The Law of the Sea

Arturo M. Tolentino: I wish people will remember me for The Law of the Sea

Japanese Occupation

Majority of the Filipinos left Manila, upon hearing that the Japanese were coming. Nanang brought the family in Angono, Rizal but my father volunteered to stay to protect the house on Espana. He lived in the basement along with the rats, eating only stale bread and water. I am sure not sure how exactly he planned to protect the premises if he was called upon, but I suppose he felt he had to do something. When the anticipated blood letting did not materialized the people trickled hesitantly back to the city and new ruler.

This is my father’s account of his life under the Japanese as he told me. He did so without bitterness for he is not a man to hold grudges. In fact, there were even some points where he forced a laugh and tried to make light of a particular ordeal, but as conversation continued his dark eyes clouded and moistened as his memories took us back to a period in his country’s history that most of us would rather forget.

He recalled:

“When the war broke out, I tried to get into the army. The Pilipino army was incorporated into the U.S. armed forces in the Far East and the headquarters was where we now call Far Eastern University I was told to come back to get my commission on the following Saturday. But Friday, the army pulled out leaving the city Open City because the Japanese were coming. So, I never received a commission or joined the armed forces. But I suppose that my papers were there in the headquarters and were found by the Japanese”.

As a result of that, my father was arrested by the Japanese July 1942. I remember that the Espana street was flooded when the Japanese came in the middle of the night.

My father recalls:

They took us to Fort Santiago. I was locked in a room 2.5 meters x 2.5 meters. There was a hole in one corner and that was comfort section. In the daytime we sat down. We were not allowed to stand up or lie down; we sat. We were not allowed to talk to each other so we whispered to each other when the guard wasn’t around. Whether we want to sleep or not is immaterial, that was the rule. We were not allowed to get up except to go to the comfort section.

We were given a bath every Saturday. The Japanese would take us out of the cell, all 15 of us, line us up in the courtyard and wash us down with high pressure water hose. And that was our bath. Our clothes dried on us and then we went back to our cell. From to time we were called to the investigation room for interrogation. The Japanese ask us all kinds of questions about our lives, activities, and most particularly any of our activities that they thought might have something to do with the war effort.

In my case I was vice president of the Young Philippines and in the last manifesto or statements we put out, we had taken an anti- Japanese position against their expansion towards the Philippines. The Japanese ask me a lot of question about the Y.P. whether they got hold of a copy or not, I really do not know. If they did it wasn’t from me because I got rid of all the papers and files on Y.P. The President of the Y.P. had taken to the mountains. Later, he surrendered to the Japanese to prevent certain reprisal against his community they had threatened. Eventually he was killed, according to the Japanese “while trying to escape”. But I think he was executed because nobody was ever able to find his grave. That was the usual excuse the Japanese gave when they “got rid of someone”.

While I was in Fort Santiago I was subjected daily to rigid investigation. Sometimes they would slap me or strike me with the legging of their boots. Often they would throw me with a judo hold or hit me with a 2”x2” piece of wood. Fortunately, I was quite physically strong from my weight lifting and my wrestling experience helped me to minimize the effects of being thrown to the ground. But what did hurt me very much and cause me pain for sometime afterwards, was when they put .45 caliber bullets between my fingers and squeezed them together. For a year or so afterwards I could hardly move my fingers. However, I believe that my tortures were nowhere near as severe as other who were suspected of assisting the guerrillas.

I remembered some of them coming back from their interrogation, with bleeding face or broken arms or legs and some never returned. When we entered Fort Santiago there were 15 of us, when I left there were 10.

I don’t know what brought about my release. When the Japanese asked me my profession and I told them I was a lawyer, I was beaten quite badly. Apparently they do not like lawyers. Oh my goodness what beating I received when I told them I was a lawyer! But then later on during the interrogation, I happened to mention that I was actually a Professor of Law. For some reason they respected Professors.

I think that they must have checked with the Law Schools to verify this was my title, because it was only about ten days after I had told them that, one morning, the guard came around to call out my name. I stood up, expecting to be taken to the investigation room. To my amazement he said: “You go home”. I couldn’t believe him. But he took me to the office where they return to me the papers and letters they had taken from my house when I was first arrested and asked me to check and make sure everything was intact. I didn’t bother. I just flew out of Fort Santiago as fast could. But there were two things that they never returned and I noticed that only when I was back home. One was an autographed picture of our president in exile in America, President Quezon and the other one was the Quezon Gold Medal that I had won at University College of Law oratorical contest. I suppose they kept them because they were associated with our legitimate president, whom they regarded as an enemy although he was in the U.S.

