The Letter of Tomas Confesor

During the dark days of the Philippines under Japanese rule, Governor Tomas Confesor of the Free Panay and Romblon Civil Government wrote a letter which was secretly spread around and inspired many guerilla fighters and prisoners of war. Published years later in 1957 in The Manila Times, it still continues to inspire many of its readers.

The letter was occasioned by a plea of Governor Fermin Caram of the puppet Iloilo provincial government to accept Japanese rule, come down from the hills with his guerillas and forego resistance to the invaders. This, the governor promised, would bring “peace and tranquility to the suffering people of Panay.”

Confesor refused and made a stirring comprehensive historic response that electrified the resistance in Iloilo and all those who read it, including President Manuel Quezon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and US President Franklin Roosevelt. Hundreds of copies of the letter were distributed all over Panay during the war to keep afire the flames of nationalism. Here is its full text:

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
COMMONWEALTH OF THE PHILIPPINES
Office of the Governor

Panay, February 20, 1943

MY DEAR DOCTOR:

I am happy to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of January 14th last, signed at the same time by former General Quimbo, Senator Veloso and Capt. Tando. I regret very much that your letter reached me more than a month after it had been written despite the fact that the party to whom it was handed was just living across the river from my place on the other side of the hill. Had I received it earlier, I would have been only too glad to meet my good friends — Quimbo, Veloso, and Tando. I would have had no objection to the pleasure of the acquaintance of Colonel Furukawa. He came on a mission of peace, and I would have taken advantage of his presence to present to him my views on the subject. I regret much, therefore, not to have met him. Nevertheless, I hope that he and his companions had good time while they were in our province. I wonder how successful they had been with their mission.

I feel flattered indeed by your statement that should I return to the city I would bring relief, peace and tranquility to our people in Panay. In this regard, I wish to state with all frankness that peace and tranquility in our country, especially in Panay, do not, in the slightest degree, depend upon me nor upon the Filipino people, for as long as America and Japan and their respective Allies are at war with one another, peace and tranquility will never be obtained in our country nor in Panay. This is a total war in which the issues between the warring parties are less concerned with the territorial questions but more with forms of government, ways of life, and those that affect even the very thoughts, feeling, and sentiments of every man. In other words, the questions at stake with respect to the Philippines is not whether Japan or the United States should possess it; but more fundamentally it is: what system of government should stand here and what ways of life, systems of social organizations and code of morals should govern our existence. As long, therefore, as America and Japan remain at war, these fundamental questions will remain unsettled. Consequently, peace and tranquility will not reign in Panay, much less in the whole Philippines.

Despite this fact, however, there is a means to bring about peace, even under the present circumstances if Japan is really sincere in her desire to see peace and tranquility here. To this effect, she should declare the Philippines free and independent proclaiming at the same our neutrality. To further demonstrate her sincerity of purpose to this end, she should evacuate all her forces, military establishments and other governmental organizations from the Islands with the guarantee that she would not land forces therein nor within her territorial waters. I am sure that should Japan declare this proposition and formally present the same to the United States, the latter would be compelled to accept it. Her sense of honor would give her no other alternative but to back up Japan in this regard. You must be already aware that the Allies of America have signed a treaty with China lifting their extra-territorial rights whereby their citizens within Chinese jurisdiction upon committing any offenses or crime will have to be tried before Chinese courts under Chinese laws. Assuming that this proposition is acceptable to both Japan and America, we would then be free to establish and maintain our own system of government. We would be free to follow such ways of life as we may deem convenient to us. In other words, we would enjoy real and true independence in the exercise of governmental powers and not one like that of Nanking under Wang Ching Wei. Please present this to your friend, Colonel Furukawa, with the request that he submit this to superior authorities of the Imperial Government of Japan for consideration to put to a test the sincerity of Japan’s desire to give us independence.

I have carefully read and studied the three conditions for accomplishment by the Filipinos to entitle us to our independence under Japanese promise. Let me tell you frankly that we will never be independent under such conditions because they are impossible to accomplish for at least a century. I entirely disagree with Mr. Vargas when he stated that the Japanese independence proposition is definite and clear while that of America is ambiguous. On the contrary, it is that of the Japanese which is nebulous, vague and indefinite. The terms and conditions in this regard are phrased in such manner that only puppets could understand them clearly, people who have no freedom to use their will and other mental faculties.

The burden of your so called message to me consists of the entreaty that further bloodshed and destruction of property in Panay should stop and that our people be saved from further sufferings and miseries resulting from warfare and hostilities now existing between Japan and ourselves. The responsibility, however, of accomplishing this end does not rest upon us but entirely upon your friends who have sworn allegiance to Japan, for it was Japan that protected and created these conditions. Japan is the sole author of this holocaust in the Far East.

