Ang Huling Buwan (The Last Month)

January 28, 2018
By DTubbs BRONZE, Clinton , Iowa
DTubbs BRONZE, Clinton , Iowa
4 articles 0 photos 3 comments

October 19, 1944

I woke from a terrible nightmare—they were back. The Americans, they left nothing. Entire streets were devastated. Gunfire rained from the buildings and people screamed. Suddenly I could see myself and my family huddling in the corner of our building. Men stormed the stairwells and pointed machine guns at us—I was terrified. They tried to coax us toward the door, and when we stayed firm, they yelled at us. They spoke to us as if we could understand—we could not. This angered them. They grabbed me by my collar and moved me close to the eighth story window. I was sweating profusely. I could not breathe. They held me halfway outside the window. I closed my eyes and when I opened them, I was falling. When I saw the pavement inches from my face, I sat up in bed. The Americans are cruel. Diyos save those that they set eyes on.

October 30, 1944

The sky holds a bright sun today. I expect that we will not see rain for the rest of the week. I have always called Ang Republika ng Pilipinas my home. She has been a most kind and sometimes cruel host, but we have learned to respect her beauty—or so I thought. I have been here for many years, most of which to my dismay were hellish times. Since the year, I was born, 1900, and my name, Jose Pena, was scribed down onto my certificate of birth, I have lived in a controlled society. Even before I was born, we have held little control of our homeland may it be the Spanish, the Americans, or the Japanese. About 3 years ago, after the Americans went on to their next project, the Imperial Japanese invaded. These times were not of happiness, but at the least, stability. However, this stability is once again threatened. Word has gotten out that the Americans are back, and as much as it saddens me that there will be war once more, I am ready for a worthy leader. Perhaps one day we can be independent and fly our own flag. I fear that the American presence will not be widely accepted though however. It is quite true that there will only be pain in the leading months, but I hope in these months we can also achieve happiness again—something the Japanese devalued. The Americans will bring disaster back to our peaceful home, but after, we will be safe once again. I say let them come, let them come and take back our home once and for all.

November 5, 1944

Most call me Emil, yet my birth name is Emilio Vargas. My wife and two kids have lived here since before the Japanese came. Held up on the top floor of Rizal Towers we survive the daily control of the Japanese. We are among two of the residents left though, as many fled the Japanese invasion. We too tried to leave, but at the time, my wife was pregnant and we could not afford to be on the run. Although the Japanese were initially very cruel, I have always found a certain beauty here that I could not leave behind. The golden sun and the fresh breezes that blow through the city blocks has always been an admirable feature. Rizal Towers’ close proximity to the center of Manila has not been as bad as the rest of the world perceives it. Our city block Governor Yatoshi Miku has always been kind to us. He checks on us daily and sometimes even offers to bring us groceries when the Japanese patrols flood the streets. We live a humble life, one that I wish to continue. However, our time of peace is in jeopardy as our neighbor Jose recently informed us that the Americans are “liberating our home” as we speak. I told him that we wish to be no part of this liberation. To most, I may seem foolish, but I would rather have the Japanese here than the Americans because they will just bring a hell of epic proportions. I am sure that the Japanese will hold back the advance—our family counts on it.

January 28, 1945

My sources have informed me that the Americans are days away from liberating us. The past few nights I have seen an increase in Japanese patrols and many men being sent into the outskirts of the city. It will be a most wonderful day when they break the Japanese line and begin the assault. I am prepared to offer my home to any men that require it. Americans set us free!

January 29, 1945

We have been most terrified these last couple of days. During the night, we hear explosions and gunfire getting closer and closer. The American’s have begun breaching the city. My wife has pleaded with me repeatedly to leave under the cover of night, but I reminded her that resistance or desertion is a fatal offense to the Japanese. Today Jose knocked on our door and tried convincing me that the Americans were here to help, and while it may seem that way, I reminded him that we have children. He told me that they would not hurt children and that when the Americans arrive, cooperate. I told him that artillery shells have no bias and slammed the door in his face.

February 3, 1945

Today we were confronted by a Japanese patrol. They came lead by another man, Shinzo Yamashita. He and three other men ascended the stairwell with great haste. When I opened my door to ask their intentions, they pushed me back into my room and threw my door open. Suddenly I was thrown on the floor with a Nambu pistol to my head. The men dragged my neighbor Mr. Vargas into the hallway and forcefully sat him down. Shinzo exclaimed that if Mr. Vargas’s family or I was caught assisting the Americans, they would shoot us on sight. They then released Mr. Vargas and myself and stormed out of the building. As I got up, I walked to my window and watched the men take off in a jeep. The Americans would never say such things. The Americans would never threaten children. Mr. Yamashita and his men will feel the wrath of the American assault.  

