A story of two guerrilla leaders, one who works for the allies and the other a spy.
The colonel’s secret
He clinched his fist tightly and hit the wooden wall of his office twice in disgust and frustration, the pictures framed in glass cluttering to the floor.
It was only 8:00 in the morning. A voice in his old radio announced that the governor of Leyte had surrendered to the invading Japanese troops that had just landed in Capoocan, a small coastal town in the eastern part of the island. So did Col. Theodore Cornell, the military commander in Tacloban, the island’s capital town, and 300 of his men.
“God, how can they?” Lt. Salvador Merin did not want to believe the news. Two weeks ago, the governor and members of the provincial board had declared that surrender would happen only ‘over their dead bodies.’ The sudden turnaround came as a shock to Merin and his friends in Camp Downes, their boyish camp commander especially. They thought that the governor would at least put up a fight.
He heard a rustle outside his office, a shuffling of several feet, and the door was pushed wide open.
“Did you hear the news?” asked a breathless Blas Miranda. His face showed shock and surprise. Two others were with him
“Yes, of course.”
“We have to move fast. Now.” Miranda voice was tense, firm. He was barking his orders as the camp commander. “They will be here in two days at most.”
“Men, take as much provisions as you can. But we have to travel light so we can move fast. Tell the others,” said Miranda.
“We will assemble at 10 hundred hours,” he shouted to the men as they left the room.
Merin and Miranda were together at the Academy. Since then, they had been the best of friends. They had the same rank, but it was Miranda who was appointed camp commander for his ‘superior intellect,’ a fact which could not be disputed. Merin was happy for his friend. He looked forward to a bright future - when the war came and then the invasion.
Thirty-six young men, mostly in their 20s, gathered near the flagpole and made three lines facing their boyish commander, with their backs lugging their folded tents, blankets, extra shirts, cooking utensils, rice and canned goods. Miranda spoke, his voice quivering with emotion.
“Men, the governor and our provincial commander surrendered this morning in Tacloban, following the orders of our top officers in Bataan. But they need not have surrendered. They could have resisted the Japanese forces which landed in Capoocan the other day because they numbered no more than 2,500. They could have easily tripled that number with civilian volunteers and other patriots in the many towns of Leyte and routed the enemy. But they chose the easier path, the path of surrender.“
“That was a very unforgivable thing to do, a most unpatriotic act that deserves only derision. It was an act of cowardice no less. We, who value our freedom as well as pride as Filipinos, we make this pledge today in front of our flag, the flag of our courageous ancestors, to fight against the Japanese invaders and all those who cooperate with the enemy in treachery and cowardice. We dedicate our lives to this noble cause, even as we invoke our Divine Protector in this mission.”
“Long live our motherland! Long live the Philippines!” The men responded with the same slogans, raising their fists, some with their guns.
Miranda was in tears when he finished. Merin and a technical sergeant took down the flag, folded it, wrapped it in a plastic bag, then put it into his knapsack.
The men jumped inside a truck and took a last look of the camp that was home to most of them for the last five years. The row of huts looked like a ghost village as the truck rolled out of the camp to its destination in the south.
IN THE Capital, the governor did not want to see his Japanese foes in person, telling one of his board members Pastor Salazar to use his ‘charm’ with their new masters. Salazar needed no instructions. Even before the Japanese arrived, he had conditioned himself to befriend them and even become their spokesman.
The governor wanted to consult two American residents who had been earlier arrested and imprisoned at the old high school that was converted into a concentration camp. He disguised himself as a fish vendor, borrowed a basket, placed some fish he bought and walked to the camp that was fenced with barb wire. Luckily, he saw the Americans Price and Ratcliffe standing just beside the barb wire, talking to each other. Price expressed surprise to see him in tattered clothes and wooden clogs, but managed to control himself shortly.
“Bernard, what are you doing?” Price whispered, inspecting the fish the governor was carrying.
“I don’t know what to do. I’d like to go to the hills, but I’m afraid for my constituents. You know how these Japs are,” the governor whispered back.
“They want me,” continued the governor.