On his photograph President Manuel Quezon had written, “To Arturo M. Tolentino with the prayer that some day he will become a leader of the Filipino people.”

In the early days of the occupation my father became very frustrated. His brilliant mind and academic qualifications were of little value to the Japanese, for they were a law unto themselves and had no use for courts, and the requirements for lawyers or teachers of laws were zero.

In desperation Dr. Tolentino worked as a mason, building walls and houses and when that work ran out he turned his hands to carpentry. It was a far cry from what he was trained to do, but it was either that or starve. His wages for this manual labor was 50 centavos a day.

That was all behind him when he joined the Kalibapi. In September 1943 the National Assembly met and elected Jose P. Laurel as president of the Republic of the Philippines. Many of those involved in the puppet government under the Japanese were later accused of collaborating with the enemy. Guerilla resistance was fierce and determined throughout the duration of the war.

My father threw himself into the new job he had acquired. Here again is his account of what it entailed:

So I was taken to Japan as part of the team. On the way there I was very sick as I am a very poor sailor. Every time I stand I threw up. But eventually we reached Moji much to my relief.

After we disembarked the boat returned to the Philippines. On the way back, it was sunk by an allied submarine.

Our party stayed in Japan for three weeks and toured the country extensively. We stopped at inns and hotels and saw several cities.

Our host showed us many things that surprised us because we were under the impression that Japan was very far advanced in science and yet this was not always the case. But by the same token we saw plastic glasses for the first time. When they were dropped they didn’t break and we thought that this was something pretty marvelous.

Our trip back was a little more dangerous than the one out, because we were traveling in a military convoy consisting of seven or eight boats. I think ours was the only one that contained civilians, all the rest carrying military personnel, arms, and equipments.

We made a zig-zag course across the sea so the journey took longer than the first time. On about the third or fourth morning we heard explosions and saw the other boats scatter in all directions. Later we learned that one of the boats in the convoy had been torpedoed.

For the rest of the journey we traveled alone. We didn’t rejoin the convoy and each boat went it’s own way. The entire trip took us ten days, and all that time we had no idea just how long we would remain afloat.

As a point of interest, the boat that was sunk was clearly marked as a hospital ship.

We saw many things during our three weeks tour of Japan. From armament factories to flower arranging. It was quite a brain washing tour. The Japanese were desperate to win the friendship of the Filipinos because obviously this would help them with their occupation of the islands and so they had gone out of their way to make our visit as enjoyable as possible. But all the time we were continually aware that we were under Japanese control. We had a Japanese leader in charge of our group and we could not go anywhere alone. He directed all our movements from the time we left Manila until we returned.

The reality of the war was impressed upon us many times while we were in Japan. I remember on one occasion when we were visiting a department store seeing a Filipino flag on the display stand. It was stained with blood. At that moment a surge of nationalistic patriotism swept my whole being, and it was all I could do not to throw up.”

It was, this trip that my father made to Japan that was later used against him among others to lead him to yet another period in jail; for six months, this time under the Americans after the war was over and they were back in control.

monument of names


When I was interviewing my father to write his biography, “Que Sera, Sera” this is account of what he remembered when the Americans came to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese rule.

Sadly he said:

There was no opposition at all. The Americans came in tanks and went straight to U.S.T. I had often thought that in some ways, that was a little selfish of the Americans because they were more concerned about their own people than they were about us. They just attacked the university without any thought about the civilians who might be there.

The situation was that the Americans were on the North of Pasig river and the Japanese were in the South of Pasig river shelling the Americans. Unfortunately many innocent people were caught in the cross fire. Our neighbor’s house was hit by the Japanese shells and caught fire. This fire then quickly spread and soon engulfed our house which was only one block from the university grounds.

Later that night when our house caught fire we all bundled whatever belongings we could into a push cart, and left the vicinity of the fire. I grabbed my scrapbooks of newspaper clippings – I had only two at that time, and my diploma which were already rolled. The family moved towards Sampaloc church, where we, together with many other fleeing families, sought temporary refuge. The church doors were locked and the parish priest refused to let us in. We passed the night under the stars.