A country’s struggle to become all over the world as enshrined in its erstwhile national anthem (“Deutschlandi nü bera lles”) led to the bloodshed, violence and terror that is the Second World War. While Hitler’s Germany was to seek domination of Europe, half a world away, in Japan, national pride and the desire to enlarge its controlled territory through its “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere” led to the spread of the war to Asia. The Philippines, being in an extremely vulnerable location, was invaded in 1942. Its liberation from the Japanese more than 2 years later led to the near-total destruction of Manila, which was the most damaged city in the world next to Warsaw, Poland. The following years saw the granting of Philippine independence in 1946 and the bittersweet journey of a young nation with a multifaceted past to rise from the ashes of war to national progress.

 

“Oh, God! This is it,” the thought gripped Dr. Quintin Gomez. He stood, paralyzed, face to face with a Jap less than twenty feet behind the rubble.


The aimed bayonet met his gaze and held him thrall. But only for a while. For the Jap, without so much as widening his slit-like eyes, lowered his gun. Dr. Gomez then remembered to breathe once more and the crushing, burning sensation in his chest began to ebb. Once more, he could hear the shelling above the din of his own heart thundering in his ears. He remembered what he should be doing. Like a friend, he tore at the streets, his arms full with bags of plasma, dextrose bottles and bandages. He would have to go back inside the Manila Doctors Hospital where he was doing his first hear of residency. There were more patients there waiting to be transferred to Dr. Ricardo Alfonso’s house across the street. Perhaps the Japs would see him again. Perhaps this time, the Red Cross arm band he remembered lamely pointing to would not be respected. He felt like a convicted man. He felt this way only once before. That was five years ago when he reported to the Phi initiations at dusk. Back then, the sense of impending doom hovered heavily inside the dark morgue as the “doctors” began treating him exactly like a cadaver. Before the night was over, though, the pranks and the antics ended and they were Phis.
Now it was useless to try to understand what compelled him to go back for their patients huddled beneath the crumbling hospital. Suddenly, “bravery” sounded empty and “sense of duty” failed to evoke a noble thrill. It became a question simply of seeing what was the most logical thing to do and of realizing that no one else but you could do it. Dr. Gomez saw it that way. He went back. Again and again.


A few hundred yards away, at St. Paul’s College and the Red Cross building, the Japanese were massacring a good number of physicians and nurses who were quartered there.


It was the early part of 1945. The grand Japanese dream of a “Co-Prosperity Sphere” was rapidly succumbingto wave after wave of combined Filipino and American attack. And like the sinking of monstrous and grotesque vessel, that the dream really was, it was slipping into a maelstrom that threatened to suck in hundreds of innocent lives. Already about seven members of UP medicine class ‘41 fell prey to Japanese atrocities. More senior alumni suffered the same sad fate. That these young and wealthy men and women were killed at their prime only grimly pointed to the supremely impartial way in which war discharged its cruelty.


Not earlier than four years ago, however, the UP medical student, characteristically a product of bourgeois upbringing, had been so apolitical that right up to the year when Pearl Harbor ignited a series of detonations that moved closer and closer to the heart of Manila, the annual traditional medical ball at the Sta. Ana Turf Club was still one of the best-attended affairs of such sort. The midnight snacks, the Nurses Home socials, the pillow fights and the conquest of that nasty barbed wire fence behind Dorm 5 livened the hospital routine. Among the Phis, stag parties, picnics, the Ermita saunters, the study groups and the occasional medical missions to ease the social conscience mad up the yearly string of frat activities. The annual fraternity ball was an eagerly anticipated event.


The gaunt figure of one Phi, Dr. Jesus Lava, stood in bold relief against the prevailing political ennui. A long tradition of dissent distinguished the Lavas of Pampanga. While most people pinned their hopes on American military might aimed at rendering a Japanese attack foolhardy, Dr. Lava clearly saw the reality of Japanese imperialist threat. He later became vice-chairman of the Youth Congress, an anti-Japanese organization. Years later, his classmates were to remember him for having “championed a lost cause.” But when he wistfully remembers his halcyon days with the Hukbalahap, in the mountains of Zambales and the fields of Floridablanca, the political triumphs and the interminable detentions, he clearly reminds one of the words of a poet who, coming upon two roads diverging in the woods, “took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
When the war erupted on December 8, 1941, PGH was suddenly deluged by victims of grenade blasts and firearms. The dean of the College of Medicine required clinical clerks to render virtually the same services that interns did in the treatment of casualties. The third year students who could not leave for home and were sheltered in PGH helped out as stretcher bearers in the gangrene wards. An official notice calling all able- bodied men to active duty sent spasms of apprehension on the students. Dean Sison, however, announced that a moratorium was granted to medical students, postponing active duty until after graduation.


