April 23, 2024

On Sept. 10, 1944, six Filipino prisoners were given death sentence through decapitation by the Kempeitai.
The entire Japanese Imperial Army garrison command in Mankayan, Benguet were in full regalia along with a crowd of silent and fearful residents.
Each prisoner was read their respective cases in the Kangaroo court, then the supreme order was pronounced – death by beheading.
The six prisoners were lined two meters apart in prostate position.
The berdugo was a Kempeitai captain who raised his samurai katana and swing down with a single chop amidst cheering Japanese soldiers as the head rolls to the ground.
There was silence among the crowd followed by crying and pleading.
Blood splattered as the second head rolled, then the third.
The fourth prisoner was a 19-year-old boy from Kiangan, Ifugao.
His thoughts wandered home to his mother, his siblings, friends and relatives.
He looked around for a last glimpse of the world. Then he talked to God…and God answered.
There was pleading from the crowd to spare the young man.
When the executioner was about to raise his bloodied samurai katana, a certain Captain Tanaka sprang out shouting in Japanese to hold the execution.
The prisoner could only decipher a few Japanese statements from Captain Tanaka explaining that the boy is from Kiangan and Kiangan folk were very kind to him when he was there.
The young man was spared and the crowdcheered happily as he was whisked back to the dingy room confinement.
Five days earlier, the boy was arrested by the Kempeitai on suspicion of spying for the guerilla forces who are at that time succeeding in their hit and hide demolition and ambush.
For three days, the boy was physically tortured – beaten and underwent water torture to extract information.
The Kempeitai was known for its brutality and the indiscriminate arrests of people with no or little evidence. Confessions were commonly obtained through various torture methods with no proper trials. Many captives died during torture and under harsh living conditions.
But what kept this boy from Kiangan alive and sane was his Christian background learning from Ifugao Academy, an American missionary established high school in Kiangan.
He said in his autobiography “During those difficult moments, I was all the time thinking of Jesus on the cross at Calvary.
For three months, the young prisoner was confined with many others in a dimly-lit narrow room called monkey room sitting most of the time day and night without moving, suffering from hunger and thirst and bitten by multitudes of bedbugs and lice. He was severely emaciated.
The prisoners planned and executed a great escape while out tending the garden.
News spread out fast that some prisoners escaped the Kempeitai garrison.
Captain Bunol of the 11th Infantry First Battalion learned that one of the escapee was the young Ifugao who was a distant relative and friend.
Captain Bunol took care of the escapee and brought him home to the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines-Northern Luzon headquarters in Ifugao. Another relative, Lt. Balanban brought him home to their village in Nagacadan, Kiangan.
The whole community was so glad to see him because they thought he was executed in prison. After regaining strength, he rejoined the Army and served in the medics providing first aid treatment in the frontlines.
While treating a wounded soldier, a bullet whisked in his head dropping his helmet. God saved him the second time. He did his duty with honesty and diligence until his honorable discharge at the end of the war.
True to his promise to God, he went to become one of the first protestant pastors of Ifugao under the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
The surrender site of General Tomoyuki Yamashita at the Home Economics building of the Kiangan Central School is visited during its commemoration every Sept. 1 or 2.
Beside the building is a memorial wall listing the names of World war II veterans.
Most were long forgotten. Among the list is the young man who survived the Kempeitai and was saved from beheading.
His name is Miguel I. Guimbatan, Sr., my father and namesake.
I would not have been in existence and that of my family, nor my siblings and their families if God did not stop the execution of our father on Sept. 10, 1944.
(Author’s note: This veteran’s memoir is in honor of all who fought during World War II causing the surrender of General Tomoyuki Yamashita and his army in Kiangan, Ifugao on Sept. 1, 1945).