The Blood and Mud in the Philippines: Anti-Guerrilla Warfare on Panay Island
Continuation of Chapter 11
One night while we were trying to determine the timing of our escape, the former 14th Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Takaji Wachi was brought to our prison camp. He had been summoned from Japan as a witness for Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, former commander of 14th Area Army, who was being tried for the Bataan Death March. We decided to listen to his talk about the situation of Japan. Members of the camp got together at his tent and we listened to him late into the night. His talk not only impressed us but also made us angry. As I paid attention to the stories about Japan that I wanted to know, I considered that it was the right time to escape.
On that same night, however, three POWs had run away – namely, Master Sergeant Kuwano, Sergeant Makita and Corporal Itai – and there was great confusion throughout the camp. Hurriedly, the authorities started to build a double barbed-wire fence that was nearly three meters tall around the War Criminal Suspects’ Camp. Those POWs got a head start on me and I felt very sorry to be left behind. All the same, there was nothing I could do but pray for their success. Four or five days passed, and I was happily thinking that they must have succeeded. Then suddenly, a cage-like structure measuring about five meters square was built at the camp entrance. To our surprise, the three who had attempted to escape were put in that cage. We later learned that Itai had lost his shoes while the three were swimming across the 100-meter wide Pasig River. He soon was unable to walk on land, and they had hidden themselves in a swamp for three or four days. They gave up when they got hungry and surrendered to nearby residents.
Several days after the incident, the thick barbed-wire fence around the camp was completed and the number of guards increased.
11.2 Failed Escape
On April 4, we were again moved to the prison camp in Canlubang. I immediately started to prepare for escape. Through reliable acquaintances, I tried hard to collect information on the geography of Mt. Makiling and the area around it, the places where the Japanese Army buried their weapons, the possible existence of any Japanese soldiers, the sea current from the northern end of Luzon Island to the sea off Taiwan, and the trade winds. Then again, I also made every effort to obtain goods such as medicine for malaria, salt, a compass, map, knives, mess kits, canteens, a US tent and so on. Old friends like Captain Junsuke Hitomi of the Army Propaganda Corps and Captain Motoki kindly gave me malaria medicine and salt, wishing me success on my escape.
I called on those from within our unit who likewise intended to escape. Some from other units joined upon learning of my intentions. We checked on the escape points of the camp, the guard situation, and the method of cutting the barbed wire fence. One day in early May, when the preparations were nearly complete, a clipping from a Manila newspaper in English was posted on the entrance wall of the camp. It said, ‘On the crime of killing around 2,000 residents in Panay, Brigade Commander Lieutenant General Kôno was given the sentence of Death by Hanging. His 13 subordinates are going to be tried in the near future.’ It made me feel that I had no second to lose anymore.
I decided to carry out our escape in mid-May. That night a theatre performance was held sponsored by gangsters (Yakuza) who had control of the camp. The moon was expected to rise at 10 p.m. Six of us – myself, lst Lieutenant Toyota, Sergeant Makita, Corporal Itai, and Major Takeshita of the Mindanao Kempeitai and his subordinate Sergeant Kobayashi – gathered at 7 p.m. by the ditch of the NCO and enlisted men’s camp that we had earlier identified.
Quickly we started to use a pair of pliers to cut the barbed wire in the ditch but the pliers were old and did not work well. As I was getting irritated, a prisoner who I did not know came up to me with a tissue and pencil. In tears, he said, ‘I am xxx stationed at the Cabatuan airfield. Please write your message to your family on this paper. As I’m from Oita prefecture, I’ll make sure to give it to them.’ I told him that I had already sent them a letter, so I had nothing more to tell them, and thanked him. He responded, ‘Then I’ll be watching the guard tower from that tent. I wish you success. ‘Then he left. I later found out that he was Mr. Takeshi Ando, who lives in Oita.
Quite a time had passed but we had cut only less than a third of the barbed wires. We were vexed and worried. A group of men appeared in the dark with the rattling noise of high-heeled geta (wooden clogs or the traditional Japanese footwear). One of them suddenly gave Itai a straight punch, causing him fall down. Itai – who was nicknamed after a well-known gangster, Ishimatsu of the Forest – made no counterpunch. The man who had punched him was one of the gangsters who were in charge of the camp. On the surface, as seen by the US camp authorities, a POW was the formal representative of the Japanese; in the background, however, the gangsters controlled the kitchen, entertainment and the ditches, among other things.
Showing off his tattoos on his arms, the gangster made a deep bow to us, and said in an intimidating husky voice, ‘My name is Tomioka and I’m a sworn brother of Boss Takada. Itai is my sworn brother. There are also some among my henchmen who have to run away. So please wait for them. We will certainly let you run away. We gangsters respect our sense of obligation more than anything else.’ His words were polite but he was actually threatening us. Thus, we had to give up our attempt to escape that night. The Gangster Boss came to know of our plan because Itai had stolen the only pair of pliers for the stage of the theater.
Gangsters controlled the ditches that were possible escape routes. Therefore, our attempt to escape now needed the permission of the Gangster Boss. I often urged the Boss to keep his promise and let us go. However, the Boss just repeated his exaggerated talk and did not make a move. In the meantime, around May 20, a rumor spread that someone had escaped from the camp. Soon we knew it was Sergeant Makita. The next day, I happened to see Sergeant Makita who was being escorted by four or five guards. When his eyes met mine, he sent me a wink that implied ‘Damn, I failed again!’ Sergeant Makita had run away from the general camp and reached as far as the foot of Mt. Makiling. However, armed local residents were already hunting the area. Realizing that that it impossible for him to flee further without being detected, he submitted himself to them. The rumor was that someone had tipped off the US Forces from inside the camp that made possible the quick dispatch of the search orders for him.
My escape plan did not work out. On June 2, when I was in the pit of despair and discouragement, all of us related to Panay were moved to the Manila court. The wire netting that covered the vehicle into which we were pushed reminded me of bamboo cages that carried criminals in Japan. Amidst the yelling of ‘Bakayaro, dorobo, You sons of bitches, thieves!’ uttered by the people along the road, we made our way to the Manila court. Having given up all hope, the words of hatred and humiliation no longer evoked any emotion or anger in us. Like fools, we just stared at those Filipinos. (To be continued)