Growing Old in Negros (Second of Three Parts)

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Saturday, January 11, 2014


THE horror of World War II put an end to “peace time.” Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. The Philippines, an ally of America, was also dragged to war. The Japanese wanted to protect the countries in Asia by establishing the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Juan de la Cruz decided to stick with Uncle Sam. Both of them have stories to tell.

World War II taught Negrosanons a lesson not to be forgotten. The sugar industry was put to a stop. Some “hacendados” stayed in towns but some of them went to their evacuation centers with their loyal “jornaleros” doing household activities for them or acting as watchmen. My Lolo Pedro, a sacada turned “jornalero” brought his family to an air raid shelter near the river bank. The sugarcane field was open for every “jornalero” to plant camote, rice or corn. The “hacendados” had their “bodegas” loaded with rice, salted pork, laundry bars, sacks of salt and sugar.

The other members of the “buena familias” pooled themselves together in a place they would consider safe with their “encargados” who managed their day-to-day existence. This was portrayed by Peque Gallaga in his movie “Oro, Plata, Mata.” The movie featured how rich families coped with the war and how the people changed values amidst violence and death. (Just see the movie.) My Lolo Jovito played the role of a combatant. He was a guerilla assassin who demolished Japanese spies. He was responsible for shooting Manuel Intay (taklob-libon), a spy in Matagoy.

Patag in Silay was the last stand of the Japanese Imperial Army in Negros Island. An enemy turned into a hero. Lieutenant Junichiro Doi, pilot of Japan Air Force, did not obey his commanding officer to bomb San Diego Church in Silay. “Why should I destroy a temple and kill women and children?” He told his commander, “Mission is accomplished.” That lie saved lives and the future San Diego Pro-Cathedral. After the war, Lt. Doi went back to Negros and sponsored scholars in the upland villages of Silay.

The events against the Rising Sun carved names for Negros. The former mayor of Bacolod, Alfredo Montelibano Sr. was appointed by President Manuel Quezon as the Civil Governor of Free Negros. He printed emergency money for the Negrosanons. The Japanese money (Kenkoy money) was in circulation during the war. You need one sack of Kenkoy money to buy a small pig. Col. Salvador Abcede and Col. Ernesto Mata emerged as reliable military leaders who continued guerilla warfare against the Japs.

The Japanese established a Puppet Republic. The Kalibapi had elected officers to run the affairs of Negros. The Kalibapi director-general based in Manila was Benigno Aquino Sr. Life under the Japs was kind of “live today while waiting if you still live tomorrow.” The dropping of atomic bomb in Hiroshima put an end to Japanese atrocity. Here in Negros, they surrendered to the American soldiers, not to the Filipinos for understandable reason. They did not want to be barbecued.

The war was over but not the suffering of the Filipinos. The Negrosanons have lost their relatives and friends. They have also lost the meaning of life and the value of faith. Sir Modesto P. Sa-onoy wrote two volumes, “Against the Rising Sun.” He wrote his book in the tradition of “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan.” If you are interested to know more about the Negros Apocalypse in 1941-1945, grab his book now. It deals on blood-and-guts realism in the heart of darkness.

Negrosanons who survived the war were evidently traumatized by fear. The psychological effects of war manifest in harmful treatment of innocent civilians and curious bystanders. The Filipinos fought side by side with the Americans thinking that time will come that Big Brother America will also help Small Brother Filipino if bullied by thugs. We have just been bullied by the Chinese in our Spratlys. “Oh Brother America, where is your flame of liberty?”

The next task was to rebuild Negros after the war. In rotten peace, the gruesome nature of war is still there. Devastation is a nightmare but in the Negrosanon spirit there is the burgeoning nationalism that struggle to survive. Those who perished young with claustrophobic feeling of vindictiveness did not have the chance to grow old in Negros.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 11, 2014.

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