The Day War Came To Davao

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

ON December 8, 1941, at about 6:30 a.m., Japanese planes bombed Davao. Earlier, at 2:30 a.m. bombs fell on Manila . At 7 a.m. the radio blared that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii at 8 a.m. on Dec. 7. It was a sneak attack, the newscaster added. ( It was early morning on Dec. 19 when the Japanese landed troops and heavy equipment in Sta. Ana Pier to begin the occupation of Davao Ciy.)

War came very early that day while many in our neighborhood in Agdao were still asleep. I remember that day very clearly because I was supposed to recite a poem in my second grade class. My teacher encouraged me to make good my “performance” because if I did I’d clinch a spot to recite a longer poem during a forthcoming program with the school population in attendance. My mother drilled me over the weekend, so I was confident to get the assignment. The prospect was exceedingly exciting for me but as it turned out, it was not to be.

We were having breakfast at home when the planes came. My father went out to scan the skies, then quickly came back to tell us that they were Japanese fighter planes. Our neighbors poured into the open then screamed: “Ayroplano sa Hapon, Hapon.” (Japanese planes.)

We heard the thundering explosions. My father told us to dock under the table. Neighbors shouted that the planes bombed the oil depot in Sasa, some 11 kilometers northwest of our neighborhood. The ground zero was in the area in what is now Kilometer 11, the present location of the pier for the ferry that links the Island Garden City of Samal and Davao City.

The bombing did not last long. The planes flew out of sight just as swiftly as they came. Neighbors differed in the way they saw the raid. One was particularly imaginative, saying the planes flew back in tight formation and performed a fly-by over the burning oil depot after the bombing runs.

From Agdao we saw black smoke rise into the sky.

After breakfast my mother sent us to school. So did most of the other parents in the neighborhood. I was in grade two at the Sta Ana Elementary School then, now Sta. Anan National High School.

My older sister, who was a freshman in Davao City High, left with her classmates. I joined with four kids who were in Grade III in Sta. Ana Elementary. Upon reaching the school, teachers met us at the gate to direct us straight to our classrooms. They were running back and forth in the hallways to tell, and in some instances, push students to get in and stay inside their rooms. Our teacher forbade us to go outside while she went to the office of the principal, Mrs. Rosario Escano. She came back to line us up then led us to the school frontage to listen to the principal who was going to make an important announcement.

A somber Mrs. Escano (she died in a plane crash in the 60s) said that there will be no classes that day and the school will be closed for some time. She will inform our parents when classes would resume. She told teachers to send the elementary, Grades IV and III students home. Grades I and II pupils, were to stay awhile in school to wait for their parents, or guardians, or older brothers and sisters. Elementary students could accompany their younger siblings home.

My older sister and three other Davao City High students came - to fetch me and four others. There was going to be war between the U.S. and Japan, she told me. For the first time that day I was really scared.
The high school students argued over which road to Agdao was safe. One of them, a dark girl with long hair, seemed the smartest of them all. She said that Japanese soldiers could be entering the city at the time, so it was likely they would come through Uyanguren Street, (now Magsaysay Avenue). “We’ll run smack into them if we’ll pass through Uyanguren,” she said. We had to go through the back alleys, she suggested. She spoke English and Tagalog with equal fluency. She impressed me.

My sister said she knew a short route to Agdao and volunteered to lead us. The dark girl with long hair warned she should not veer left after crossing Monteverde Avenue because it would lead us to the swamps.

We walked through a small alley behind Chinese stores along Uyanguren Street. There we joined with students from our school who said they heard people saying that Japanese soldiers had landed in Sasa. Hearing this, two of the high school girls with us panicked. My sister calmed them down.

Most of the Chinese stores were closed, including a bakery that sold delicious pan de pasas (raisin bread). People from Agdao would come early in the morning to buy pan de pasas for breakfast from this bakery. At one point we walked on a winding latayan ( trestle ) that soon led us to Monteverde Avenue.

Our group darted across what then looked to me as a very wide street. There we saw people pulling two-wheeled carts loaded with earthly possessions, pots and pans, and small sacks of rice. “ Gubat na ni, manguli na ta sa Pindasan,” (“ This is war, let’s go to Pindasan” ) a woman screamed to no one in particular. Here we heard people saying that there was confusion in Claveria street, now Claro Recto Ave. and San Pedro Streets. Gobot kaayo sa Claveria ug San Pedro, nagkagoliyang ang mga tawo didto,” they said. ( It’s all confusion in Claveria and San Pedro Streets.)

The neighborhood along the way was in turmoil. From there we walked through backyards and under clotheslines until we reached our house. I couldn’t remember where our small group parted from each other, but for a while there I felt kinship with all of them. The dark girl with long hair and her younger sister in tow disappeared as they turned around a bend. I had often wished to meet her again if only to listen to her speak English and Tagalog. To this day I wondered if she and her sister survived the war.

A few days after Dec. 8, our family left the city to ride out the war in Kaputian, Samal.

So it was not until the liberation of the country by the American forces did I see what was left of Sta. Ana Elementary School. My two sisters and I came on the day of the enrolment. The school, like the city itself, was a picture of devastation. There were craters and bombed out mounds around it. Looters came with carts to forage woods, tables, desks and galvanized roofings.

That first day in school was truly a day of reunion, but emotions swung high and low as friends told of their harrowing stories of survival. Many had malaria. You spotted them, they were yellowish, frail, sleepy and they shivered at certain time of the day. War had scarred our lives.

We were an unkempt bunch, but euphoric knowing war was coming to an end and, we, at long last, survived it. We were a ragtag crowd. Bigger boys came in overly large G.I. uniforms given them by kindly U.S. soldiers. Many of us had no shoes but we had sturdy bakya (wooden sandals) that added to the noise in the hallways as we walked around. A few wore oversized U.S. combat boots. They looked and walked funny, but hey, war was still going on in upper Calinan. Japan had not surrendered yet at the time.

(Although Gen. Robert Eichelberger, commanding general of the U.S. 8th Army, reported to General Douglas MacArthur that Japanese resistance in Mindanao collapsed on June 10, 1945, on record it took three more months to dislodge the 43,000-strong 100th Japanese Army Division commanded by Lt. Gen. Jiro Harada. In Davao enemy forces dug deep into mountainsides in the southeastern part of the city where they put up a fanatical resistance to delay the advance of Maj. Gen. Roscoe B. Woodruff’s U.S. Army 24th Division.Wikipedia)

Our teachers were as frazzled as we were. A few wore well-pressed pre-war dresses, shirts, and slacks to school. Compared to most of those who came that day, they looked like fashion models. Before noon, though, they complained of being overdressed.
Teachers were busy organizing the classes and classrooms. There were new ones who had been hired only a few days before enrolment. Many of them were supposed to graduate high school four months after the war broke out. They were certified to have successfully graduated high school so they were qualified to teach. They were needed badly, the post-war student population in the City had burgeoned.

The teachers had added tasks that day. Many of them had to treat students who were injured by exposed nails and shattered roofings.

We survived the war!

A column of M7 Priest 105mm Gun Motor Carriages inching past some Jeeps and a 6x6 Truck on a narrow jungle road outside of Davao, Mindanao Island on May 5, 1945. The vehicles belonged to the 24th Infantry Division, which played a pivotal role in the 1945 Philippines campaign.


Cris D. Kabasares is a retired journalist in the U.S.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 15, 2013.


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