War and Peace among the Pines

Session Road in Baguio before the war

 

The call was completely unexpected. One morning Dr. Francisco Benitez, Dean of the College of Education of U.P., who stood as godfather at Fernando’s and Rosa’s wedding, summoned Fernando to his office and very casually told him that there was an opening for a teaching position in U.P. Baguio. Would he be interested? Immediately, Fernando inquired, “How much is the salary?”

 

Dean Benitez said, P167.67.” He quoted it to the last precious centavo.

 

Fernando’s mind whirred. He silently calculated: It took him eight years to get a P10 increase in teacher’s pay and another four years to earn another P10 increase. So in 12 years he could reasonable hope to earn another P20 increase. How long would it take him to earn P160? Another 30 years?

 

“I accept!” the principal announced vigorously.

 

“Shouldn’t you first take it up with Rosing?” Dean Benitez asked solicitously.

 

“There’s no need to do that, she’ll agree.”

 

Fernando Bautista went up to Baguio ahead of Rosing as there was still no job available for her on the plantilla of the division of city schools of Baguio. But luck was on their side: a month after the opening of school, there came up a vacancy for a teacher in English and Literature in the Baguio City High School. With great joy, Rosing bundled up her two sons Fer ad Bnn and their belongings and headed for the city of their honeymoon and a place she would henceforth call home. Ding bade goodbye to his tearful mother in Palumpong, explaining to her the reason for the drastic move to a strange place in terms the old lady understood: “What Rosa and I earn as principals in Manila could hardly meet our social obligations, like contributions for baptisms, weddings, fiestas and so forth. I have more than 100 teachers under me – ilan sa kanila ang umaasa sa akin? Maybe in Baguio makakahinga kami ng konti. Besides, I want to raise my family in a better environment than Tondo.”

 

The family found a government cottage in the Military Cutoff, on a road leading to Camp John Hay, which they rented for P30 a month to include light and water. It was one of the cottages rented out by the Bureau of Public Works. With them were the children’s yayas, Kikang and Valeng (for Valentina), two faithful domestics who stayed with the family through the Japanese Occupation until Liberation when they left the Bautista household to get married and have children on their own. (Interesting to note here: Kikay’s and Valeng’s children were all graduates of the University of Baguio; Kikay has an engineer, a teacher, a radio technician and a Commerce graduate; Valeng has a teacher, a Commerce graduate and an engineer.) The third child of the Bautistas arrived on February 11, 1941. The boy was named Rhey.

 

The emigrants from Tondo readily and with a great sigh of relief embraced the balmy lifestyle of Baguio, where everything seemed unruffled and leisurely and there was the singular grace of a cool and invigorating climate – a world apart from the congestion, heat, and raucousness of the hapless urban district they had left behind. Rosa sometimes walked to her classes at the Baguio City High School, thankful for the nippy air and warm sun, more thankful still for the compensations of her job – P100 a month – and the respect of hers students who then included the would-be mayor and general, Ernesto Bueno, General Thomas Manlongat, Flutes Aquino and the Muller brothers. On campus, with the other U.P. professors, Fernando likewise led a simple and unharried life. Their idea of a Friday nightout was to visit each other on rotation and play mahjong or bridge while munching on cookies and peanuts.

 

The fine gentlemen on the campus included Dean Paterno Santos (who almost failed Fernando in Social Sciences back in U.P. Manila), Dr. Nemesio Toledo (who handled History and Political Science), Dr. Mansa (Botany and Zoology), Perfecto Sison (librarian and registrar), Joe Ferrer (assistant librarian). Fernando taught English and Education. Classes were held at the Liberal Arts building located at the present site of the Supreme Court. There was a tennis court where the Convention Center now stands.

 

In December of 1941 the idyll of peacetime was shattered to pieces and the romance of the Commonwealth ended with a horrible big bang. On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8, Japanese bombs fell on Camp John Hay and the Military Cutoff, specifically on the Health lumber and logging company which was owned by the Benguet Corporation. The explosions occurred only some 500 meters away from the house of Fernando Bautista who was conducting his classes that fateful morning.

