The Blood and Mud in the Philippines: Anti-Guerrilla Warfare on Panay Island
Continuation of Chapter 11
11.3 War Crimes Tribunal
The venue for the War Crimes Tribunal used to be the official residence of the US High Commissioner before the war. During the Japanese occupation, it was the official residence of Lieutenant General Homma. Currently, it is the American Embassy. The complex, which had been damaged and burned from the street fighting and fires that ravaged across the city of Manila, was given emergency repairs by the US forces for the use of the tribunal. There were three buildings of cells for the suspects, with a narrow 30 square-meter walking space. There were courtrooms and investigation rooms as well, although barbed wires and canvas surrounded the 150-square meter area. We could hear the wave sounds of Manila Bay and could see Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor beyond the sea. Nevertheless, the heat inside the cells was deadly.
On the next day, June 3, the full-scale investigation by prosecutors started. It went on day after day, exhausting everyone who was anxious to know how they may be saved from the death penalty at the end of each day.
In these circumstances, we heard of how the executions of Captain Makoto Yoshioka of the 4th company and 2nd Lieutenant Okuda, a platoon commander, were carried out. They had been tried separately from us for the execution of American pilots. We were told that they both were calm all the way and when they left for the execution ground, they saluted the others in a moment of stillness.
In the few secret meetings of the Panay suspects, we discussed and agreed that we would never mention any names of our comrades. We would be calling witnesses from among ourselves and not anyone who had already returned to Japan. However, what infuriated us was the fact that the prosecutors decided not to prosecute staff officer Colonel Hidemi Watanabe, the main person responsible for the Panay cases. We were the ones being investigated as suspects, beaten down with the fear of death. Why? Colonel Watanabe had been the actual commander of the punitive expeditions in Panay. In teaming up with Captain Kengo Watanabe, he forced everyone to pursue the brutal punitive battles. He had ordered Captain Watanabe to produce more and more brilliant war results, unmindful of how they were obtained.
We were all outraged with the decision made by the Military Commission but we could do nothing about it. The blame for the crimes of this VIP, who the Americans decided not to indict, was going to fall upon us. It made matters more and more disadvantageous for us.
The first trial towards the end of June was for Colonel Tozuka. Just as in the case of the trial of General Kôno, the prosecutor presented 30 to 40 witnesses one after another who vividly described a number of cases. Colonel Tozuka brushed aside these testimonies, saying, ‘I do not know anything about that.’ His lawyer was astonished and strictly criticized him, ‘Do you think all these cases can be done away with ‘I do not know’? Why are you not thinking of the trials of your subordinates that will follow yours? Have you no compassion for them?’ Among the witnesses, former Iloilo Provincial Governor Fermin Caram appeared at the court. He gave a simple testimony about unit commander Tozuka, ‘He was a cruel commander.’ By the end of June, before his lawyer could provide any decent defense, Colonel Tozuka was sentenced with the death penalty.
The second trial was a joint one of 2nd Lieutenant Noriyuki Ôtsuka and Master Sergeant Kuwano. The incidents included the killing of ten American civilians in the mountains of Tapaz, and others across the whole route of the punitive operations. Apparently prepared for the worst, Second Lieutenant Ôtsuka attended the trial with a fair and decent attitude and concentrated on saving the life of his subordinate Master Sergeant Kuwano.
His good-spirited attitude as a soldier impressed his lawyer and the presiding judge. The prosecutor presented witnesses from among local residents one after another. Every time they mentioned Kuwano, Second Lieutenant Noriyuki Ôtsuka took the blame on himself, saying ‘I am to I blame for all that.’ The most powerful of the prosecutor’s witnesses was a former spy for the Japanese Army named Jesus (Astrologo), who could well be called a former disciple of Ôtsuka. A Philippine trial was waiting ahead for him as a collaborator of the Japanese since collaboration was considered treason in the Philippines. Ôtsuka was considerate that the punishment for Jesus would be as light as possible, and always faced Jesus with smiles. Ôtsuka did not contradict any of Jesus’ testimony and instead seemed to encourage him. Jesus was moved by this attitude. Aware of Ôtsuka’s intention, he did not give any testimony that was disadvantageous for Master Sergeant Kuwano. Jesus was shedding tears when he left the courtroom. In the end, the sentence was death by hanging for Ôtsuka while Master Sergeant Kuwano miraculously received a life sentence due to his joint trial with Lieutenant Ôtsuka.
July 4, 1946 was the day of independence of the Philippines. From outside the camp saluting salvos sounded from US warships harbored in Manila Bay. In the-air was the droning of Superfortresses (B-29s) in a great formation. On the street fronting the Bay View Hotel and the court, was a grand brass band parade. The exciting scenes of national celebration unrolled all day in front of our eyes.
The next day, July 5, was the day my trial began. The courtroom to which I was taken was the one where General Yamashita, General Homma and General Kano were given their death sentences. Already in the 20 square-meter courtroom were my defense lawyer Simon, the prosecutor Shepherd and a Japanese American interpreter. The trial immediately opened as soon as the Presiding Judge, Colonel Ottoman, sat down with two associate judges.
First came the arraignment. After I answered, ‘I’m not guilty,’ the prosecutor called in a sharp-eyed Philippine Army Master Sergeant to the witness stand. He testified: ‘In 1943, I was in the 63rd Regiment of the guerrillas in Panay Island and was captured by the Kempeitai. After I was set free, I went along as a porter in the punitive operations of the Japanese Army. In December of the same year I was carrying Kumai’s belongings in the operations on Tablas Island. At that time, the Kumai Company captured a local resident around 50 years of age. After they treated him cruelly, Shimoji, an interpreter was ordered to kill him. The second incident occurred near this place. The Kumai unit captured a blind old woman, and after torturing her brutally, they bound her to a tree. I think she died later.’ Defense lawyer Simon stood up and successively questioned him on the inconsistencies in his testimony, to which the witness replied confidently.
In the afternoon session, there was a second eyewitness. He was a simple, honest-looking 20-year old peasant, not the type who told lies. In broken English, he testified: ‘In December 1943, I went to Lucena, Iloilo, as a porter of the Kumai unit. There was no battle in the area, and it was peaceful. Kumai, however, beheaded three people one after another in front of my eyes.’ This testimony referred to an incident that was in a supplementary indictment against me. The prosecutor had not preinvestigated the matter; neither was it mentioned at either trial of General Kôno or Colonel Tozuka. My own defense lawyer had shown me the case just a few days before the start of the trial. As it was so sudden, I barely had time to prepare and submit a confession that one of my subordinates killed a Filipino following an order given by Captain Watanabe. When the witness finished his testimony, prosecutor Shepherd sat down looking as if he had won the game. Murmurs spread in the public gallery where people quietly listened to the testimonies. At once, their hate-filled eyes focused on me. It was a strange atmosphere, as if a death sentence had already been meted. Next, defense lawyer Simon stood up and asked questions of the witness in almost the same order as the prosecutor did, and the witness answered – sometimes haltingly – but as a whole, without any problem. (To be continued)