Lola Juanita’s Catharsis

It was as if a memory nerve had been activated, and it could not be switched off  even after the lights had gone out in the studio.  Lola Juanita’s sharing on Public Forum last Monday was the most gripping and also the most pained. We were talking of war memories and Japanese apology.

Juanita Jamot was 18 years old when the war was about to  end in  February 1945. She was 2 months pregnant. Japanese soldiers entered their home in Grace Park Caloocan one morning and, in front of her, killed her husband and brother.  A Japanese officer later took her to a nearby rice field and raped her.

With 5 other women, she was taken away  to a building in Divisoria which served as the quarters of Japanese soldiers.  There they found 10 other women who had been brought in from other places.  For 3 weeks they cooked, cleaned, and washed clothes for their captors during daytime.   At night, the Japanese took turns raping them.

From Divisoria, they were transported like cattle  to Fort Santiago, where they were once more repeatedly raped.  With incredible vividness, Lola Juanita recalls how she was pinned on the ground by these half-crazed soldiers.  She could feel the flesh and skin on her back being rolled against the rubble, as if it all happened only yesterday.  Hearing the drone of American planes just above, she knew however that if she could only survive that moment, help would be at hand.

But the Japanese soldiers were not finished with them.  They loaded them into a 6×6 truck and dumped them in San Agustin Church in Intramuros, where other Filipinos, mostly men, were being kept prisoners.  Bleeding from her miscarriage and too weak to stand, she managed to clear some space on which she could lie.  At that precise moment, the Japanese started to spray the prisoners with machine-gun fire.  Lifeless bodies fell all over her, shielding her from bullets.  She was saved.

For more than 40 years, Lola Juanita kept these memories to herself.  A few years ago, she heard Lola Rosa Henson, the first Filipino “comfort woman” to publicly tell her story, urging Filipinas like her who had gone through the same hell to speak out. That’s how she came to join LILA (Liga ng Mga Lola), which is spearheading the quest for justice for wartime Filipino comfort women.  She never re-married. The Japanese took away everything that I had, she says.  “In my heart and in my mind, I cannot forget and forgive.”

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Unlike Lola Juanita, Dr. Jose V. Abueva, former UP President, has forgiven, but he has not forgotten.  His parents were both active in the resistance movement in Bohol during the war.  When MacArthur landed in nearby Leyte on October 20, 1944, his eldest brother left their home to meet the liberators. They all thought the war was finally over.

But 3 days after the American landing, Japanese soldiers took his parents and other guerrillas from their mountain hideout.  They were tortured.  Two weeks later, the 14-year-old Pepe Abueva took off on a crude sailboat to look for his parents.

That journey remains vividly etched in his mind.  Out in the sea, he remembers looking up the star-lit sky and wishing that God had performed a miracle to save his parents.  His search led him to a place where the townspeople had heard of guerrillas being thrown off a cliff by the Japanese.

He only saw bones and skulls, and could not believe that these were his parents’.  Looking around, he found a white shirt with blue stripes that he recognized as his father’s.  Not far away, he saw  the soiled brown dress and cord of a San Antonio devotee which his mother had worn all her adult life. Stray animals foraging for food had evidently come upon the bodies ahead of him.

He gently collected his parents’ scattered bones in a box, and brought them home.  “I could not weep,” Pepe Abueva says.  Neither could he tell his brothers and sisters what he had found.  But over the years, that sailboat trip formed the core of his family’s own wartime lore.  By talking of  the patriotism of their parents, the Abueva orphans felt strengthened.  Their deep faith and spirituality made it possible to assimilate this tragic experience into their young lives. On the 50th anniversary of the Leyte landings, Dr. Abueva put down in writing his recollection of his family’s wartime experience, and the Inquirer published it.

Remembering was also the Endriga family’s catharsis, although it took 3 decades to get the war out of their system.  Dean Jose Endriga of the UP College of Public Administration was only 3 years old when the war broke out, but he can recall every detail of their harrowing evacuation from Davao City to the mountains in 1941.  His 5-year-old brother drowned on that trip, and that event permanently scarred the entire family.

When the war ended, his parents refused to go back to Davao, where his father had been the pre-war deputy governor.  The wounds were still raw. No one would talk about the war for a long time.  By explicitly avoiding it, it resided painfully in their family’s memory.

But on her 50th birthday, Joe Endriga’s eldest sister, Laling, decided to unload that pain by writing about it.  She sent the typescript to Joe, the historian in the family, and Joe showed it to his mother, who promptly annotated it.  That story is one of the most poignant accounts of the war I have read.  It remains unpublished, like many other written accounts of  lives that were destroyed and transformed by that war. Dr. Jose Abueva has begun a project in UP to collect everything that has been written about the war in one place.  It is a project long overdue —  one which, we hope, will repair the dysfunctional narratives that our children often read as history.


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