 

The war with the Japanese stunned the people of Baguio who had considered them neighbors and friends and even family. The first construction crew of Kennon Road were Japanese. The early landscapers of the city were Japanese. Rich families took pride in their Japanese gardeners. The Japanese owned most of the bazaars and big stores along Session Road. Some owned large tracts of vegetable and flower farms. They made the toy that was a big hit among the children, the apa that yielded the surprise of a fanciful ring inside its cone.

 


Fr. Florimund Carlu, CICM builder of the Baguio Cathedral, in his younger days and in the time shortly before the war.

 

The irony of being at war with the gardeners and toymakers of the Japanese empire offered bitter reflection for a populace whose main preoccupation was to save life or limb from the ensuing atrocities. Schools shut down after the bombing of Camp John Hay. In the mad scramble, some of the teachers of U.P. fled to Manila, others to the lowland provinces seeking the security and safety of kith and kin. Fernando Bautista was left alone to man the campus, keeping guard over the school building and equipment, upon the instructions of U.P. President Bienvenido Gonzalez.

 

Fernando held back from joining the flight of many Baguio residents to the outlying areas of Longlong and Tubao, afraid the children might not be able to withstand the rigors of evacuation and the harsh elements. He brought his family instead to the house on Carino street of Ate Pilar de Leon, Rosing’s co-teacher at the Baguio City High.

 

In the last week of December the Japanese soldiers and their Korean mercenaries (who were said to be more ruthless and cruel) sequestered the strategically located campus and barred its lone guard from ever again entering the premises. A few days later, apprehensive about atrocities by an arrogant, victory-crazed army upon a defenseless people, he brought his family, the children’s yayas and provisions to Ambiong, northeast beyond Aurora Hill on the side of a mountain overlooking Trinidad Valley. When he was told, however, that the invading forces might requisition houses that were abandoned, the family went back to Military Cutoff. The situation was more volatile than he imagined it to be. The residents asked him to help guard the Military Cutoff cottages with a rifle, but it was no use; the gentle schoolteacher had never known how to handle a gun.

 

The Baguio Cathedral, in pen and ink, courtesy of Philippine Normal College President Bonifacio Sibayan (top). Bishop ernesto salgado, D.D. as Apostolic Vicar of Baguio since November, 1992, has instituted enlightened changes in church assignments and services, most especially the more active involvement and participation of the laity in liturgical services.

 

Later, the Villongcos asked the couple to stay in their house on Carino street, where Nanding and Rosa had their honeymoon, and keep watch over their belongings. Looters and thieves roamed the city in those unruly days. The Villongco house offered privacy and refuge. Two houses away lived Mr. and Mrs. Asperin (whose daughter Debb would dome day marry Fernando’s son Rhey). During the period of uneasy shelter, two more children were born: Leonides or Des, in 1942, and Herminio or Herr, in 1944.

 

The Japanese authorities had established the kempetai station at the place formerly owned by Marsman, now the Bayanihan Hotel. The kempetai, the military police with absolute power to kill, torture or jail, was feared by everyone, even by the Japanese themselves. All classes were suspended but teachers were ordered to attend Nippongo classes. Fernando begged off saying he needed to work to feed his family; Rosing, not armed with any pretext, took one or two lessons.

 

Fernando discovered a flair for buy-and-sell. He got a place in the city’s public market and sold canned goods and other basic foodstuff which were getting scarcer and were in great demand.  Before long one stall became three and he needed all hands – Rosing’s and the yaya’s – on deck. Fernando found himself venturing out to Manila for replenishments. To make the trip to Manila productive as well, he brought down with him Baguio vegetables and brooms. The brooms, made from the tiger grass which grows lushly on the mountainsides of Benguet, especially along the Naguilian Road, he bought from the broom makers themselves in Sablan. For the fresh vegetables he made the trek to Kilometer 82 in Sayangan where the farmers had converted sides of mountains near springs into vegetable gardens that flourished in the temperate clime.

 

Once in two weeks he would make the trip to Manila on an open freight truck which he hired with two or three other dealers. The tedious journey would take from one and a half days to two days, depending on the condition of the truck. When gas was in short supply, alcohol was used. If the truck broke down due to worn-out parts, it was just too bad. Spare parts were hard to come by. The vegetables and fruits spoiled from heat and the long journey. They were mashed and traumatized under the weight of the merchants sleeping atop the sacks and baskets. To make matters worse, Japanese sentries demanded to have some of the vegetables (the dreaded Japanese word was “sabes” which means “exchange” but implied “give”). And there were sentries exacting tributes at Kennon Road, in Pozorrubio, Tarlac, Calumpit and Balintawak.

