December 10, 1944

With best wishes and a warm sendoff, early that day, we sailed on our last leg to General MacArthur’s GHQ and to freedom. We were assured that there were no Japs on any of the many islands that cluster the northern tip of Leyte.

The weather was fine. Wind just right. We sailed with joy in our hearts for, God willing, we would hit Leyte proper by sunset, at the latest. But we had to abate our joy, at least temporarily, for we heard a suspicious sound. It grew louder every second. We looked up at the skies and there, right ahead of us was a formation of low flying planes. Americans or Japs? Our hearts froze. We would be sitting ducks if they were Japs – and if they were Americans, who could assure us that we would be recognized as Filipinos.

The planes approached fast.

“Americans!” I shouted as I identified the lightnings by their twin bodies. Yes, they were the P-38s we had heard of so often over the radio and had read about in smuggled Life magazines. In a minute they were over our heads – the stars on their wings clearly visible. We waved frantically in an effort to disclose ourselves as friends and allies. Behind the P-38s trailed a slugging PBY. Some big shot being escorted, we conjectured.

As we sailed on, we saw more planes in the distance. They seemed to be everywhere.

I rested on my back, happy, confident that now no Japs could touch me, no son of Japan could prevent my reaching GHQ, Leyte. The enlarging mountains of Leyte, ever more visible, assured me even more.

In the distance, we could discern many sailboats coming and going. We thought that these sailboats must also be on missions like ours from other guerrilla units. Somehow, in our feeling of security, we did not fear that any of those boats could possibly be carrying escaping Japs. So we headed for the nearest one coming in our direction. From afar, we easily recognized the men on board as Filipinos. We waved and called to them. Cautiously, they approached us. We noticed their look of relief when they too recognized us as Filipinos. They were fishermen.

In answer to our eager inquiries, they told us the Japs were cornered at Ormoc and Palompon, that in Biliran, the biggest and nearest island of Leyte, there were some American soldiers and that it was clear of Japs.

This was enough. Biliran was only two hours away. Hurriedly, and with fevered excitement, we thanked them. It was low tide when we reached Biliran. We had to wade to shore. Once there, armed men who said that they were volunteer guards surrounded us and told us we were under arrest until we could properly identify ourselves. Immediately, I asked to be taken to their commanding officer or chief. We were led to the schoolhouse where we were introduced to a young man in his late teens whom they addressed as Colonel. We identified ourselves, my orders sufficing and then inquired if we could see the Commanding Officer of the American detachment. The Colonel said he could permit that only if the Americans (there were just five of them) wanted to see us, as they were merely an advance observation post and were very strict about security. The Colonel immediately sent a runner to the Americans with a note from me stating that we had vital information for GHQ at Leyte.

Just before dark, a runner came. He went straight to my father and greeted him. He said it was lucky he was with the American sergeant in-charge of the detachment when my note arrived. Recognizing my father’s name, he told the Americans that he knew my father. (He was a former prisoner of the Iwahig Penal Colony.) So the sergeant told him to come down and if we were the right party, to lead us to the top of the mountain where they were stationed.

It was dark and, therefore, the suggestion was made that we start the climb in the morning. “Nothing doing,” my father replied, “I am going to see those Americans tonight.”

The mountain was steep. Rain made the ascent slippery and muddy. In the darkness we groped. Occasionally, I rolled down a few feet when I missed the next step. Drenched and heavy with mud, we neared the top. Suddenly, from nowhere, we heard the metallic sound of guns cocking. We stood dead in our tracks. The Colonel, who personally guided us, shouted the password. Then, from somewhere, above a voice – a voice such as I hadn’t heard for years, hollered back, “Okay. Come on up.”

My heart beat faster. Never in my life did I feel so unreserved. My father and I rushed up, missed a step, fell, got up again and saw, right there in front of us, an American soldier, Tommy gun in hand.

Extending my hand, I introduced myself. I missed the name as I excitedly and with tears in my eyes embraced him. This was destination, reached. This was the end. This was freedom!

