A mem­oir of war (then) and China (now)

Some Chi­nese Filipinos say that, in­deed, the whole of the Spratlys be­long to China. We see then that within our very ranks, within our very shores, China has far more col­lab­o­ra­tors than the Ja­panese had.

The Philippine Star - - SUNDAY LIFESTYLE - By F sionil jose

Iwas a high school se­nior at the Far Eastern Uni­ver­sity in De­cem­ber 1941 when war came to the Philip­pines. Its com­ing was well pub­li­cized in the news­pa­pers and ra­dio. Ja­pan al­ready oc­cu­pied much of China, and had in­vaded French In­dochina, and the huge is­land of For­mosa — like Korea— was in Ja­panese hands.

In the Philip­pines, sev­eral Ja­panese es­tab­lish­ments flour­ished. Oracca had a bub­ble gum and candy fac­tory; in Davao, a large por­tion of it was planted by the Ja­panese to abaca from which rope was made — a re­quire­ment for the Ja­panese navy and ship­ping. A few Ja­panese bar­ber shops op­er­ated in Manila with girls as bar­bers. I re­mem­ber a Ja­panese re­fresh­ment par­lor in Quiapo. And of course, the coun­try was flooded then with cheap Ja­panese prod­ucts: pen­cils that broke eas­ily, folk art toys, pa­per bal­loons, pa­per um­brel­las. In fact, any prod­uct that was in­fe­rior was sup­posed to have been made in Ja­pan. Rich Filipino fam­i­lies em­ployed Ja­panese gar­den­ers some of whom turned out to be deep pen­e­tra­tion agents who sur­faced dur­ing the Oc­cu­pa­tion.

It was dif­fi­cult for Filipinos to be­lieve then that the Ja­panese would wage war on the United States. But they did and that morn­ing, Dec. 8, their planes bombed Ni­chol’s Field in Manila, Fort Stot­sen­burg in Pam­panga, the air­field in Zam­bales. Im­me­di­ately, all classes were closed.

Be­fore Dec. 8 in Manila we had air raid drills. The siren atop the ice plant at the foot of Santa Cruz bridge wailed the alarm and wailed again to end the drill. Evac­u­a­tion and black­out drills were held in­ter­mit­tently. All such prepa­ra­tions didn’t help; loot­ing and chaos pre­vailed. In Tu­tuban sta­tion, it was through the win­dow that I got into the train that took me to the old home­town.

It was there — in Ros­ales later on that month — that, from a dis­tance in the bar­rio where we fled, I saw the Ja­panese ar­rive on the dis­tant high­way rid­ing bi­cy­cles.

I was to later see their tanks, their huge ar­tillery pieces and their big horses — th­ese lit­tle men who were to oc­cupy the coun­try for three years and leave be­hind a le­gacy of bes­tial­ity and hor­ror.

In June 1944, the Uni­ver­sity of Santo To­mas opened its In­tra­muros cam­pus and I en­rolled in its two-year pre-med­i­cal course. We were hav­ing Nip­pongo lessons that morn­ing of Sept. 21 when the first Amer­i­can car­rier planes raided Manila; they flew so low some of the canopies of the planes were open and we saw the pi­lots wav­ing. They strafed and bombed the Ja­panese ships in Manila

bay. That day, as on Dec. 8, all classes were stopped.

There was so lit­tle food in Manila then; co­conut meat was roasted and sold on the side­walks as cas­tañog. Each empty plot of land was planted to camote and

tal­inum. Only the Ja­panese had gaso­line but in­ge­nious Filipinos made the old cars run on char­coal. Medicines were in short sup­ply as was tobacco and some smoked dried pa­paya leaves with old news­pa­pers as cig­a­rette wrap­pers. Tex­tiles that were ra­tioned were gone, and many a farmer wore jute from the sack for rice. With leather no longer avail­able, wooden shoes for both men and women be­came fash­ion­able.

Manila was starv­ing; stray cats and rats were trapped. That Novem­ber, my mother, a cousin, and I walked all the way from Manila to Ros­ales. We slept in the aban­doned houses along the high­way and at night, we heard the Ja­panese march to­wards the north in retreat. In the day­time, Amer­i­can planes ranged over the coun­try, blow­ing up bridges and what­ever mo­tor­ized traf­fic they caught on the high­ways. It took us a whole week to get to the old home­town.

In late De­cem­ber 1944 the Amer­i­cans ar­rived in my home­town, be­ly­ing the Ja­panese pro­pa­ganda of short­ages in Amer­ica; they came with their big tanks, gi­ant trucks, bull­doz­ers, Coca- Cola, Spam, donuts and all the foods that were de­nied us dur­ing the war.

How will the Chi­nese come in the very near fu­ture? This is an in­fan­tile ques­tion, in some re­spects. As that as­tute jour­nal­ist and po­lit­i­cal ob­server, Uli Sch­met­zer, said in his land­mark book,

The Chi­nese Jug­ger­naut, they are al­ready here.

They con­trol 60 per­cent of our econ­omy. Eight of the rich­est Filipinos ac­cord­ing to the Forbes list are eth­nic Chi­nese. His­tor­i­cally, they were in the re­gion long be­fore the West­ern col­o­niz­ers came. They in­ter­mar­ried with the na­tives, and got ac­cul­tur­ated. Rizal had Chi­nese an­ces­try. As I have said again and yet again, all of Southeast Asia will be sini­cized within a cou­ple of cen­turies.

