Here is an excerpt from BAHALA NA (Come What May), a WWII novel of faith and survival:
On the evening of December 22, they made it to Paniqui, Tarlac on the way to the provincial capital of Tarlac. It was a good decision that they did not take the road to Lingayen. Delfin had the right instinct to avoid the area. They could be right in the face of danger. They were extremely lucky because that day, Dec. 22 at 2:00 A.M., General Masaharu Homma, Commander-in-chief of the Japanese forces in the Philippines, with his large fleet of warships and 43,000 soldiers landed on the palm-lined shores of the Lingayen Gulf, 120 miles north of Manila. There was heavy fighting but in the end, the American and Filipino troops were outnumbered and overpowered by the Japanese. Some of the Filipino scouts retreated to the mountains.
By this time, Benjamin and his group were already way ahead of the Japanese. But the Japanese were advancing toward Manila.
At 4:30 PM the same day, Dec. 22, Gen. Douglas MacArthur decided to declare Manila, an Open City in a futile attempt to save it. He ordered all supply depots and storage tanks razed. Manila was known as the Pearl of the Orient because of its majestic buildings and palm-lined boulevards. To be an open city, it meant it would not be defended and hopefully could be saved. In the meantime, stores were being looted of everything. Manila was in total chaos.
On December 23 Gen. MacArthur finally decided to implement War Plan Orange that called for withdrawal of his forces to the Bataan Peninsula where they would wait until help from America arrived. He didn’t like the idea but he had no choice. He had to abandon Manila so thus began the withdrawal as lines of trucks and troops moved along the dust covered roads leading to Bataan.
General MacArthur together with President Manuel L. Quezon would later retreat on Christmas Eve to the rock fortress of Corregidor, an island at the entrance of Manila Bay where he would direct his troops. It was a moon-lit balmy evening but Manila was dark and quiet when MacArthur and Quezon sneaked out and headed for the safety compound of Corregidor. It was not a safe haven, they found out later on.
Benjamin and his group walked at a steady pace for another two days. As they were nearing Tarlac, they were hearing explosions close by. There were more explosions it seemed. Looking further out, they could see clouds of black smoke billowing up in the sky, then more explosions. Every so often, they would stop on their trek and waited till the explosion stopped. It just went on forever, it seemed. It could not possibly be too far because it sounded too loud. They were getting very nervous. They knew heavy fighting must be going on somewhere nearby. They could smell the gunpowder. They were hoping they would not encounter the enemy on the road. The road was very busy at certain sections but they had not seen any Japanese troops. They were mostly American soldiers and Filipino soldiers going the other way. At around 4 PM, they hastened their pace before it really got dark. They were determined to reach the provincial capital of Tarlac.
The name Tarlac derived from a tough weed called tanlac or tarlac growing in the wilderness north of San Fernando. Tarlac was founded in 1686 and in 1860, the Spaniards made Tarlac a constabulary zone to protect the settlers from the mountain tribes. However in 1896, Tarlac was one of the eight provinces that revolted against the Spaniards. In October of 1899, General Emilio Aguinaldo, the president of the revolutionary government transferred the seat of government to Tarlac. A year and four months later, the United States took over the province and established a civil government there.
When Benjamin and his group arrived in Tarlac, there had been heavy fighting there for at least two days. That explained the explosions they were hearing before. Over 700 American, Philippine and Japanese soldiers died in that battle.
They were looking for the municipal building where they usually stayed for the night when they heard the roar of army trucks and a band of Japanese soldiers approaching in their direction. There was no time to run away or hide from them. They knew the Japanese soldiers saw them. If they ran, chances were the Japanese would fire their guns. Better to stay calm. Still, there was that fear that they could get shot. Some of the Japanese soldiers got off the trucks and with their bayonet-tipped rifles brandishing away waved at Benjamin and his group and told them to stop.
“Stop.” Benjamin heard them say.