Those perilous days of war
RECOLLECTIONS, REFLECTIONS - Dr. Jose "Dodong" R. Gullas (The Freeman) - June 23, 2019 - 12:00am

The Second World War is forever etched in my memory. There’s my recollection of that so-called “Bloody Sunday,” the day when the Japanese attacked

the city. The bomber planes that roared in the city skies left me all bloodied – not with human blood,

fortunately, but with fish blood, since we were at the fish section of the Carbon Market at the time.

The war changed our family’s life in many ways. It was a time great danger. We tried to keep away from the firefights. We were always moving; couldn’t stay in one place long enough.

The first place we evacuated to was Consolacion, north of Cebu. My parents had friends there, the Lagahit family, who took us in like we were their own blood relatives. During our stay with them, an eerie thing happened.

One morning, Papa Inting was standing at the door of the house, watching the low-flying Japanese planes above. Then the planes began strafing the area. Sensing danger, Papa quickly stepped back. Just as he did, a spray of bullets hit the precise spot where he had stood. My father had escaped certain death by a split second!

From Consolacion we moved on to Danao. Papa and Ramon “No Amon” Durano were friends. Probably out of boredom from having nothing productive to do, Papa Inting thought up something interesting. He asked, ‘No Amon if it was possible to gather all the local witches, which Danao was once known for. ‘No Amon asked Papa why, and when Papa explained, ‘No Amon readily agreed. When the so-called “witches” came, Papa and ‘No Amon took turns stating their case – and asked them to combine their powers to combat the airborne Japanese fighters! The supposed witches were soon shaking their heads. “Di kasugakud among gahum ana nila, nyor,” they said, meaning the enemy was way beyond their witch powers to deal with.

Then our family went southward, to Badian. We stayed in a place called Banhigan, where for the first time, the difficulties of war became more apparent to us. Mama Pining had to give away our clothes for food. Eddie and I learned to gather “tungog,” tree bark used for coloring “tuba” or coconut wine, to sell.

We ate boiled kamoteng kahoy (cassava) for meals. During low tide, we children would collect fresh sea shells to make into soup for our meals. At times, Eddie and I would also try our hand at fishing in waist-deep waters. On most days, however, we only had “ginamos” (salted fish fingerlings) to settle for.

As the fighting subsided a bit, we returned to the city. We found our house on Manalili Street badly destroyed from the bombings, so Mama and Papa had to look for another place to stay. There was a house available on España Street, near the family’s Visayan Institute (now University of the Visayas).

Eddie and I became active in church, as sacristans at the San Agustin Church, now Basilica del Santo Niño. We did it without much prodding from our parents; we didn’t need to be told. It was perhaps our own little way of thanking God for watching over us through those perilous days of war.

Life wasn’t quite back to normal yet, though. Mama had to frequently travel by train to the outlying towns to buy crops, since food was hard to find in the city. She often brought home fresh fruits and vegetables. Eddie and I usually met her at around six in the evening with our "cariton." Mama was truly the "bread winner" at that time. She was what I’d call “woman for all seasons" as she was a mother, nurse, doctor, engineer rolled into one. I saw how hard Mama worked to be able to feed the family three square meals every day.

Then came yet another blow. An informant told Papa Inting that he was about to be arrested. By whom? It was not clear. Papa’s situation at the time was very delicate. His brother Atty. Paulino Gullas was the highest ranking Japanese Commissioner in Cebu. At the same time, my 'Tia Sayong's husband was also head of the local Japanese police force. These were reasons enough for the Filipino guerilla forces to doubt my father’s political loyalty.

On the other hand, the Japanese were also suspicious of Papa’s loyalty, since he never openly declared support for the Japanese. In effect, Papa was nobody’s friend, in political terms. He detached himself completely from politics. He would not involve himself in any discussion of political issues. 

Papa Inting was walking on a virtual tight rope.  He’d usually come home in the dead of the night for fear of harm from both forces. Then one night what he feared the most came – someone told him that he was about to be arrested.

In learning of his impending arrest, that very night Papa decided to leave for Pangdanon, a tiny islet near Bohol. A former student of his, ‘Noy Nestor Legaspi, assisted Papa in his escape. ‘Noy Nestor exemplified what we called the “UV spirit,” a deep sense of kinship that binds UV people together, officers, staff and students alike.

Within an hour of Papa’s departure, someone came to the house to take the rest of the family to Pasil, where a boat was waiting. We were not told where we were going, but we just had to leave; the city was getting to be a very unsafe place for us to stay. Mama told us to quickly pack our belongings. We left in the dead of the night.

When morning came, we found ourselves reuniting with Papa Inting in Pangdanon. The place was very small, and didn’t have enough fresh water. We didn’t take a bath the whole time we were there, except when it rained. And we stayed there for several weeks.

Luckily, food was not much of a problem in Pangdanon. There were people coming in regularly from Pasil who brought with them food and drinking water, which they generously shared with us. We had moved again to Calape town, in the Bohol mainland, when liberation time came.

If there was a good side to the war, it was that it brought our family closer together. It gave us the opportunity to discover true friends, people with pure hearts whom we would never have known under more comfortable circumstances.

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