Dur­ing those three years that we were oc­cu­pied by the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army, many Filipinos col­lab­o­rated with them, some with the gen­uine na­tion­al­ist be­lief that they were go­ing to free Asia from West­ern im­pe­ri­al­ism. In be­liev­ing so, they even formed armed groups to fight the guer­ril­las that way­laid the Ja­panese. The col­lab­o­ra­tion is­sue was set­tled po­lit­i­cally when Pres­i­dent El­pidio Quirino granted amnesty to them and many of the col­lab­o­ra­tors were elected to high po­si­tions in the post-war gov­ern­ment. As a moral is­sue, how­ever, the trea­son con­tin­ues to ran­kle to this very day.

And now, China has al­ready oc­cu­pied por­tions of our ter­ri­tory. It is so glar­ingly ridicu­lous for them to say that Scarboroug­h shoal — hun­dreds of miles from the Chi­nese main­land, and just a hun­dred miles off the coast of Zam­bales — is theirs! And yet, some Chi­nese Filipinos say that, in­deed, the whole of the Spratlys be­long to China. We see then that within our very ranks, within our very shores, China has far more col­lab­o­ra­tors than the Ja­panese had.

The com­mu­nists who were their al­lies in the ‘60s and who missed out on EDSA1 have been si­lent — very, very si­lent — and have not voiced dis­sent or demon­strated against the Chi­nese in­cur­sions in our ter­ri­tory, in their stran­gle­hold of our econ­omy. Will they also be col­lab­o­ra­tors in the event that the ten­sions in the re­gion erupt into war be­tween us and China?

This war, ac­cord­ing to David Archibald, a fel­low of the In­sti­tute of World Pol­i­tics in Wash­ing­ton, DC, is in­evitable and will ex­plode in a cou­ple of years, in 2017, he pre­dicts.

The events lead­ing to it are em­bla­zoned ev­ery day in our news­pa­pers: the en­larg­ing of the reefs in the Spratlys to as­sert China’s claim on the re­gion, its con­tin­u­ing threat to its neigh­bors and armed chal­lenge to the United States which wants the sea lanes and airspace free for in­ter­na­tional nav­i­ga­tion. Says Archibald, “When China gets around to en­forc­ing that claim, for­eign mer­chant ves­sels and air­craft will have to ap­ply for per­mis­sion to cross it.” China, says Archibald, will likely start the war and attack Amer­i­can for­ward bases all the way to Guam, and those in the Philip­pines as well.

He concludes, “It will be one of the most point­less and de­struc­tive wars in his­tory but that is what is com­ing.”

Ten years ago, I wrote about our so­called “Chi­nese prob­lem” and I was im­me­di­ately branded as anti-Chi­nese when I was just voic­ing the sen­ti­ments of Filipinos ap­pre­hen­sive that, one morn­ing, we will wake up to find that this coun­try is no longer ours. This is now a griev­ous pos­si­bil­ity.

I can un­der­stand the loy­alty of our eth­nic Chi­nese to­wards China, the moth­er­land, the fount of his­tory and tra­di­tion. I know of the im­mense con­tri­bu­tion of the Chi­nese to the coun­try, and that so many Filipinos have Chi­nese an­ces­try — my own wife’s ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther had pig­tails. I have sev­eral eth­nic Chi­nese friends, among them the Yuy­i­tungs, who mi­grated to Canada. But at the same time, I have in­sisted that the loy­alty of Chi­nese Filipinos should be to their na­tive cul­ture, not to the Chi­nese state. It is, af­ter all, here in this un­happy coun­try where they were born, and where they made their pile.

The Amer­i­can main­land has never ex­pe­ri­enced ac­tual war; it may now cringe un­der a mis­sile attack, its mighty air­craft car­ri­ers — like the bat­tle­ships of World War II — no longer an as­set. It will be a war fought with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, with drones and God for­bid that atom weapons are used. It is we in Asia who will bear the tragic brunt of de­struc­tion and killing. How will the Philip­pines — with the weak­est de­fense ca­pa­bil­ity in the re­gion — fare? Given what mea­ger re­sources we have, will there be a re­peat of our tra­vail in 1941? We were but 20 mil­lion then; we are over a hun­dred mil­lion now.

In those three bru­tal years, I knew hunger, fear that shriv­eled the soul, the re­al­iza­tion that my fi­nal hour had come, and yes, sear­ing, bone-deep ha­tred that made me want to kill. When my gen­er­a­tion went to col­lege in 1946, we were not dreamy-eyed youths — we were old, thought­ful, pur­pose­ful.

Will we have a re­peat of this abom­inable past?

I know now that in the event of a war with China, many of our eth­nic Chi­nese will side with China so I will not ask any­more on whose side they will be if that war breaks out.

I will ask in­stead my coun­try­men — they who are aware of our rev­o­lu­tion­ary and heroic tra­di­tion — the Filipinos who re­vere Mabini, Rizal, all those who sac­ri­ficed for this land and peo­ple: “What will you do now?”

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