Philip Buencamino III:
April 10, 1942 « The Philippine Diary Project: Morning came, and we were ordered to stack our guns and disarm. The white flag was raised on top of the highest hill. All Filipino troops in Bataan were going to surrender together…. Some of the boys were crying -Teddy Arvisu, for example. Others were happy. They were glad the fighting was over, no matter how it ended. But the boys were mistaken. It was not all over yet.
Some twenty Americans armed themselves with machine-guns and started firing at the disarmed troops of General Lim. “You dirty cowards!” hollered the Americans. There was a big commotion. Then the desperate group of Yanks machinegunned a Jap observation plane that flew very low to verify the white flag. The plane was almost hit. It came back with a squadron of bombers and they rained tons of death on the unarmed troops. Generals de Jesus and Lim gave me an order that I will never forget.
“Buencamino,” said Gen. Lim, “go to the Japanese line… and inform them that there are two Filipino generals here… who are surrending their troops.” I was sore. They were making a trial goat out of me. After having lived through the whole war… I was not in a mood to take anymore chances. How was I to know the Japanese were going to respect the white flag? Besides some ignorant Jap… still furious… might take a pot shot at me….
By about eleven o’clock… the Japanese troops arrived. We were informed by them that General King had surrendered. We were disarmed completely, and they told us to walk up to Manila. “You are free because you are Filipinos,” they said. I thought: this is too good to be true. There was a catch… and it didn’t take long before we found out….
We trudged on and on that first day for almost fifteen kilometers. We were very thirsty. “I can’t… anymore,” cried Willie… and he dropped on the ground. We stayed around him… gave him pep talks. “I want a drink of water… even just a drop,” he begged. But there was no water. I pitied Willie… as a he lay there on the ground. We rested for half an hour… and then I made him sling his arm over my shoulders… and we walked on….
Noontime came… but we had no lunch. We just sat under a tree… and stared at each other. I saw a 3-year old girl… sitting beside a bush… crying. Her face was dusty. Where was her mother? I looked around… and in a nearby bush… there was an awful smell. There lay a rigid body, and the torn clothes and the bayonet thrusts on the body told the story. I felt like bringing the child with me… she looked sick and so hungry… but I left the child… without help. I can’t forgive myself. I tried to ease my conscience by saying that thousands of soldiers passed that child also… that many more would see it. I tried to tell myself that the Japanese Red Cross (surely, they probably had a Red Cross) would help the kid. As I walked and walked and walked… the child haunted me. But on the way… there were more such children… some asleep from sheer exhaustion… but still breathing. I carried one out of the curve… because a truck might just rumble over her. Again I felt like bringing the child. I already had her in my arms. But I laid her down alone… under a tree.
We walked on and on till it was dark, and we had no more strength. We found out that hunger does not matter very much… after a while… because your stomach becomes tense. My feet were beginning to hurt me. Ernie had big blisters. Ramon, too. Godo’s feet were bleeding. That night… we slept by a beach….
We left after a few minutes. On the way… I saw Japs kicking Americans sitting on the roadside. The Japanese preferred to hit Americans rather than Filipinos. There were mestizos… who I guess in peace-time… wouldn’t associate with Filipinos… that came to our gang begging to join us… so that they would not be mistaken for Americans. I couldn’t help thinking: “Here were Filipinos, trying to save themselves by the drop of Filipino blood which they were ashamed of all their lives.”…
We walked on and on. A Japanese officer met us. He was kind. He said: “Firipino, Manira; American, imprison.” We were happy. We would be free -at last. We walked on and on… with the thought that each step brought us nearer home. Finally, we arrived in Orani. This is the neck of the peninsula of Bataan. Here there were many Japanese guards… and we were all concentrated. We were counted, searched. Then we were brought to Balanga -five kilometers away- in a hell of a concentration camp. We were not given food nor water. The men were doing their necessities all over the place. Johnnie laid his blanket on somebody’s manure. It was a hell of a place… but they told us once again: “You will go to Manila.” That was enough for me. I could and would endure anything as long as they brought me home where I can see mama and papa again. I think the same thought kept all of us alive. Maybe if I didn’t have a nice home… I wouldn’t have been able to walk on….
