By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Almost 80 years ago, my granduncle Sen. Tomas V. Confesor of Cabatuan, Iloilo, had what would now be called a Zelensky moment, after the courageous president of beleaguered Ukraine. Tatay Tomas and my maternal grandfather Juan Gustilo Griño of Leganes, were cousins, as were their wives, Rosalina Javellana Grecia or Nanay Rosing, my mother’s ninang, and my maternal grandmother Anunciacion Cabrera of Maasin. Lolo Juan, an attorney, was an aide to Tatay Tomas, and one of his deputy governors during the Japanese Occupation. In 1942, upon Pres. Quezon’s orders, Tatay Tomas led the “Free Panay and Romblon” civil government from the Madia-as mountains. Lolo Juan was entrusted with the printing press for minting the resistance government’s own currency. In January 1943, the Japanese tasked their puppet governor, Dr. Fermin Caram with persuading Tomas V. Confesor to surrender “for the sake of relief, peace and tranquility.”
In his letter to Dr. Caram dated Feb. 20, 1943, Confesor explained why he would never surrender to the Japanese: . . . “Peace and tranquility in our country, especially in Panay, do not, in the slightest degree, depend upon me nor upon the Filipino people . . . The issues between the warring parties (the Axis vs. the Allied countries) are less concerned with the territorial questions but more with forms of government, ways of life, and those that affect even the very thoughts, feeling, and sentiments of every man. In other words, the questions at stake with respect to the Philippines, is not whether Japan or the United States should possess it; but more fundamentally it is: what system of government should stand here and what ways of life, systems of social organizations and code of morals should govern our existence.”
Parallels might be drawn between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. . . “(Filipinos) are "experiencing unspeakable hardships and sufferings" because of these hostilities, but you should realize that our people are bearing these burdens cheerfully because they know that they are doing it for a good and noble cause. They know why we are resisting Japan. They are aware that Japan is trying to force us to accept her system of government and ways of life which are unacceptable to us to say the least.”
Confesor, who was among the drafters of the 1935 Constitution, reminded the puppet governor Caram that: “. . . it is not wise and statesmanlike for our leaders, in this their darkest hour, to teach our people to avoid suffering and hardship at the sacrifice of fundamental principles of government and democratic way of life. On the contrary, it is their burden, duty and responsibility to inspire our people to willingly undergo any kind of difficulties and sacrifices for the sake of noble principles that they nourish deep in their hearts. Instead of depressing their patriotic order, the people should be inspired to be brave and courageous under all kinds of hardship and difficulties, in defense of what they consider righteous and just. We shall never win nor deserve the esteem and respect of other nations if we lack principles, and if we do, we do not possess the courage and valor to defend these principles at any cost. Undoubtedly, if you (Caram) and your fellow puppets are today receiving a certain degree of consideration for the Japanese Army, such consideration may be attributed exclusively to the heroism of our soldiers in Bataan and the demonstration of the readiness and willingness of our people to suffer, especially of the common man, not the rich, the learned, and ambitious and politicians and office seekers who are hungry for power and influence, nor to your personal qualities of wealth. You, puppets, love ease and comfort so much as to compel you to barter the liberties of our people for anything. You underrate the nobility and grandeur of the character and soul of the Filipinos by such action. Such sentiment is terribly ignominious. You are besmirching to the maximum degree by it the character of our people.”
Tatay Tomas’ letter was widely circulated. Pres. Quezon and Franklin D. Roosevelt praised its message. It was deemed so inspirational that copies were smuggled in to Filipino and Allied prisoners in Fort Santiago to bolster their spirits: not all of our politicians were collaborators.
After the War, Tatay Tomas was appointed Secretary of the Interior of the restored Commonwealth. Then he became a senator of the newly independent Philippine republic. He died in 1957, so I never met him. However, I do not doubt that we have men and women of his mettle among us today. Next, we have to get them elected.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.