LIKE most Filipinos who suffered during the war, President Elpidio Quirino had every reason to hate the Japanese. Yet when he had the opportunity, he never exacted revenge. In an extra-ordinary display of national forgiveness and statesmanship, Quirino pardoned the Japanese war criminals.
Quirino’s action stunned most Filipinos who were not satisfied with just the hanging of General Yamashita and the execution by firing squad of General Homma. Filipinos were crying for more blood.
The anti-Japanese sentiment simmered as soon as the occupation of Manila started. The conquerors soon alienated the people with their indiscriminate slapping and maltreatment of men, women and children for no other reason than their failure to properly bow to a Japanese sentry. The people’s anger reached boiling point when news spread about atrocities committed during the Death March. The Manila Massacre which resulted inthe death of tens of thousands of civilians finally uncorked the pent-up fury of the populace.
This explains why nobody complained about the massive destruction of Manila. It was an acceptable price to pay to be able to pulverize the hated Japanese who were holed up inside Intramuros and other historical buildings.
This explains why even in the US Supreme Court, only two justices (one of them being Justice Frank Murphy, the last American Governor General in the Philippines) questioned the possible violation of the rights of the accused Yamashita and Homma during their trial before a military commission created by General McArthur.
A national artist – still under age during the war – confessed that his dream was to enlist in the army as soon as he grew up so he could kill the first Japanese he encountered.
Against this backdrop, the writings of Salvador P. Lopez (“The Judgment of History”) and Jaime C. Laya (“The Calvary of Elpidio Quirino, 1945-53”) give us a measure of Quirino’s self-sacrifice and statesmanship.
“As the (allied troops) shelled the Japanese military installations in the area the Japanese soldiers, in sheer desperation, knowing they could not escape alive, indulged in a cold-blooded massacre of the residents. It was in the course of this murderous rampage that tragedy overtook the Quirino family.
“Quirino had gathered his wife and childen about him on that fateful day of 9th February 1945 in the family residence on Colorado Street (presently Felipe Agoncillo), Ermita, to plan their escape from the area.
“It was four oclock in the afternoon. The Japanese had transformed the neighborhood into a holocaust of fire and death. A barrage of shells hit the roof of the Quirino residence. As the house burned, Elpidio decided to escape with his family to the home of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Concepcion Jimenez Syquia, on the same street.
“In a desperate attempt to get out of the hell-hole, Elpidio ordered his son, Tomas, to lead the group. Dona Alicia cuddled her two daughters, infant Fe and Norma. Another son, Armando, carried the family valuables. All the members of the family then dashed towards the Syquia residence. Tomas and Victoria led the group.
“Half-way across the street, four Japanese marines, camouflaged in leaves, machine-gunned them. Looking back, Tomas saw the bodies of his mother and two sisters lying lifeless on the ground. Mrs. Quirino died hugging Fe, while Norma lay dead beside her. Armando tried to retrieve their dead bodies but was stopped by machine-gun fire.”
Jaime C. Laya (“The Calvary of Elpidio Quirino, 1945-53”) provided other gory details of the massacre.
“Carrying the toddler Fe Angela, Mrs. Quirino flees with Tommy, Norma and Vicky to her mother’s home. Elpidio and Armando stay behind gathering food and valuables.
“The panicked group reaches the Syquia mansion’s gate, but from Leon Guinto, a machine gun fires. Mortally wounded, Alicia and Norma fall. Fe Angela, pinned under her mother, is bayoneted. Tommy and Vicky escape. Another shell hits the Quirino home and Elpidio and Armando run. With Agoncillo Street perilous they go through fences, over walls, under houses, separated in the confusion.
“Early in the morning, Elpidio reaches the Syquia home, alone.
“Elpidio can only retrieve Fe Angela and buries her broken body by the garage.”
Indeed, Quirino must have agonized before he signed the Presidential pardon. He was practically alone in a nation that wanted to completely destroy the enemy.
To those who sought vengeance, he said: “I should be the last one to pardon them as the Japanese killed my wife and three children, and five other members of my family. I am doing this because I do not want my children and my people to inherit from me the hate for people who might yet be our friends, for the permanent interest of our country.”
At the Quirino household, Quirino’s surviving children – daughter Victoria and son Tomas did not, hereafter, hear their father dwell on the family misfortune. In his own book, The Memoirs, there was no mention of the tragedy.
In the end, Quirino’s humanity prevailed. He decided to stop the violence. In the process, he did manage to destroy the enemy – by making them our friends.
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