December 9, 1944

Shortly before noon, we again re-embarked with the warning to avoid a place called Limbajon along the Masbate coast, where a week before, a huge force of fully-equipped Japs was forced to land after their transport was beached as a result of bombing by American planes.

What promised to be a good sunny day ended with another storm. Most of the afternoon, all but the timonel and my father had to cling to the left outriggers to counter-balance the strong wind. The cold of the rain was biting. Drenching us, the warmth of the huge waves was welcome. Everything grew dark. We were approaching the southern tip of Masbate and nearing that dreaded place, Limbajon.

I heard my father ask Lt. Jopida, who had a compass in hand, if we were on the course and off Limbajon. Lt. Jopida assured him we were. The arraiz nodded and said we were heading for just that place. We could not see ten feet from the boat. My heart stopped. If we hit Limbajon, no amount of bowing and explaining would save us from those bloodthirsty Japs.

Suddenly, though, as if in answer to our prayers, the rain stopped, the mist lifted. Limbajon was only one thousand yards away.

Due to General MacArthur’s warning (now that we were approaching Leyte) not to sail by night for anything afloat after dark would be sunk, and to the raging storm, we had to take still another risk by delaying to drop anchor at Almagro. Slowly we lowered our sails.

Figures on the beach became distinct – our eyes strained. The crowd on the beach gathered as we kept approaching, but slowly, ready to veer off at the least sign of a Jap. Then we thanked heaven and breathed freely. We were safe.

Here again we were greeted warmly and put up for the night. News, we found, was getting warmer — dogfights, naval encounters. We were still 40 miles from our destination.

December 8, 1944

Very early that morning we put off to sea after some delay and after repeated persuasions to stay because the invasion of Masbate was anticipated any time.

Somewhere along the coast, we sailed by a batel at anchor. The sails were rent. There were signs of disturbance on board. But no one was visible! A freezing chill sprung up my spine.

A storm broke all of a sudden. Rain poured on us. The waves buried us. I thought it would be our last day on earth. Ten foot waves developed and winds of gale proportion his us from the stern. The trong wind propelled us forward at terrific speed, our sailboat dipped in and out of the great waves. At one time, the sailboat tilted to one side so precariously that I had to run to the outrigger to counter-balance it, holding on for dear life on a thin gray wire steadying the mast.

Thus we were drenched to the bones, chilling like a bunch of malaria patients, our teeth chattering. I was worried about how the cold and the exposure would affect Papa.

Suddenly, the skies cleared, the seas calmed and the wind abated. Ahead of us, we saw a big house by the beach. We made for it. What a relief. The house was owned by a Spanish family who owned the coconut plantation that surrounded it. We were welcomed, and served a hot meal. We had a quiet time exchanging news with the Spaniards. Warmed and fed, we thanked our hosts and resumed our sailing. The sea was warm and smooth and a good wind blew us on our way.

At this point of our travel, Papa and I got to talking. Never did I feel so close to Papa. I had always kept a respectful and probably even fearful distance from Papa who was a disciplinarian and did not spare the belt on us during our childhood.

This time, I felt Papa’s human-ness, I began to feel we were friends. We talked of so many things, the family, the war, the world and God.

December 6, 1944

Today, very early in the morning, we dropped anchor at an isolated cove of Burias where we saw another sailboat anchored, to make inquiries. We asked if there were Japs in Masbate. We were assured there was not a Jap on the island, not even in the capital. With this encouraging information, we weighed anchor, raised the sails and caught the breeze and headed straight for the town of Masbate. We had to get water. The breeze was good to us that day – very good. By noon we were approaching Masbate Bay. But we decided, for reasons of security, to make further inquiries from a fishing village near the capital.