February 3, 1945

A new Japanese patrol stopped by today. To my dismay, it was not Mr. Miku, and instead, a man by the name of Shinzo Yamashita. He and his men came upstairs to talk to Mr. Pena. To my surprise they walked into his apartment and brought him out on his knees—to be arrested I thought. However, Yamashita’s men also took me out into the hallway and asked me to sit down where I stood. Mr. Yamashita informed us that the Americans could possibly be in the area and that if we encounter any to refuse conversation with them. He told us that conspiring with an enemy combatant was a serious offense to the empire. His men walked back towards the stairwell and went down the stairs. I stood up and walked toward my room. When I turned around Mr. Pena got up, gave me a stern look, and walked into his room. Shinzo has nothing to fear, the Americans are vile people and I would never think to work against my kind hosts.

February 17, 1945

Today the Americans arrived. I was overjoyed. I saw them running down each street strategically, and with great caution at that. They moved up and close to our building, using it as cover for the meantime as their tanks rolled by. The men were screaming something I could not understand from my apartment window.  All I could make out were hand signals to a man on the next street over. He drove forward with a jeep of some sort. In tow was an artillery battery. They made quick use of it and started firing on the local police station—the temporary headquarters of the fiendish Japanese. Soon bullets were flying in both directions, and I could hear Mr. Vargas pleading with the soldiers below to go somewhere else. They ignored him and kept firing. When I was about to sleep, I heard a loud pounding on the apartment lobby door. When I descended the stairs, I saw an American at the door. He explained to me to the best of his ability that they needed the ninth floor, and roof to fire from. I let him in and soon he and many of his comrades ascended the stairs with rifles on their backs. Mr. Vargas shouted from the eighth-floor fire exit. He told me I was crazy and as he walked, back inside he exclaimed Putangina! I laughed at him and told him that the end of this insurgency is coming soon.

February 18, 1945

I fear for the lives of my family. The terroristic Americans made a noticeable presence here yesterday. They brought many men and dangerous weapons. They towed in a cannon of some sort and to my sadness, started firing on Mr. Miku’s office building and then his lavish—well-earned apartment. Fortunately, they started firing back, and with care for our home. I watched as each bullet landed neatly to the right of our building. This is why I respect the Japanese. They value honor and family. We too value these principles. I wish not to speak further, but I fear that I may not have much time left, so I will continue. The Americans breached our home. They busted in the lobby door and ran up the stairs. When they walked towards my room, I barricaded the door. I could hear them on the floor above me and on the roof. They once again began firing, and now with a direct line of sight to the front entrance of Mr. Miku’s building. The whole night they fired and bullets flew both ways. I excused Mr. Miku’s men who fired at our windows by mistake. The dream. It was real. Please diyo, let this be ang huling buwan.

February 20, 1945

I write this letter with great haste. My time here in Rizal Towers is ending. The Japanese have set fire to the back half of the building and I have but minutes to leave. Before I do, I will recollect the last 3 days. It all started with the men who nested themselves on the floor above, leaving without a trace in the night. When I woke, I only saw a small package in the middle of the floor outside my room and Mr. Vargas’s. The package contained American chocolate and several canteens of water. On top of the package was a note that contained one word. Suwerte. The next two days Japanese men slithered around the streets disguising themselves as civilians. I wished to inform the Americans, but they had since gone further into the city. This leads to now. I was sleeping for a few hours when I smelt smoke. I ventured to the other side of the building, passing several empty rooms, and when I reached the other side, I saw a great blaze pouring from the elevator shaft. The Japanese had set all buildings ablaze that they could not hold. When I saw the fire, I ran back towards my room and I pounded on Mr. Vargas’s door. He initially ignored me, but when he too smelt smoke, he took his family and ran down the stairs. When we reached the lobby, there was a burning stack of rubble in the way. We did not know what to do. I told him we need to work together. He looked at me and before he could refute my request, he looked at the debris and grabbed one end. Mr. Vargas and I exchanged hesitant glances, and at once, we lifted the smoldering beam out of the way. When we passed by the pile and ran out the door. This is where I am now. I wish to say more but I must go, as the building has little life left in it. The Japanese will pay for this.

February 21, 1945

Alas, I write from the streets tonight. The Americans left us and burnt our building to the ground—mocking us with a note reading “suwerte.” This all started back when the Americans left us. They always had a sly smile on their faces. I knew that they wished pain upon us. They wished to kill my whole family, and try they did. The nights after they left, I saw many strange men sneaking around the streets at night. They spoke in quiet tones, so I could not hear them, nor pick up their nationality—I presume American. This lead up to last night when our neighbor Mr. Pena, though I despise him, knocked at our door. He said the building was on fire. I told him he was crazy once again, but soon I could smell smoke and opened the door. Mr. Pena said we needed to go quickly and I agreed. We all scaled the steps with haste.  Soon we approached a trap laid by the departing Americans. A large beam fell over the doorway and made it impassable. There was no other way to get through it, then to work with Jose. Hesitantly I grabbed one end of the log and Mr. Pena the other. We lifted the large, heavy log out of the way and exited the front door of the lobby with great caution. Mr. Pena said he was going to find his family on the outskirts of the city. We shook hands and went separate ways. We began walking towards our family’s house as well. They were located near Intramuros. This was close to the fighting and so we walked quickly. The Americans will repent the day that they attacked us. 

