How My Ancestor Reached Out To Me

It all started with this message in a group chat (Wednesday, March 11, 2020):

The Bataan Memorial Death March is an annual 14 mile march that happens at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It is to honor the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health, and in many cases, their lives.

75,000 Filipino and American troops in Bataan were forced to make a perilous 70-mile march to prison camps. The marchers made the trek in intense heat and were subjected to harsh treatment by Japanese guards. Thousands perished.

Read the details on

Ate Christy has attended this march annually for the past 6 years in New Mexico. Unfortunately, large gatherings and events were being canceled left and right as precautionary measures against COVID-19.

Despite the cancelation, she made it happen here in Houston with us.

March 14th, Saturday. 6:00 AM.

Joined Ate Christy, Cybil, Jenah, Trish, and Christian on my very first long distance march!

Ate Christy asked if we wanted to dedicate the march to family members who served or are currently serving.

None of the family members I know have ever served in the military, but the Philippines WAS invaded by Japan during WWII – so I’m sure someone in my family line did.

Lots of positive omens appeared during our trek. The march felt like a lifetime in that we shared many stories between us, saw numerous interesting sights, and learned a lot from each other.

One thing I learned about during the walk was the Filipino Veterans Of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act.
From Tulsi Gabbard’s press release:

“The United States is forever grateful for the service, bravery, and perseverance of the more than 200,000 Filipino and Filipino American soldiers that served our country during World War II.

These loyal and courageous soldiers suffered hardships, fought bravely, and sacrificed greatly, with many giving up their lives alongside their American counterparts throughout the war, yet their service was left unrecognized in the United States for decades. 

Today, these brave soldiers are finally receiving the recognition they earned and deserve, and join the ranks of heroic units like the Tuskegee Airmen and Hawaii’s own 442nd/100th Infantry Battalion as we honor them with the Congressional Gold Medal—our nation’s highest civilian honor.”

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard

Read more here.

It turns out, if you are a World War II veteran or a living relative of one who has passed, you can apply for this Congressional Gold Medal with the right proof of service. And when the application is approved, they hold a medal ceremony to honor them at the annual Bataan Memorial Death March!

Here are some highlight flicks from the march:

The Monday after the march (March 16th), I saw an owl relative early in the morning while letting the dogs out. I’ve never seen an owl outside of captivity, especially in Houston.

Owls symbolize “good” and “bad” omens, depending on the culture. Some believe they’re harbingers of death, wisdom, protection, or major changes in the coming days.

I’d say the owl omen foretold my coming days.

That afternoon, a company-wide e-mail was sent out announcing office closures until March 30th (lol). We were told to bring everything from the office that would enable us to work remotely.

After consuming hella news about the quarantine and worrying myself – that evening, I was browsing Instagram and saw a magical practitioner I follow, solaristhehiipriestess, burning money in a pot:

I had so many questions! What is ancestor money? Why is she burning it? And why do you have to buy…money?

So I did what any curious person would do who didn’t want to look silly by asking potentially “dumb questions”: I looked at the post’s comment section.

And boom, here’s a breadcrumb:

Joss stuff…hm, okay, okay, cool, cool. VERY INTERESTING. But also…passport?! (That’s for another rabbit hole at a later time)

So I Googled “joss”…and the auto predict drop down appeared: joss…paper, joss…money…

Clicked on the first link that popped up and here’s the basic summary:

The spirit money are a modernisation of joss paper, an afterlife monetary paper offering used in traditional Chinese ancestor veneration.

In order to ensure that ancestors or ghosts have proper items in the afterlife, their relatives send them paper and papier-mâché presents. The burning of the spirit money and paper objects allows for the object to be transferred to the ancestors and ghosts, materialising in the afterlife and even increase in value.

Nations Online

I fell into a research rabbit hole and found online magic shops that sell numerous denominations of joss money: American dollars, Yen, and even getting creative with currency using deities from different spiritual pantheons.

By this time I was on Etsy, wondering if joss paper existed for Philippine Pesos. I searched for “Philippine Pesos joss money”. Nope.

Okay, how about “Philippine Pesos joss paper”? Nothing relevant.

Alright, let’s try “Philippine Pesos ancestral money”. Zero.

At this point, I just wanted to make the search as broad as possible so I typed “Philippine Money“.

And this caught my eye:

Excuse me? Death sentence??? My interest was thoroughly PIQUED.

From the description:

Philippines Death Sentence Guerilla Money of World War II

  • On 7 December, 1941, the Japanese bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor; the next day, they invaded the Philippines, a key American ally. Upon taking the country, the Japanese issued their own currency, declaring that existing money was no longer valid—one of many harsh measures that turned the Filipinos against them. A guerilla campaign waged by Philippine freedom fighters—and supplied by the U.S. via submarine—wreaked havoc on the occupying forces.
  • With physical money in short supply, guerilla fighters in the field and local governments in free provinces printed emergency currency—peso notes of various denominations printed on a hodgepodge of makeshift presses with whatever paper and ink could be obtained—on the authority of President-in-exile Manuel Quezon, whose likeness appears on some of the notes.
  • The notes in this set were printed by and circulated in various provinces of the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. Included are issues of Bohol, Cagay, Iloilo, Luzon, Misami, Negros, and Mindanao.
  • During the Japanese occupation, possession of guerilla money was forbidden on penalty of death; entire villages could be subject to harsh retribution if these notes were found in any quantity. Their ubiquity even in the face of reprisal is a testament to the courage and indomitable spirit of the Philippine people.–These notes have been inspected and are guaranteed genuine.

