As soon as the smoke cleared and the fire truck was removed and the gate fixed the birds returned to Malacanan, while Marcos still sat on his throne. At the turn of the century the palace actually had a throne room and has one today though it might be called a library, a library filled with codices and books dating back to the days of Don Luis Rocha, a darling then of the cosmopolitan crowd. His stone mansion enclosed by a high stone wall was a gathering place for aristocrats just as it is today. It is in a small area surrounded by water in the heart of Manila, and it is only significant because it’s where the palace and the seat of the Philippine government are located. Otherwise it has its share of garbage, filthy streets, clogged drainage, and noise. The area also has a name (San Miguel), a hospice, a church, and an orphanage, and those looking for the hospice will find it on an island.
Today Malacanan is prone to flooding. A century earlier, nearby, on the shores of the Pasig, at Tanduay, near the San Miguel boundary, there were native sugar refineries, the buildings of which are still there and stand out because of a tall chimney. So there were better places to live than San Miguel, such as Malate, which in the early 1900’s was considered a prize residential district with first class apartments and hotels, parks, and the Rizal Memorial Stadium which was built in 1934. It was a handsome stadium where stars such as Babe Ruth, Lefty Gomez, and Jimmy Fox once played and was used by the United States and Philippine Armies as an arsenal and a storehouse. The Japanese army converted it into its headquarters where sentries were placed at every gate and where passers-by who failed to bow, salute or doff their hats were severely punished.
The nuns deplored this and particularly the atrocities and destruction that followed as trapped Japanese frantically fought for their lives. “Once the nuns were dead to the world, but now it was different,” as they experienced the horrors of liberation like everyone else. This was when some of the most inhuman acts against civilians (guilty or not-women, children, and the religious) were committed, and their church was burned to the ground. It was very difficult, very astonishing, for the risks even for nuns were real. (The desecration we should fear, when the long medieval habit, starched wimple and stiff headdress covering shaven heads weren’t respected. You should never touch a nun!) The Japanese intrusion pained them more than it embarrassed them. Up until then they had been cloistered, as if they could remain isolated when the death knell was sounded. One night, the Canillas family of Leveriza was tortured, and all of them killed at Harrison Park. The lawyer’s five daughters were raped and then killed by Japanese soldiers. The discovery reached the nuns in their convent and that was when they could anticipate their own fate.
There were those who sought refuge when there was no escape, and afterwards there was no way to forget. The nuns, in similar fashion, wanted to forget in order to be rid of resentment. For a while they tried by adhering to a strict regimen that governed their whole day. Tempered by diligence and by a strict routine from morning to night, but could they ever forget? Could they really remove rancor from their hearts? Yes, they tried. And they rebuilt their convent, as their church was rebuilt, and as they tried, they once again retreated from the world. They also tried by erecting walls of silence and through prayer (and covered themselves with black shrouds). They didn’t foresee the day when things would change. They wanted to remain faithful to Jesus and not make a mockery of their vows. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was the straight path that would save them from themselves. So they spoke only at certain times; their letters were censored; they weren’t allowed to read newspapers or magazines, watch television or go to movies; they were put on rations and ate only when it was time to eat. And at no time could they complain because they weren’t allowed to have opinions of their own. (This was what life was like in these communities, every facet of life regimented.) Like all those who took the same vows, before the Vatican Council II changed everything, they were all supposed to be the same, when of course they were individuals. Thus when reform came as early as 1964, the most obvious change began with a change of dress. First, the skirt was shortened to mid-calf, then to just below the knees…although now it is much shorter because of current fashion. After that the headdress was modified to reveal the ears, then the neck; now part of the hair is shown. Then heavens forbid, they could choose what clothes to wear, and many of them chose to wear everyday dresses, or “lay clothes.” “But we’re not changing for the sake of change,” Sister Romona Mendiola stressed. Instead they wanted to be human. Before then there had been so many restrictions that they were ignorant of the realities outside the convent walls.