February 23, 1945

Three days ago, I set foot for my family in the outer rim of Manila. I arrived without much trouble in the American controlled streets. That being said I now write from the safety of my brother’s bike shop. On the night of the fire, I went my separate way from the Vargas family. I pleaded for them to join me, but they insisted they have a strong family connection deeper into the city. With much hesitation, I waved goodbye to them and began walking through the devastated streets. This was an unfortunate, but necessary price to pay for liberation. For two days, I went without food as there was little left to buy, and what there was to buy was very expensive. The remaining storeowners tried making whatever money they could with their limited stock in order to rebuild. When I finally arrived at my brother’s shop, I was welcomed with open arms, and food. This is where I sit now. Diyo bless Mr. Vargas and his family.

February 26, 1945

I bare little strength to write this entry. Today my family bears one less. My love and my world has been taken from me. The people I once trusted have betrayed me. Two days ago when my family was enduring the dark-lit streets of fire and flame, we stopped for a while to rest. This is where it happened. A disheveled man dressed in a Japanese officer’s uniform came out from around the corner. He saw us and came at us. My wife and I started running when we heard the action of his Nambu pistol click into place. We stopped dead in our tracks. He was speaking to us in a very rough voice. We said we could not understand him and then he pointed his finger at our bags. These bags contained our only food and losing it meant certain death. We tried reasoning with him. Sweat poured down both my face and my wives. Terrified, we tried to give the man jewelry that we saved from our room before it set ablaze. He grabbed it and threw it to the ground. Just then, the unspeakable happened. The world froze. Seconds turned into an eternity. I watched as the bullet in his pistol flew towards my wife. I watched as it pierced her chest. I looked at the man, and then my wife, and then back. I took a step forward and knocked the gun out of man’s hand. It flew to the ground and I dove for it. When I looked up the man pulled out a knife and came at me. I looked away and pulled the trigger. The man too fell backward and onto the ground. Disoriented and distraught I ran to my wife. She looked at me and with her final words said mahal kita. I looked her in the eyes and said mahal din kita. She faded away. My children looked at me with tears in their eyes. I told them that their mother was in a better place. I took her body to the nearest church I could find and laid her down with a sheet over her body that I found in a nearby room. I know not what to say. The Japanese betrayed me. They took something from me that I held dear. Someday they will pay for this.

March 3, 1945

Word has gotten to me that the battle has ended in Manila. The Japanese insurgency is no more, and the Americans are here to stay in the meantime. I have not heard anything from Mr. Vargas in the past few days. Although I do not blame him. He was always quite stubborn. However, I did hear that the final battle was pushed into Intramuros—quite close to where Mr. Vargas said he would be going. I have always detested his love of the Japanese, but in the end, he is an honest family man. I hope that he fared well. Tomorrow I leave for the rubble of Rizal Towers in search of anything I can salvage or sell to make my new home. I hope that I meet Mr. Vargas there. I look forward to seeing his family happy once again. He and his wife brought a certain humanity to the Tower during the impending war. Someday I think I will thank him for that. Perhaps after he takes down the Japanese flag on the front of the building. Magandang gabi at magandang araw Mr. Vargas.

March 3, 1945

Today my children and I reached my mother’s home. There was nothing left, but a pile of ashes. Being located in Intramuros, the Japanese spared no one. They burnt everything to the ground and committed seppuku before being captured. The people I once called humble hosts are now my greatest enemy. I am extremely grateful for the arrival of the Americans. They did the work that I could not. They brought justice. I lust for more, but I am now alone in caring for my children. At first light, we set off for the ruins of Rizal Towers to begin anew. I sincerely hope I see Mr. Pena there. I suspect he will taunt me. Perhaps not though due heavily to the loss of my wife. Although that man always drove me mad, I always thought of him as a friendly rival. He had his beliefs and so did I, yet we lived in almost harmony, save a few isolated incidents. He was always a protector, and the night he woke us from the fire will be a night I will never forget. He could have left us, but instead, he took time away from collecting his own belongings and waited until I hesitantly came out. Maybe one day we can be friends, and settle our differences once and for all. I wish you magandang gabi Mr. Pena, may we meet again.

The author's comments:

A small historical glimpse on the lives of common Filipinos during the siege of Manila(1944). 

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