As we approached the fishing village, all were on the alert for the slightest sign of Japs. We couldn’t take chances in spite of the assurances given us in Burias. We were tense with watchfulness. At 200 yards from the beach, my father suddenly said it was strange that nobody, not even children, were to be seen. Nor was there any smoke from the huts, I added. And all the windows were closed. A strange feeling crept over all of us. All of a sudden, my father shouted to the crew, “That’s a ghost town, turn back.” We all jumped to fix the sails. As we were crossing the Bay of Masbate, subdued by our ominous experience, the air was suddenly rent by a whing! — then another and still another in rapid succession. I looked at the main sail. There were holes in it. Without waiting for another whing – the arraiz veered the sailboat out to the open sea. Thanks to a good wind and to our choice of a sleek fast boat, we were out of range of that machine gun in no time.

But we had to have water. So a few miles further south, we decided to take a chance and stopped at a place where there was only one hut and some children playing.

As the anchor was dropped, I waded to the beach. Then as I was between the sailboat and the beach, I saw a man come out from behind a coconut tree, then another, then another and still another – all armed with rifles. My heart beat fast but I easily recognized them as Filipinos and my faith in my countrymen gave me confidence. I was sure they couldn’t be anything but alert guerrillas. As I hit the beach, I was immediately surrounded. I looked around and decided I had picked the leader. Facing him, I stretched out my hand and said: ” I am Lt. Misa of the Marinduque Patriot Army on my way to GHQ at Leyte.” The leader without giving his name, shook my hand and made inquiries as to who were on board the sailboat and what we wanted. I told him we needed water.

While his men were helping my men get water, he asked for my identification. He took it and read. Then he said it looked okay to him but that he was sorry only his CO could decide. I would have to see the CO and establish my identity. I told him it was okay by me and asked him to take me right away. He answered he was sorry again but it just wasn’t that easy. The C.O. was 20 kilometers north of Masbate, which was occupied by a now beleaguered Jap garrison. I told him I couldn’t wait much longer for I had to proceed. Once more he said he was sorry but it would mean trouble if I insisted, and that he would do all he could to facilitate my trip to HQ. He explained I had to sail back to a point between there and Masbate and from there walk around the town and pass no man’s land between the Japs and guerrillas and then hike some 20 kilometers to HQ. “Well,” I said “if it must be done, how about doing it right away?”

The leader, a lieutenant, ordered one of his men to board the sailboat to guide us. One of us in the sailboat was for hijacking the guide and taking him with us to Leyte. But I disapproved the idea.

It was decided that I would make the hike to HQ alone and save my father the hardships of a forced hike. He was to wait for me in the sailboat.

From the time I went ashore, I was turned over from one guide to another in a system possible only in a highly efficient organization. When night came, one of the guides insisted that we sleep it out in one of the guerrilla outposts. But I refused. I wanted to finish the business of identification as soon as possible. I demanded that we keep going. It was pitch dark and raining and we had to climb hills. My guide was wonderful; he knew every hole, every tree on the trail and went as fast as if on level ground. I had to exert every effort to keep up with him or I might get lost or caught in no man’s land, which we were fast approaching.

Suddenly, the guide stopped. He said we were now about to cross the Jap line and must be careful. It seemed hours as we shuffled along till suddenly, as if from nowhere, I heard the metallic sound of a rifle being loaded. My heart jumped. The guide said in an undertone: Lalawigan. It was the password. Then a soldier came out from nowhere and said we could go ahead. We had passed no man’s land without realizing it. At daybreak, we reached the home of a former Masbate representative, now turned into a guerrilla post. From there, word was sent to the CO who was still farther ahead. By nine in the morning, the messenger returned and said I could proceed.

The young CO, Major Manuel Donato, was a teacher before the war broke out. He was in Bataan. After the surrender, he found his way back to Masbate, there to organize the finest and most efficiently run guerrilla outfit I have ever seen. In some places along the road, I saw nipa and bamboo barracks erected by his men. He had the unanimous support of the people.

Major Donato met me in camouflage over-all, something I had never seen before. After I showed him my identification papers, and he approved of them, he kindly offered me breakfast. Then he displayed a small arsenal that some Alamo Scouts had brought in two weeks before – carbines and Tommy guns and rations and-ah! Camel cigarettes! When he informed me that he had radio communication with Leyte, I asked him please to have President Osmeña informed that my father had reached Masbate en route to Leyte. GHQ was notified by Major Mondoñedo through a radio at Pagbilao of our trip before we left Marinduque.

