Philippine Daily Inquirer
Lost in translation
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.