For the commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of the fall of Bataan, we are sharing excerpts from veterans of the Second World War. In The Bold Escape, Sgt. Tranquilino Esteban recounts his capture by the Imperial Japanese Army, his subsequent escape, and his freeing of an entire group of prisoners from a Japanese garrison. [Excerpted from War Memoirs of the Alcala Veterans by Alberto Marquez, published with the permission of New Day Publishers.]
Description: A Filipino guerilla on a mission was caught and tortured by the Imperial Japanese. He manages to escape, bringing with him the entire group of prisoners in the Japanese garrison.
It was a hot summer day in April 1943. I was walking along a lonely road in Umingan, Pangasinan to carry out an urgent mission of my guerrilla outfit, the 265 Squadron LGAF, when two Japanese soldiers suddenly emerged from a thicket beside the road I was trudging on. I was so struck with fear that I wanted to evade them but it was too late for they were but a few hundred feet away from me.
‘You, gerera?” they asked me. I answered “No” shaking my head to show emphasis to my negative answer.
But they didn’t believe me and as they searched me they found in my possession a 32 caliber revolver. Right away, I was taken to their garrison for investigation. They asked me questions about my underground activities but no amount of questioning made me reveal what they wanted to dig out.
Unable to unearth the truth, I was subjected to third degree torture. They tied my hands behind me and bound my legs with ropes then hanged me on a tree. When I was about three feet above the ground, one of the soldiers began beating me with a piece of wood. The beatings hurt and some parts of my body oozed with blood. I cried and moaned in great pain but the cruel Jap did not have mercy on me. In spite of the beatings t received, I bluntly denied everything.
When he was through with me, he untied me and dragged me inside a prison house which was surrounded by barbed wire fence. The prison house measured about 4 meters wide by 6 meters long. Roofed with cogon grass and walled with strong wooden boards, it was warm, quiet and dark inside for there was but only one small window that gave the room little light and ventilation. I was tied to a post and when I looked around I noticed that there were also five other prisoners tied in the same way as I was. They looked weak and pitiful for they might have been maltreated too.
I felt weak and hungry and this was aggravated by pain all over my body. But we were not given any food at all. At 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon a soldier came in for inspection. He was a Filipino, a member of the Nippon Constabulary. Because he was a Filipino like me, I told him of my hunger with a voice that was low and weak. In low whispers the constable asked me what town I came from and I told him that I am from Alcala, Pangasinan. He looked at me for several seconds and again in low whispers he said to me, “Do everything that you can now to save yourself. All who were sent to this prison house have been executed. I want to help but I can’t do much for you.”
As the constable was saying these words, he began loosening the rope that bound my hands and also the rope that tied me against the post. He cautioned me to keep quiet, went out and after a few minutes he came back. After putting something in my pocket he whispered “Good Luck” and left at once. I only heard the door being closed and locked behind him. The thing he put in my pocket was an egg which I managed to eat as fast as I could I felt a little stronger after this.
At 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon a Japanese soldier entered the prison house with a pail of water. I felt nervous that he might discover that my hands were free. So, then I quickly returned the rope and pretended that I was tied. The Jap began pouring water into our mouths. When he was through he went out. Fortunately he didn’t notice anything unusual.
Soon night began to creep in making the prison house very dark inside. I was very hungry but still we were not given food. I tried to forget my hunger and made observations. I freed my hands and peeped outside through a crack on the wall. It was dark outside but there was a flickering oil lamp hanging in front of the locked door of the prison house. There was no guard at the door and I assumed there were guards posted at the four corners of the fence surrounding the prison camp and at the gate. The fence was about forty meters from the prison house.
I went to the other prisoners to tell them of a plan to stage a mass jailbreak. They all agreed to join me, so I had to begin untying them. But before I could do so, I learned that one of the prisoners who was a guerrilla like me was also untied by the constable and he fellow was the one who untied the rest of the prisoners. I sought the guerrilla man right away and we agreed to lead the mass jailbreak.
I estimated the time to be between eleven and twelve o’clock at night. Gathering enough strength, I climbed one of the corner posts to reach the cogon roof above. I clung to one of the rafters and untied a few bamboo strands that tied the roof to the rafters. Kicking off the cogon roof to make an opening, I suspended a rope as a means of getting down outside. When I was halfway to the ground I lost my hold and fell. Thank God the guards did not notice anything and the fall was not that bad. The others followed and they got down more easily than I did.
I crawled cautiously in the dark toward a pile of wood which was a few meters away from the gate of the prison camp. The others followed me from behind until we were all gathered in crouching position. From our hiding place, we could see and observe the gate guard.
Not long afterwards, the guards had their shifting. We were very nervous for fear of being discovered and so I prayed to God to help us. Fortunately, the shifting of guards went on without interruption.
After almost two hours of waiting for a chance to escape, we observed that the guard sat on a high chair then placed his gun beside a post near him. After several minutes, the guard began to snore for he had fallen asleep. Now was the precise moment for me to act. I crept toward the sleeping guard with a club on my hand. As I got nearer his snoring became more intense. Cautiously, I got his gun which was on a fixed bayonet. With precision and might, I thrust the bayonet into the upper throat of the sleeping guard until it pierced through his mouth. The poor enemy died instantly. I disengaged the bayonet, got the rifle then signaled at my companions to make their escape. We darted toward the gate one at a time to escape detection. We ran away and there were three of us who went together. The three others went on separate directions.
We had not gone far when we heard the shouts of Japanese soldiers. They had detected our escape! They fired their guns in every direction and we heard their footsteps getting nearer. I could not run fast for I was limping. Just then we saw a river. There was no time to lose! We jumped into the water and swam, allowing ourselves to be carried along by the flowing water. When the enemy reached the river they fired several shots in the water but we were already far. They lost track of us in the thick darkness of the night. Thank God we were safe!