The hill in Ngatpang, Palau
Site of the execution
A Chamorro woman in her 20s, married to a Filipino, with two young children ages 5 and 3. All of them - shot dead by the Japanese.
Agapito Cairela Hondonero was a Filipino who left his home country and settled in Yap around 1928 or 1929. He was employed at the "American" weather station on Yap, an island which was under the Japanese at the time. This station had a working relationship with the Manila Observatory, sending weather reports there. As the Philippines was still under American control at the time, he was considered an "American national."
This is not the same as a U.S. citizen. An American national owes allegiance to the U.S. and falls under the protection of the U.S., but does not have all the benefits of U.S. citizenship. Up until 1950, people born on Guam were American nationals only, unless they acquired U.S. citizenship some other way. In 1950, the Organic Act granted U.S. citizenship to those born on Guam who weren't already U.S. citizens by another route.
Filipinos were considered American nationals till their country's independence from the U.S. in 1946. Being an American national alone would have put Hondonero in a bad light to the Japanese in Yap.
When war was declared between the U.S. and Japan in 1941, Hondonero was put in jail by the Japanese in Yap.
Hondonero was married to a Chamorro. Her name was Filomena Adriano Untalan. Her father, Jesus Guzman Untalan, had moved to Yap, not from Saipan (as the majority of Chamorros on Yap had), but from Guam. Her mother, Mecaila Chuapaco Adriano, was also a Chamorro from Guam.
In July of 1944, Hondonero was sent by the Japanese to Palau, along with two Jesuit priests (one Spanish, the other Colombian) and a Spanish Jesuit brother. Hondonero's wife Filomena, and their two children, Baltazar, around 5, and Carolina, around 3, accompanied him to Palau.
In Palau, the priests were joined by three other Spanish missionaries, two priests and a brother. The missionaries and the Hondoneros were together, waiting their fate at the hands of the Japanese. Alfonso Untalan Diaz, a nephew of Filomena, happened to be in Palau and managed to talk to her. He told her that she and the two children were not considered spies and that the Japanese were willing to set them free. Filomena told him that she knew the Japanese meant to kill her husband, and that she would not abandon him now.
On September 18, having heard of the Japanese losses in the Marianas and the American attack on Peleliu, an important island in the southern part of Palau, with heavy American shelling going on daily in the main section of Palau, the Japanese expected that an American invasion could happen at any moment. They feared that the missionaries and the Filipino weather man would run to the Americans and help them with intelligence. The Japanese decided to kill them all.
Two trucks came in the early evening of September 18 to take them to their executions. The shooting happened on Ngatpang Hill, called Gasupan Daijo by the Japanese. The trucks stopped and the prisoners were taken into a jungle area, where they found a trench freshly dug. They were informed that they had to die. While the priests chanted, the whole group was made to kneel in front of the hole. Japanese lined up behind each prisoner. The soldiers were told to shoot one prisoner each at the back of the head. They were to use pistols, since using rifles at such close range would be dangerous to the bystanders.
Hondonero and his family knelt on the far left. When the order was given to fire, the Japanese standing behind Filomena was so taken with emotion that he misfired. Filomena was carrying her baby girl on her back. The girl started to cry at the sound of the guns. Since he was faltering, the Japanese soldier was replaced by another soldier who came up and shot the girl, killing Filomena at the same time.
The three Jesuits from Palau, killed with the three Jesuits from Yap and the Hondonero family
The bodies of all ten were buried in the hole. When the Japanese in Palau heard that their country surrendered to the U.S. on August 15, 1945, they decided to cover their tracks. The bodies of these ten dead were exhumed, burned and what was left was buried in a new spot, but not far from the original site. The Japanese agreed to tell the Americans, once they came, that the prisoners were sent off to the Philippines and that they did not know what happened to them afterwards.
But, their crime was not hidden enough. The Americans soon found out about it and the Japanese soldiers involved were tried for it and found guilty. The leading culprit committed suicide before he could face trial. The trials, by the way, happened on Guam after the war.
For the Untalan family, the bitter memories are coupled with the failure to find the remains of their loved ones. There have been several attempts to do so and some spots have been found that could very well have been the site, but no human remains, so far, have been found.
Alfonso Untalan Diaz, nephew of Filomena, did get her rosary and crucifix, given to him by a local girl who got it from a Japanese soldier.
The soil of Palau remains the final resting place of a Chamorro mother, her Filipino husband, and their two children. One was killed on suspicion of being an American spy; killed without trial, without evidence and without witnesses. The wife was killed because she would not leave her husband. The two little ones were killed, as the Japanese officer said, because, with mother and father dead, there would be no one to take care of them. A very sad tale.
Depiction of the Execution Scene
One of the Japanese at the scene indicated the positions of the ten people killed. There are only nine spots shown, but that is because Filomena was carrying Carolina on her back when both were killed at the same time.