I agree with you when you say that our people are “experiencing unspeakable hardships and sufferings because of these hostilities”, but you should realize that our people are bearing these burdens cheerfully because they know that they are doing it for a good and noble cause. They know why we are resisting Japan. They are aware that Japan is trying to force us to accept her system of government and ways of life which are unacceptable to us to say the least. You may not agree with me but the truth is that the present war is a blessing in disguise to our people and that the burdens it imposes, and the hardships it has brought upon us are a test to our character to determine the sincerity of our convictions and the integrity of our souls. In other words, this war placed us in the crucible to assay the metal in our being. For as a people, we have been living during the last forty years under a regime of justice and liberty regulated only by universally accepted principles of constitutional government. We have come to enjoy personal privileges and civil liberties without much struggle, without undergoing any pain to attain them. They were practically a gift from a generous and magnanimous people – the people of the United States of America. Now, that Japan is attempting to destroy these liberties, should we not exert any effort to defend them? Should we not be willing to suffer for their defense? If our people are undergoing hardship now, and are doing it gladly, it is because we are willing to pay the price for these constitutional liberties and privileges. You cannot become wealthy by honest means without sweating heavily. You very well know that the principles of democracy and democratic institutions were brought to life through bloodshed and fire. If we sincerely believe in these principles and institutions, as we who are resisting Japan do, we should contribute to the utmost of our capacity to the cost of its maintenance to save them from destruction and annihilation, and such contribution should be in terms of painful sacrifices, the same currency that other peoples paid for those principles.

You were a member of the Constitutional Convention that adopted the Constitution of the Philippines Commonwealth. You did not only subscribe to it but you also became a Filipino citizen by virtue thereof. Now that the hour of test has come, how dare you advice the people, as you do now, to forsake that sacred document and accept anything for peace and tranquility which at all events will be only temporary? Should I hearken to you, I would be conspiring with you and the Japanese military authorities to destroy the Constitution, that you and I signed with all solemnity, and everything for which that Constitution stands. Do you realize therefore, that what you are doing now is a repudiation of your Filipino citizenship and all the sacred privileges attendant thereto, things which I am sure you hold dear and precious?

This is not enough. I firmly believe that it is not wise and statesmanly for our leaders, in this their darkest hour, to teach our people to avoid suffering and hardship at the sacrifice of fundamental principles of government and the democratic way of life. On the contrary, it is their bounded duty and responsibility to inspire our people to willingly undergo any kind of difficulties and sacrifices for the sake of noble principles that they nourish deep in their hearts. Instead of depressing their patriotic order, the people should be inspired to be brave and courageous under all kinds of hardship and difficulties in defense of what they consider righteous and just. We shall never win nor deserve the esteem and respect of other nations if we lack principles, and if we do, we do not possess the courage and valor to defend these principles at any cost.

Undoubtedly, if you and your fellow puppets are today receiving a certain degree of consideration from the Japanese Army, such considerations may be attributed exclusively to the heroism of our soldiers in Bataan and the demonstration of the readiness and willingness of our people to suffer, especially of the common man, not the rich, the learned, and ambitious and politicians and office seekers who are hungry for power and influence, nor to your personal qualities of wealth. You, puppets, love ease and comfort so much as to compel you to barter the liberties of our people for anything. You underrate the nobility and grandeur of the character and soul of the Filipinos by such action. Such sentiment is terribly ignominious. You are besmirching to the maximum degree by it the character of our people.

America is at war with Japan not because she wants to keep the Philippines but to uphold and maintain the principles of democracy therein. In the speeches of Japanese military authorities, especially that of General Homma, formerly Commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Forces in the Philippines, they condem democracy and the principles of liberty under such system of government. It is, therefore, evidently fallacious and insincere on your part to state that you are not pro-Japanese when you are exerting all efforts to bring about the surrender of the people in Panay. You declared that you are neither a pro-Japanese nor a pro-American but a pro-Filipino. What do you mean by being a pro-Filipino? What are the principles for which you stand as a pro-Filipino? What national objectives have you in mind when you express the thought that you are pro-Filipino and not pro-Japanese nor pro-American? What ideals do you propose to realize as pro-Filipino? If you have any objectives and ideals at all, do you believe in realizing them more effectively under a totalitarian and absolute system of government than under a democracy? Please make concrete specifications of your being pro-Japanese or pro-American. In other words, on what concrete grounds does your pro-Filipino rest?

You were decidedly wrong when you told me that there is no ignominy in surrender. That may be true in the case of soldiers who were corralled by the enemy consisting of superior force with no way of escape whatsoever, for when they gave themselves up, they did not repudiate any principle of good government and the philosophy of life which inspired them to fight heroically and valiantly — to use your own words. Should I surrender, however, and with me the people, by your invitation and assurance of guarantee to my life, my family and those who follow me, I would be surrendering something more precious than life itself; the principles of democracy and justice and the honor and dignity of our people.