He told me that our sailboat was sighted from far away and was being watched. The place we called a “Ghost Town” was really one. Only a machine gun and its crew stayed there, as the place dominated the entrance to Masbate by sea, and if we had attempted to land there we would either all have been killed by machine gun fire or arrested. He informed me that it was the Japs from Masbate that fired on us. Then having promised to comply with the request, Major Donato gave me a note addressed to his command to give us all help. I thanked him and started on the long way back.

On my return trip, as I was approaching the outskirts of the town of Masbate, I heard the drone of planes. I looked up and scanned the skies. There, high up in the clouds I saw a speck, then another and still another. The number of planes increased with the intensity of the sound. As the planes came out of the clouds, they disclosed a huge and beautiful formation of what I discerned were Flying Fortresses – 27 mighty messengers of death. The planes made a slow circle over the town of Masbate and then proceeded north, but only for half an hour.

Those 30 minutes were a period of grace, and/or warning. They came back and in one concerted action, let off all their bombs over the town of Masbate.

For a minute, explosions tore the air. The next minute showed columns of smoke from the beleaguered town. A Jap seaplane that landed for repairs that night before was destroyed by machine gun fire from the guerrilla team that took advantage of the commotion.

I arrived back at the sailboat to find that a friend of the family, who fortunately was there, had provided us with dried meat and replenished our exhausted rice supply.

December 5, 1944

A very calm day, so calm, we barely moved. Marinduque was still in sight. The heat was scorching us.

I opened the portfolio I carried, took out its contents of maps and reports and placed them inside a big round bamboo tube, a foot and a half long, which I closed and sealed with wax. Then I tied the bamboo to a piece of heavy iron. The idea was to dump the papers overboard should we be searched by Japs and claim we were peaceful fishermen uninterested in the war between America and Japan. We were to remember the spot by triangulation. After the Japs would be gone, one of the crew, a diver good for 12 fathoms, would dive and retrieve it.

December 4, 1944

The sailboat was ready. It was the sleekest thing on water. Twenty-seven feet long, it measured a mere 28 inches wide. It was picked for its speed. Five men were to be its crew, plus Lt. Richard Jopida, an expert seaman who volunteered to land us at Leyte. At night, the moon peeped over the mountain and the breeze turned to give us a tail wind. With a prayer, we shoved off.

The fate of Lt. de Vera remaining unknown, we felt, was a bad omen for a 280-mile trip by sailboat on an open sea.

December 3, 1944

The work on the sailboat was being hurried, it was expected to be ready by dark. As I watched the men work the sails, my father approached. Pointing to a man nearby, he told me the man wanted to go with us to Leyte. He asked me what I had to say. I took a good look at the man. Under my breath, I said he looked sly to me. Father answered he would question the man further. As the man was being questioned, I watched. Suddenly I realized that I recognized a vague something about the man. I scrutinized him closely. Yes, now I was certain of it. Taking a few steps closer to my father I whispered, “Take a good look. The shirt, pants and shoes he wears are Ting’s.” (Lt. Vicente de Vera, my brother-in-law, who was sent on a secret mission to Manila. His trip was known only to a few).

My father asked the man to come with us to the house where we were staying. I sent for the teniente del barrio, who at the same time was in command of the guerrilla force there.

On reaching the house, we took the man to a room, told him to sit down. To my questions, he answered that he was one of the crew that took Lt. de Vera across Mompog strait at Pagbilao; that Lt. de Vera gave him the clothes after he disembarked. “You’re lying!” I shouted “Lt. de Vera took with him only one set of clothes and an extra pair of shoes because he intended to wear them on the hike to Manila which he had planned. Where did you get them?”

The man answered. “I stole them from him.”