The cataclysm forced the Phi Kappa Mu into subdued existence. Those who were able to push on with their studies tried their best to stoke the embers of brotherhood in a time when both living and dying had their own horror and their own sweetness.... The Phi, then led by SE Dr. Florentino Herrera, Jr., kept up the initiations and the study groups. Later, several benefit shows were mounted and chairs and books were donated to the medical library. The raucous dorm raids and the pillow fights succumbed to the tense and vigilant atmosphere, giving way to quiet dice and card games.


At the crest of their military triumphs, the Japanese adopted an expansively, condescendingly benevolent attitude toward their occupied nations. Doctors, more than any other professional, enjoyed the most number of privileges including extra food and alcohol fuel rations. That Japanese soldiers would prefer PGH residents to their own doctors, despite the presence of Japanese medical officers assigned to PGH, was a tribute to the skill of Filipino physicians. It was only during the later part of World War II when the Japanese empire began tottering that doctors began to be treated like common citizens. One by one the lives of medical personnel were sacrificed to the crazed whims of the paranoid conquerors.


The spectacle of class ‘43, as its members marched silently from the Ateneo Chapel after their baccalaureate mass, arm-in-arm and in one solid file across the width of Padre Faura, past sentry guards and back to the hospital where they had spent two harrowing years with the mangled, whimpering victims of war and from where they were now to quietly depart, marked for PGH the second year of the Japanese occupation. By now, less terrified by air raids and bomb blasts so close that the dissection rooms were gutted, the medical students came to classes with baons wrapped in banana leaves, took circuitous routes to avoid labor conscription, kowtowed to Japanese sentries with the help of the teachers who promptly came back after the bombings and who continued to lecture and give exams, and eventually fell into an uneasy routine. The slow, unhurried shuffling of Aproniano Tangco came to serve as an effective neuroleptic to many a frayed nerve of class ’48. A few intrepid ones made and passed around copies of news bulletins from short wave sets on allied victories.


Manila was liberated on February 3, 1945. It ushered an era of even more dogged heroism. The shelling gored the floors and walls of the dissection rooms. Instructors came and steadfastly maintained regular lecture hours. Enrollment steadily rose and in 1948, eighty-one freshmen, the biggest crop after a long time, entered the gutted halls.


The Phi quickly recuperated. By 1947, the year when Andres Makalinao, Luis Mabilangan, and Ernesto Cruz entered the fraternity, the annual Phi Ball became an affair as well-ensconced into tradition as the weekly drinking sprees. Free community clinics, bloodletting programs and fund-raising activities such as premier nights, became staple fare for Phis. In 1949, the DDT gang--Deng Dungo, Deutsch Castillo, and Tony Lahoz--were initiated into fraternity life. In 1950, Gerardo de Leon topped the May boards with a score of 86.72% while Ponciano Manalo placed fourth.


Initiations were expanded to week-long affairs. They consisted mostly of the familiar “ungguyan” sessions. A sizable group of consultants always came to attend and to share in perhaps one of the most exhilarating and rejuvenating activities of the Phi. Initiations were held in various public places, usually including the Nurses’ Home (to the delight of its denizens) and mainly depending on how flighty the “doctors” fancies were. Measuring the perimeter of the College of Medicine with a match stick took the neophytes to the very edge of Herran Street. Asking aghast Paulinians to sign their eggs, usually soft- boiled, brought them to the other side of that street. After a week of tribulations, their hubres maimed and their bodies more spent than really sore, the neophytes were blindfolded and paraded around the hospital. The moving final rites followed.


Meanwhile, the College itself was springing back to life. And, as if to spite the troubled past just ended, class ‘52 soon acquired the reputation for picnicking and partying at the drop of a stethoscope. The forty or so members of the class who lay stricken with food poisoning after a whole day picnic in nearby Paranaque was mute testament to the savage vengeance with which they enjoyed themselves. Armed conflict had passed. As everyone emerged from it, they blinked their eyes still bleary from the sting of gun smoke and wild emotions and celebrated the renewal of life.

 

Established in August 1933 by the UP College of Medicine's best medical students, the PHI KAPPA MU (Fraternity of the College of Medicine) continues to uphold its tested tradition of Excellence, Leadership, Service and Brotherhood in the College, University and in our country.

Through the Fraternity's ideals and pillars, her Loyal Sons continue to lead, innovate and excel in the practice of medicine worldwide and in preserving the honor and integrity of the medical profession.

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