Refusing to Hate
It was 1944. The sixteen-year-old boy dragged the oars through the water again and the small boat moved slowly against the shoreline. He was searching for his parents, who had been taken prisoner by Japanese soldiers occupying the Philippines. The boy’s father, Teodoro Abueva, had refused to cooperate with the invaders of his homeland, becoming a member of the anti-Japanese resistance government. The boy’s mother, Nena Veloso Abueva, was also in the resistance. Teodoro and Nena had three daughters and four sons. The boy in the boat was their second son, Jose.
The Japanese military had hunted Teodoro for a long time. On one occasion, they captured his sons, Jose and Billy, as well as their grandmother. But they let Jose go and told him to tell Teodoro that if he wanted to see the others again, he must surrender to the Japanese.
Several days later, Billy came staggering back home, groaning in pain. He was almost unrecognizable. His face was swollen, his front teeth knocked out, and his body bruised and battered. The implied threat to Teodoro from the Japanese military was clear: “If you continue to resist, we will also torture and kill your mother.” But Billy carried a secret message to Teodoro from her: “Do not surrender, no matter what happens to me. I am old. You have a wife and seven children to live for.”
A year later, after hiding in the mountains with the rest of the guerrilla forces, the Abueva family—except for Jose and Billy, who were living with others—were captured. The Japanese military separated husband and wife and tortured them. The children were forced to listen to their parents’ agonized screams. Then the soldiers took Teodoro and Nena away, freeing the children. Billy looked after his brothers and sisters while Jose, together with a cousin, set out in a boat in search of his parents.
Jose had heard rumors of people who’d been killed and hurled down a cliff, and was advised to start his search there. As he came closer to the cliff, he heard more stories of resistance members being executed on a nearby hillside and set off in that direction. But still he refused to believe his parents were dead. He climbed the hill. He walked into a clearing with some bushes beyond it. Suddenly, an acrid smell hit his nostrils as he came upon an executioner’s handiwork. He saw a soiled white shirt with blue stripes and immediately recognized it as his father’s. Then he saw a piece of his mother’s brown dress. He also found fragments of rosaries and belts that he recognized as having belonged to them.
Despite the horror of the experience, Jose didn’t cry. He was so emotionally and physically drained, tears would not come . . . His parents were martyrs who had fought for their love of freedom and their love for their country. This hill was where their lives had ended in such a cruel sacrifice. He heard that the bodies had been left there for more a week, exposed to the elements and wild animals.
The Allied forces under General MacArthur had already landed on the Filipino island of Leyte on October 20, 1944. Jose’s parents had been killed on October 23. For them, the liberation of the Philippines had come just moments too late.
The surviving seven children decided their parents’ tomb should be in a garden next to the town’s elementary school. Friends and relatives gathered and a Mass was said in their honor. Jose Abueva writes, “Looking at the big crowd from the veranda, I was one with our grieving family. I finally broke down and cried my heart out.”
In sharing his recollections, Jose Abueva also observed: “For many years Japanese leaders stubbornly refused to admit—and apologize for—the grievous wrongs they committed in the countries they invaded in World War II. Japanese history textbooks have purposely concealed the truth, or justified the wrongs. Fellow Asians,” he continued, “were outraged by the insensitivity and dishonesty of the Japanese. How could they gloss over the sordid truth that so many had witnessed and endured, recorded and remembered?”
After the war, the orphaned Abueva children pulled together to support each other as they struggled to continue their education. The siblings would go on to contribute to society in such fields as the arts and education. Jose studied at the University of the Philippines and then the University of Michigan before eventually returning to become a professor at his alma mater.
During his distinguished career in education and development, Dr. Abueva has served in posts around the world including Nepal, Thailand, Lebanon, the United States and Japan. All that he has achieved, he says, started with his climb up that hill on that fateful day. He has been utterly devoted to peace, determined to keep others from experiencing the kind of tragedy that he did.
When Dr. Abueva spoke at our university in Tokyo, he expressed concern about any moves that Japan might make toward rearmament. But he showed no trace of personal bitterness: “My parents were killed by Japanese soldiers. But none of us seven children bears any hatred toward Japan. I like the Japanese. And I believe the people of Japan and the Philippines share the same love of peace.”
I was amazed—even through extreme suffering, he has maintained his noble beliefs. How has he been able to overcome the urge, so understandable in his case, to bitterness and hate? He himself wonders how it has been possible to forgive, and credits his parents’ religiosity and their “message of love and forgiveness in the midst of suffering and death.”
“The great irony of my life,” he remarks, “was my recruitment to serve at the headquarters of the United Nations University in Tokyo.” For a total of almost eight years, Dr. Abueva and his family lived in Japan, the land of their former enemies.
Throughout their stay, the Abueva family made a conscious effort to make friends and be ambassadors of goodwill, learning the Japanese language and culture. “By living, learning and working in Japan, by fate or accident, we’d like to feel that we helped to achieve on a limited scale a reconciliation between Filipinos and Japanese.”
Upon returning to his homeland in 1987, Dr. Abueva was elected president of the University of the Philippines.
“Throughout history there have been many leaders of war,” he declared with great passion, “but there have been few leaders of peace. I am determined to help change this.”
The University of the Philippines is the country’s top school, and its graduates are destined to become leaders in all fields of Philippine society. But Dr. Abueva was concerned that the students also be aware of their duty to society, that they have the willingness and enthusiasm to lead the way in finding solutions to the problems that confront their country.
As president, he put special emphasis on the creation of a “House of Peace” for international exchange. He believes that building deeper relations between peoples is even more important than focusing on relations between governments. In particular, he sees youth and cultural exchanges as vital currents in the great flowing river of peace that he is determined to create.
In May 1993 Dr. Abueva invited me to the official opening of the Balay Kalinaw, or House of Peace, at the University of the Philippines. He also named the building (The Ikeda Hall) after me, saying that he hoped it would be a symbol of friendship between the Philippines and Japan. In my remarks on that occasion, I talked about my mentor Josei Toda, second president of the Soka Gakkai, who also stood up against Japanese militarism and who was imprisoned for two years as a result. Toda was convinced that Japan could only be considered a nation of peace to the extent that it is trusted by its Asian neighbors.
In response to my speech, Dr. Abueva rose from his seat and quoted from a poem of his own:
We want an end to killing and maiming
caused by greed or creed, class or tribe
because the poor are weak and the strong are unjust.
His voice rang through the House of Peace, and it seemed to reach all the way to that hill he climbed so many years ago.
©2011 Soka Gakkai. All rights reserved.