The Blood and Mud in the Philippines: Anti-Guerrilla Warfare on Panay Island
Continuation of Chapter 11
Miraculously, however, towards the end of his testimony, he made a mistake. Lawyer Simon had asked him gently, ‘When Kumai beheaded the three, did you see blood flow out of their necks?’ The witness replied, ‘I do not know.’ At this blunt reply, a sudden commotion occurred in the court. Lawyer Simon earnestly asked him simple questions one after another, but the witness just repeated, ‘I don’t know,’ to whatever was asked.
Finally, the exasperated Presiding Judge Colonel Ottoman ordered, ‘I believe the witness does not understand English well. I will call for a recess. When we come back for the next court session, let him have a Visayan interpreter.’ Therefore, the trial broke into a recess. Under these circumstances, a break in the proceedings was usually disadvantageous for the accused. During the recess, the witness could calm himself, and the prosecutors and Filipino military assistants could skillfully give suggestions to the witnesses through persuasion or threats.
When the court session resumed, a smallish attractive female interpreter, half-Filipina and half-Chinese, appeared. Again, the defense lawyer began to ask questions. The good-looking interpreter – after taking some time for the witness to think about it, as if she was trying to soothe the witness – translated the question into Visayan in a gentle voice. No matter what he was asked, however, the witness kept shaking his head saying, ‘I don’t know.’
Observing the proceedings, the Presiding Judge Ottoman could no longer contain himself. Speaking in a coaxing voice though – his face was strict, he questioned the witness a few times as if to console him: ‘You have seen Kumai kill the local people, have you not?’ However, the answer was still, ‘I don’t know.’ Lastly, the Presiding Judge said as if asking a child for a favor, ‘When Kumai cut the head with a sword, it bled, didn’t it?’ but the witness repeated as if saying a rosary, ‘I don’t know.’ Probably the witness could no longer bear giving false testimonies. Thus, the first half of the afternoon court session finished with the witness’ ‘I do not know.’
During the next recess, defense lawyer Simon instructed me to respond to the supplementary indictment as follows: ‘There were also other units engaged in the punitive operation in Lucena, and I do not know anything about this case, although I had been in Lucena.’ He ignored the confession I had submitted. As for the first and second incidents, I myself could not identify if they were factual or not; two and a half years had passed. However, that excuse would never get anyone through in a trial. Therefore, I made up my own scenario about the incidents, drummed it repeatedly into my head, and studied as many possible questions so that I would not contradict myself. In the situation I was in, my experience of interrogating the guerrillas in Panay helped me. Surprising even myself, I gave testimony at the court very calmly. My testimony was as follows:
‘Both incidents happened in the main guerrilla bases, while we were hurriedly chasing the guerrillas. As the witness said, Shimoji stabbed a Filipino with a ‘ binangon’ though I never heard that he was killed. This man was a precious guide in our search for the main guerrilla base; therefore, I had ordered Shimoji to walk with him to the headquarters. However, Shimoji later hurt the man, and did not bring him to me. So, after the Punitive Operation finished, towards the end of January 1944, I requested the unit commander to put Shimoji in the military jail for a month as punishment for disobeying orders. He was later conscripted as Private Second Class in November 1944 and was killed in action, but his Filipina wife lives in Iloilo Province, so if you look for her and call her as witness, everything will become clear. ‘
I pleaded in a loud voice. Though I thought the court would never try to look for her as witness, I appealed to the public gallery with many gestures.
About the second incident, I testified as follows, paying attention not to totally deny the remarks of the witness and make him lose face:
It happened while I was pursuing guerrillas in the mountains. I captured an old woman older than 50, whose eyesight was deteriorating. She was not blind, but as she was afraid, she shouted loudly and made such a fuss. As she had a skin disease and was covered with pimples all over, I worried about the possibility of infection, and interrogated her with her hands bound. As this concerned collecting information about the guerrillas, we would never interrogate anyone in front of Filipino porters.
As soon as my testimony had finished, prosecutor Shepherd stood up and cross-examined for nearly an hour while shouting or intimidating me. I kept looking nervous but I was calm inside. When it came to an important point, I had the Japanese American (Nisei) interpreter repeat the question telling him that I could not catch its meaning. Sometimes, I pretended I had misunderstood the question and while giving a contradictory answer, I gained time to think about it.
Regarding the supplementary indictment, as Simon had directed me, I calmly answered that I knew nothing about the incident, although I had been in Lucena. As the War Crimes Tribunal was conducted American style, what was decisive was the magic of the words rather than the facts. The accused could not afford to make a mistake of even one word. Prosecutor Shepherd had a habit of snapping his fingers when the accused slipped up in his reply about an important point, or when he failed to find any fault with the accused. My testimony ended when he had snapped his fingers seven or eight times.
Next day, in the morning of July 6, Captain Jiro Motoki, the Adjutant of the headquarters at the time of the incident, presented himself at the court as a witness to substantiate my testimony. He specifically testified without showing any faults that he put Shimoji in the military prison for a month upon my order. Moreover, lawyer Simon called to the witness stand a staff officer of the General Headquarters, who was an absolute stranger to me. I wondered what Simon wanted him to testify on. Simon showed a copy of the Japanese Army Criminal Law to the prosecutor, and let the staff officer confirm that it was so. Then he read out loudly one article from it. ‘At the battle front, the regimental commander and independent battalion commander can put his subordinate in military prison for one month. Kumai punished Shimoji legally according to the concerned law,’ Simon stated. I had never read the said article of the law, and it was just then that I realized that I had mentioned a one-month imprisonment that, by chance, coincided with the regulation of the Army Criminal Law. (To be continued)