The American Walter Price paused for a few moments, engrossed in his thoughts,
“Maybe you should show yourself and see what happens. You can always flee to the mountains if the situation becomes too difficult,” said Price. The governor valued the advice of his friend even before the Japanese invasion, perhaps even more than many of his compatriots. At a time like this, the word of Price had the value of gold.
Two hours later, the governor showed himself at the Capitol to the Japanese official, an officer of the Japanese secret police, the dreaded Kempetai, he presumed. The man was grinning as he paced around the governor’s office, his hands behind his back. He was short but stocky. The governor towered over him by almost a foot.
“Where have you been, governor? I have been waiting here for more than an hour,” said the Kempetai, the tone serious. The man spoke excellent English. He had been to the States in his youth.
”I went to see some of my officials. They are afraid to hold office,” the governor answered with a little tremor in his voice. He could not hide his fear.
“Come now. Did we do any harm? You have been conditioned by those American friends of yours to think evil of us.”
“From now on, your officials should report to their offices every day. I want them to resume their jobs like they do in normal times. We are your friends. Filipinos and Japanese are both Asians. We have no reason to kill each other. You should stop believing in your American friends. They have no business being here. Asia should be for the Asians!”
The last sentence came thunderously as the Japanese pointed his right forefinger at the governor with a menacing look. This time, he no longer grinned. His left hand was fidgeting the handle of his short samurai dangling from his waist.
“Yes, sir,” the governor said meekly
Two blocks away, Col. Theodore Cornell and his men, some 300 of them, had assembled at the Capitol parade ground for the turnover ceremonies. They waited for the Japanese commander and his officers to show themselves and receive the assorted guns and bladed weapons they were supposed to surrender. Their perspiration came down in large beads when the surrender ceremonies began.
The speech of the Japanese commander was short but threatening.
“We have come in peace. We have asked you to lay down your arms so that we will not be forced to use violence. What you have been hearing about us is not true. Erase them from your minds. Remember, we are your Asian brothers interested only in your prosperity and progress. For forty years, you have been under American rule, but have you become prosperous? Did your lives improve? No because the Americans only took away your resources. You have become mere pawns in the game of progress.”
“Give us a few years and you will see what real prosperity means. Join us in this quest and you will not regret your decision. We have taken up arms so that we can defend ourselves against our enemies – your enemies, too - and free ourselves from their tyrannical rule. Your surrender is just a step forward in this. It is not a dishonourable act. You surrendered because you do not wish to cause harm to your people. Your surrender shows your cooperation in this thrust to prosperity.”
“Some of you will be tasked to talk to your fellowmen, others will be deployed to preserve peace and order. Whatever it is that you will be used for, think of it as a patriotic act.”
The men stood at attention for several minutes more, then ordered to march to their new home – the old high school building 30 minutes away. It was the new concentration camp
They brought the American Cornell, his deputy Lt. Juan Causing and Captain Antonio Sevilla somewhere else for further interrogation. Capt. Glicerio Erfe, who was supposed to be with the group, was missing. There were rumors that he had gone to the hills of Burauen with other soldiers who refused to surrender.
IN MONKAYO, a desolate town north of Davao, in the large island of Mindanao, several soldiers in their khaki uniforms had assembled that Saturday morning on an old parade ground of an Army camp, waiting for their new commanders. The men were silent, their dark faces showing signs of desperation. For an hour they had been waiting for the surrender ceremonies to begin. Their camp commander, Col. Ruperto Kangleon, had earlier sent feelers to the Japanese Kempetai in Davao about their intentions to desist from fighting and surrender themselves.
Major Marcial Domingo had taken command of the undermanned company that day and assembled the men as their camp commander waited inside his small hut. There would be no speeches, just a turnover of their guns and bladed weapons. After that, they would be brought to Butuan, Agusan’s capital town more than a hundred kilometres away. The journey would take them two days on a rough and often muddy road.
Domingo saw a Kempetai official enter Kangleon’s tent and saw him leaving an hour later. His commander would not tell him what transpired between his and the Kempetai. He looked pensive when he emerged from his tent. The colonel kept a lot of things to himself.