LEST WE FORGET THE JAPANESE ATROCITIES IN AGDANGAN, BAAO

The essay is originally printed in the 1946 Baao Town Fiesta Souvenir Program, and was reprinted on the Kaiba Newsletter in 1996. The story is a collection of detailed harrowing accounts of the holocaust of the Agdangan, Baao Massacre in 1944. The author, Alejo Arce, a Bikolano writer and educator, was awarded the Premio Zobel in 1962 for his book, El Bicolano y su Ambiemte. In the 1930s, with Luis G. Dato and others, he was one of the contributing writers of the Sanghiran Nin Bikol.

By Alejo Arce
(Supervisor, Baao District)

One afternoon, after watching the school children play in the barrio school of Agdangan, Baao, a man approached me by the road side and pointed to me the lot where once stood the house of Leon Borela and where I need to rest during the mid-days whenever I made my round about visits in the schools along the main highway. I stood rooted to the ground as I gazed blankly at what remained of a burned house, one of the many, razed to the ground with all the occupants in them, by the Japanese soldiers on Tuesday, October 17, 1944. With the man I inspected the places over which the sunset glow was spilling the melancholic rays in complete dismay and abandon. Once more I remembered the by gone friends and school patrons those loving people greeting me with sunshine of smiles whenever I visited their school in Agdangan. Immediately, we were joined by several persons who miraculously escaped from the wholesale massacre perpetrated by the Japanese who claimed they came to the Philippines as our friends and liberators. My memory ran hack to that day when I saw the last ember of what was still the smoldering fire of that terrible atrocity I began checking the event with the people around me, and they related to me the following blood – curdling tale.

At about 1:00 o’clock p.m. on Sunday, October 15, 1944, a Japanese non-commissioned officer riding on a bicycle from PNR to Iriga, with a revolver and rifle, stopped at the store of Leon Bismonte. Isaac Romano, a guerillero with his lieutenant and another companion saw the Japanese and told the people that they would kill him, but the people prevailed upon them not to kill the Japanese in their place for fear of complication. When the Japanese reached near kilometer 25 in front of the land of Pedro Babilonia, he was shot by the said guerillero, who upon finding that he was only mortally and wounded, finished him with a bolo. The body was dragged from the roadside to a place of concealment. The dead Japanese according to information of the people was sort of courier and in charge of the telephone line.

The Iriga garrison upon finding that the courier did not return on time, sent a search party and made preliminary inquiries. Gossip ran high and it reached the ears of the Iriga garrison. At about 8.00 pm. of Monday, October 16, a truck-load of soldiers headed by Captain Sasaki with Interpreter Isumi started from Iriga and picked up Chief of Police in Baao, Manuel Peyra. They proceeded to San Isidro barrio and investigated the barrio lieutenant Florentino Toralde and his second lieutenant Anacleto Bayos and Pedro Bisenio. The Japanese upon finding that the San lieutenants were feigning ignorance, took them to Agdangan, and there arrested the barrio lieutenant Perfecto Bolalin and the President of the Neighborhood Association, Isidro Panambo.

agdangan massacre survivor
Survivor Victor Bisenio (second from left) with Jonnie Bdiola, Catalino Adan and Nellie Agtarap in front of a wooden marker of the massacre.

According to Perfecto Bolalin and Manuel Peyra, both living witnesses. The real investigation about the killing of the Japanese was begun in front of Bolalin’s house. As first nobody squealed, but by force of threat and punishment, the old man, Isidro Panambo, fearing that the other persons might be implicated, told the Japanese that the real killer was Isaac Romano with two missing corpse. Alter about 10 minutes of fruitless missing corpse search, the Japanese suspected that Florentino Toralde was only feigning ignorance of the whereabouts of the corpse. Whereupon, Captain Susuki ordered that Florentino be killed at once. He was bayoneted three times and died instantly.

In all fairness, it should be mentioned here, that the Filipinos including Chief of Police Peyra knew about the killing and where the body was hidden, for the removal of the body from San Isidro and the hiding of the body in Banasi was a joint preconcerted action under the management of Chief Peyra, so that if they wanted to locate the body, they could at a minute notice. But all of them feigned ignorance.

