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.
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?”