From Under This Hat: Surface James


By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO

James Balao is mestizo Japanese, like me. His eyes are just chinkier because he is also part Chinese, like my kids. He is a very much better investigative and literary writer than very many of us identified as journalists.

We, both, trace our roots to the Japanese migrant workers who came in the 1900s to build Kennon Road, the City of Baguio and the town of La Trinidad. He was abducted on September 17, twelve days ago, on his way to his parent’s house for a visit. His is the first case of enforced disappearance under this president.

This stirs my memory of my father’s stories during the 2nd world war. My father was assigned to the USAFFE engineering brigade when the war broke out. He was one of those who did not choose to change his name when the Japanese were the established enemies of (the American colonizers of) the country. His group was usually ahead of the fighting troops having to build bridges or dig trenches for mobility and defense.

When Bataan fell, he was among the last of the defending Igorot soldiers and Baguio boys who naturally sought each other for support until the death march and eventual escape from it.

He, and his death march colleagues in the Japanese-army-occupied Baguio City were wanted outlaws. They naturally joined the guerrilla forces – the people’s army for the Americans had ran or retreated to Australia.

The Kempetai (the notorious Japanese secret police) searched for them. In this hunt he painfully witnessed school mates, former playmates and relatives rat on these escapees and guerillas. In his story he described these traitors as having a bag with two holes for eyes over their heads as they went to point at the wanted outlaw. Victims were cruelly treated, “worst than dogs” by the Kempetai. He was not able to escape one of these he was tortured in their chambers (the present Bayanihan Hotel). He was just lucky he got away and headed to the mountains before they could (the Tabora park now) chop of his head.

That was an open war situation and the nationalist bravely defended his country whether he was part Japanese, Chinese, Jew, Russian American, and Igorot.

When Martial Law was declared by Marcos, many young activists were abducted, detained, tortured, summarily killed. The youngest political detainee I met was 13 years old, high school president, top of his class, son of a shipping magnate, and he even did not know why. From Baguio there were some 80 people, from Dagupan more than 150 members of then ‘de Colores’ prayer group. I also met former friends and even relatives pointed out innocent people like the traitors of old.

The Kempetai of today is no longer a foreigner but a ‘macabebe’ or a ‘magdalo’ made legit by a government directive and leashed against the lesser people of a nation, against an Andress Bonifacio. History, has documented traitors in different guises and most during or when it is a poor peoples war against the establishment. For traitors like these try very hard to legitimize themselves in the eyes of the nation. (No wonder the PR budget is so big)

Yes, Virginia, there is an on-going war in the country. It is a war against graft and corruption, big time thieves, against being cheated off your daily sustenance, against those who perpetuate poverty. A war against Martial Law again. I believe it is for this reason the people’s enemy has taken James.

I repeat the appeal to friends, relatives, the Filipino, Japanese, Chinese and Igorot communities to please help the family and clan find James.

I also add this postscript to also stress the need for unity against state terrorism:

“First they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.” # (NorDis)

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