At this, my heart beat fast with fear. I could not imagine Lt. de Vera giving up his only extra clothes. And then the man’s contradictions and the fact that only a few days from Pagbilao was Lucena, a nest of spies. Lucena was Lt. de Vera’s greatest hazard on his trip to Manila.

Question followed question. The man contradicted himself again. The teniente del barrio and the people gave bits of information. The man came from nowhere, had no work, gambled heavily and had lots of money .

I called two guerrillas armed with Enfields and had them watch the man as the questioning went on. Now we were almost sure this man had delivered Lt. de Vera to the Japs in Lucena. Where did he get those clothes? Why did he volunteer as one of a crew to take Lt. de Vera across the strait? What was that yellow card with Jap characters he had in his pocket? Where did he get all the money he had? Now, why did he want to go to Leyte with us?

Finally we asked him to sign the written questions and answers which were given by us and answered by him. He refused. He cried. He was gone!

Before we knew it, the man jumped over the window and made a dash for the forest. We went after him. The entire barrio population started a manhunt. Two hours later, he was found crouching in a thicket of thorns. Had it not been for Lt. Jesus Paredes, Jr., our judge advocate, who was with the party that caught him, he would have been hacked to death.

Brought back to the barrio, he was tied to a coconut tree.

“If you’re not guilty of turning Lt. de Vera over to the Japs, why did you attempt to escape?”

“Because I am afraid of the Filipinos,” he answered. I was unable to hold myself. I let go and gave him a sock on the jaw. When I got hold of myself, I turned and left. I could have killed the man as I thought of my sister and her little kid. Just before dark, Major Osmundo Mondoñedo, C.O. of the Marinduque Patriot Army arrived. The prisoner was turned over to him. But for the man’s repeated plea to spare him for two weeks, after which time he said we could shoot him if Lt. de Vera failed to return, we would have passed sentence on him right then and there. Circumstantial evidence was strong. But we feared to carry out an irrevocable sentence, lest later on we should find him innocent. Hog-tied, the prisoner was taken to the HQ for further investigation there to await the return of our courier to be sent to trace Lt. de Vera.

December 2, 1944

Instead of twiddling our thumbs a full day, my father decided to look over Balanacan harbor to be able to render a more complete report on the air-naval battle we witnessed there exactly a week before. Balanacan is near Argao so we were there in half an hour of paddling. Evidence of the recent air-naval battle was all around. Reddish oil was still oozing from the two cruisers of the “impregnable” Japanese Imperial Navy — now in Davy Jones locker — sunk by the “dwindling and demoralized” force of American Navy planes. Along the shore of the cove were debris, boxes, straw, blasted launches and bloated naked bodies – Jap bodies. We put ashore to get a good look. The stench was sickening and suffocating. Some bodies were decapitated others armless or without legs. We saw arms and legs and heads without their bodies … a striking picture of Japan’s defeat. A lot of paper littered the shore.

The day after the air-naval battle, the shore was given a once over by our men for any arms worth salvaging and for any chance scrap of useful military and naval information. We already had a sheaf of such military and naval papers in the portfolio we carried. Yet my father and I kept scrutinizing papers as we came to them. One blasted body in an advanced stage of decomposition was still dressed. I was ordered by my father to search its pockets! With a sour face I approached, puffing out clouds of smoke from my cigarette to counteract the unbearable stench. As lightly as I could, I opened the pockets. All were empty but one. From it I drew a notebook. After looking it over we decided it was a diary. After this, until we returned to Argao, I did not know what to do with my contaminated hands!

Friday, December 1, 1944

All was in readiness for the trip — food, clothes and a portfolio filled with important military information. We were not to take arms with us. We had to talk our way out if stopped by Jap launches rather than put up a hopeless fight. In an effort at secrecy, we left after dark for the fishing barrio of Argao where we were scheduled to get a sailboat that was to take us 280 miles through open sea to our destination: Leyte.

We arrived in Argao only to find a hitch in the preparations. The sailboat was not ready. It would take a full day to fit it for the long and rough voyage.