MANILA — Nandy Pacheco was only 9 when he and his family were forced to walk from Mariveles to Balanga in Bataan alongside Filipino and American soldiers.
They were among the civilians who were caught in the firefight between the Japanese military and the joint forces of the Americans and the Filipinos.
"Ang aming posisyon, we were between the Japanese and the military, Filipino, American soldiers. Nasa gitna kami, sibilyan. Ngayon, pagka umatras 'yung army, Filipino, American soldiers, atras din kami. 'Pag umabante naman, abante din kami." Pacheco recalled.
(We were between the Japanese army, and the Filipino and American soldiers. We were in the middle. When the Filipino and American soldiers retreated, we retreated with them. When they moved forward, we moved forward with them.)
Pacheco can still remember his family’s house in Balanga, which was not destroyed in the war. The Americans, however, decided to destroy it so it can't be used by the Japanese.
" 'Yung bahay namin noon sa Balanga, nasa tabi ng munisipyo. Sana hindi nasira pero sinira ng Amerikano. Ang katwiran nila, para hindi na mapakinabangan ng Hapon. Amerikano ang sumira," he said.
(Our house in Balanga is beside the town hall. It was not destroyed in the war but the Americans destroyed it so the Japanese couldn’t use it.)
From Balanga, Pacheco and other civilians moved to Mariveles. They were without food and provisions, and had no choice but to wait for the Americans to share their supplies with them.
"Wala ka nang makitang pagkain doon, kung saan-saan kumukuha ng pagkain. And then until finally, ang Amerikano ang tumulong sa amin, nakakatanggap kami ng ration, pagkain sa Amerikano," Pacheco said.
(There was no food in sight. We just got food anywhere. Then finally, the Americans helped us. They shared their food with us.)
At 84 years old, Pacheco can still vividly remember the day Bataan surrendered to the Japanese.
"Tapos ang order, vacate, lisanin ninyo ang Mariveles. Lahat kayo aalis dito. Sa kaliwang bahagi ng daan, mga sundalo ng Amerikano, Filipino, doon, papuntang Pampanga, papuntang Tarlac. Doon naman sa right side, mga sibilyan."
(The order was to vacate Mariveles. Everyone should leave. On the left side of the road were the American and Filipino soldiers. They were going to Pampanga, Tarlac. On the right side were the civilians.)
“Paalis na kami ng Mariveles. 'Yung mga sundalo, Amerikano, Filipino, lalakad 'yan hanggang Capas, Tarlac. Malayo 'yun, kami naman hanggang Balanga lang. Pagdating sa Balanga, naghiwalay na kami. Meron namang iba, hanggang Pampanga," he said.
(We were leaving Mariveles. The soldiers, Americans, Filipinos, they walked until they reached Capas, Tarlac. We needed to walk until Balanga. When we reached Balanga, we went our separate ways. Some even walked all the way to Pampanga.)
He described how it felt walking from one town to another at the height of the dry season with little to no food.
“Dahil kainitan ng araw, wala ka ngang makitang . . . nagulat nga ako, wala ka ngang makitang isang dahon na berde. Not a single green leaf. Sunog lahat ng mga puno. Tinamaan ng bala, tinamaan ng . . . nasunog. Makikita mo 'yung kabilang bayan na parang flat na iyong ano . . . Nasira iyong sa tubig. Napakalungkot,” Pacheco said.
(It was so hot, you couldn't see a single green leaf. All trees were burned. You could even see the neighboring town, the area was flattened. It was sad.)
“Doon nga ako nakakita ng nagmamartsa, 'yung bata, sumususo doon sa patay na ina. Alangan namang makatulong, lahat kami, lahat, problema. Lahat kami may problema.”
(While we were marching, I saw a child breastfeeding on a dead mother. We couldn't help him, because we also needed help.)
It took Pacheco and his family about four nights to reach Balanga. They couldn’t walk that fast because they didn’t have enough food and water to sustain them.
In an attempt to get away from the Japanese, some Filipino soldiers would ask civilians for their clothes.
“ 'Yung mga sundalong Pilipino natin, para makawala sa pila ng mga Hapon, sesenyasan kami. Magpalit tayo ng baro. May mga ilan na nakakalusot. 'Yung iba naman, 'pag nakita ng Hapon, babarilin 'yung sibilyan na nagbigay ng damit, pati 'yung sundalo," Pacheco narrated.
(Some Filipino soldiers who want to move to the civilian side of the march, they would signal to us asking that we switch clothes. Some got away with it. Those who got caught were shot to death, both the soldier and the civilian.)
Ban the private use of guns
His exposure to violence and war made a mark on Pacheco's young mind.
“Itong giyerang ito, ito na siguro ang nagbigay sa akin, sa consciousness na masama ang giyera, hindi na dapat maulit. Dapat mawala na ang mga armas.”
(This war, this made me aware of its consequences. There should never be another war. Weapons should be eradicated.)
Pacheco founded the gun control advocacy group, Gunless Society, in the late 1980s. His aim is to prohibit personal ownership of guns, as well as the carrying of guns in public.