That gave me GOOSEBUMPS.

Of course I had to get it! How synchronistic is it that I just did this memorial march to honor the warriors of WWII, and this came up in my reality?!

Here are some close ups of some of the money I received. So many people risked their lives to defy the Japanese by circulating this currency. It could just be me but the hairs stood on the back of my neck as I held these notes.

Friday, March 20th, I called my parents to check in with them and see how they were adjusting to the shut down. Before getting off the phone, I asked my mom if she knew any family members who served in the military past or present.

She said no but she did say that my dad’s grandfather was in the military. She hands the phone to my dad.

I asked my dad the same question. He said, “Yeah, he was an American citizen, you know. He served in the US Army during World War Two.”

SO CASUAL. This was big news for me.


“You never asked.”

Upon talking about this with other Filipinx folks, I realize I’m not the only one who has elders who need to be asked to share stories of the past or pry it out of them. I hope we can shift this. Our stories are incredibly important.

So I asked: Where was he stationed? What did he do? Do you have any pictures?

My dad, a man of few words, said, “I don’t know that much. He was a POW and was stationed in Bataan.”


I asked if his family had any records of his service: pictures, certificates, paperwork, etc. Again, mostly ‘I don’t knows’…but he did say he saw one of his sisters post a photo of a photo of him on her Facebook a while back.

Okay, this is something!

The next day, I called my dad and asked for my Great Lolo’s (grandfather) name. He gave it to me. So I started my Google search. Our last names are pretty unique but as hard as I was looking, nothing was showing up for me.

I was starting to get worried because every time I searched for World War 2 archives, the 1973 Fire kept popping up in the search list.

Apparently, there was a fire that occurred at the National Archives office in St. Louis, Missouri in July of 1973. It happened in a section of the building that housed Army and Air Force records between 1912 to 1964. About 80% of the records were lost without any duplicates ever made. Which means, there’s a possibility that my great grandpa’s information perished with the fire.

Then, an hour later my dad calls back.

“Hey, I gave you the wrong name. I forget my father is a Jr. and he went by the same name as my father.”

Thanks. I’ll search with that name.

Then, my dad said, “I already found him.”

What?! Where?

My dad gave me the link to a Pacific POW Roster and immediately I hit CTRL+F and typed our last name.

And there he was…among thousands of names that might not have been uttered in decades – in a sea of Cs …my great grandfather, Corporal Regino Cabio.

I stared at his name for minutes, just bawling my eyes out. There he is.

But I needed to know more. Now equipped with his actual name, I was able to find him in the National Archives and thankfully, his information wasn’t affected by the fire.

It says date report year was 1942 and latest report year was 1945. Does that mean he was a POW for 3 years?

I clicked on the other links that showed up in my search and came across, a site that provides scans and images of military records. I signed up for the 10 day free trial (and completely forgot to cancel so I was charged $75) and searched for my Great Lolo’s name.

I found these images filed under Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, 1949 – 1949.

I have so many questions.

My dad said he was born in 1901. In the first pension card, it says he enlisted in 1918, when he was 17 and was discharged in 1919. At the corner of the card, it is stamped with the words World War.

The second card says he enlisted in 1919 and discharged in 1925. But the INVALID sections for both cards were populated meaning he survived this particular war but became sick, incapacitated, or disabled.

The date of filing for these cards were 1927.

Ate Christy did show me this, which might have explained the different dates of his service.

This COULD mean he must’ve fought in the First World War, got sick, and then he was drafted in the Second War at the age of FORTY ONE!!! He must have been a real bad ass.

My dad said my grandfather was already born when my great lolo was drafted. It makes me wonder what my great grandmother did while he was away fighting and the Japanese was invading the Philippines.

Did she have to survive in hiding with her children? Did she do it all by herself or with others?

After all the searching and falling into numerous rabbit holes, this left me with one more task.

Now that I found him in a couple of official lists, I got on to see what qualifies as acceptable documents to register him for a Congressional Medal of Honor.

March 20th, Friday.

I downloaded the form, filled it out, and sent it to Ate Christy since she is the Region Director for the registry.

Here is the e-mail exchange as follows:

Merlito is my dad, who I copied in the e-mail

Me reading the e-mail over and over:

I was shaken. Not even two weeks ago, I marched without any knowledge of family who served and only honoring ancestors through intention. And here he is now, confirming his existence and in the process, will be honored with a CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR.

It was as if my participation in the Memorial March sent a spiritual “ping” to his spirit beeper (look, I don’t know the ancestral realm and I currently can’t come up with a better analogy) into the Great Beyond and it strengthened our connection to each other.

Not only that, he couldn’t have reached out at a more relevant time. With economic uncertainty, the pandemic, and this unprecedented reality…it’s as if he was reminding me that the blood that flows through me is from an ancient line of Survivors and Warriors. And if he survived as a POW in World War II, I can get through this too.

Maraming salamat for the breadcrumbs, Lolo. Thank you for your protection. Thank you for messages. Thank you.

May I be the living altar for you and the ancestral line who supports me.

If you have any comments, please direct them to my e-mail or message me on IG and FB.