Manoling, now 92 years old, can still do morning walks, only a little over five months after miraculously surviving a colon operation last October. The operation removed a big tumor -- and he stayed more than two months in between the intensive care unit and a private room of a Quezon City hospital.
A war veteran who served his country during World War II, he has to date a sharp memory. He can still recount vivid details on how he was able to survive and tell his tale.
This is Manoling's reminiscence. 1941, when Manoling was a freshman law student at the Ateneo de Manila in Padre Faura, Ermita.
His father died when he was only 7 years old when their family was still in Oriental Mindoro. The family later transferred to Manila with his younger brother, Ben, and his mother, Celing, and lived in a rented apartment in Isaac Peral, now United Nations Ave.
His mother accepted boarders and she cooked for students while Manoling supported his studies as messenger of an American company using a bicycle for deliveries.
By: September, his schoolmates were summoned by the college dean, supposedly to attend a month’s ROTC training which he underwent in Tagaytay with other students from Mindoro, Marinduque, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, and other areas in southern Luzon. But plans of continuing with his studies vanished when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec 8, 1941 when they were still undergoing the ROTC training in Tagaytay.
A U.S. Army officer, a certain Lt. Matthews, arrived and administered their oath of integration into the US Army. They were later brought by buses to the shores of Abucay in Bataan where they were given guns, ammunition, boots and other supplies.
In an interview with the Philippines News Agency. Manoling recalled they slept in tents and, one night, he sadly trapped some flicker of lights and wished he could spend the traditional Christmas celebration with the family.
DEFENDING MT. SAMAT
Christmas passed and they marched towards Mt. Samat, the place for them to defend. Matthews instructed everyone to dig foxholes deep enough to cover them in sitting position.
There was not much of a battle yet, only intermittent bombardments from Japanese planes. American officials lectured them about jungle warfare, warning them that the Japanese attacked relentlessly and they must defend their position no matter what.
January 1942, the Japanese arrived from the north, and soon explosions from the cannons seemed unceasing. The battlefield was thick with bushes, bamboos and tall trees and it was hard to tell between enemy and friend within 20 to 30 meters, according to the misty-eyed Manoling.
Sentries at the front line hearing a rustle among the bushes shouted passwords like “Lalawigan” or “Lapu-Lapu” which they interchanged from time to time.
With the Japanese difficulty in pronouncing the letter “L,” the password should elicit the same response, otherwise Filipino soldiers would fire their guns like crazy.
They also watched out for Japanese snipers who climbed up trees at night. Soldiers in their group were stationed either in the first line, fully alert particularly in waiting for the password reply; the second line, the next ready batch; or the third line, where soldiers were resting.
Being a college student, Manoling was assigned as platoon sergeant at the medical company under the 43rd Infantry Battalion of the 41st Division. Towards the end of March, their usual supply of corned beef and other canned goods were replaced by “tapa” -- the loins -- of horses from the US cavalry.
April came, the weather was hot, and the Japanese began a major offensive for they could not extricate the defenders of Mt. Samat.
Backed by a non-stop barrage of tanks, cannon fires and plane bombings, the Japanese were advancing. It was Good Friday, Manoling was resting around noon at the third line when the enemy overwhelmed the first line. They were outnumbered and their battalion commander hopelessly voiced out: “Everyone for himself!”
They scampered down the mountains and Manoling recounted they ended up in Mariveles, Bataan facing the tadpole-shaped Corregidor island at the mouth of Manila Bay.
They were captured by Japanese soldiers and forced to walk three days and two nights all the way to San Fernando, Pampanga.
They must be at the tail end of this long procession, Manoling thought, as he would see and smell the stench of death from many bloated corpses beside the road, scorched by the summer sun. It was a scene that would haunt him in his dreams later on.
Dehydrated and weak from diarrhea due to El Tor, Manoling escaped the Japanese bayonets when a burly town mate, Serafio Pan, who was under his platoon, carried him piggy back from time to time whenever he was about to faint or fall down.
On the third day, they finally reached a rail station in San Fernando and were loaded in “bagons” (train cars) towards the concentration camp here, 52 kms due north. c.
PRISONER OF WAR
As prisoners of war, they were given sacks at daybreak to pluck grass for the cattle of the Japanese. They also dug latrines.
Every morning, Manoling, with his “barnmates,” would busy themselves squeezing between fingernails the numerous pesky white lice they called “tuma,” nestling on their clothes, already red from the blood sucked the night before.
One day, while cutting grass outside the camp, they saw civilians watching them from a distance. He spotted his mother, Celing, and shouted, “Mamaaaa!”
But they were prevented to go near. His mother asked a man who threw a bundled cloth, inside was a rosary and IQS, a bottle of vitamins.
His mother, a nursing graduate from the University of the Philippines, gave instructions to take the vitamins and pray the rosary daily.
Manoling, with the Filipino and American prisoners of war, got their nourishment only twice a day -- from a fistful of rice and boiled “kangkong” or swamp cabbage,sometimes with the strings included.
They became reed thin and, by June, many among the prisoners suffered and died from dysentery and malnutrition. Manoling himself contracted malaria, probably also while in Mt. Samat, which gave him chills and fever during the day.
Whenever the Japanese soldiers would see him shivering, they would say: “Oooh, Mararya!” July came, the death toll increased and he would see processions of familiar faces being buried.