“Ban the gun. Ipagbawal ang pagdadala ng baril sa lansangan, in public places, unless the bearer, 'yung may dala, ay naka-uniporme saka on duty saka authorized. Pulis o sundalo na naka-uniporme o on duty,” he said.
(Ban the gun. Prohibit carrying of guns on the streets, in public, unless the bearer is a soldier or a policeman on duty.)
“ 'Yung paghawak ng baril, innocent, pero ginagawa na nating kriminal para wala ka nang kalabitin.”
(Carrying a gun is an innocent act, but we should make it criminal so there won't be an urge to pull the trigger.)
A gun is made to kill and, without it, people won't get hurt or killed.
“ 'Yung tao mismo, endangered. Saka madali namang maintindihan. Ang baril ginawa para pumatay, hindi para magpahaba ng buhay. Kung walang baril, walang putok. Kung walang putok, walang mamamatay. 'Yun ang ating dapat na layunin, bakit hindi natin nagawa," Pacheco said.
(Guns put people's lives at risk. It's easy to understand. A gun is made to kill, not prolong a person's life. No guns, no shooting. No shooting, no deaths. That should be our goal, why can't we do it?)
He also lamented that lawmakers do not seem to understand the importance of gun control in the country.
“Ang aming gustong mangyari sana, at 'yun ang nakakalungkot. Magmula pa noong panahon ni Cory (Aquino), marami nang namatay. Araw-araw may mga barilan. Ipagbawal, gawing kriminal 'yung pagdadala ng baril sa lansangan," Pacheco said.
(Since the time of Cory Aquino, many people have died because of guns. That's why we should make carrying of guns in public criminal.)
“Tayo lamang ang bansa na may tindahan pa ng baril, gino-glorify ang baril, sinasanto. Kagaya ng Amerika. Alam mo, maraming magandang katangian ang Amerika, pero ang ating ginaya, 'yung masama," he added.
(We are the only country where guns are still sold publicly. We glorify guns, just like in the US. There are a lot of American traits that we can emulate, but we emulated the negative traits.)
According to Pacheco, it is ironic that a Catholic country such as the Philippines does not have a gun control law.
“ 'Yan ang nakalulungkot na pwede nating gawin pero hindi natin magawa. Kristiyano pa naman tayo. Four years from now, five years, the Philippines will be celebrating its 500 years of Christianity."
(It is something we can do but we don't so. We are Christians. In four, five years, the Philippines will be celebrating its 500th year of Christianity.)
Admitting that the business of producing and selling guns supports some families, Pacheco said he hopes that these entrepreneurs would find a business that wouldn't endanger people's lives.
“Negosyo rin 'yan. Siyempre kung ipapahinto mo iyong paggawa ng baril, maraming mawawalan ng trabaho. Pero hindi natin gusto 'yung ating mga kababayan mawalan ng trabaho. Hindi natin gusto 'yung ating kababayan, mawalan ng negosyo," he said.
(It's a business. If we stop the production of guns, a lot of people would lose their jobs. We don't want them to lose their jobs. We don't want them to lose their livelihood.)
“Pero anong magagawa natin, ipagdasal natin lahat, buong Simbahan, dapat ipagdasal, na 'yung mga gumagawa ng baril, ng armas, makakita ng bagong negosyo na magbibigay sa kanila ng mas malaking income at 'yung kanilang gagawin ay kapakipakinabang sa tao. Magpapahaba ng buhay, magbibigay ng kalidad sa buhay. 'Yun ang dapat, hindi 'yung mawala ang buhay," Pacheco said.
(We should pray that everyone involved in producing, selling weapons would find new sources of livelihood. They may find a better business that would give them better income, and that would be more beneficial to society. They should engage in a business that can prolong lives, improve the quality of lives, and not kill people.)
For Pacheco, getting rid of weapons and guns is easy if only everyone puts some effort into it.
“Kinakailangan talaga, mapagsama-sama natin 'yung pagkilos. Tigilan na ang pagbebenta, ang paglalako ng armas. Sa Kristiyano nga, sa Katoliko, mayroong batas ang Simbahan na all sectors, all sectors of the Church must stop manufacturing and producing guns and selling guns as part of its vision of peace."
(We have to work together to stop the sale of weapons. The Church has its own law prohibiting the manufacturing, producing guns and selling guns as part of its vision of peace.)
He also hopes that people can start working toward achieving Christ's peace, and not the peace brought about by weapons and guns.
“Meron tayong vision, ano 'yung ating pangarap para sa ating bayan. Mula ngayon hanggang sa 2021 at magpakailanman, sana matanggap natin iyong kapayapaan ni Kristo at maisabuhay sa pamamagitan ng pag-iibigan, pagsasabi ng katotohanan. At pagtatakwil sa kapayapaan na ibinibigay ng armas. 'Yun ang dapat nating ambisyunin mula ngayon, hanggang dumating ang 2021, hanggang forever," Pacheco said.
(We have a vision, we have a dream for the country. From now until 2021 and beyond, we have to receive the peace of Christ and live it through love and truth, and reject the peace brought by guns. That should be our goal.)