Few days ago, I read an article written by Dr. Honesto Pascual Jr. which to me was so touching. He wrote about the emotional journey he had to take from losing his father at young age in the hands of the brutal Japanese Kempeitai(Imperial Secret Police). For years, he lived harboring hate for the Japanese people and how circumstances lead to his change of heart. A testament to the fact that Yes,Forgiveness Really Heals.
I was born after World War II, a year after my father was released as prisoner war from the Japanese who occupied the Philippines. He was a member of the US Armed Forces of the Far East. Through the GI bill he was then able to go to school at Philippine Union College (now Adventist University of the Philippines) and was employed by the college after his graduation in 1949 as a high school teacher. We lived in the college campus, were Mrs. Pascual also taught, till I was eight years old .
As a child I heard many stories first hand from victims of the atrocities of Japanese soldiers during the war. I also heard bits and pieces of the story of Honesto Pascual a faculty member of the college that did not survive such atrocity. In fact, I remember his wife Josefina Pascual and her three boys Deleo, Jomey and Honesto Jr. I later made short tribute video about Honesto Pascual, who is the composer of the Philippine Union College school song, Shine On Forever.
“On soldiers, forgiveness, and friends”
By: Honesto C. Pascual, MD
“And forgive us our debts As we forgive our debtors… For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:12, 14-15 [NKJV]
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” Thus started President F. D. Roosevelt’s speech to the joint session of Congress.
The United States was drawn into World War II. Ten hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese forces bombed Manila; and the Philippines was drawn into that war which lasted until 1945.
October 12, 1944 when I was almost two, was our family’s day of infamy. That was the day my father was taken by Japanese soldiers under pretense of just needing to ask him and the president of Philippine Union College [PUC] a few questions. The American missionaries who had been running the school were interned, and so that responsibility was assigned to two Filipinos who were in their early 30s. My father was the business manager
The college president, my father, and three students were incarcerated at Fort Santiago in Manila, where they were repeatedly tortured and starved. And for what? For being pro-American, working under Americans at the missionary college. Miraculously, the president was released; but not my father nor the students. Japanese soldiers continued to torture and starve them until they were killed. They were murdered, really.
So, growing up, I always hated all Japanese people. I felt I was justified to hate them. They viciously robbed me of my right to grow up under the guidance and tutelage of my father. I was too young to remember him when they murdered him. So, I hated them all . As a boy playing soldiers with my older brother and our friends, I made sure I was among those who shot and killed the enemy, the Japanese.
An American missionary who spoke Japanese was the president of PUC when my mother was a student and started teaching there.
One of his personal missions in the Philippines was to give Bible studies to Japanese POWs who were incarcerated at the National Penitentiary.
My mother was among those who assisted him on Sabbath afternoons. A dozen or so of those POWs were eventually baptized in the baptistry at PUC. I witnessed that event. I was about 8 years old. It was my first time to see Japanese men live and in person. They came in a prison bus escorted by Filipino soldiers. Not one of them was attacked by anyone from within and outside the college campus. But I still hated them.
In May 1954, Asian Games II were held in Manila. We watched the basketball game between the Philippines and Japan. Philippines won the gold. The team and their coaches had to be escorted to and from the court by Filipino soldiers. They were booed and pelted with soda bottles and other debris causing the game to be stopped briefly a few times for the maintenance crew to clear the floor. No athlete was injured, but I was elated they lost to “my team”. Oh, how I hated them!
After the war, my mother, widowed at age 25, with three boys to raise, returned to college. She became a teacher at PUC, so we resided in one of the houses in campus. In the 1950s, Adventist Japanese students were sent to study at PUC. She had those Japanese students in her history classes. I noticed how my mother treated them fairly and decently. At times, she would help them with their English. She even had them for Sabbath lunch. I never observed any hint of animosity from her towards them. Her kindness slowly began to mellow my hatred.
Also during that decade, the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary held a summer session at PUC. Pastors and Bible teachers from the Philippines and all over Asia convened in campus. Naturally, Japanese ministers were in the group. Among them was a pastor who was a student at PUC when the war broke out. He was drafted by the Japanese Imperial Army and was assigned to Fort Santiago.
His duties there included English translator. It turns out that he was the one who wrote my mother the letter confirming my father’s torture, starvation, and death at Fort Santiago. He saw my father’s remains.
Until receiving that letter, my mother had hoped that my father survived, had amnesia, and was somewhere in the Philippines or even Japan as a POW. I can still remember being four or five years old and seeing my mother crying, holding that letter, which confirmed the unthinkable.
In 1959, one of the Japanese students who studied at PUC, was our tour guide in Tokyo
Yet here was my mother, inviting him and his fellow Japanese pastors to join us for Sabbath lunch. Again, I never observed any hint of animosity from her towards them.
In 1959, one of the Japanese students who studied at PUC, was our tour guide in Tokyo when my older brother and I stopped over en route by ship from Manila to San Francisco.
In 1962, one of my friends at Pacific Union College [the “other” PUC] was Japanese, the son of the very pastor who wrote the letter to my mother.
In 1964, I made friends with a Japanese student when I returned to PUC in the Philippines. We played softball together. He taught me a Japanese phrase: “Watashi wa anata o tomadachi,” I am your friend.
During my fellowship in 1975 to 1977, the chief of allergy and clinical immunology at the medical center I trained in was Japanese. Not only was he my mentor, he was my friend.
Over the last 35 years, every time I go back to the Philippines, I visit Fort Santiago. We visited there last month. There is a cross mounted on a pedestal. Engraved on marble are the words:
“THIS CROSS MARKS THE FINAL RESTING PLACE OF APPROXIMATELY 600 FILIPINOS AND AMERICANS WHO WERE VICTIMS OF ATROCITIES DURING THE LAST DAYS OF FEBRUARY 1945. THE APPEARANCE OF THEIR BODIES SUGGESTED STARVATION AND POSSIBLE SUFFOCATION. THEY WERE FOUND INSIDE A REAR DUNGEON WHICH HAD INNER DOORS OF MASSIVE IRON BARS AND OUTER DOORS OF IRON PLATE ON WOOD.”
I learned forgiveness from my mother. She had more reason than I to hate the Japanese people. But she forgave them. I can do no less. I too, forgive them. Today, I can go to Fort Santiago with no feeling of animosity towards them. They are my tomadachis.
When you embrace forgiveness, you release all the pain, negative vibes, distress, and baggage that, if left unchecked, interferes with your emotional, spiritual, and even physical wellbeing. There’s another saying that says “refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Yes, Forgiveness Really Heals, yurushi ga hotoni iyasu.