We woke up today still with the uncertainty as to whether Manila had already been occupied by the Japanese army. There were no newspapers and the radio was off the air. We had gone to the streets, but found no sign of the enemy. It seemed necessary to go as far as downtown, but no one felt like doing so.
Nevertheless, after breakfast, my father asked me to accompany him to the headquarters of the Philippine Red Cross in Isaac Peral street, almost corner of Taft Avenue. We drove for a very short time, for there was hardly any traffic.
Once at the Red Cross, my father registered as a volunteer physiclan. He was given his credentials and a Red Cross flag for the car which would entail some privileges for him, akin to those enjoyed by the police patrol cars and the firemen. During the process I managed to catch sight of some groups of women and children and a sprinkle of aged persons huddled at the lobby and in some of the office rooms. I could not be sure whether they were sick patients or not, but I was strongly impressed by their frightened expressions. Were they refugees, perhaps? Would they find here the protection they sought? I failed to dispel these questions. When we were about to leave, my father was given a couple of gasoline drums, which I placed in the car trunk.
“Please, accept them as a modest contribution from the Red Cross for your professional trips; besides, we thus make sure that they will not fall into the hands of the Occupying army, which is expected any time now,” one
of the Cross officials told my father as he cordially bade him good-bye.
Upon stepping out, I noticed quite a crowd along the sidewalks of nearby Taft Avenue. My father, who likewise had seen them, suggested that we approach to find out what was happening. When on foot we reached Taft Avenue, we turned right, making our way through the throng, that had invaded the place. We stopped in front of the Casino Español. In its gardens separated from the sidewalk by a low iron fence painted white, we surprised a large number of Spaniards, who, we suspected, had rushed to this place—which also harbored the offices of the Consulate General of Spain—just in case. Many of them patients of my father, they immediately recognized
him and shook hands with him across the fence.
“Doctor, come in; you will be safer here,” they invited him.
My father chose to decline. He then told them, “Thank you, indeed! But I am in my own country and I need not seek protection under a foreign flag.”
Silently | approved of his decision, although I must confess that his tone had been rather brusque.
Later, my father, more conciliatory, asked, “Could you tell me why all this crowd?”
They replied instantly, “We are awaiting the entry of the Army of occupation. We have been told that the turnover of the city will take place before the Jai Alai building nearby.”
Mechanically I turned my eyes towards the said building and, truly enough, I discovered a grandstand before its facade. Ambling therein I noticed some persons wearing barong tagalog. They seemed to me to be city officials. Right in front of the said grandstand, just across the street, I could discern a group of city policemen, who, unarmed, stood at attention.
Hardly a few minutes later, several army trucks passed by. One of them stopped before us. Japanese soldiers stepped down. With fixed bayonets, they took their positions at both sides of the street. The other army trucks did likewise all along the street, with the soldiers keeping the proper distances. Notwithstanding their lack of
height, I found them to be well-built and with unfriendly mien. My aversion overcame my curiosity and I desisted from watching them any further.
Not much later a car sped past us preceded by several motorcycles. The vehicle stopped in front of the grandstand. Several Japanese officers, presumably of superior rank, stepped down. Immediately they were greeted by the Philippine officials, with whom they exchanged the amenities exacted by protocol. The Japanese officers were then led to their seats. Someone said a few words over the microphone, but we couldn’t understand a word from where we were.
Forthwith the “Kimigayo”—national anthem of Japan—was intoned amidst complete silence. Simultaneously the Japanese flag was hoisted. Between beats I noticed my father’s effort to prevent a tear or so; I was less circumspect and, therefore, wept more visibly. I could not believe, nor wish to, that I would have to witness this episode ever. I say “episode” advisedly, for I refused to admit that this situation was to become definitive and permanent.
A Japanese officer started talking. While doing so, the policemen in front of the grandstand sat down on the green lawn. Immediately the officer adopted an irate and vociferous tone. It appeared to me that he was reprimanding them and issuing orders. The Japanese interpreter made known in English the officer’s command. Although nothing was understood from our place, we could see that the policemen, to a man, stood up and remained at attention. How painful, because humiliating, it was to witness a public reprimand of Philippine peace officers on the part of a foreign military authority!
Neither my father nor I wished to stand it any longer. We, therefore, left the place with the greatest haste, without even bothering to take our leave from the Spanish friends.
Upon reaching home, we found out that, like ourselves, all were simply depressed. Our conversation was done in monosyllables and in a flagging tone. It would seem that a heavy slab had fallen upon us all. There was uneasiness, anguish and—why not?—fear.
My father endeavored to comfort us, “Well, at least, it seems that peace and order have been restored. Knowing how well-disciplined the Japanese army was, we will soon see how undesirable elements are set aright.”
He hardly convinced us.
In the afternoon, upon request of my aunts, my sister went to the public market to purchase some rolls for our afternoon repast. When she returned, she informed us that at both ends of the local bridge Japanese sentry posts had been installed. All those crossing the bridge one way or the other had to submit themselves to an
exhaustive search by the sentries.
“Save for heavily messing up with the rolls I bought, I can say that they have not vexed me in the least. They have not even asked me for any identification card,” she told us.
“What else have you seen?” my aunts asked her.
“Very few people in the streets. The Japanese sentries looked haggard. At either of the posts there was a Japanese civilian. I assume he was the interpreter,” she replied.
She added further, “You know what? It has intrigued me to find a huge Japanese flag flying at the main entrance of the nearby residence of Justice Laurel.”
“Why this open and precipitous display?” we asked ourselves.
“Why not? Don’t you recall Mr. Laurel has always been pro-Japanese? Just think: he is the only Filipino holding an honorary degree from the Imperial University of Tokyo. Moreover, one of his sons has been a student at the Japanese Military Academy and, for sometime, belonged to the Imperial Guard,” one of my uncles commented, visibly moved.
My father, however, held a different opinion, “I know for sure that Justice Laurel asked President Quezon to let him accompany him to Corregidor, as a member of the presidential retinue; but Quezon did not accede, insisting, instead, that he should remain to aid our people, since he was the Filipino most trusted and befriended by the
Japanese. It seems to me that this is the first step he takes in fulfillment of the mission entrusted to him. For the moment, I feel that it is far more reasonable that, before we should formulate any judgment, we await developments.”
“What will become of us?” one of my aunts asked in full anguish.
“I insist once more: let us await developments,” my father replied and, then, reminiscing somewhat, he asked, “Don’t you remember when the Americans occupied Manila, with the overthrow of Spanish sovereignty, how our own father also told us that we had but to await how the new masters would behave? And we succeeded in saving our skins. There is no reason to fear otherwise.”
Our silence brought to a close today’s episode.