Leo Abroguiena discusses his difficult childhood, life during the Japanese Occupation, and his career and marriages in the postwar Philippines.
Born in 1930 in Tagoloan in Mindanao, Leo Abroguinea barely remembers his early childhood when life was easy. His mother worked for the Philippine Packing Corporation and his father was a civil servant; they jointly provided adequately for their 7 children. However, things changed when they died, leaving the children orphaned. Leo and two of his siblings were adopted by his aunt, and allowed to continue studying on the condition that they helped on the farm, which allowed him to graduate secondary school. His other four siblings were dispersed into other relatives’ families.
He recalls that life was largely stable under American rule, when US soldiers would patrol near his residence. However, things changed during the war under Japanese rule, and Leo and his peers would flee into the mountains attempting to avoid the Japanese military. Yet, when they were arrested and held at the Japanese headquarters for 4 days, they were not tortured and treated humanely. He later befriended a Japanese soldier who understood some English, and realized that many were merely following orders from above, without a personal intention to kill civilians. He resumed farming with his aunt after the war.
In 1957, he married his former classmate, and later found employment at his mother’s former workplace, now renamed Del Monte. He was tasked with opening raw pineapples with machinery. After 7 years of service, he was fired for stealing a can of pineapple. Around the same time, his wife passed away. His brother then found him an ad-hoc job collecting broken bottles at the Coca-Cola factory, but a year later, he returned to Tagoloan to live with his in-laws and worked in fishing with them. 15 years later, he remarried.
Interviewee: Leo Abroguiena, born 1930
Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya Interpreter: Marjore Tsuchiya
Writer: Dominique Jonietz O. Lucagbo
Date: August 10,2019
I am Leo Abroguiena, 89 years old. I was born October 24, 1930 in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental. I graduated secondary school with the help of my relatives who adopted me and my siblings after my parents died. I married twice, and currently residing here in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental with my second wife.
Remembering my life back then, I can say it was full of hardships especially that my parents died early before I even understand the things around me. My father was actually working in the government while mother was an employee in Philippine Packing Corporation (PPC) also known as Del Monte Philippines today. Life, as my siblings and relative told me, was pretty easy back then because both of my parents were earning money just fine but when they died it left me and my 6 other siblings alone. My auntie took me and my other two siblings under her wing and let me and my siblings continue our studies in exchange of us helping them in farming. My four other siblings were adopted by our relatives from different places which separated us from each other. Innocence was stripped off me at a young age. I have no choice but to face the chaos that Mindanao was facing that time and try not to get killed along the way.
It was American period during my time but things were just fine here in Tagoloan as American soldiers were lurking in the mountains and forest a short distance away from us in the city. But by 1941, Japan started to colonize Philippines. We were greatly affected by their attack. Oftentimes we would run up to the mountains and hide in caves and trees to avoid them. It was like a routine for us, running and hiding, there was this one time that Japanese caught some of us including me while we were on the run. We were held capture for 4 days in their headquarters but luckily we didn’t experience torture and such things while we were there. They actually treated us humanely, even let me have my meals and then freed me after 4 days.
There were also great experiences during Japanese colonization. I met a Japanese soldier and for some reason became friends with him. We communicate through speaking in English because I am fortunate enough to learn basic English and the Japanese soldier also knew some words. We greet each other sometimes and shared some good conversation with him. This is where I came to realize that not all of the Japanese soldiers were there to kill. They were just doing their jobs ordered by their country and had no choice but to follow.
After many years, the war was over and Mindanao was back to its peaceful situation again. I was back to helping my auntie with farming because this is the only way I can think of that would somehow pay them back for adopting me and my siblings.
By 1957, I met my first wife, Isabel Pabericio, in Baluarte. I actually knew her when we were in primary school. She was my schoolmate in Baluarte Elementary school and marrying her really made a lot of changes in my life. Life after marriage was not all happiness, we also experienced problems that married people also experienced such as financial problems.
Not long after, I started working in Philippine Packing Corporation also known as Del Monte Philippines. I was assigned in the receiving department as a dumping operator. The pineapple from the plantation is delivered to the factory where we receive it, and I am the one who operates the opening of the raw pineapple by using a hydraulic machine. Salary was still not enough and we were not improving in life and so it made me do things I shouldn’t have done. I was fired from Philippine Packing Corporation after 7 years of working there which was about the year of 1975. I was fired because I stole a can of pineapple cocktail from the factory and brought it home. I was caught and was fired by the company and was lucky enough that didn’t file any case against me. During this time my first wife, Isabel, died which made everything even worse, from being fired to being left by my wife and becoming widower.
My brother then called me and recommended me to work in the Coca Cola factory. I worked there casually where my job is to put broken glasses of Coca Cola bottle in a sack. There was a point in my life where I was brought to tears because of my situation. I was not a regular employee, the company would just call me from time to time if they had something for me to do. And one day, I was again assigned in the sacking area where while I was putting broken glasses inside a sack, I stepped on one of the broken glass and it pierced me deep in my foot. I cried because the pain was unbearable but I cried even more when suddenly I started to realize how unfortunate I am. I was thinking that it was already karma working its magic on me because of that one time I stole a can from my old workplace. It was sad for me; being fired, left by my wife, working hard for just a little amount of salary. Despite all that, I still continued working in Coca Cola for one year and I went back to Tagoloan and lived with my in-laws and went fishing with them to earn money.
After 15 years, I married again to my second wife Felisilda Sales. I met her because we were in this same organization based in Misamis Oriental. It was named Higaonon where the members were promised to receive a part of the land that the organization own but it never happened. On the lucky side though, I met my wife Felisilda and just built a home of our own with her. Right now I am living my life staying idle in the house.
Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya
Interviewee: Leo Abrogueina
How do Leo Abroguinea’s encounters with the Japanese soldiers challenge traditional understandings of the popularity of the Hukbalahap in the postwar period?