Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Independence Day: A story of water

Today marks the day Independence was declared from a window in Cavite. Since then, this country has gone through much joy and suffering. Independence, was a goal, much sought after, even in the years since it's declaration. It was something Filipinos continued to aspire for, fight and die for, for the most part of the twentieth century. And no challenge to it has been more serious than the second world war.

I was reading an abridged translation of El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas by Antonio Perez de Olaguer, a Spanish journalist who chronicled accounts of Spanish nationals who survived the agonizing last few days of the the Japanese Occupation in Manila. Filipino voices have already been heard on this, but most have been written from the viewpoint of those whose country was the battleground of the conflict. This is not to say that the foreigners then living in Manila suffered any less. On the contrary, the accounts clearly indicate that many were treated no differently from the Filipinos. They were subjected to suffering, deprivation, detention just as the Filipinos were. Though it would have been simplistic to say that unlike the Filipino civilians who were targeted with the same ferocity as combatants, foreigners were simply collateral damage. Unfortunately in the dying days of the war, everyone, save for those behind the guns and bayonets were victims who suffered horribly.
Evidence used in Yamashita trial of five civilian families executed
in the de La Salle University Chapel. The stains on the
wall are blood, which reportedly flooded parts of the room.

It then comes to mind, all the stories of horror and deprivation, that there were acts that had little to do with blood and gore, but still spoke of the desertion of humanity.

Due to wartime conditions, food was scarce. Many enemy soldiers deliberately burned rice fields and confiscated stores of food, to deprive guerillas and civilian supporters of logistics. Water was nearly unheard of. Contamination was rampant and those not killed by the retreating enemy forces were dying of deprivation, dysentery and water born diseases. In the prison camps and informal detentions --places where the enemy forces would corral civilians for torture -- water was gold.

In one account, Perez de Olaguer narrates:

"Something terrible happened to her (Maria Victoria Lizarraga). Her foot got burned, turning it into an unrecognizable mass of flesh. She was burning with fever. Her lips dry from thirst.

"'Water! water!'

"A Japanese soldier entered, flashing a quick smile. What a sweet gesture! His look was captivating. His enigmatic countenance softened. Then, from his backpack he took a big bottle of water and a tin cup. Slowly he let some drops of the fresh and crystalline water flow, then filled up the cup and brought it to Maria Victoria's lips, her tearful eyes full of gratitude. Halfway through, the Japanese stopped. This time his lovable smile was more obvious. Then slowly he sipped the glass of water before the agonizing gaze of Maria Victoria. He drank all the water, but his cruelty did not stop there: he emptied the bottle on the floor. He was no longer smiling; the scoundrel was laughing hysterically like a beast."

Deprivation. The simplest way to bring home what we aspire for is to be reminded of it when its gone.

Happy Independence Day.

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