I had a senior moment a few days ago. I accidentally deleted the original post “Meeting Dr. Legarda” (December 2017). I tried googling caches of the blog online hoping that there’s a copy out there somewhere to no avail. And so, I’m starting from scratch.
I wanted to ask Dr. Benito Legarda Jr. a few questions and have my books signed (a personal favorite is his compiled writings “Occupation: the Later Years”). I’ve enjoyed and learned so much from his work over the years. So I messaged (on FB) him last year, sometime November. To my surprise, the nonagenarian responded! He told me to let his secretary, Ms. Fe, know when I plan to visit. I first met Dr. Legarda in person in a seminar at the Instituto Cervantes a few years ago.
I started reading Dr. Legarda’s articles and books in college (1996). I was not really into WWII history then but I heard stories about it all my life. One consistent storyteller in our home was our father. He imparted to us unforgettable stories of life, death and struggle in wartime Negros. My father passed away last August. He was 10 years old when the war came to our shores. I told Dr. Legarda that reading his stories now brings memories of my late Father. His stories echoes Papa’s memories of the war in his home province of Negros Occidental.
Another person who shared memorable wartime stories with us was the late Doña Amparo (affectionately called Mommy in Calle Bagtican). I refer to her as my “adopted grandma” not because she took care of me (although she sometimes did) but because she was really the first person who introduced me to culture and arts. She placed my feet on the door of lifelong quest for education on Filipino history. Doña Amaparo came from an affluent family. The last American director of Iwahig was her dad. They used to own parts of Cartimar and where Pasay Chung Hua now stands. One story that I’ll never forget (this was also shared by one of her granddaughter during her eulogy) was when she was placed inside a bangâ (but I believe it must have been a tapáyan because this had a wider opening and a wider base) when the Japanese inspected their home in Pasay. She was so slender and small that she not only fitted inside the earthen jar but stayed there for at least an hour until the Japanese left!
After signing my books I posed a few questions to Dr. Legarda. He had some allergy that afternoon so I decided not to stay long. The first question was how he feels that WWII history is not a popular subject among our youth. He said “prominent families collaborated with the Japanese then… many of them still in power today.” He cited former President Noynoy Aquino whose grandfather, Benigno Aquino Sr., was director general of the local political party the Japanese created.
Dr. Legarda’s observation made sense. How can a President like Aquino recount and promote the heroism of his people during the war when his very family colluded with the enemy who had Filipinos killed by hundreds of thousands?
The late Dr. Andrade said that he had reasons to believe that many of the collaborators families still received benefits to this day. The Japanese are known for their commitment to their word. Gen. Ricarte’s children received allowances and scholarship in Japan long after his death in the highlands of Luzon.
My next question was if he heard of Japanese running other towns with kinder hands. “Yes, but they were certainly not here in Manila.” He then shared statistics of deaths in Manila. We went on to talk about Ambassador Rocha who survived the Liberation of Manila when he was only 7. The good Ambassador made it his advocacy to promote the remembrance and study of the events that transpired during the war. Dr. Legarda wrote an informative tribute to the Ambassador when he passed two years ago.
My family’s experience, on my Dad’s side, must have been an exemption. They were treated fairly by the Japanese. But this came with a heavy price. When the Japanese left San Carlos (Negros), they were hunted by Guerrillas. They were excessively brutal my Father said. So cruel that they buried a grand uncle alive!
Before heading out, I thanked Dr. Legarda and told him that “I can’t tell my father’s wartime stories to my son, it’s impossible. But thanks to your books, I don’t have to.” He smiled and said, “it will, they’re good substitutes.”