Serenidad Lingayo Lat discusses her experiences during WWII and the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines
Born in 1931, Serenidad Lingayo Lat lived for most of her early life in Tanawan, Quezon Province, before having to evacuate to Narciso to evade conflict during the war. Her father ran a water supply business with two Americans, but was not successful due to the chaos of war. She used to help her father with the business at the market from an early age. Her education was disrupted by the conflict, and she shares that siblings died of malaria due to having inadequate medical care at the time. It was difficult for families to find work to sustain themselves, and they stockpiled biscuits and bread to tide over times of food scarcity. She also explains that the Filipino public was afraid of the Japanese military, and made concerted efforts to hide their women from Japanese soldiers. Military combat largely occurred at night, and people would seek refuge in the Kalibkiban, a pit used to burn coconut leaves, large enough to hide a family for as long as battles were ongoing.
After the second world war, she got married in 1948 to a soldier whom she met at a communal dance event when she was in her third year of high school. Her mother was opposed to her mingling with males. Serenidad then traveled with her husband on his various deployments, as his unit worked to suppress Huk guerrilla forces, remaining at home with neighbors when he was on duty, until his early death at age 28 to diabetes. In retrospect, she feels that the conflicts she experienced in her own country were connected to global events, and that the United States had a clear victory in the conflict.
Serenidad Lingayo Lat, 89 years old, January 10, 1931
Former employment: wife of a cadet during the Second World war Location: Bulacan Date: August 31, 2020
LM: Good evening, I am Lemuel Magaling, a researcher from the Philippines. This research is about the period that we now call the Cold War, and now I have a list of questions that you can answer based on your personal experiences.
When the war broke out, what were you doing? During the time of what was now called the Cold War beginning 1945 after the second world war. Were you in the province? How did it affect your personal life and family?
SLL: I was in the town of my father, in Narciso in Quezon.
LM: And how long have you been in Quezon?
SLL: I think we stayed there for a quite a while since a lot of my siblings died during the war because we can’t find any provisions due to the extreme poverty of the time.
LM: How did you study during the war?
SLL: Of course we were affected because it was a time of war back then. My siblings died because they lacked healthcare and medicine. It was malaria at that time.
I was in grade 2 when the war started, in Narciso. Oh, wait. My mother was in Tanawan, so we studied first in Tanawan.
LM: What were the main occupations in the household? Where do you get your daily provisions?
SLL: In Narciso at that time, it was hard to find work because of the war.
LM: How was the condition of the people, how did they put provisions on their tables?
SLL: We just stock bread and biscuits; we find any recourse we could so that when the battle came, there will be food.
LM: Were there subsidies coming from the government?
SLL: There was none because of the war.
LM: When did you decide to tie the knot during this time?
SLL: I married when I was just seventeen.
LM: In your personal experience, how do you view/assess the events that happened during the war? Did you feel that this was only happening in other countries?
SLL: We can say that I felt that back then, because a lot of people lost their jobs, so you can definitely say that it was connected to a worldwide event.
LM: Did you ever encounter other races aside from Filipinos? What did you think of them?
SLL: There was this American father and son; they were business partners of my father in the water supply business.
LM: And these two Americans, what’s with them?
SLL: Those two Americans supplied the water for my father.
LM: What was their role in the business? Were they trading with your father?
SLL: They help my father.
LM: What was the effect of the war on your business? Did it get more sales because of the war or did it weaken?
SLL: It didn’t go well because of the war.
LM: Did you have any part in the business? How did you help in the business?
SLL: Sometimes, my father took me along to the wet market with him even though I was just a little child. It was just me and my father.
LM: These two Americans, of course they were in a place where the war was on ongoing, the war was brought to the Philippines. What happened if the Japanese saw them? Did they have such experience?
SLL: They were two Americans, just father and son.
LM: Have you ever met other races? Perhaps, Japanese, how was your experience with the Japanese?
SLL: Not anymore…
LM: Could you explain how was it that time? When the Japanese came, how did your parents tell you what to do? Did they tell you how to respond?
SLL: Japanese. They were really terrifying, when the Japanese came to our village, they destroy some of the crops, and we have to hide our women. They were chasing them. It’s just simple. When you see that the Japanese were coming using their boats, we definitely had to tell the young women to hide because the “Japs” are coming. The Japanese were truly terrifying.
LM: Did you receive any news about any incident involving the Japanese in your village at that time?
SLL: Whenever there were Japanese, there would definitely be combat.
LM: How was it like? What happened? What year was it when you left? You were forced to evacuate because of the war?
SLL: We already left our village, Tanawan, by that time because the place was in chaos.
LM: In the place where you were displaced, was there any news about enemies?
SLL: I was very young back then. I was in grade 2. Yes, we left and we transferred to a different destination. We also rode boats just to escape. The Japanese were really scary.
LM: What happened to your father’s enterprise?
SLL: It was forsaken. I can barely remember because I was but a child then.
LM: Are there any more details that you want to add? Even those that are not in my questions. Maybe something that you saw?
