By Ignacio R. Bunye
Yesterday being Father’s Day, allow me to devote this piece to commemorate my father and all the fathers in the world.
Like most fathers, he was my very first hero and role model. Next to my mother, Sofia V. Rivera, he was also my first teacher.
He taught me very important life-long lessons not just by precept but, more important, by example.
My father, Dr. Alfredo M. Bunye, was a long-time superintendent, later director, of the Bureau of Prisons (now Bureau of Corrections).
As a young child, I recalled how every day my father would bid us goodbye – very smart in his white sharkskin suit – before walking to his office just 500 meters away from the Superintendent’s Quarters.
From our second-floor bedroom window, I had a good view of his office – an imposing concrete white structure, built like a fortress, with high and thick walls.
On Saturday mornings, I witnessed how prison guards briskly marched in front of him to the tune played by the prison brass band. My father must be an important man, I proudly told myself.
Years later, we said goodbye to the Superintendent’s Quarters and moved to the Prison Director’s official residence. There, we had several prisoner helpers (called “Serving”) who included a cook, a driver, a couple of gardeners, and a “trustee” guard.
“Serving” was actually the mangled version of “Deserving.” The “Serving” or “Deserving” were prisoners who, because of good conduct while in prison, were allowed time out from their prison cells.
Between 8 and 5 p.m., they did various chores in the private quarters of prison employees and then walked back (unguarded!) to the prison compound.
I learned much later that some of them had been convicted of heinous offenses. But my father treated them with respect and with dignity. I never saw my father maltreat or verbally abuse our prisoner helpers.
“Prisoners are people,” I would often hear him say. “Yes, they committed crimes against society. But they deserve a second chance to live again as useful and productive citizens.”
When he joined the prison service before the war, my father, a former school teacher, advocated the adoption of adult education classes for unschooled prisoners as well as formal classes for those who had dropped out of school.
Much later, he had the rare opportunity to act as the jailer of hundreds of Japanese prisoners who had been convicted of war crimes by a military commission immediately after the war.
Just after WWII, anti-Japanese sentiment was at its peak. Japanese soldiers, led by a fanatic admiral, wantonly burned, looted, raped, and killed close to a hundred thousand civilians during the infamous Manila Massacre in February, 1945.
My own paternal grandfather, Ignacio O. Bunye, was picked up by the Japanese from his house inside the Alabang Stock Farm on February 3, 1945, never again to be seen alive.
Around the same time, in the New Bilibid Prison, 31 Filipino political prisoners were taken out of their cells by the Japanese and executed one by one on February 3 and 4, 1945.
Every Filipino who had suffered, in one way or another, from Japanese brutality, would have been justified to expect that my father would use his position in order to get even with the Japanese.
But, to the consternation of many (including our own close relatives) and more to the surprise of the Japanese prisoners, he did the opposite. He did not retaliate.
Instead, he ordered prison guards to protect the Japanese from vengeful Filipino prisoners and to treat the convicted war criminals humanely.
Years later, my father explained to me why: “We can not stop the cycle of violence and hate if we retaliate.”
Interviewed in Japan in 1952, he explained his action: “My father was victimized by the Japanese… However, I believe it was a step in the process that the world resumes peace.”
That was Dr. Alfredo M. Bunye, my father, my hero.
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