 

The truck unloaded Fernando and his goods at his mother’s house in Dagupan, Tondo; during the latter part of the war, he brought his mother to live wit him in Baguio. Divisoria, Quiapo and Arranque on C.M. Recto were the usual unloading stations. Fernando brought his goods, in kaing, from one place to another, carrying the heavy weight on his head and shoulders, eschewing wholesalers, diligently doing the retailing himself for better profits. Tired as he was, he still valued friendship enough to make the effort of bringing each week vegetables and other foodstuff, even toilet paper, to the house of his U.P. president in Pasay. “At that time his son Gonzalo Gonzales was imprisoned in Capas where many prisoners were dying of cholera and dysentery. So I also bought sulfa, a popular drug at the time.” Evenings would find him sleeping, sound as a log, at his brother’s home in Dagupan.

 

On the trip back to Manila he would load the truck with groceries, from paper napkins to patis and bihon from Malabon and canned salmon and corned beef from the United States. He purchased these goods in Divisoria, Quiapo, or Bambang, then the mecca of buy-and-sell. And so it went, until he wisened up. He found out that while he was trifling with brooms and vegetables his fellow merchants were actually using his goods to camouflage the more expensive items they were transporting to Manila on the same truck. They hid under the vegetables such things as motor parts, spark plugs, chemicals, chain blocks and steel ropes left behind by the Americans in the mines. “I got into it. I even started to carry gold called ‘panocha’ the size of fifty and one peso coins. Rosing sewed them into a belt which I wore around my waist. I hit it big. I filled whole bayongs with Japanese money. I became a multimillionaire in inflated, finally worthless, Japanese currency,” he laughs.

 

Times were harsh and everyone scrounged for himself and his family. Disease, hunger or desperation goaded one to beg, steal or borrow. The chemicals were looted stuff: the mines in Benguet, mostly owned by Americans, were shut down and the warehouse man (bodegero), all too practical or just plains smart, sold off the stock in his care. The gold was likewise looted by panners inside the abandoned tunnels. They fired the ore in their backyards and fashioned them into ingots the size of pesetas.

 

Fernando engaged in buy-and-sell all throughout the long and dark years of the Japanese Occupation to feed a growing brood that included the two children of Vicente whom the couple had “adopted” and four yayas. Rosa, her hands always full with babies, helped out by cooking kamote and bibingka which she sold to the colony of evacuees living in the tunnels dug into the mountainsides in Carino and Constabulary Hill near the City Hall. There was spring water there and the couple planted sayote and kamote for whose tubers Fernando had to search far and wide, where they were plentiful and they were not all cooked for food. They had sought the safety of the tunnels shortly before Liberation when air raids and bombings became more frequent. Many people who fled to Tubao had been massacred by the desperate Japanese soldiers who were retreating to Kalinga through Tubao. The Villongco house had been hit by an incendiary bomb, killing Debb’s father and one of her brothers. Fernando’s hard-earned possessions from his buying and selling had been destroyed or gone up in flames.

 

He was still, after all, a schoolteacher. He had more artistic inclination than business savvy. It did not occur to him to buy houses or jewelries which could be had for a song; instead he bought volumes of books and elegant upright pianos (he had as many as three), and they all burned in the incendiary bombing. Shortly before Liberation rich families resorted to selling homes and jewels for food and medicine. Families from Pampanga and Negros, among them the Lopezes and the Oppens, had come to Baguio thinking it was safer in this mountain retreat and holed up in their summer homes. But it was not safer there than anywhere else. In the carpet bombings people fled to the church on top of a hill and no place was a more vulnerable sitting duck. Whole families were killed around the church.

 

The Bautistas were lucky. “In my family, in the group of families we moved around with, there was no casualty, except for cousin Socorro who was lost in the woods ins search of food and was never seen again. All my children were made to wear a vest made by Nanay (Rosing). In that vest they carried a liter of rice, one de lata, matches, candles, medicines, emergency provisions for in case the children drifted away or the group had to move out. They wore the vest at all hours of the day.

