In searching for my father over the last few years, I finally stumbled on a story that would make a box-office hit. In the process I discovered the great love my grandparents had for one another.
My father was around for only 16 years of my life, and now that I am a year shy of 50, I suddenly realize I spent a lot of those years after he died searching for him and trying to understand him.
It was a search that began in Davao, where he was born in 1932, and only recently culminated in a 30-page PDF file that was sent to me by the law library of the University of Texas in Austin. Sometime in 2010, my cousin Bernadette unearthed online a Supreme Court document that described how my lolo Sixto Babao was killed by the Japanese soldiers on Dec. 28, 1941.
No one in my father’s family knew the details of how our lolo was executed, then beheaded, until my cousin found those documents (his brother, cousin and another friend were also shot by the Japanese that day). Apparently, my Lola Justina had not spoken about it in detail all those years. She was widowed in her early 30s and left with six children between the ages of 11 and one. My father was nine when his father disappeared in 1941.
In January 1942, the same Japanese soldiers who killed my grandfather and his companions came back to my lola’s house and looted it, leaving her with nothing to feed her six children.
I felt terrible when I read the account in the Supreme Court document and could not sleep for days. It then spurred me on to search for the original transcript of my lola’s testimony in the courts.
Searching the Internet, I discovered that the files were in the law library of the University of Texas in Austin. I then wrote them to inquire about the documents, and after a thorough search, Dr. Elizabeth Haluska Rausch wrote me to say that they could scan the documents and send them to me! My friend Tessa paid for the documentation fees, and in two weeks the papers arrived.
Reading about my grandfather and grandmother was both heartbreaking and inspiring. To read about the sacrifices of my lolo to save his family, in the process losing his life, and those of the three other men who were killed that same day, was tragic. My lolo had been the head of the parachutists—those assigned by the city government to look out for the Japanese—so his murder was the most gruesome. They not only shot him, they beheaded him, too.
On the eve of his departure to go to the garrison, my lola asked him to wear his wedding ring, which had her initials (J.L.) and the date of their wedding (1-1-30) inscribed inside the ring.
“I gave it to him so that should anything happen, if he would not return, I would know for sure because of the ring,” she narrated to the courts in her testimony.
Perhaps it was a woman’s intuition, or maybe the bond between them, but true enough her fears came true. On the night her home was looted and ransacked, the Japanese who had killed my lolo, Teodoro Tatishi, told her how they had killed the four men on the pier on Dec. 28, 1941.
It was also in the transcript that I learned that my father, then all of nine years old, had been at my grandmother’s side to hear this story.
Even more poignant was the way my lola confirmed that her husband was indeed gone. On March 10, 1942, my Lola went to the market to buy food, and on the vendor’s hand, she saw what looked like her husband’s wedding ring. She asked the vendor, who was known to the family, if she could see the ring, and there it was when she took a close look: “J.L. 1-1-30.”
It was then that she truly knew that he was gone. The vendor had been warned by the Japanese not to speak of the body he had found on the seashore. He had known then that it was my Lolo because, although he had been decapitated, he recognized the clothes; my grandfather had dropped by his stall on the day he was killed.
My lola confirmed her husband’s death when she found his ring on March 10, 1942. Thirty-six years later, on March 10, 1978, my Lola passed away.
When I read the account, I was amazed at truly how love transcends space and time, and that although we lose people we love, they are truly never gone, because they continue to live on in our hearts and we can call on their memories any time we wish.
I understand my father now, more than I ever did when he was alive—his courage, his love and discipline, and his devotion to protect us at all costs. But I can now also understand the deep pain that he must have carried for many years, which manifested and impacted on his family in many ways.
True understanding always comes with forgiveness, but always in His perfect time.