VOICE FROM THE SOUTH
By FR. EMETERIO BARCELON, SJ
It was in September, 1944, in Manila that we saw a formation of about 50 planes in pairs high up in the sky. The Japanese soldiers around us clapped, thinking they were Japanese planes, but they turned out to be American planes. That was the start of the liberation of the Philippines. We stopped going to school.
Late in 1944, the Japanese army asked us to move out of our house in Brixton Hill, Sta. Mesa, mainly because it had a tower. Fortunately my mother had a house behind the church in Quiapo on Evangelista St., which was rented out. We asked the tenant to move out since we needed the house. It was a model house that was featured in a magazine before the war as a model home. It was the home of a grand aunt that became an inheritance for my mother. It had a circular staircase and on the first floor my aunt Nena Pacia and her family moved in. On the second floor and a room on the third floor we moved in.
From that house, we joined parish organizations especially the Legion of Mary. What was memorable was when at the end of meetings, we asked for the “last part.” That meant a merienda. Everybody was having problems with food. A merienda was always welcome. A memorable incident was when the senior Legion of Mary members fed the dying beggars lying on the sidewalks of Quiapo. There I saw that people dying of hunger get bloated.
At that time also we were able to push our Buick car to the main floor of the Quiapo house but after a couple of months, we pushed it to the Japanese center where they were buying cars. We needed the money for food and it was my aunt Peggy who helped me sell the car. At that time, a sack of brown sugar was over two thousand pesos. Finally in February, 1945, the Americans were able to get to Santo Tomas University and Bilibid Prison to rescue the American civilians who had had been concentrated.
I was at a window of the house on Evangelista when a bullet hit the upper part of the window. It must have come from a Japanese sniper. It was also at that time that three of us boys (my brother, my cousin Chito, and myself) would lie down on the roof of the Quiapo house and watch the American planes bombard and dive-bomb the Japanese ships in Manila Bay. It was like a movie. We watched as several US Navy dive bombers get hit with anti aircraft fire and go down in flames. It seems that when they turned to start a dive, the anti aircraft could hit them. We also saw pilots in their parachutes try to manipulate their parachutes to be able to drop on land, not in water. The big bombers were way too high for the ack-ack to reach them but we saw the bombs coming down. One day, as we were watching the surreal movie going on in front of us, suddenly a US plane came at roof top level. It was so low that we could see the pilot and his companion. It came so near and the noise so loud that we scrambled down the stairs to the air raid hole we had where everybody else of the house was waiting for the air raid to finish. We were scolded as we entered the air raid shelter.
It was around February 5 that my father decided to abandon the house as the fire was coming closer. For three days, we had kept vigil watching out for fire. The Japanese had organized the “Makapili” to start fires all over Mania. The whole family, including my invalid mother, moved to Quiapo Church. The church was filled with people. They cross Quezon Boulevard to escape the fire but the fire never reached the church. As we were waiting in the church, I asked one of our helpers to go with me back to the house. There I saw the flames eating out the second floor. We did not dare to go in. We did not realize at that time that the two bauls filled with precious items, like the autographed books of Jose Rizal, that my father had prepared for just such an emergency, we did not bring along with us. Theoretically we were to pull out the bauls to safety with us. In the Quezon Bridge towers were Japanese snipers. We could have been under the range of their fire. But I suppose they were saving their ammunition and guarding Quezon Bridge which they would destroy a few days later to slow the advance of the Americans.
We, or rather my father, finally decided to cross the boulevard, seeing that the snipers in the bridge tower were not shooting at the people crossing the boulevard. Once across Quezon Boulevard we arrived at the house of the Nakpils. And although they did not know us but seeing that my mother was an invalid, they welcomed us into their home and gave her the master bedroom. I then wandered out and someone organized a water brigade. We were scooping water from the estero and wetting the front of the houses facing the boulevard. We were afraid the centuries-old wood would ignite because of the heat. So here I was, shouting out orders as we passed water from hand to hand in all kinds of containers.
Then a commotion happened. Someone was caught stealing from the “balutans” which people carried of the belongings they could save from the fire. They were beating the thief as I approached. By instinct I started to shout at the people who were beating him up to stop. They did stop to my surprise. Then I shouted for the man to run away. Looking back I do not know how a teenager could have made those people follow my orders. We stayed at the Nakpil house until we could move farther into Sampaloc, to the convent of the La Consolacion sisters.
It was here at La Consolacion that we witnessed a platoon of American soldier march by. The people clapped as they marched by. The head of the platoon, a Mexican American, asked the people not to clap since there were still Japanese snipers hidden in many places. The Americans decided to make La Consolacion a field hospital. They cleaned up some of the classrooms to become operating rooms. And the big halls were filled with beds for recuperating soldiers. Here the Catholic chaplain of the 37th Infantry, Fr. Evans, hired two of us as his sacristans and we rode in his jeep but not when he went to the front lines. I remember seeing a captain who had lost a leg cry and Fr. Evans consoling him. And there was also this wounded soldier who entertained us with stories. His name was something like Bollinger. Then there was the engineer who managed inflated pontoons as he transported troops across the Pasig. He would work 12 hours and come back to rest and get back to work at his pontoons. He too had stories that entertained us. I also remember that we dug the trench holes that became the hospital latrine and everybody used as a common latrine.
After that we were able to get back to our house on Brixton St. Sta. Mesa. <emeteriobarcelon@Yahoo.com>