 

“We stayed put in the city. We were too scared of bandits and the Japanese to venture out of the city. We were afraid for the children being overtaken by night in the distant woods.”

 

“I had had no direct experience with Japanese torture but I did have a brush or two with Japanese soldiers. Once when I arrived from Manila at night and was passing through Malcolm Square, I did not notice a Japanese sentry walking in the dark on the sidewalk right across the square. He called me to him, slapped me in the face and ordered me to make the ritual bow.”

 

“A worse incident was when we were trucking goods to Manila and were crossing the Calumpit bridge. We did not notice a Japanese car behind us trying to pass us. This angered the arrogant soldiers. They ordered all of us in the truck to get down and made us squat facing the sun for half an hour.”

 

“One night, past midnight, a Japanese soldier knocked on our door and roused us from our sleep. General so-and-so was inviting me to the headquarters, he said. My wife and my mother froze with fear. It was not unusual for anyone to be called to the kempetai station; it was how they sometimes conducted the interrogation that made it a dreaded invitation. I had seen executions held right in the marketplace, two or three by musketry and two by beheadal with a saber. They wanted to show the people what would happen to them if they did not cooperate. When I arrived at the headquarters, I was offered tea. I relaxed a little. The general then inquired, “How do the Baguio people feel toward the Japanese?” I lied through my teeth. I said we were quite happy and the Japanese soldiers were kind and reasonable. I told him only what he wanted to hear. The general seemed pleased. He even gave me cakes to bring home to my children.

 

“I came to know later that I owed my good luck to Aida-san, a Japanese teacher who had befriended us and who spoke English. She said I was a tomadachi (friend) and they let me go.

 

It was as if the Three Kings arrived to warn the people of the coming destruction of Baguio. In the morning of January 6, 1945, Fernando emerged from the great doors of the Baguio Cathedral with Rosing, Fer, and Bnn to see people, many of them he knew by name or by face, huddled in shanties around the church. The next day Baguio experienced the first air raid since the Japanese marched into the city in 1941. Three days later the entire U.S. Sixth Army bolstered by the Seventh Fleet and a swarm of Air Corps fighters and bombers landed at the Lingayen Gulf. A contingent from La Union went up to Baguio through Naguilian and was met by the guerillas. The Japanese offered little resistance and beat a hasty retreat. They crouched toward Bontoc, to Lamot and Tabuk, but they were all caught in their flight by combined Liberation forces swooping on the enemy from all sides, from Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, Cagayan and Ilocos.

 

Then on the night of March 15, the people watched the horrible bombing of their city. Because of its formidable natural defenses, Baguio was chosen by General Yamashita as his headquarters and the site as one of his two major supply depots. Yamashita himself had arrived in Baguio on the third of January. By then only his 14th Area Army had remained. The “ides of March” were unleased by squadrons of American “liberator” planes unloading their bombs, many of them thousand pounders, in patterns so dense they “carpeted” the city.

 

Their targets were supposedly troop concentrations and buildings occupied by the enemy troops but many years later it was not still clear why the US Army Air Force bombed so many civilian-occupied buildings in Baguio, including those on Session Road, the Notre Dame Hospital, St. Louis School, the City Camp and the Campo Filipino districts. Even the refugee huts around the cathedral were not spared. The unfortunate devastation was generally ascribed to faulty or erroneous intelligence reports.

 

Most people who experienced the horrors of the carpet bombings would vividly remember the roaring explosions, the pall of smoke and dust and their scurrying like frightened rats. In April when the city was finally captured, it was thoroughly destroyed and almost depopulated. Among the survivors were Fernando Bautista and his family who came out of their tunnel and stood at the entrance hugging each other. The reign of terror had faded into the night, the morning of recovery and rehabilitation had begun.

 


Photo of toddler Bnn at the Military Cut-off in 1939 is inscribed:"Lola Bitang, Tayo na maghardin. Bigatin din ako".

 

I brought my family to a deserted house on Abanao street, one of the few houses in the city that remained standing. It was a bungalow. We did not know who owned it. We saw that it was empty and we just moved in with our pots and pans and our meager belongings bundled in blankets. The bungalow was next door to a mansion owned by the Mullets which was turned into headquarters for the American officers. I was hired as janitor for P4 a day, while Rosing worked with the PCAU as clerk in the distribution of relief goods. The cook at the headquarters was a Pampangueno whom everyone called Mang Pedro. Since he was tired of eating American food, he would barter ham, corned beef, cheese, or, bread for a bowl of our pinakbet or sinigang. After years of deprivation, you can imagine our delight as we feasted on the goodies from the land of milk and honey.

