MANILA – “You must stop the cycle of violence, the cycle of hatred.”
That is the reply Alfredo Bunye offered his son, Ignacio, some 60 years ago, when Bunye was a Philippine prison officer.
Ignacio, 70, who was the presidential spokesman during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was curious why his father did not seek revenge against the Japanese, particularly military officers and soldiers held in his facility for war-related crimes committed in the Philippines during World War II.
Speaking to Kyodo News, Ignacio Bunye said his curiosity at that time stemmed from the fact that his grandfather was a victim of Japanese atrocities, having been taken away and killed in February 1945 on the mere suspicion that he was an anti-Japanese guerilla.
While he may have been a member of the Philippine revolutionary army that resisted Spanish colonization in the latter part of the 19th century, the grandfather, who is his namesake and was already 72 years old at that time, was just a farm employee in Muntinlupa, immediately south of Manila, when Japanese forces were rounding up suspected guerrillas as they desperately sought to hold out against the advancing American onslaught in February 1945.
At the time of his father’s death, Alfredo was on temporary leave as superintendent of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, because the administration had been taken over by the Japanese. He had assumed the position in 1937.
He was called back to work in May 1945 and stayed at the post until 1954.
Ignacio said he was still a young boy, sometime between 1954 and 1956, when his father revealed how his grandfather died, prompting him to ask his father why he did not seek revenge against the Japanese.
“My grandfather was killed in 1945, and the war criminals were sent to the prisons in 1948,” Ignacio said.
“There was a gap of three years. Maybe, initially, the reaction of my father was one of anger, hatred. But three years have passed. I think, during that period, my father had a change, slowly I suppose, of heart.”
After Japan’s defeat by the Allied forces in the Philippines culminated in its surrender in August 1945, more than 100 Japanese officers and soldiers were tried for various abuses during the Japanese occupation. Almost all were convicted and sentenced.
The war criminals were held at the New Bilibid Prison until they were granted clemency in 1953 by then-President Elpidio Quirino.
According to an article by Japanese professor Hitoshi Nagai published in 2011 in Hiroshima Research News, soon after the war criminals arrived, Alfredo Bunye told them: “You have come to this prison by destiny, for which I feel sorry.”
Nagai wrote, “True to his word, Bunye was conscientious towards the Japanese prisoners, and there were rarely any incidences of torture, abuse or slave labor at the NBP.”
He cited an instance when one prisoner who had been sentenced to death broke his spectacles, preventing him from reading, which was his only source of enjoyment. A few days later, Alfredo Bunye sent him a new pair.
One Japanese prisoner, Nagai said, wrote in his diary: “This superintendent must be a person of extraordinary virtue.” Another penned that it was “the most fortunate for us, the Japanese prisoners,” that Bunye was superintendent.
Ignacio Bunye said that while his father treated both Filipino and Japanese inmates equally, “He appeared to give special treatment to the Japanese because immediately he isolated them. . . .He was afraid that the Filipinos might take revenge.
“But I think the principle is the same: Treat everybody fairly, humanely,” he said.
Ignacio Bunye could only surmise that his father’s “compassionate” character and sensitivity to the feelings of other people must have been due to the fact that he benefited from the kindness of others when he was growing up, and that he studied law.
He always remembers his father saying that one death will not bring back his grandfather, especially after seeing the movie “The Godfather,” where the lead character, Don Corleone, says, “You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance gonna bring your son back to you, or my boy to me? I forego the vengeance of my son.”
“I am sure that many victims of Japanese cruelties did not take kindly (to) my father’s special treatment of the Japanese. But he sincerely believed that forgiving was the only solution to stop the cycle of violence,” Ignacio Bunye said.
“As a son, I am very proud of what he did,” he said, adding that it was also his father’s brainchild to institute continuing education for inmates.
Years after the culmination of his service in the agency, Alfredo Bunye was invited to Japan by some former POWs and went there with his wife in 1967.
“It was definitely very memorable (for my father) to meet the former prisoners of war there. Many of them have actually become successful,” Ignacio Bunye said.
Even after his death in 1971, Alfredo Bunye continued to be held in high regard by groups in Japan, Ignacio Bunye said, recounting an incident in 1973 when a tourist bus filled with Japanese suddenly dropped by their house and handed them a monetary contribution.
“I believe that his humane treatment of the Japanese prisoners contributed immensely to the healing of our wounds, enabling us to more forward,” Ignacio said when asked about the long-term impact of his father’s actions.
“Now, the Philippines and Japan are the best of friends.”