To the right and left of me… I could see fellow soldiers gradually losing strength. Now and then, older soldiers would drop down. Too exhausted. As we approached Pampanga… my heart skipped. At last, we were nearer Manila, nearer home. But that joy lasted only for a moment. I was thirsty… but I was not allowed to drink. A captain who drank anyway was killed. Was it a crime to drink?…
Then I succumbed to fever. My temperature was probably around 40… but I felt like I had 50. But I was determined to carry on. In cases like this, one must steel himself and muster his fighting spirit. I could remember papa’s lecture when I was a high school swimmer in La Salle: “Never give up. Fight to the last lap.” Early morning, we were told to get up with kicks and butt strokes. We were made to walk to the railway station. There we were dumped in baggage cars. Imagine about 80 dirty, sickly, sweating men… locked in one of those iron baggage cars. There we were… struggling and groping for air. Many fainted. Some were moaning. Others suffocated. Some were trying to break the floors. Others said they were dying. The train chugged on… and on… and on… Oh, why did it travel so slowly? There I was… with two mutts on my stomach… and my head cramped between Godo Reyes’ legs. But I didn’t mind… because there was a little hole… and I could get a whiff of air. I couldn’t help thinking: there are many wonderful things on earth -like the air we breathe- that we take for granted. That was the first time I realized its importance….
We marched in fours… to O’Donnell… the concentration camp… where most of us were destined to die. There were thousands of Tarlaqueños at the station. They lined the roadside. They were crying… many of them… men, women, children. They threw bread, rice, sugar, panocha… and everything they could get a hold of. I couldn’t help crying. Every 200 meters they placed cans of water. Here was real Filipino patriotism and kindness. The Japs couldn’t stop them. They shouted: “Heroes! Mabuhay!” Some were looking for their brothers, sons, fathers. A woman asked: “Si Mr. Julian?” When they told her… they didn’t know.. she gave out the food she prepared for him. I couldn’t hold my tears anymore. I just let them roll down my cheeks. Our fight was, after all, not in vain, I thought. At least, here were people that appreciated it. But I tried to control my tears… Because I didn’t want my friends to see me crying. But when I dared look at them… I saw that they were also wiping their eyes. The Japanese guards then gave up the attempt to drive the people away. What they did was to help the civilians give us food. A Japanese guard handed a panocha to me… and he pointed at a pretty girl who took pity on me. For the first time, I realized the truth of Rizal’s words: “No hay verdugos donde no hay esclavos.”
We finally reached O’Donnell.
In a field… facing the headquarters of the American commander… we were made to stand at attention. I was dizzy standing there in the heat… with my fever. Many others were at the point of dropping down… we tried our best to stand straight. General Francisco stood before us… and explained” “the head of this camp will talk to you. Be sure to stay at attention, or you will be shot.”
The Japanese commander arrived. He stood on the platform with an air of arrogance. He said: “I am Capt. Shineyosi. I am head of this camp. If you have no behave, you will be killed. Why you fight Japan? She is your friend. She wants to free the suffering people of Asia. The Asiatics have long been oppressed by the Whites. Now the whiles will be made to suffer…” And at this point, he made a dramatic gesture and pointed at the American prisoners on the other side of the fence. There were the Americans, bent. They were carrying pails of water… fixing the road… building fences. They were being kicked, butt-struck, bayoneted. I saw an old American being carried by two young bearded aviators. I saw many falling down out of sheer exhaustion. I saw Japanese faces laughing at them… kicking and hitting them. I couldn’t help but pity them… although my heart was bitter at the way Americans discriminated racially against Filipinos. These men were not entirely to blame. They were brought up in a stupid atmosphere that made them believe they were superior to the brown man. But there they were -kicked, hit by brown men. It was a picture of racial vindication… but it was also a picture of the heartlessness of war. Why should these few men… be the ones to endure the stupidities of centuries?
I was assigned to Group II and made regimental adjutant in the concentration camp. Col. Abla was our group commander. He gave us a talk: “You have to behave. Only yesterday, three boys were shot for disrespectfulness towards Japanese soldiers.”
Life in the concentration camp was quite hard. Food was scarce. All we had was a ball of rice… as big as your fist, and salt. There was hardly any water. We had to get it from the river. One could take only two cups a day… and it was boiled mud water.
There was an average of about 400 deaths a day. Many soldiers were suffering from malaria, dysentery, and deficiency diseases. The Japs, however, prohibited the Red Cross from helping the sick. If you got appendicitis, for example, it was your tough luck.
There was a hospital, but only in name. It had -to begin with- no facilities: no cotton, no medicine… and not even water. I know because I have seen that many of those who became insane in that hospital could have been saved, if they could have been given just one glass of water. I never saw such a hospital in my life. It was really a morgue… a waiting room where all the sick are piled… there to die and then to be buried.
I got sicker still in camp. Not having had a bath… for almost three weeks… I walked around with a shirt. My shirt was hard with dried sweat and I couldn’t stand my own smell. One morning… when I woke up… I noticed that I had a fever, and I was coughing. Carlos Vergel de Dios, a fellow prisoner, took care of me. He gave me a sponge bath. My fever went down. There I was lying on the floor, with wood for a pillow. I missed mama and my soft bed. Then the next day… my fever went down to 39 degrees…