on previous days, they informed us that President Quezon and his family, both personal and official, were by now in the island of Corregidor, together with General MacArthur and Commissioner Sayre. If with utmost reserve, they made us understand that “this is utterly lost, or, at least, Manila is about to be turned over to the enemy.” Such deplorable omen only served to confirm my father’s insistent suspicions. We departed before night set in.
Upon our arrival, my father and my uncles made ready to engage the services of the technicians in the construction of an air-raid shelter. Having learned about it—l know not how nor from whom Justice Ricardo Paras, of the Court of Appeals, a neighbor and a friend of ours, showed up. He requested that he and his family be allowed to share the projected shelter, offering, in turn, to contribute the proportionate amount for the expenses to be incurred. The request was acceded to and we thanked them for this contribution. When the technicians arrived, an agreement was quickly reached, under the commitment that the shelter was to be fully finished within thirty six hours.
Subsequently my father listed down the medicines and auxiliary aids in case of emergency to be kept in a medical kit inside the shelter. It was also decided to purchase spades, flashlights, picks and axes, for any eventuality, particularly if there be any collapse or breakdown of the shelter. The matter of foodstuffs was not neglected. My aunts were, therefore, asked to purchase crackers, dry fruits and marmalades to sore them in the shelter. The medicines were brought home from the Lalana Drugstore nearby, whose owner was a family friend. The foodstuffs were ordered from a neighboring grocery store, of which we were habitual customers. With regard to the tools and utensils, one of my uncles drove out to buy them. He met no difficulty in doing so.
My father could not dispel the confidential information we heard from the Dominican friars: “This is utterly lost. . . . Manila is about to be turned over to the enemy.” He therefore asked us, “Don’t you think that, perhaps, there is no longer any need to construct an air-raid shelter?”
One of my uncles opined, “Well, I don’t know what to say, but, for one, we do not know when the turnover of the city will take place, assuming that such would materialize. In the meanwhile, having witnessed the shamelessness of the enemy, it would not be far-fetched that the Japanese will as yet, subject us to some more alr attacks. In such a case…..”
My other uncle added, “Besides, this is a moot question. The technicians will start work tomorrow. Justice Paras has delivered his contribution, which we have accepted. I believe, therefore, that we should abide by the consummated facts. What’s done is done!”
The matter was definitely closed when my father averred, “You are right! After all, it is best to play safe!”