Sgt. Miguel “Mike” Iñigo: Boy Guerilla

AT FIRST glance, Sgt. Miguel “Mike” Iñigo, looks young to be a war veteran. The man with a knack for storytelling and an easy smile is only 87 where most veterans of the Second World War are well over their 90s. He was only 12 when the war first broke out – merely out of his boyhood. But his contributions to the guerilla movement are just as invaluable as any who fought in the front lines in one of the country’s most difficult eras.

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He was born in Davao but his family has already been living in Manila at the start of the war. Like any child caught up in his childish preoccupations, the world was just as it was before the war. There were no fears of getting attacked or of getting bombed. To him, Manila was just as peaceful as it had been and the only crimes he had known to have existed were petty thefts. If anything, the news of the war in Manila was nothing more than the start of a new adventure for young Mike.

Things were shaken up in July 1943 when, seemingly out of nowhere, the Japanese troops came after his father who was then running a successful insurance business. The troops ransacked their home, arrested his father, and locked him up in Fort Santiago – infamously known for being Manila’s deadliest prison during the war. Mike discovered two things at that moment: the Japanese were to be feared, and his father was part of the guerilla movement.

Everyone in the family had nary an idea about their padre de pamilia’s involvement in the movement. The brilliant, award-winning insurance salesman had joined the underground organization with his friends but kept it from the family for their protection.

The months that followed his father’s incarceration were a nightmare for young Mike and his siblings; the fate of their father while in Manila’s deadliest garrison remained unknown while the rest of the family had to grapple with survival. To support the family, Mike and his brothers went into different trades – anything to bring food on the table. Mike worked as a shoe shine boy in the streets of Manila and his brothers worked in a machine shop while their mother had her hands full with caring for the younger children.

Three months after his father’s arrest, in October 1943 the Japanese government declared the Second Philippine Republic – or what we now know as the puppet government. This declaration led to the granting of amnesty to prisoners including Mike’s father. The elder Iñigo was imprisoned for a total of three months and had been subjected to “all kinds of torture”, but he was finally free. Far from being the end of the family’s involvement in the war front, however, this marked only the beginning of bigger things to happen.

“But I want to join you…”

After his release, Mike’s father was active in the guerilla movement again. This time, he was placed as the organization’s finance officer and was tasked to gather donations for the guerillas’ funds for supplies. He was also in-charge of organizing new recruits. For this, he had asked the help of Mike.

Mike’s first “job” was to fill up forms with all the names of the young men in the neighborhood eligible to serve in the movement. Mike’s name was not on the list.

He asked his father why, and insisted on joining his brothers in the movement. But his father was adamant about keeping the 13-year old boy away from the dangers of the worsening war situation.

“But I want to join you…” Mike kept telling his father. The one thing that deterred the young man was his father’s response: “Son, who is going to take care of your mother and sisters?”

His father’s words stirred in him both the heavy weight of his new responsibility and a new kind of fear: he feared for his family’s safety. He worried about how to protect his family with his father being in Manila to help run the organization and his older brothers up in the mountains with the guerilla troops.

This fear peaked when, one evening in their Valenzuela home, a troop of Japanese soldiers decided to make a stopover to rest. Mike was at home with his four younger sisters and their mother. News of the Japanese soldiers’ savagery especially to women was not unknown to Mike, and he had every reason to fear especially for his sisters.

By a stroke of luck, Mike’s mother unknowingly cooked up the best weapon against their unwelcome guests: bagoong. The smell of the bagoong frying in the family kitchen for dinner proved too much to bear for the foreign invaders and left the family – safe and unscathed. Mike heaved what was probably the biggest sigh of relief in his entire life.

Mike the Guerilla

But Mike was perhaps destined to be part of the movement. One of Mike’s older brothers contracted malaria, and his father’s close-in aide was caught by the Japanese troops. His father needed someone he could fully trust with one of the most crucial parts of the movement. He asked Mike.

Working closely with his father, Mike was tasked with transporting guerilla money and observing and reporting the goings on in crossroads and town borders. His biggest weapons were his youth and his fearlessness.

 Mike carried around ‘Mickey Mouse money’ in bayongs to Divisoria. He hitched rides with vegetable peddlers from Manila going south, his basketful of cash perfectly camouflaged among the baskets of produce and masking his being a guerilla with his youthfulness. No one, after all, would suspect a young boy of being an insurgent. He made a total of two trips for this task before his strategy was found out.

He carried on his tasks as diligently and as fearlessly as any soldier. In fact, he felt proud. He felt like a real man.

In many instances, Mike’s youth had saved him from being on the other end of the Japanese soldiers’ bayonets. But it did not protect him from witnessing the harrowing details of the war. He had seen countless people die in the hands of the Japanese soldiers for simply looking like a guerilla or for a random baseless accusation. There were no laws. There were no morals. But none of it dissuaded from fighting for his country. On the contrary, it motivated him more to fight for its freedom. (to be continued).

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