Alter about two hours of searching, the search was stopped, and investigation was resumed with punishment. Isidro Panambo was grilled for a long time, and it seemed that the Japanese sensed he knew the place where the body was hidden. In fact it was Isidro Panambo who led them to a bamboo thicket and there the body was found.

When the body was found, the lieutenants were ordered to hog tie it and take it to a place called “inornohan” and there cremated, and the ashes buried.

After the burial, all of the remaining five Filipinos (except Peyra) were tied, Panambo were taken to the truck and while there, was thoroughly investigated and severely punished. He confessed that the killer was Isaac Romano who lived in front of the house of Pedro Bolalin. Then Perfecto Bolalin was investigated. He told the Japanese that Isaac lived once in a while in the house of his sister, Teodora Romano.

At about 3:00 a.m. of October 17th, Tuesday, the barrio lieutenants were taken back. Upon arrival, all the Japanese soldiers scattered themselves to prevent escape of the persons they wanted. The four barrio lieutenants were taken to the house of Teodora Romano. She was grilled by the Japanese but all her answers did not seem to satisfy the Japanese, so she was brutally tortured, until Chief Peyra told the Japanese that she was deaf and demented as a result of the sickness – typhoid. The Japanese stopped punishing her, and when she was left alone by the Japanese, she ran away.

According to Perfecto Bolalin, they were taken to a house where all were badly tortured and passed under the water cure method including his son-in-law Pablo Servino. The water cure was slow process torture performed by four Japanese to extract confession. One Jap holding both feet of the victim, another one holding the hands, the third holding his head and forcing open the mouth while the four Jap pours water little by little thru his mouth and nose. When the victim swallowed enough water and still he does not confess, a Jap stands on his belly and hops on it several times until all water is forced out from the victim’s mouth, nose, ears, eyes and rectum. The punishment continued until morning when Isidro Panambo, Anacleto Bayos and Pedro Bisenio were shoved up in the trued and tied.

Bolalin proceeding on his narrative said, “In the morning of Tuesday, October 17th, the Japanese took our palay and four fighting cocks for their breakfast. And about 7:00 am many American planes passed over us. The Japs were scared and were in a hurry to leave the place, so they decided to give us quick death without attracting attention from the aeroplanos. They began bayoneting Isidro (with cloth bandage on our eyes), but when they struck me, I squirmed and kept moving, so I was not mortally wounded.”

“In the meantime, the houses of Teodora Romano, Isidro Panambo, Sabino Baesa and mine (Perfecto) were already burning, so the Japs that tried to kill us left in a hurry. Fortunately, I was able to untie myself and I also untied Isidro Panambo, and we proceeded to my kitchen, which was not burned. When I saw that there were no more Japanese, I escaped, and so did Isidro, but he died from wounds. He was not burned.”

At about 9:00 am, the that day, Tuesday, October 17th, the Japanese truck left and returned to Iriga for fear of the aeroplanos passing above the place. The people, believing that all was over, returned to their homes, but at about 1:00pm five trucks of Japanese from Pili came. Two trucks proceeded to Iriga and three were left.

Immediately, a Japanese officer alighted from a truck, according to Alejandro Manansala, tossed his sword up in the air, and when the point landed first on the ground instead of the handle, all Japanese jumped from the trucks. Then pulling it out, he brandished his sword and ordered all the Japanese soldiers to round up all the people for a conference in the house of the said Manansala. As soon as one arrived, he was tied up so no none returned to warn the people of the impending danger, or to tell them to escape and not to attend the conference. Those who did not go voluntarily were forced by the Japanese at the point of their bayoneta. The women and children were herded in the house of Manansala, and since it was not big enough, the rest were herded in the house of Jesus Bismonte. The men were herded in the house of Fausto Badiola. Once there, they were tied in series and rope ends were tied to the posts to prevent any possible escape. Some children knelt before the Japs and clung to their knees and pants asking for forgiveness and to spare their lives because they were innocent, but the Japs turned deaf ears to the please and entreaties.