 

One day while I was cleaning one of the rooms, an officer came up and asked, “Buddy, what were you before the war?” I told him I was a college professor. He said, “Did you know that I didn’t go to college and here you are, a college professor, cleaning my room? You’re relieved!” I remonstrated, “But I need the job, I have children to feed.” “Then you’re promoted,” he said and there and then gallantly gave me a 50-centavo increase.

 


bnn1Pic1

 

But my work in the headquarters was short-lived because the officers decided to move up to Halsema Road; their prey Yamashita was retreated to Kalinga with his men. Before he left with the officers, I convinced Mang Pedro to buy my Waltham watch for P90. With the P90 I went to Manila and bought patis, suka, bihon and resold them in Jungletown and Happy Glen, where the rich Visayans lived. They paid me with burned silver coins. Jungletown was so called because of the colony of shanties that sprouted there helter-skelter. It is adjacent to Happy Glen Loop off Session. It was rumored then that several treasures buried by the Japanese were dug up in Jungletown.

 


Angelic when in church with their mother

 

My P90 doubled and I went back to Manila and bought foodstuff and secondhand clothes in Bambang. I was back to my old trade. But then the owner of the house, Leopoldo Calixto, who turned out to be an old friend, came back to claim the bungalow. He actually wanted to sell it to us but we did not have the money.

 

I found a place on Session Road right across Pines Theater which had a frontage of six meters and measured 20 meters log in the back. I squatted there. I built a lean-to with materials hauled from the Demonstration mines and opened a store.

 


boxing

 

The mines, near the checkpoint overlooking Zigzag (Viewpoint), were abandoned after the war because the chemicals and the machineries had been looted. Somebody came to me and said that there were bunkhouses there of wood and GI sheet that could be had as is where is. You had to dismantle them yourselves. I asked how much. And the man said, “Only a thousand pesos!” There were supposed to be three of us buyers, but one offered to sell his share and I bought it, also for a thousand pesos. I went to dismantle two units – GI sheets, lumber, electrical wire, water pipes, soil pipes, everything. Immediately I was able to sell the soil pipes for P4, 000. With the rest of the materials I constructed my shanty fronting Pines Theater.

 

I divided the structure lengthwise in the middle. One portion I rented out to Mr. Jose Cornel for P100 a month. Cornel employed native weavers and carvers who turned out curios and other handicrafts that were popular with the Americans. In the other portion I put up a barbershop and a store. We lived at the back of the store, in cramped quarters that the boys took to calling their “little heaven”: when they stood on their double decks their heads hit the sky. Fer and Bnn went to school at the Baguio Central. It was badly destroyed during the war so classes were held under tents and the children sat on chairs salvaged from houses or converted from K ration boxes.

 

For my barbershop I retrieved five dilapidated barber’s chairs and I got the barbers whom I had hired to repair the chairs themselves. They were good guys. I even did barbering myself. You move your comb this way and that and make sharp clicking sounds with your scissors and the G.I. is already impressed. In the meantime, Fer and Ben would be shining his shoes. When the barber comes back from his break, he takes over and makes the necessary retouches on my work.

 

The store, whose sign said “Nanding’s Lil Store”, sold cigarettes, wine, chocolates, anything that the Americans could pass on. The soldiers, especially the blacks, sold anything, their K rations, or whatever they could pilfer from their quarters. I learned to smoke, Chesterfield and Camel, to the chagrin of Nanay.

 

I was barbering an American one day and there was this guy seated on the next chair. His name was Rosendo Donida. He said to me, “Padre, I heard you were a U.P. professor before the war.” I nodded and said yes. And then he asked, “Why don’t you put up your school?” I grinned and said I’d love to do that, if only to take me away from barbering. Problem is, I said, I don’t have the capital. And the man says, No problem, I provide you the classrooms and you get the permit and you teach.

 

I said, Call. Just like that.

 

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A message of peace to the world at July 4, 1946 Ceremonies at Burnham Park