On Chapter 17 of the history of Victorias City series, I shared the stories of the people of Victorias during World War II (read blog here), including those of heroes who fought the invaders. In another chapter, I also shared the tragic story of the Montinola family, whose young members became the first Victoriahanon casualties of the war when their passenger boat hit a sea mine in Manila Bay in December 1941 (read blog here).
And just recently, I came across another World War II story, a story that has to be shared.
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Just like most families in the Negros island during World War II, the family of the young Aselita Zayco - Sta. Cruz moved to the mountainside, away from the town settlements where the Japanese soldiers had their headquarters.
Her family, from the Kabankalan, moved from one hacienda to another for fear for their lives, and maybe because some of her uncles, her brothers-in-law and two of her brothers had joined the underground movement. She remembers moving from one hacienda to another with their belongings, until they finally settled at a hacienda near Central Biarin, where her eldest brother Luisito was as the 'administrador'.
One morning, right at the break of dawn, sometime in 1943 when Aselita was just 14, her family was awakened by a commotion of several men arriving in the hacienda. Expecting at these were Japanese soldiers, her family members told her eldest brother, Luisito, to hide in the corn fields. During those years, everyone planted corn to help provide food, and the settlements were surrounded by corn fields.
Luisito, who was studying at Silliman University in Dumaguete before the war broke out, quit school and joined the underground movement along with other able-bodied men in Kabankalan. His family, fearing that the Japanese soldiers were moving around the countryside to look for those who joined the resistance, told Luisito to hide.
But claiming he did nothing wrong, Luisito chose to stay with his family. He was arrested.
During the war, Luisito's family did not know that there were people in Kabankalan who collaborated with the Japanese and told the Japanese that Luisito was a member of the resistance. That morning, his family thought that the Japanese soldiers were simply roaming the haciendas to look for guerillas. They did not know then that the Japanese were specifically looking for Luisito and other men whose names were supplied by the Japanese collaborators as members of the resistance. (After the war, those Filipino collaborators were exposed and, sadly, were even known to have been friends with Luisito's family.😭)
The Japanese soldiers dragged Luisito, with arms tied with wires, to the surrounding areas to force him to point where the guerillas were hiding. Not about to turn against his fellow Filipinos, Luisito never gave anything to the Japanese. He was tortured and later tied to a tree near the center of the hacienda.
At first, the family hesitated to go near him for fear of the Japanese guards. But Aselita, wanting to help her brother, bravely went to him and made him drink the milk from the goats they raised at the hacienda. Her brother, with face swollen and full of bruises from torture, told her that the Japanese might eventually kill him because he never gave them the information they wanted. That day, the Japanese soldiers left for Kabankalan with Luisito.
Luisito had a two-year old daughter and his wife, Delmar Alvarez - Sta. Cruz, who was pregnant with another child, was worried about his fate in the hands of the Japanese. So, Delmar travelled back to Kabankalan with Aselita and a help to look for him.
Aselita remembers the hours and hours of walking the terrain under the hot sun, and asking for food from houses they passed along the way. At times, Delmar , who was five months pregnant then, had to lie down on the dirt road just to rest from their travel and to make sure their unborn child was safe.
On reaching Kabankalan, they stayed at Aselita's grandmother's house to ask for help. A cousin, who was learning how to speak Nipponggo at that time, helped them. They went to the Japanese soldiers' headquarters to ask about Luisito's whereabouts. The Japanese refused to tell them anything.
Three days after that, news got around that an unidentified body was found floating on the Ilog River near the Talubangî area. People on a boat spotted something on the other side of the river. As they came closer, they realized it was a dead body. At first, they thought it was a body of a certain 'Agustin' from a prominent Kabankalanon family who was also missing at that time. But since it was later discovered that 'Agustin' was still alive, they sent for Luisito's family. They came and had the most painful task of identifying the body; it was Luisito.
As it was still difficult to give him a proper burial those days, they temporarily buried Luisito at the land near the bank of river and marked his temporary grave. When the war was over, his family moved Luisito to the family's mausoleum in Kabankalan.
Months after Luisito's death, Delmar chose to live with her parents who were living near the coastline at the town of Ilog. And maybe because of the unimaginable grief her husband's death brought her, Delmar prematurely delivered her baby. It was just seven months old, and later died. As if the tragedy was not enough, her two-year old daughter also fell ill and died. When the daughter was still gravely sick, she was heard calling out "Papa! Papa!", as if Luisito was there to fetch his dying daughter. She was named Maria Luisa.
Before the war, the Kabankalan and Ilog towns had three sugar centrals: Central Biarin, Central San Isidro in Talubangî, and Central Palma. The land was peaceful and life was prosperous. But when the war broke out, lives like those of Aselita and her family changed forever. Luisito's younger brother, Santiago, nicknamed 'Tiaging', was also part of the resistance during the war.
Aselita is now 93 years old and lives in Bacolod City.
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Luisito's father was Luis Sta.Cruz, and his mother was Remedios Zayco, who was a daughter of Flora Rubin and Lorenzo Zayco of Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, Philippines.
Luis Sta. Cruz was born in Estella, Navarre, Spain.
Luisito Zayco - Sta. Cruz
January 24, 1913 - May 25, 1944