There is a constant internal debate within us about memories and photographs. What endures most, photographs or memories? As time goes by, photographs become faded- faces, views and other images therein lose their vividness, luster, or color and collect more folds, lines and creases. Memories borne out of these photographs do not fade. All the while it is more like always fresh and ready for instant recall once it crosses our mind.
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And while we are talking of the past and memories here, it came to our knowledge that before the outbreak of World War II, there were two (Mr. “Kullot” and Mr. “Zekverna”) thriving Russian entrepreneurs in the big barrio of Tandoc in Siruma.
The enterprising expats made landfall in 1920 up until 1940 in the promising place and set up their sawmill for lumber and wood-products business. Their company ships the raw wood construction materials by way of the port in Tandoc to perhaps either Manila or commercial destination elsewhere in the country or outside of the Philippines.
But that business was wiped-out because of the (impending) war. We have no accurate info about the Russians but left behind were the railroad tracks in the area used in the sawmill operation.
World War II
During the drive and push for the total liberation of Camarines Sur and Naga city, Siruma became the setting of retribution and punishment.
A portion of the war years (of 1942-1943) the governor of Camarines Sur was Mariano Villafuerte. Together with wife, Soledad, eldest son Manuel, Japanese military officer named Kwasima, Villafuerte took a motorboat from Sabang, Calabanga and landed at the barrio of Vito in Siruma. The fleeing governor was looking for an influential leader named Pedro P to seek aid and become his intermediary, but was a little too late since Pedro left with his own family much earlier before their arrival.
Rag tag guerilla groups operating in the area apprehended the retreating entourage of Villafuerte. The governor, his wife and son were executed about the beach of Vito. The (private) body part of the elder Villafuerte was decapitated.
Kwasima was dragged to a wooded area named Tabas, much farther from the school and was also executed.
(Will have to make an early note here: Before the war in the Philippines, many young Japanese tourists and hawkers arrived in the Bicol towns, and started selling candy on the streets. Folks did not suspect that these alien hawkers were actually the first wave of members of the Japanese imperialist army sent as spies to map the area, localities and pinpoint important personalities in every municipalities. Kwasima was one of them. When the war broke out, the hawkers changed to their imperial uniforms and turned out to be officers to the surprise and disbelief of locals who were befriended much earlier.)
On the same day, Villafuerte’s leader identified as Joaquin Cardema was also apprehended by the guerillas in Vito. His life was spared upon the timely intercession of the commanding leader of the 54th infantry regiment, Paquito “Turko” Buayen. He was later “endorsed” to a family who hide him for more than three years.
The following day, the group of the 52nd infantry regiment under the helm of Juan Miranda landed at the beach of Vito. (One of the soldiers in the group would later become one of our family’s closest relative.) Their mission was to halt the execution of the Villafuerte’s and bring them alive back to Naga. They came too late. By the time they arrived, the lifeless bodies were already desecrated.
Their bodies were buried in an area identified as Sumanga, near the Vito public school.
Miranda’s group immediately departed the barrio and headed for Naga with the decapitated head of the governor placed in a sack.
A report later said that some residents of Naga related the late governor’s head was brought and displayed at the plaza (presumably, Naga) on a jar.
Were the rag tag Bicol guerillas justified in handing out swift punishment? Ah, history and events has to be verified. But sometimes truth and true facts can be twisted depending on whose side and for whose good! Always. Since the main participants on this event are all gone and resting in peace, or whatever, how can we get an accurate story, then?
Back to the readers: What do you think?
To be concluded.
Want to read more about Siruma, the series?
1. The Almost Forgotten Town of Siruma
2. Second Part, Siruma Surprised, Hosts a Distinguished Visitor
3. Third Installment, Siruma: Faded Photographs and Fresh Memories
4. Conclusion: Exposing The Other Side of Siruma