Philippine Daily Inquirer

Lost in trans­la­tion

- Com­ments are wel­come at ao­campo@ate­ AMBETH R. OCAMPO Crime · Manila · United States of America · Capiz · Thomas Jefferson · Makati · Philippines · Tonga · Iceland · Belarus · Somalia · Laguna province · God · U.S. Supreme Court · Belgium · Ateneo de Manila University · Malaya · Malaya · Museu Nacional

Ate­neo de Manila Univer­sity has three li­brary fa­cil­i­ties, the most use­ful for me be­ing the orig­i­nal li­brary build­ing that re­cently cel­e­brated its 50th an­niver­sary and houses the Filip­ini­ana Sec­tion and two spe­cial col­lec­tions of rare books and his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­als.

The T. H. Pardo de Tav­era Room houses the li­brary and ar­chive of the 19th cen­tury in­tel­lec­tual billed as one of the “Brains of the Na­tion.” The Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Col­lec­tion (AHC), mean­while, was once housed in the US Em­bassy com­pound on Roxas Boule­vard, then in the Thomas Jef­fer­son In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter on Buen­dia in Makati be­fore its trans­fer to the Ate­neo.

I vis­ited the AHC re­cently to con­sult a 14-vol­ume his­tory of the Philip­pines pub­lished in late 18th-cen­tury Manila—not to read, but to learn more about early Philip­pine print­ing. Each vol­ume is bound in pigskin, pro­tect­ing the print and pa­per that have sur­vived time and the var­i­ous up­heavals and nat­u­ral calami­ties that have of­ten left the coun­try in ru­ins.

On my way out of the AHC, I took time to view a small ex­hibit of books, news­pa­per clip­pings, and pho­to­graphs doc­u­ment­ing the atroc­i­ties en­dured by Filipinos dur­ing the Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion. The im­ages are so dis­turb­ing that a warn­ing should have been in­stalled so peo­ple could turn their eyes away from the graphic de­pic­tions of the dead, maimed and tor­tured civil­ians whose tes­ti­monies found their way into war crimes in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Gen­eral To­moyuki Ya­mashita paid for all these crimes on the prin­ci­ple of com­mand re­spon­si­bil­ity. He need not have or­dered or par­tic­i­pated in the may­hem of death, rape, tor­ture and pil­lage that came with the so-called Lib­er­a­tion of Manila in the clos­ing days of the war. As mil­i­tary com­man­der in Manila, he was re­spon­si­ble for the ex­cesses of his men.

On his ex­e­cu­tion day, stripped of his uni­form and medals, he wore a sim­ple G.I. khaki shirt and trousers and a green fa­tigue hat as he as­cended 13 steps to a spe­cially erected gal­lows where he was to hang by the neck un­til he was dead. He was ex­e­cuted in se­cret, be­cause it was feared his death could in­cite demon­stra­tions or ag­i­tate the 10,000 Ja­panese pris­on­ers of war.

The so-called “Tiger of Malaya” was killed in La­guna on Fe­bru­ary 23, 1946, to­gether with Col. Se­ichi Ohta, com­man­der of the dreaded Kem­peitai in the Philip­pines, and Takuma Hi­gashiji, a civil­ian in­ter­preter con­victed by the war crimes court for tor­tur­ing Filipino civil­ians.

Dur­ing the hear­ings, Hi­gashiji was seen to smirk and joke as sur­vivors re­lated his sadism. But he was vis­i­bly ner­vous when he met his death, un­like the two Ja­panese of­fi­cers who calmly walked to their deaths. Speak­ing through an in­ter­preter, Ya­mashita’s ram­bling last words, as re­ported in the news­pa­per, reads:

“I was car­ry­ing out my duty as Ja­panese high com­man­der of the Ja­panese Army in the Philip­pine Is­lands to con­trol my Army with my best dur­ing wartime. Un­til now I am be­liev­ing that I have tried to do my best.

“As I said in the Manila Supreme Court that I have done with all my ca­pac­ity so I don’t shame in front of God for what I have done when I have died. But if you say to me you do not have any abil­ity to com­mand Ja­panese Army, I should say noth­ing for it, be­cause it is my own na­ture. Now our war crim­i­nal trial go­ing on in Manila Supreme Court, so I wish be jus­ti­fied un­der your kind­ness and right.

“I know that all you Amer­i­cans and Amer­i­can mil­i­tary af­fairs of­fi­cers al­ways have tol­er­ance and right­ful judg­ment. When I have been in­ves­ti­gated in Manila court, I have had a good treat­ment, kind­ful at­ti­tude from you good-na­tured of­fi­cers who all the time pro­tect me.”

Some­thing must have been lost in trans­la­tion, be­cause this text is so dif­fer­ent from a longer, bet­ter com­posed let­ter Ya­mashita left to the Ja­panese peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly its women, be­fore his ex­e­cu­tion.

Al­though ex­e­cuted seven decades ago, Ya­mashita re­mains in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion to­day be­cause peo­ple have lost lives and for­tune pur­su­ing the fa­bled trea­sure he is sup­posed to have buried some­where in the Philip­pines. All this prods me to visit the Na­tional Mu­seum to see their his­tor­i­cal relics, which in­clude the noose that killed Ya­mashita, a grue­some sou­venir kept in stor­age away from the cu­ri­ous pub­lic.

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