I noted that you emphasized in your letter only peace and tranquility of our people. I do not know whether by omission or intentionally, you failed to refer in any way to the honor and dignity of our race. You seem to have forgotten these noble sentiments already, despite the fact that Japan has hardly been a year in our country. It appears clearly evident, therefore, that there is a great difference between the manner you and me are trying to lead our people during these trying days. You and your fellow puppets are trying to give them peace and tranquility by destroying their honor and dignity, without suffering or, if there is any, the least possible. On the other hand, we endeavor to inspire them to face difficulties and undergo any sacrifice to uphold the government thereby holding up high and immaculate their honor and dignity at the same time. In other words, you are trying to drive our people to peace and tranquility on the road of IGNOMINY, to borrow your own language. Peace and tranquility are easy to achieve if you choose the easy way but, in that case, however, you would be living beneath the dignity of human being. You would be reducing our people as a result thereof to the status of a dumb animal like the good carabao which lives in peace and tranquility because it is properly fed by its owner. Is that the peace and tranquility you are talking about — that of a carabao? Would this not be clearly ignominious? You also brought up the point that the Japanese are generous because they freed the Filipino soldiers whom they captured. In this connection, let me ask you this question: Is it not a fact that the former USAFFE men are now working as PCs under the Japanese Army and are compelled to fight and kill their own people who are still resisting by means of inadequate arms and by moral and spiritual resistance? Do you believe it dignified of Juan Quimpo who formerly wore on his shoulder the star of the Philippine Army presenting thereby the valor and courage of our people and the integrity of our system of government, to preach now the acceptance of the totalitarian and autocratic form of government? Do you believe that by so doing he dignifies and honors our people?

It pains me to read your letter saying that you and I one time nursed devotedly identical convictions on democracy and liberty, but that you have to revise your own for the sake of “peace and tranquility.” How can you honestly and truthfully say that you may enjoy peace and tranquility when you are unfaithful to your own convictions? Do you mean to tell me that you revised your convictions because you believed that they were not righteous or because you considered your personal conveniences over and above that of the Filipino people? You may have read, I am sure, the story of Lincoln who held firmly to the conviction secession of the southern states from the Union was WRONG. Consequently, when he became president and the southern states seceded, he did not hesitate to use force to compel them to remain in the Union.

The immediate result was civil war that involved the country into the throes of a terrible conflict that, according to reliable historians, produced proportionately more loss of lives, hardships and miseries than the first World War. The suffering of the people of the south were terrible, but the Union was saved and America has become thereby one of the strongest and respected nations on the surface of the earth.

If Lincoln had revised his convictions and sacrificed them for the sake of peace and tranquility as you did, a fatal catastrophe would have befallen the people of America. With this lesson of history clearly before us, I prefer to follow Lincoln’s example to yours and your fellow puppets. In other worlds, I sternly refuse to revise my own convictions for the sake of temporary and false promises of peace and tranquility.

I wish to thank you for reminding me what General Bell wrote to Mabini that “only the possibility of success is the sole justification of war and as soon as that possibility disappears, civilization demands that for the sake of humanity the vanquished should submit to the victor.” In calling my attention to the above content of the letter of General Bell, you make the affirmation thereby that there is no “possibility of success” on the part of America and the Allies to defeat Japan and her colleagues. Here again you are evidently wrong. You people who have surrendered to the Japanese do not know of any news but those given by them. It shows again that you are ignorant of what is going on. For your information and guidance, let me tell you that Japan is digging her grave deeper and deeper every day in New Guinea. In China and in Burma, she is on the run and is losing extensive territories which she formerly conquered. In Europe, Germany is in flight pursued by the Russians. In Africa, Tripoli and Tunisia have fallen into the hands of the Allies. Every day the cities of Italy are being bombed and smashed to pieces. The Italians will soon demand separate peace. By June, next, the Philippines will be redeemed from Japan, definitely. What are you going to do next, revise your convictions again? Thank you, once more, for reminding me of the words of Genera Bell to Mabini. They serve to fortify my convictions more than ever, for the possibility of success of America and the Allies over the Axis is as clear as the day.

I hope I have made myself clear enough to make you understand my position. I will not surrender as long as I stand on my feet. The people may suffer now and may suffer more during the next six months. To use the words of St. Paul, the Apostle: The suffering of the present are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us.

In the language of a wise and devout priest, “when the hour of deliverance has come, we shall count as nothing the anxiety and sorrows through which we have passed.” According to the same religious writer, “sufferings afford opportunity for the practice of many virtues — virtues which develop greatness and nobility of soul.” He further declares that “the grandest music of the human heart breaks forth in the day of trial; the sweetest songs are sung in sorrows; the best things in character are developed in time of affliction.” Finally, he writes “suffering develops manliness and tries earnestness of purpose.” This in the crying need of the hours — MANLINESS.

With my kindest regards and my hope that God will bless and guide you, I remain.

Sincerely yours,

TOMAS CONFESOR

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Published on March 20, 2013 at 1:20 pm  Comments Off on The Letter of Tomas Confesor  
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