A poem by two Japanese prisoner of war made into a song by popular Japanese artist Hamako Watanabe in the 50’s. The poem was dedicated by prisoners, Gintaro Shirota and Masayuso Ito, to their executed comrades in the hills of Muntinlupa. “Muntinlupa”, the song, was said to have been the reason President Elpidio Quirino pardoned the remaining Japanese prisoners (at time of the signing he was in the US seeking medical attention). He was quoted saying “We share the destiny to be good neighboring countries” after signing the release papers .
It must have been difficult for Quirino who lost his wife, children and other members of his family in the hands of Japanese soldiers. Add to this traumatic incident was his imprisonment and torture. His pardon was a magnanimous act of kindness that our leaders these days can learn from. I could just imagine how difficult it was for him to offer friendship to those who took part in committing unspeakable atrocities against his family and country.
Buddhist Archbushop Shuhin Kagao, who was assigned by the US as chaplain to the Japanese soldiers in Muntinlupa, met Quirino and presented him with a music box that plays the song “Muntinlupa”. It was a gesture that was appreciated by the president according to his surviving daughter Victoria (a town in Laguna was named after her). Hamako Watanabe gave the music box to Kagao as a gift. The latter decided to make it a present to President Quirino who pardoned the Japanese soldiers.
Muntinlupa was never forgotten by the Japanese. Their government through their provinces of Gunma and Nagano, are active contributors in developing the city of Muntinlupa, especially during the years of Mayors Bunye and Fresnedi.
I’m uncertain what happened to the two Japanese men who immortalized Muntinlupa with their poem. Former Mayor Bunye’s family is said to have become close friends with these men. Shirota and Ito funded the tomb of the Mayor’s father after his death sometime in the 70’s.
The first time I visited the Japanese cemetery in Muntinlupa was three years ago. I was fascinated to discover that countless Japanese makes the pilgrimage to this isolated cemetery every year. Its location is far from being accessible. These visitors rents a ride up to the hill where the local and the Japanese cemetery is located.
Today, there are twice the number of houses around the vicinity since the last time I visited. I was told that these families where relocated around this area from their former dwelling alongside the railroad.
Such relocation bring with it some problems. When I last visited there were two stone gods (not sure if they call it a Buddha). Now, only one remain. The caretaker told me that thieves took it – and now they fear that the bell (like the one you see in Japanese Shinto shrines) would be next. To prevent this, they have to secure it in a discrete location and bring it out when there are visitors.
The polite caretakers are convicts who has been respectfully taking care of the Japanese cemetery for years. They are not paid for their services. They’re happy to receive words of appreciation and small donations. The man I was talking with has been a prisoner for almost his entire life. He finds it fascinating that Japanese would fly all the way to the country and visit the isolated cemetery while he, “still alive, has not received a visitation from family in Davao for the longest time”.
New roads are being built in the area. I don’t even know where they’re headed. Daang Hari is now accesible through the roads that before only served Bilibid and the small communities in the area. It would not be long before the area around this famed prison complex would be made residential and commercial. In fact, I believe it already started.
Muntinlupa in Youtube
If you want to hear Muntilupa below is a rare video of the Ms. Watanabe singing it. Thanks to the uploader enka1414 today’s Muntinlupeños can hear this rare Japanese song that came from a poem written by two Japanese prisoners longing for their familiesand homeland. I was told that Japanese visitors of the Japanese Cemetery sings “Muntinlupa” in the garden cottage (where a folder containing the lyrics hangs) to this day.
The way the Japanese remember their war dead is something that I’ve always admire. We can learn a great deal from how they value the sacrifices of their fallen soldiers.