MANILA, Philippines - In 1943, during the Japanese occupation, Lola Narcisa was a comfort woman.
She and many other young Filipino girls were kept in small rooms at the municipal hall of San Juan, Abra which the Japanese soldiers had turned into a garrison.
They were made to wear white slips that barely covered their bodies.
At night, the soldiers would rape them repeatedly and violently. If the girls made a mistake or failed to satisfy the Japanese men, they were struck with horse whips.
In the morning, the comfort women would wash the soldiers’ clothes, cook for them, and carry heavy loads. All the while, Narcisa and the other girls dreaded the coming of the night.
Narcisa endured this way of life for almost two years. In 1945, the Americans came with their bomb-dropping fighter planes, turning the tide against the weaker Japanese forces. The Japanese soldiers fled from the San Juan garrison, allowing Narcisa and her elder sister Osmeña to escape.
She was 13 years old.
Love after war
After the Japanese were quelled and victory was announced for Americans and the Filipino forces that helped them, life in Abra struggled to get back to its pre-war way of life.
The Japanese had burnt all crops, stolen farm animals and implements, and destroyed homes. One of families affected was that of Anaceto Claveria, a strapping 15-year-old boy who served as messenger for the guerrillas during the war.
His family of farmers lived in a barangay on the other side of Abra. They couldn’t rebuild their lives without their carabao which the Japanese had stolen. So Anaceto and his father travelled by foot through the different municipalities in search of a carabao for sale until they reached San Juan.
There, they were pointed to the house of the teniente de barrio (barrio captain). Night had fallen and father and son were invited to dinner in the teniente’s house.
Inside the house, Anaceto laid eyes on a dirty-looking girl with blank eyes looking out from a tear-streaked face. It was Narcisa. Her elder brother was the teniente. She had covered her face with ash out of a war-time habit when girls would make themselves ugly so as not to attract the attention of the dreaded Japanese.
The teniente explained to Anaceto and his father that his two sisters had been comfort women. Osmeña had completely lost her mind because of the trauma and they feared Narcisa would soon lose her sanity as well.
The teenage boy looked at her with pity. He too had lost his sisters to the war. No one ever knew what became of them so it was possible that they had also become comfort women.
He then thought that if he could not save his sisters, perhaps he could save Narcisa.
During the course of the night, he asked Narcisa’s brother if he could take her home with them. He would take care of her and help her recover from the horrors she had experienced. Leaving their municipality would be good for her, he explained. A change of scene would put her mind at ease and take her away from harsh reminders of the past.
In the end, the brother agreed. His family already had a hard time taking care of Osmeña.
Difficult road to happiness
Narcisa travelled with father and son to their house on the other side of the province.
Narcisa admitted to Rappler in Filipino, “I was very scared of men at that time. I thought all men were Japanese.”
In Anaceto’s house, Narcisa was given her own room. Anaceto bought clothes for her and kept telling her to take a bath so she would stop her habit of keeping herself dirty as protection.
In between his farming duties, Anaceto would teach Narcisa how to read and write. Before the war, she had already known how but her painful time in the garrison made her forget everything.
When there were dances in the barrio, Anaceto would take the quiet girl. Though they never danced, he thought it would help teach Narcisa how to be happy again.
When Narcisa would once again be seized by her paranoia and fear, Anaceto would say, “Don’t be scared. Don’t think about it. I will help you get your mind back.”
To her insecurities, Anaceto would say, “I am not disgusted by you. I know what happened to you was against your wishes.”
Slowly, Narcisa returned to her right mind. The shy, prepubescent girl had bloomed into a pretty young lady. Suitors from all over the barrio would visit her and compete against each other for her affections.
But in 1952, Anaceto asked the question he had been wanting to ask for quite some time: “Why not us?”
In that year, Anaceto and Narcisa were married inside the house where he had taken such good care of her.
Happiness past the thorns
About 60 years of marriage have not dampened their love for each other one bit. Today 86-year-old Lolo Anaceto and 84-year-old Lola Narcisa are blessed with 6 children and 21 grandchildren.
They spend most of their time taking care of their brood or helping with the activities of Lila Filipina, a group of Filipina comfort women fighting to be recognized and compensated for the atrocities done to them during World War II.
Nowadays, Lolo Anaceto has a hard time remembering where he puts his things. Lola Narcisa smiles more.
The secret to their lasting love?
“It is important to be happy,” says Lola Narcisa.
Though that may seem obvious to most, for people like Lola Narcisa who have gone through so much, allowing oneself to be happy is a daunting task.
For her, happiness was a choice and Lolo Anaceto was the love of her life who helped her make it. - Rappler.com