Jose Abueva—Refusing to Hate
(From One by One by Daisaku Ikeda, a collection of essays in which he reflects on his encounters with various world figures, scholars and activists who have inspired him.)
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 the 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 Bohol Provincial Board in the anti-Japanese resistance government. The boy’s mother, Nena Veloso Abueva, was head of the Bohol Women’s Auxiliary Service in the resistance. Teodoro and Nena had three daughters and four sons; the boy in the boat was their second son, Jose.
Daisaku Ikeda and his wife Kaneko meet with then University of the Philippines President Jose V. Abueva (Republic of the Philippines, February 1998)
Thus begin some of the recollections that Dr. Jose Abueva, former president of the University of the Philippines, kindly wrote down for me under the title “Our Family Story of War and Peace, Love and Remembrance.” He continues . . .
The Japanese military had been hunting Teodoro for a long time. On one occasion, they had captured his sons Jose and Billy as well as his mother. But they let Jose go and told him to tell his 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
It was to be a sad journey. Jose landed at the town where the family had been taken. News of the American recapture of the Philippines was spreading, and there was not a Japanese soldier to be seen. Praying that by some miracle his parents might still be alive, Jose searched for a clue to their whereabouts. He heard rumors of people who had been killed and hurled down a cliff, and was advised to start his search there. As Jose 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. The sun shone down fiercely from a cloudless sky. He walked into a clearing with some bushes beyond it. Suddenly, an acrid smell assaulted 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. When he noticed his surroundings, he was looking to the shining sea stretching toward Mindanao. Thoughts of what had happened to his parents flooded his mind. They were martyrs who had fought for their love of freedom and their love for their country. For that they had been tortured and killed. This hill was where their lives had ended in such a cruel sacrifice. He heard that the bodies had been left there for more than a week, exposed to the elements and wild animals.
Jose gathered his parents’ remains and got back in the boat. The sea of his homeland was almost blindingly beautiful. The Allied forces under General [Douglas] MacArthur had already landed on the Filipino island of Leyte on October 20. Jose’s parents had been killed on October 23. For them, the liberation of the Philippines had come just moments too late.
Filipino and American prisoners of war use improvised litters to carry fallen comrades at Camp O'Donnell, Capas, Tarlac, 1942, following the Bataan Death March (from Wikimedia commons)
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. Dr. Abueva writes: “Looking at the big crown from the veranda, I was one with our grieving family. I finally broke down and cried my heart out. . . .Although this story happened half a century ago, it is indelibly etched in my mind. I will never be able to forget.” How many others will face the demonic cruelty and madness of war—memories that can never be erased?
In sharing his recollections, Dr. Abueva also observed: “For many years Japanese leaders still 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 Abueva 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, he has served in posts around the world, including Nepal, Thailand, Lebanon, the United States and Japan. His fond memories of his loving parents have sustained him wherever he has gone, and his determination to work for peace is still motivated by his wish to honor them. 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 Tokyo’s Soka University in April 1990, 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. Truly, he is a greathearted person. 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 mist 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.
During the first year in Tokyo, his children often asked: Why did the Japanese kill our grandparents? Dr. Abueva could only explain that his parents had resisted Japanese invaders from love of their country and had paid for that love with their lives.
At the United Nations University (UNU) Dr. Abueva worked with a team of talented and dedicated scholars from throughout the world to advance UNU’s mission of coordinating research on such global issues as eliminating hunger, managing natural resources and promoting social development. Throughout their stay in Japan, Dr. Abueva and his 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.”
Fostering Leaders for Peace
Returning to the Philippines, Dr. Abueva helped [President] Corazon Aquino in peace talks between the government and the MNLF separatist guerrillas in the south of the country. In 1987, he 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. It is his firm belief that a university must above all deepen students’ quality as leaders in the service of their people and country.
Dr. Abueva told me that on becoming university president what had saddened him most was the decline in enrollment of students from poorer families. To rectify the situation, he instituted a policy by which students of wealthy families paid higher tuition to subsidize those of poor students.
As president, he put special emphasis on the creation of a “House of Peace” for international exchange. I am very proud that exchange students from Soka University have studied at the University of the Philippines and I am deeply grateful for Dr. Abueva’s kindness to them, even inviting them to his home. He believes that building deeper and broader relations between peoples is more important than 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.
House of Peace
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, saying 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 stood up against Japanese militarism and who was imprisoned for two years as a result. He was deeply convinced that Japan could only be considered a nation of peace to the extent that it is trusted by its Asian neighbors.”
I also declared my determination to devote my life, as an individual Japanese citizen, to the people of Asia. Without mutual understanding, we can achieve nothing.
At that time I quoted the following lines of poetry which were composed by the great Filipino poet and national hero José Rizal, who was executed in 1896 before he saw his dream of independence for his homeland realized:
I die without seeing the dawn
Brighten over my native land!
You, who have it to see, welcome it—
And forget not those
Who have fallen during the night!
Dr. Abueva’s parents were among those who fell in the night, without seeing the dawn of peace. I shared my belief that the same cry must have issued from his parents’ lives as they entrusted him with his mission.
I saw Dr. Abueva remove his glasses. As he dabbed at the tears that filled his eyes, I felt I caught a glimpse of a half century of his family’s life.
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.