SLL: That’s what I can share about that experience, whenever there were battles sometimes we barely had anything to eat. We will only eat and then they’d have to hide us in the “kalibkiban”
LM: The place where you burn coconut husks?
SLL: It has a huge hole, inside that hole was where we hide ourselves.
LM: So this place, where you burn the coconut husks, there is a huge hole and you put the coconut husks over it to burn it on the ground?
SLL: That is where the people hid.
LM: Can you explain further how it looked like? What did you call it in the province?
SLL: Kalibkiban. It has a huge hole. That is where they burn the coconut husks. It has flooring.
LM: Where did you put it?
SLL: It was a bit far.
LM: How did you hide back then? How did the people hide when the Japanese came?
SLL: Of course when people started panicking they knew that they have to secure a place inside the Kalibkiban.
LM: How many of you can fit in there?
SLL: In the hole? Of course you can fit many people. How many... maybe a family can fit in together. You have to look for a spot and fit yourself.
LM: When you hide in the kalibkiban, how long can you stay there?
SLL: While there was an ongoing battle. Through the war.
LM: Can you say how long the confrontations would last?
SLL: The battle usually starts at night.
LM: It usually took place at night? When it happened, you were just awoken in the middle of the night? Did somebody tell you that there is a battle going on?
SLL: We knew it because we felt it whenever the battle starts.
LM: When it happened, could you still reclaim your things?
SLL: There was a time that I had to jump over the window, we don’t really thought about our things, what was important was to secure our lives.
LM: Days after, did you still have a chance to go back in your place?
SLL: We already left that place and went into another location.
LM: Around this time, did you ever visit Manila? Or seen other places outside home?
SLL: During that time we were so young. We left Tanawan for Narciso.
LM: But you never received any news about what’s going on in Manila? Even from friends?
SLL: Oh we don’t have any friends. There is no news about any friends at that time.
LM: Were there relatives, siblings, who joined the forces? Filipino forces or other group like the HUKBALAHAP, or Makapili?
SLL: I can only remember the Japanese. The Japanese do not talk with us. They were too terrifying. They might shoot us.
LM: How did you continue your daily activities when the war broke out? How did you attend the church? Did you have time for friends?
SLL: We no longer have any entertainment. We pray on our own.
LM: How about school?
SLL: It was no longer feasible. We only wait peace time in order for us to study. Sometimes, we were caught with the battles at school.
LM: Was it part of your practice in school? How to prepare in case a battle occurred? Did you experience any of your schoolmates caught in the heat of the battle?
SLL: When the battle starts, our teacher would tell us “everyone get ready, there will be crossfires. Nobody really got badly hurt. Some of them went to the “kalibkiban” to save their lives.
LM: What did the government look like to you during the war? Did you perceive them as weak or strong? Good or bad?
SLL: During that time we do not have any TV set. It was really difficult. The government can’t make a move during those times. What happened was everyone was affected because of the war and chaos.
LM: What was popular during that time? What counted as entertainment?
SLL: I really like to sing. What I remember during that time was the song No Other Love by Victor Wood.
LM: What other things during that era that matters to you? What things made you forget about the war?
SLL: What was important during that time that we were together. It was important that we were together.
LM: Who do you think won the war? Do you consider your efforts and the efforts of the organization a step toward achieving the peace experienced today?
SLL: Definitely the Americans won that war because there is no longer war. So, the Americans won.
LM: Do you have any additional message? When you met your husband, what were you doing then?
SLL: What I summed up from my experience during my time was the grim and chaos. I remember the business of my father led to nothing because some people took advantage of the situation.
LM: During that time, which unit was your husband involved in? Can you tell us something about your husband?
SLL: My husband was a soldier during this time. He was a bit young at that time. I was studying at the time. I was in third year of high school. He was part of the 26 BCT.
LM: Who were their enemies? Were they Japanese?
SLL: They fought the guerrillas.
LM: If your husband was a soldier, how did you meet each other?
SLL: We met when he was assigned in Tanawan. I was studying back then in high school. I was in my third year. My parents were so strict. They never brought us to the church. There was no time for enjoyment. It was due to the chaos that was brought by the moment. During Valentines I wasn’t allowed to dance with the boys. Our director danced with me. My mother didn’t want me to mingle with the boys. That was my experience.
LM: Did their troops come to your area?
SLL: During the time that my husband was serving the military, every time that he was sent on a mission, we the wives were together went with them whenever they were destined to fight but we were left at our homes. I was left with our neighbors at the house that we rented together. He died when he was 27. He died of diabetes.
Interviewer: Lemuel Magaling
Interviewee: Serenidad Lingayo Lat
What does Serenidad’s reasoning for her belief that the conflict she observed was connected to global events suggest about the primary concerns of Filipino civilians during the 1940s and beyond?
Consider how the security landscape in the Philippines had evolved, given her changing responses about who the enemy was during and after WWII. What does that suggest about the nature of the Cold War in the Philippines?