When the Japanese forces established their claim on the Philippines, they carted off the Americans, Britons, and other Caucasian nationalities to a concentration camp at the University of Santo Tomas.
Our patriarch, Eusebio Morales, managed to keep his British wife, Frances, at his side by negotiating with the Japanese soldiers. He offered to chlorinate the water plant in Balara, Quezon City, in exchange for house arrest for Frances. Eusebio moved his family to live in Balara for the duration of this project, but returned to Pandacan, Manila—where the family lived—when it was finished.
It’s interesting to note that the Japanese military agreed for him to chlorinate the water supply—a basic need for all even in wartime. Diseases such as dysentery and cholera were rampant in Asia at the time because there was no clean drinking water, so my great grandfather’s offer was a significant deal, even if the process was simple and could cheaply be implemented. With his education and privileged upbringing, Eusebio was fortunate in ways so many other Filipinos were not at the time.
My mother’s family is and always has been a bookish lot, composed of academics, artists, and casual intellectuals. Eusebio is my mother’s maternal grandfather, my great grandfather.
Eusebio's family hailed from Moncada, Tarlac, a town that their father, Urbano Morales, helped establish with his wife, Carmen Lopez from Ilocos Sur, with their rice business. Eusebio and his brothers, Luis and Fidel, were all sent by their parents to study in England. Luis and Fidel became a politician and doctor, respectively.
Eusebio became an engineer and upon his return to the Philippines, he brought with him his wife Frances Dougherty Allden. It has been told that Frances was paraded around Moncada upon her arrival because the locals thought she “looked like the Virgin Mary,” which was probably in reference to the whiteness of her skin rather than a resemblance of features.
Eusebio’s engineering services were sought after, so he moved his family to Pandacan. His children grew up in Manila. When my grandmother, Mary Morales, married Pacifico Joaquin, a Certified Public Accountant working for American companies, they settled on Valley Road in New Manila, Quezon City.
The Joaquins had seven children: Sonia, Connie, Penny, Quinito, Priscilla, Molly, and a boy who was stillborn.
The older children were in their teens when World War II landed on Philippine shores, and my mother had not been born yet. From the house on Valley Road, my Auntie Connie witnessed the violence of the Japanese military firsthand.
One afternoon, a mass of Filipino laborers the Japanese military had “drafted” into service was being migrated through that area of Quezon City. Auntie Connie watched the moving flock with Auntie Penny from the window of their home as it passed their street. The sisters saw one truck full of laborers suddenly being chased by a greatly agitated Japanese soldier. The soldier then stopped the truck, pulled down the latch of the flat bed, and dragged one of the laborers to the ground before beating him to death, right before my aunts’ eyes.
Throughout the war, the Japanese military forces maintained complete control of Manila. Some time before the war ended, the Japanese soldiers reportedly claimed the area of New Manila and Cubao for the Makapili, a militant group of Filipinos who actively supported the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.
As with other houses in the neighborhood, my family’s on Valley Road was taken over by the Japanese military. It was designated to be the headquarters of some Japanese officers. My grandparents, Mary and Pacifico Sr., had no choice but to surrender the house, so they sent their children to live with Eusebio and Frances, who by then were residing at the top of Poinsettia Street, on España extension.
However, Mary and Pacifico decided to stay on the second floor of their home so they could watch over the family belongings. They had heard too many stories of looting happening in the captured homes of people they knew.
My aunts said they constantly felt the danger of their parents living in a house occupied by Japanese soldiers. The other end of Poinsettia Street ended at Valley Road, near the family home, so the children could see their own house from the top of the road, by their grandparents’ house.
One night, they heard sounds of torture that seemed to come from their house on Valley Road. The whole family was distraught to hear people screaming and moaning in its direction. The noise made Auntie Connie and Auntie Sonia feel so wild that they ran to the street to try to look down on their house. The girls stood there crying, hoping fervently that their parents were safe, despite their ears.
In reality, Mary and Pacifico were mostly unharmed by their “roommates”—probably because they were officers of higher rank who carried themselves with more dignity than the foot soldiers. Every morning, these men would step out into the front garden, which faced east, and perform their salute to the sun as it rose. My grandparents, however, maintained a keen awareness of what cruelty their guests were capable of, and kept their heads down throughout their stay.
My mom told me that, at the time, there were no numbers for the houses in the neighborhood, which were all large and inhabited by foreigners. Today, the Valley Road house is mostly intact with some renovations. It has gables like an English house. You can still see the tops of it from the street but it's walled in now, of course. There was a huge tree that was in the yard that fell down recently because of a typhoon. Sayang.
One tragedy of that time remains a mere footnote in our family history to this day, and that’s the death of my Aunt Priscilla. When she was 5 years old, she had an abscessed tooth that badly needed treatment. The war had made it impossible to find penicillin, and so Priscilla died of infection.
My other aunts hardly talk about her, and my mother, who was born years after, was not told much about her except that Priscilla had blue eyes and blonde hair.
When the Japanese officers vacated the premises, the Joaquin children moved back to their home. The officers reportedly left behind Japanese swords and other paraphernalia that my mother’s siblings kept.
Auntie Connie again witnessed the exodus of Japanese soldiers, all on foot. They commandeered all things on wheels, even pushcarts—anything that would help them move faster. My aunt said it felt as if there were days and days of scores of Japanese soldiers walking down Valley Road, leaving, escaping their failure, the disaster of war. In truth, all they left were broken individuals and families looking to rebuild their homes and their lives.
My mother was born in peacetime, a few years later. She told me that Valley Road and the streets around it were her playground, and how she used to run through them wearing only her panties when she was a young child. I picture a little girl running carelessly up Valley Road, stamping down the years of fear. She was the only one in that house who didn’t witness war.