A Spark into the Darkness: The Life and Death
of Dr. Dominador Uybarreta
of Dr. Dominador Uybarreta
By: P.B. Robosa
I first heard the name of Don Uy Barretta while I was a member of a committee reviewing nominations to awards for outstanding Baaoeños. Back then, he did not call much interest in me as the committee was then more interested in other personalities or most of us were of the younger set who was unfamiliar with him or his story. The next time I came across the name was when I found an old list of Baaoeño army veterans and guerillas and among the list of casualties was the name of Dr. Dominador or Don Uy Barretta. This came to me as unusual as I’ve never heard that there was a Baaoeño guerilla doctor who died in WWII and immediately got me on the way of finding more about him and his remarkable story.
The Japanese were into the last days of their occupation of the Bicol region and Gen. McArthur had landed in Leyte. To weaken them in preparation for the liberation of the region, American planes were raiding Japanese installations and strafing retreating Japanese convoys. Emboldened Filipino guerillas stepped up operations and Japanese reactions were severe and brutal. Using local collaborators as informers, the Japanese heightened arrests and interrogations of suspected guerillas in a futile but determined attempt to capture and execute them.
In the early months of 1945 when Japanese casualties from American raids were high, the Japanese soldiers retaliated with intensified searches and arbitrary arrests. The first to disappear in these vicious Japanese measures were two local Baaoeños and the Chinese residents Dio-gna, Pana and Amado. All arrested were being taken to the Japanese Headquarters in Pili whose personnel were responsible for the Agdangan massacre months before.
In the twilight of February 4, the Japanese with the help of a masked informer, began to round up a second group of Baaoeño residents and started for the forested barrio of Salvacion. This barrio, on the skirts of Mount Simurai is where most Baaoeños had evacuated to wait out the end of the war. Like most Baaoeños who owned property in the poblacion but fearing Japanese atrocities, the young brood of the family of Mr. Cosme Uy Barretta stayed in the house of a relative in this barrio. Their house in the poblacion was periodically visited and guarded by the elder male members of the family to protect it from looters. The Uy Barretta’s stayed in the house of Ambrosio Baroño and at this house the raiding Japanese with their informer came knocking to look for Dr. Don Uy Barretta.
The Japanese excuse was that they needed a doctor to treat their wounded. Not suspecting anything wrong, Dr. Uy Barretta’s elder brother Santiago told them that his brother was at their residence in the poblacion and with a companion, Jesus Baroño, went with the Japanese to look for him. It was dark when they arrived at the house and with insistent knocks the house was opened by Dr. Uy Barretta’s companion, Feliciano Babilonia. As the Japanese began to search the house, Babilonia hid himself on the opposite side of the creek behind the house and only after a while returned to peep through the upstairs window to see the Japanese truck leaving with the doctor with them.
That night, the Japanese continued rounding and picking up others, like Messrs. S. Amilano, P. Blando and M. Botor, they arrested Mr. Perfecto Palma who was sick with dysentery. Seeing him being led away, his wife of 13 days, Mericia Badiola Palma volunteered to accompany him. The arrests that night also included Engr. Rufu Martirez whom they came upon awakening from sleep in one empty house they searched.
Mrs. Mericia Palma narrates that they were taken to a house in Pili which appeared to be used at the time as a temporary prison. Upon arriving, they met a group of prisoners which was being led away by Japanese soldiers and an officer. A while later, Mrs. Palma then saw the soldiers return with out the prisoners and the officer in the motions of wiping his sword of blood. It became clear to her that executions were taking place nearby.
While inside the house, Mrs. Palma counted 15 prisoners including themselves. For five days these prisoners endured interrogation, abuse, torture and the constant anticipation of death. Despite suffering no worse bodily harm than slaps to her face, she however, could not silently endure the sight of the suffering of her fellow prisoners and the inhuman treatment accorded by their Japanese captors. Coming only to ease the suffering of her ailing husband, she soon volunteered to feed all the prisoners herself. Thus, she witnessed personally the brutal torture the prisoners were made to endure.
