A provost official –one of the many new friends with whom we had been fraternizing– offered me a trip to Manila in his jeep. I accepted willingly, in order to have a personal knowledge of what is happening in the Capital.
We left at 7:00 in the evening and we were at Balintawak by midnight. It was a very fast trip by the standards of these times. All the bridges had been blown up by the Japanese and had been replaced by pontoon bridges constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The way these soldiers are working is admirable.
We did not attempt to enter the city. Shelling was very intense. We spent the night in the jeep, parked in the middle of thick grasses. I did not sleep a wink as I watched the shrubs and grasses move, not by the wind but by some snipers. I heard the thundering booms of the guns and the whistling flight of shells as they rent the air over our heads, while in the city, vast columns of smoke were rising and big fires were raging.
At the break of day I entered the main gate of the University for the first time in three years. I found the Seminary filled with refugees. Most of them came from this northern sector of Manila where several blocks of houses had been burned by fire caused by Japanese, or started by Filipinos who had been paid or forced to burn them. The Education building has been converted to a hospital for civilian casualties who came from the south in uncontrollable influx.
The internees are still living in the main building in other smaller ones. They were huddled in rooms and corridors, but free, happy, well fed and properly clothed. Many of them are gradually recovering from their skeletal countenance and their cadaveric paleness due to starvation under the Japanese regime.
During these past months, some eight to twelve internees were dying daily; the others are so weak they cannot stand on their feet. The beehive activities on the campus, with the incessant buzzing produced by the movements, the coming and going of soldiers, internees, refugees and vehicles are in contrast with the sepulchral silence of this place.
The first group of internees left to prepare the new accommodations in Los Baños. This contingent was composed of 800 men of military age, who brought back discouraging information about the new site. They said that the climate was unhealthy, the place infested with malaria, and water scarce.
I had just visited another concentration camp—that of Santo Tomas. There are actually some 3,000 internees and in some more time, a few thousand more are expected from the south. The Japanese guards deal with them liberally, without getting involved in the private life of the prisoners. In the two hours during which I went around the camp and many of its structures, I saw no other sentries aside from those at the gates.
The prisoners are receving a monthly allocation of some ₱30,000, with a committee in charge of utilizing it to provide for the prisoners’ needs. Another Committee is responsible for peace and order with some 150 Americans acting as policemen. Everybody is given an assignment according to his talents. They have to do all the work within the Camp. Some American and Spanish Dominican priests are allowed to enter the Camp everyday to celebrate Mass and give religious instruction to the children. They also give lectures to the adults about social and apologetic questions, and watch over the properties of the University which are still being stored there.
A good portion of the Camp has been converted into a vegetable garden. According to the foreman, they harvest more than a thousand kilos of vegetables a month. These are apportioned among the garden tenders, the hospital and—if there is a surplus—among those who need them most.
The prolonged confinement, the weariness, the monotony and the lack of nutrition are already telling on the prisoners, taxing the spirit even of the most optimistic. During the earlier months, they had been living in the hope of an early liberation. Although this hope is revived from time to time, it is withering like a flower deprived of the sunlight of reality. Those who still have money and relatives or friends in liberty receive support with which they supplement their meager diet and are provided with clothing, shoes, cigarettes, etc. For the others, nostalgia becomes doubly burdensome.