TO A retired public school teacher who was about 14 years old when Bataan fell to the Japanese Imperial Army on April 9, 1942, one of the three century old mango trees and a toilet for girls in a public elementary school in Bataan capital town brought her horrifying memories about World War II.
Eighty-eight year-old Maria Cervantes of Barangay Lote in Balanga City, was in Grade 6 at the Balanga Elem. School when the school was turned into a garrison by the Japanese Imperial Army after weakening Filipino and American soldiers under the United states Armed Forces in the Far East (Usaffe) were about to surrender.
“Maraming sundalong Pilipino at Amerikano at pati sibilyan ang ikinulong dito. Itinatali muna sa puno ng manggang ito ang mga bihag bago dalhin sa torture room at patayin.
(Many Filipino and American soldiers, including civilians, were jailed here. The captives were tied to this mango tree before bringing them to the torture room and killed),” Cervantes said.
She and her mother were selling fish when they were brought to the garrison with other civilians rounded up during a sona (saturation drive) by the Japanse soldiers. She said she did not stay long in the garrison and was lucky to be immediately released.
Cervantes, who works as a volunteer tour guide at a World War II Museum located at the back of the school, pointed to a big mango tree and a preserved toilet for girls constructed in 1932 that served as the execution room.
“Passing through the pathwalk, you will see the towering old mango trees which were the silent witnesses to this historic event on the World War II garrison for American and Filipino captives by the Japanese Imperial Army,” reads a sign on the trunk of a mango tree.
Two century-old mango trees in the area continued to bear fruits, but the one where American and Filipino captives were tied before execution, for unknown reasons, stopped bearing fruits for the past years.
Cervantes recalled that sometime in April 1942 before the historic Bataan Fall on April 9, Balanga was filled with people that Japanese soldiers rounded up and loaded in six-by-six trucks.
Cervantes, along with her father, mother and six siblings were among those who were told to board one of the trucks for Barangay Cabcaben in Mariveles, also in Bataan. “Ibinaba kami sa Cabcaben at naglakad kami ng tatlong araw at tatlong gabi pabalik hanggang Balanga [We were dropped off in Cabcaben and walked for three days and three nights until we got back to Balanga],” she said.
The old woman recalled that the Japanese soldiers were tolerant of civilians but very strict to surrendering Filipino and American soldiers who were in separate lines.