Bunye: Lessons from my father

LET me relate to you an advice I heard from my father, Dr. Alfredo M. Bunye.

My father was my boyhood idol. He was a most important influence in my life.

Because of economic hardships, he supported himself by working as a houseboy of a wealthy Swiss businessman named John Glaiserman in Sta. Mesa, Manila.

Mr. Glaiserman was impressed by the industry of young Alfredo. When young Alfredo sought permission, the businessman readily allowed him to work only in the morning so he could study in the afternoon.

My father became a teacher, a school principal, a lawyer, a penal superintendent and later director of the Bureau of Prisons, which is now called the Bureau of Corrections.

Years later, Mr. Glaiserman went to the Bureau of Prisons to apply for clearance. In his twilight years, Mr. Glaiserman wanted to become a Filipino citizen. The kind Swiss gentleman was so surprised at the speed by which is clearance was processed. He was even more surprised to have the clearance personally handed to him by his former houseboy, who was now the Director of Prisons.

While already a prison superintendent, my father still continued studying. He finished his Master of Laws at the University of the Philippines and later his Doctor of Civil Laws at the University of Sto. Tomas.

He paid forward by giving some of the prison employees -- who wanted to study -- an easier work schedule. One of the prison guards, who took advantage of this opportunity, also became a lawyer and later a Mayor of Muntinlupa. He was the late Mayor Maximino Argana.

My father once told me: "Whatever you do, never stop dreaming. Never stop learning."

I can still hear those words today, as clearly as when they were spoken years ago, and I have religiously followed them.

"Whatever you do, never stop dreaming. Never stop learning."

Stopping the cycle of violence

In the course of his long prison service, he had the rare opportunity to act as the jailer of hundreds of Japanese prisoners who had been convicted of war crimes by a military commission immediately after the war.

During that time, anti-Japanese sentiment was at its peak. Japanese soldiers, led by a fanatic Admiral, wantonly burned, looted, raped and killed close to a hundred thousand civilians during the infamous Manila Massacre in February 1945.

My own paternal grandfather, Ignacio O. Bunye, was picked up by the Japanese from his house in Alabang Stock Farm on February 3, 1945, never again to be seen alive. Around the same time, in the New Bilibid Prison, 31 Filipino political prisoners were taken out of their cells by the Japanese and executed one by one on February 3 and 4.

Every Filipino who had suffered, in one way or another, from Japanese brutality, would have rightly expected my father to use his position to get even with the Japanese.

But to the consternation of many Filipinos and more to the surprise of the Japanese prisoners, he did the opposite. He did not retaliate. Instead, he ordered his guards to protect the Japanese from harm and to treat them humanely.

Dr. Hitoshi Nagai of Hiroshima Peace Institute wrote in a 2011 research paper entitled "Peace Born Out of Tolerance - A Legacy of Alfredo Bunye": "...there were rarely any incidences of torture, abuse or slave labor at the NBP." Nagai also wrote of several incidents which reflected my father's humanitarian treatment of the Japanese prisoners. In one, Nagai narrated:

"In the cells on death row, where two or three prisoners were held in each cell, it was allowed to bring in an electronic stove, and the prisoners made coffee and cooked some dishes. One day, a prisoner who had been sentenced to death and was very shortsighted had his spectacles broken. As his only enjoyment in the prison was reading, he was so depressed, being now unable to read. A few days later, however, new spectacles were delivered to him -- they were given by Superintendent Bunye."

Years later, my father explained to me why: "We must stop the cycle of violence and hate." Interviewed in Japan in 1952, he explained his action: "My father was victimized by the Japanese... However, I believe it was a step in the process that the world resumes peace."

That was Dr. Alfredo M. Bunye, my father, my hero.

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