Uncertain of his fate, he never stopped praying the rosary, which became a habit until today when he is already in his 90s. One day, Manoling said a Filipino official arrived and announced the release of some prisoners, as entreated by President Jose P. Laurel to Japan.
Finally on Aug 23, 1942, Manoling was overjoyed when his name was mentioned in the second batch of prisoners to be released. He was asked to pack his belongings and leave the next day. He was finally free.
From Capas, them lucky ones were ordered to board the train -- all standing in a tightly-packed “bagon.” Manoling said the trip ended in Tutuban in Manila in the capital's waterfront district of Tondo where jubilant Filipino civilians and volunteers including the Red Cross welcomed them.
They were told to strip down and were sprayed with water that smelled like Lysol. They were given towels and pajamas and they were assigned to different hospitals in Manila. Manoling was sent to a maternity hospital in San Rafael near Malacanang.
There, he reunited with his mother -- exchanging hugs, crying, and thanking God. Being a nurse, his mother volunteered to take care of him, face and feet swollen from “beri-beri” despite suffering from diarrhea.
Manoling recalled given care and interviewed by social workers and UP volunteers led by a certain Minda Ochoa, a student leader. Almost four months in the hospital, he slowly recovered and his beri-beri, dysentery, and malaria were treated -- disappearing like smoke from gunbursts during the war.
Before Christmas, he went back home to the rented apartment in Manila -- where he enjoyed temporary peace.
BATTLE OF MANILA
In 1944, Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed in Leyte. Manoling heard news that American reinforcements also landed somewhere in Nasugbu, Batangas.
Manoling became worried, seeing Japanese soldiers putting up sandbags and machine guns in street corners. He convinced his mother to move to a relative’s house in Singalong.
Together with his brother, his mother’s two unmarried sisters and their Bicolano cook, Felix “Mamang Ellis” Presbiterio, they packed their belongings in three pushcarts and set off.
But upon reaching Taft Avenue, they were cut off and prevented by Japanese soldiers who told them to return. They were trapped in Ermita. News spread that the Americans were approaching Manila and already in Pasay.
Civilians fled to schools like Ateneo and beside it, Assumption, for shelter. They went to the auditorium building in Ateneo. Their family and his two aunts went ahead to Assumption. The cook, Mamang Ellis, was left behind to guard their stuff in Ateneo.
Manoling went back to the Ateneo to help the cook secure their belongings but, on his way back to Assumption, he was surprised by a Japanese soldier guarding the wall separating the two schools. The Japanese shouted, “KURA!” and took a shot at him.
He quickly ducked, hearing the bullet whizzing above his head, and ran swiftly in a zigzag pattern through a cornfield back to the auditorium while he was trembling.
There were many civilians then gathered outside the Ateneo auditorium. He became friends with the Greek Papadouli family -- Minnie, 18; her mother who was about 60; and Minnie’s sister Nena, in her late 20s, who already abandoned her husband, a Japanese officer.
He also met the crying 14-year-old granddaughter of Gen. de los Reyes (probably Maj. Gen. Jose J. Delos Reyes who was the chief of staff of the Philippine Commonwealth Army from Jan 11, 1936 until May 3, 1936), accompanied by her “yaya.’
A bomb landed at the auditorium. Manoling and his new found friends followed other civilians who sought refuge at the Philippine General Hospital on Taft Avenue.
Mamang Ellis, already an old man, insisted on remaining and safeguarding their belongings in Ateneo. They never saw him since.
As the bombings and shots from across the streets intensified, Manoling led his friends in hiding to a safer place -- under the first floor of the PGH.
They were cramped and formed a piteous heap, nervously enduring two days without food and water. On the third day, Manoling peeped out and saw American boots.
Hundreds of them emerged, blackened with soot, and were greeted by American soldiers who gave bread, canned goods, and cigarettes. Manoling thought of his mother and brother and looked for them in Assumption. The place was deserted but there were no bodies.
The general’s grand daughter and her yaya went to look for her grandmother while the Papadouli family opted to stay with him.
They looked for shelter but could only be accommodated on what remained of the few houses from the Americans’ blanket bombardment of Manila, the second most devastated city after Warsaw, Poland.
On the third day, Manoling chanced upon his mother and aunt standing on the balcony of one of the houses in Pandacan.
Reunited for the second time, he again shouted “Maaaa!” louder this time, as he ran up the stairs and saw his brother crying with a gunshot wound on his back.
After the city was cleared, Manoling accompanied the Papadoulis in looking for a temporary home in Pasay. His family then moved to Mandaluyong where they restarted a new life.
Manoling was able to graduate and eventually became a lawyer and later as town mayor in his province. Despite his tender age, Manoling was now on the road to full recovery from his operation.
He attributed his resiliency from his experience as a soldier who learned to pray the rosary every day and love unselfishly. He said: “Well, I could say that my experience during the war when I became a soldier helped a lot, maybe it also helped the way I have conducted my life.
"That it is not only for yourself, but to love your fellowmen and help in what way you can especially for our country.” Some three years ago, Manoling visited and saw his name among the veterans who defended Bataan at the Capas National Shrine.
As the country commemorates the anniversary of the Death March on April 10, Manoling has remained among the few aging WW II veterans still awaiting equal compensation from the US government. (PNA)
(Editor's Note: The author, son of Manoling, himself went on an emotional trip to this town, 101 kms from the former's office, this week to validate his father's recollection.)