By Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, Sj
Everybody in Manila did not know what to do. But the students from the Visayas knew that they wanted to go home. Inter-island shipping was the way to get back to Negros and other southern cities. We had many classmates from the south in the Ateneo. One evening during the first week of the war, one such interisland ship full of passengers hit a mine and sank in Manila Bay. They had mined the Bay and we can presume that in the confusion, the captains of the interisland ships did not know where they were located or that one of them got loose and sank the SS Negros. It was tragic, a loss of lives for no fault of theirs. Some of them were our classmates.
Also in the first week some of our pilots, one of them Captain Villamor, went up with training planes against Japanese Zeros. They say that Villamor destroyed two Japanese fighter planes before he was shot down. We now have Villamor Air Base named in his honor. People did not know what to expect. The tension was escalating. Then the landings were made by the Japanese Army. American and Filipino troops retreated to Bataan province. This was the strategy devised and rehearsed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the field marshall of American and Filipino troops. Many were raw recruits from ROTC reserves. There they resisted the Japanese Army against great odds. They resisted till April and in Corregidor till May of 1942. They say that had it not been for that delay, the Japanese Army could have invaded Australia without much resistance and made the Pacific War more difficult for the Allies. With Australia able to prepare, the battle for the South Seas happened. It was there that John Kennedy’s torpedo boat sank but he was able to swim to safety and proceed to become president of the United States after the war.
The Japanese Army landed in Malaya and ran down to Singapore in a matter of days. There they hardly had any resistance as the guns of Singapore were turned towards the sea. The British expected any invasion to come from the sea. There too the Japanese sank two British battleships, the Ajax and another whose name I do not remember.
Manila residents started to plant home gardens. One common vegetable was pechay. I remember that vegetable well. I was not familiar with that vegetable before then but everybody was planting it during that time. In Malate, the Circle on Remedios Street was public property which became a series of plots of pechay. This circle had been an abandoned cemetery just like the Paco cemetery but much smaller. Accordingly we would dig up on occasion some human bones. We continued planting. Pechay was something to eat.
The canned goods we were able to buy were kept in a bodega as a reserve for possible hunger days. But as the months passed and even years, the canned good bloated and were no longer fit to eat. But they served their purpose as a reserve in case of hunger. The carretela brought food to Manila; also the railway, which was still working with its spurs to Pangasinan and the Bicol region. There were also the cars which were converted from gasoline engines to charcoal fed. It meant that they had huge contraptions at the back where charcoal was burned and the gas it emitted was funnelled to the engine. They worked since there was no gasoline available but plenty of charcoal. The men who devised these charcoal contraptions consulted the encyclopaedias to create this means of transport—the charcoal feds. Also the boat engines (like the Cummins) worked well enough with coconut oil instead of diesel. Then there were the tilburys that raced on the newly built road in Sta. Mesa. The common song was “La Palomang Mahal” especially during evening song contests.
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