The Japs appeared angry because while in the Philippines they were bombed and machine-gunned by the American planes numbering about 40 planes, so they poured all their wrath and vengeance upon the people. Pedro Bisenio and Anacleto Bayos who posed to be friendly to the Japs were instantly cut by their sharp samurai swords.

The Agdangan Massacre

The Japs seemed to know who were for them and who were against them. Before burning the houses where all the people were herded, Eugenio Batac, the capataz was allowed to get his wife and children and a certain Teodora, the wife of the caminero. They also asked who among the crowd was the wife of the station master, and Braulia Buena presented (although she was not), so she was saved by the information and identification of Batac. Bibiano Baluis, Gabino Adan and Vicente Ribancos (alias Damot) were able to save themselves, because there ordered to look for Teodora Romano, but instead of looking, they ran away.

When all the people they could hold were securely tied up in the houses of Alejandrino Manansala, Jesus Bismonte and Fausto Badiola, they set the houses on fire with all the occupants. Over sixty native men, women, aged and innocent children died in this holocaust – a wholesale carnage. Three passerby who stopped, out curiosity and others waiting for the train bound for Naga were also burned with the Natives. The travelers who passed by, but did not stop were not bothered by the Japs.

The burning of the rest of the houses began about 1:00 pm. The Japs left about 3:00pm on that same memorable day, October 17, 1944. A complete list of the persons killed or burned appear on the separate page of this year book, hence, it is needless to repeat.

The owners of the houses burned on both sides of the road towards Pili from Agdangan, follow:

Left side, starting in front of the school building:

  1. Gervacio Barcelona
  2. Eligio Benosa
  3. Sabino Baesa
  4. Taciana Borela
  5. Apolonio Baesa
  6. Mariano Panambo
  7. Gelasio _______
  8. Eugenio Batac
  9. Alejandro Manasala

Right side, starting from the chapel:

  1. Cayetano Baesa
  2. Perfecto Bolalin
  3. Isidro Panambo
  4. Flaviano Baluis
  5. Gavino Adan
  6. Edilberto Padua
  7. 16. Esteban Baudin
  8. Jesus Bismonte
  9. Juan Padua
  10. Vicente Baeta
  11. Fasuto Badiola

Houses burned behind the right side of road:

  • Eugenio Biseño
  • Dimas Bernas
  • Pedro Borela
  • Delfin Bisenio

A woman, Felicisima Bazar was able to escape from the burning house of Manansala, but was chased by the Japanese. She died with her 1,000.00 Mickey Mouse money which was found around her body before she was buried.

An old woman, Bartolomea Borja de Borela was able to escape before everybody was tied up, but she returned to her house for the money which she hid in her rice box. Upon seeing her, the Japs grabbed and tied her and she was burned by the rest.

 A pregnant, Isidra Panambo, on her advance stage of pregnancy delivered prematurely, because the Japs bayoneted her on the stomach. It is said that the baby also was bayoneted and posed high at the sight of her dying mother, the precious infant was thrown into the blazing house.

The narration was given to me by the then Chief of Police, Manuel Peyra, Perfecto Bolalin, Alejandro Manansala, Eligio Benosa, Benito Babingao and other living witnesses of the holocaust.

agdangan baao massacre
A quaint reminder of the massacre

The following pertinent facts were supplied by the author:

In the evening on Sunday, October 15, 1944, I witnessed a meeting held at the Plaza Rizal in Naga, capital of the Camarines Sur, in which Gen. Chuda, the highest officer in command of all the garrison in the Bicol Region, where he spoke in bold and unequivocal terms the following:

“Hereafter, there will be no more persecution, tying, punishing, decapitating (gorgor), shooting, or any kind of punishment to Filipino by Japanese soldiers, because we Filipinos and Japanese are “tomodachi” friends. You have already your independence granted and guaranteed by our imperial Government. Should any crime be committed by a Filipino, is small be handled with due process of law, in your courts of justice, and not by Japanese soldiers or in Japanese garrisons. We have come as your friends, not your enemies, to liberate you from the clutches of American tyranny. The Japanese soldiers will protect you, but should you know of any Japanese, be he a civilian, soldier or officer who will abuse you, report to me, and they shall be punished severely.”