By the questions constantly being Dr. Uy Barretta, Mrs. Palma gathered that he was being forced to confess being a supporter of the guerillas. Hung from the ceiling with only his thumbs to support his body weight, he was swung to and fro by his torturer and with each swing a wooden club was slammed into his chest. This torture lasted until the torturer exhausted himself and Dr. Uy Barretta will then be carried to his cell with his chest swollen and badly discolored.
After five days of interrogation, Mr. Palma helped by the fact that he had papers proving that was once an employee of the Japanese Mitsubishi company, convinced his captors of his innocence and along with his wife and Santiago Uybarreta was released. Not waiting any longer for the promised Japanese truck to take them to Baao, the three hiked the 15 kilometer or so distance to Baao on foot to the surprise of their families who thought they would never come back. As for the rest, they would never to return and the whereabouts of their deaths are not known to this day.
The search for Dr. Uy Barretta commenced as soon as the hope of his family that he will be released faded. Mr. Cosme Uy Barretta enlisted the help of Baao wartime Mayor Tomas Guevara to intercede for him with the Japanese authorities but as the war of liberation raged they came up with no information about him. The question of what really happened to him remains unanswered to this day and, Dr. Don Uy Barretta is officially listed as a “casualty of the Resistance’.
Is there truth to the Japanese suspicion that the doctor was a member of the resistance for which reason he was being made to confess during his torture and apparently the grounds the Japanese had to have him executed? His companion during the night he was taken away, Feliciano Babilonia affirms that although he had no official affiliation with any guerilla group he was constantly called upon to treat guerilla sick and wounded in an undisclosed place. Perhaps it is for this reason that the doctor would often take overnight fishing trips to nearby Lake Baao both as means for alibi and avoiding encounters with the Japanese.
Whether he was an active supporter of the guerillas in their operations with the Japanese or merely obeying an oath to help those in need either friend or foe we will never know. What we can be sure, nevertheless, from his actions that he did not hesitate to help civilians, guerillas and even the Japanese who used this reputation of his in their ruse to capture him. What was known of Dr. Uy Barretta before his arrest and death?
Dr. Dominador Uy Barretta was a bright young man and a scion of a wealthy Chinese-Baaoeño Family engaged in business in Baao. Equipped with the best education that could be afforded by his family, he trained to be a Doctor at the University of the Philippines graduating in 1943 in the height of the Japanese occupation the country. In the early days of the war right after the bombing of Manila when transportation and communication to the provinces were in shambles, the young student had his taste of the hardships of war when he made a 400 kilometer hike to Baao from Manila to the astonishment of his worried family.
Years later, returning home to Baao after his graduation, he quickly set up a simple clinic in the family residence and treated all kinds of ailments and wounds without the benefit of medical supplies and medicine. Using only available resources, he treated infected wounds with maggots he cultured himself and used traditional herbal medicine for common aches. The later part of the war saw an escalation of violence and with very few doctors around, his makeshift clinic became swamped with patients. Some of his patients were the survivors of the Agdangan massacre who endured grueling walks or boat trips across the Baao Lake to come to him for help. Later, those who received his services were the pitiful victims of American stray bullets discharged during strafing runs against the Japanese.
In life, his willingness to help others might have been the very cause of his death. While there were other doctors around who may have aroused the suspicion of the Japanese, Dr. Uy Barretta was singled out for arrest possibly due to the treachery of the Filipino informers who could very well have known of his activities.
Because he provided aid to the Filipino resistance, his death therefore in the hands of the Japanese comes as no surprise. But what surprises us is the horrible fate that befell so promising a life, the fate that Dr. Uybarreta may very well have known would come to him if his actions were discovered. His death at the young age of 26 for which perhaps he accepted in the end as a final sacrifice in war comes as a spark into this chapter of darkness in our history. That spark, all the more made bright by his deeds while he was alive should guide our youth to the ideal that risking a comfortable life, even a promising future, for the opportunity to serve those in need truly makes life and death heroic.