What a relief! The people at the meeting clapped their hands, believing the terrible days were over. But hardly had two days passed when the wholesale massacre occurred. Japanese promise, what falsehood and treachery lie in the name! How easily you break your solemn pledge!

When I passed by Agdangan on a bull cart, the fourth after the meeting, at about 8:00 a.m. Wednesday, October 18, 1944, I saw Mayor Tomas Guevara, Fr. Demetrio R. Martires, Cosme Uy Barreta and several municipal councilors of Baao talking with a Japanese officer whose name I learned to be Captain Sasaki of the Iriga garrison. I learned from the people that the perpetrators of so hideous crime were the soldiers from the Pili garrison. I saw with two eyes the smoldering embers of what was once a prosperous barrio. From the people who gathered around my cart, I learned that many people were buried alive in their houses, and the people were both sorry and angry.

When I passed Baao, at about 7:00 pm. of the same day, a public meeting was going on. A Japanese, by the name of Colonel Watanabe was speaking. My cart was stopped by a policeman and I was told to wait until the meeting was over. Out of curiosity, I listened to the speaker, who said,

“We are sorry for what happened in Agdangan. We will investigate the matter, and if the Pili soldiers are found guilty, they will be punished severely. So sorry, your houses burned (not mentioning the buried bodies alive). I shall report the matter to Gen. Chuda. In the meantime, let us forget about it. Let us be friends.”

Oh, Japanese, how easy you beguile people! How easily you fool people in the name of friendship!”

The meeting being over, I proceeded on my journey to Buhi. In Iriga, I learned that to mitigate the circumstances, General Chuda gave 2,000.00 Mickey Mouse money to Mayor Guevara of Baao, some to be distributed to the destitute, at the rate of 25.00 per house and 20.00 per head killed, as if such bogus money could pay the priceless blood of their victims. The people rejected the money flatly out of anger and hatred. Two persons, out of fear, hesitatingly accepted the money, but later on tore them secretly into pieces. O Japanese how cheap you value human lives!

Since then, nothing was ever mentioned about the promised investigation, or its results.

On October 19, while passing the place, on my way back to Naga from Buhi, I saw a Japanese truck loaded with men from Baao. The Japs who were already on the place ordered the men from Baao and a few other men to cut down the burnt posts and cover all the burned areas with fresh earth and coconut leaves, evidently to obliterate all traces of their hideous and detestable crime. I saw cat mowing and limping towards an underbrush. Her tail was burned, so were her hind legs, and part of her body. I picked up and gave her some rice in my cart. The Japs saw me picked up the half burned cat. One Jap said, “Kura, kura, kura” while the rest of the soldiers laughed, because I was frightened. The saw me treat the poor creature’s burns with coconut oil and dressed the wounds. The Japanese attitude and reaction towards misfortune and their lust for blood still give me the creeps. They laughed at misfortune, regard cruelty as nothing, misfortune as ordinary occurrence; that between beast and man there i no difference; and death is but natural and ordinary. What merciless brutes!


Luis G. Dato wrote a poem in dedication to the war casualties of the massacre:

REST IN PEACE

Blessed are the souls that have gone by,
By Japanese monsters crushed to die,
The women who did not survive,
Pregnant, but killed and burned alive.

Blessed are the children burned and killed,
On flaming fires their breath was stilled,
They asked and cried for pardon all,
But Nippons were implacable.

What fatal crimes unpardonable,
In God's eyes were punishable,
Under men's law they fell decreed
In Nippon's reign of horrow, greed?

Their tears of fear were shed in vain,
The innocent were bound and slain,
The Nippons did civilian kills,
Their terror mission to fulfill.

The people oft were herded all,
A conference the Nips would call,
Then soldiers ordered to keep guard,
Atrocities were the reward.

What afterwards remained to sight,
When the smoke disappeared with night,
Were roasted corpses, those who died,
With salvaged utensils beside.

May they in heaven forever rest,
All those who suffered unredressed,
The cause of God and fellowmen
Was theirs, they have not died in vain. 

Stephen Cenon
Stephen Cenon

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