The Complexities of Collaboration and Colonialism: Claro M. Recto's Bid for 'Real' Philippine Independence, 1944
Priscilla Robert (Hong Kong), Associate Professor (History)
Claro M. Recto to Lt. Gen. Takazi Wachi and Ambassador Sozyo Murata, 15 June 1944
I have taken the liberty of writing to your Excellency at some length and with complete frankness on a subject which, I am sure, is as close to your heart as it is to mine; the question of improving further the relations between the Filipinos and the Japanese, enhancing Filipino faith in the Republic, and strengthening Filipino loyalty to our common cause. . . .
Permit me to go into the core of the matter at once. I think you will agree with me that in spite of the best efforts of the Philippine Government, a considerable portion of the Filipino people have not rallied as they should have to the common cause. It is deeply to be regretted that, notwithstanding the liberal policies laid down by the Tokyo Government and carried out in its larger aspects by its able representatives here, little has been accomplished, as a matter of fact, to eliminate the feeling of distrust and hostility which a considerable portion of our people continue to entertain towards the present regime. This fact requires a word of explanation lest the Japanese Government, unaware of the reasons behind the present attitude of this portion of the Philippine people, should come to regard all of them, in general, as ungrateful, unwilling or unable to appreciate Tokyo’s liberal policies towards the Philippines. . . .
The explanation seems to be simple enough. It may be found, in the first place, in the psychology of the common people, not only in this country but everywhere. Here as elsewhere the common man is less concerned with high policies, great issues or abstract principles than with matters that intimately affect him: his livelihood, his individual rights, the welfare of his family and of the small community to which he belongs. If he is thrown out of his house without any other place where to go, if his property is confiscated without what he believes to be just compensation, or if he is driven to desperation as a result of the present situation, he finds himself losing faith in the Republic and feeling aggrieved against Japan. It is then quite difficult to impress him with the display of his country’s flag, with generous donations of clothing and medicine, or with such liberal policies as condonation of Army loans to the Republic, the restoration of public properties to his government, the establishment of a new Philippine currency replacing the military scrip now in use on a basis of parity with the yen, etc. These high matters of government policy interest the man in the street or the barrio folk but little at all. The real determinants of his attitude and conduct towards Japan and the Japanese continue to be the incidents of everyday life, the things that happen to him, to his family, to his friends, and to his neighbors. For the Filipino is both simple and worldly wise. He bases his judgment on the things he sees around him however seemingly unimportant they may be. A little act of kindness and consideration is worth to him incalculably more than a thousand words of propaganda.
Nor is the situation among the more enlightened classes any better. One would think that being more reasonable and less sentimental than the common masses, they would be more inclined to judge matters on a plane of high issues and principles. It is not so, however. The educated Filipino who sees the kind of treatment that is meted out to his neighbors may be less emotional and violent in his reactions, but he is nonetheless deeply affected. With him the violent emotional reaction of the common man becomes a coolly reasoned conviction. Precisely because he is educated, his sensibilities are more easily violated by acts of cruelty, discrimination, offensive behavior, and lack of consideration. Moreover, he is better able to distinguish between political sovereignty and economic independence. He understands much better the differences between word and deed, between promise and realization, between principle and action.
In view of these facts, we cannot but admit that one of the most important and pressing problems which confront the Filipino leaders today is how to convince the people of the reality of the Philippine independence in order that they may all support the government of the Republic and cooperate with the Japanese forces by living in peace, and engaging in useful and productive activities.
When independence was proclaimed in October 1943, a great many of those who doubted Japan’s true intentions towards the Philippines showed a willingness to change their attitude. They had high hopes for the newly established Republic and expected to see a material improvement in the conditions then existing, particularly in the relations between Japanese and Filipinos, and between the Japanese and the Philippine authorities.
There was, nevertheless, a good portion of the Filipino people who feared that Philippine independence would not be real but was being declared merely for propaganda purposes. From the time the Republic was established, therefore, it has been the constant endeavor of the Filipino leaders to promote and maintain its prestige in the eyes of their own people, and to have it exercise as much as possible the power and prerogatives to which the government of a sovereign state is entitled, saving only the limitations arising from the exigencies of the war situation as defined in the Pact of Alliance between the Philippines and Japan. To this end, we have appealed to our people, trying to convince them that the independence of our country is real, that Japan’s intentions in sponsoring and recognizing it were sincere, and that therefore they should have faith in their Government, assisting it in the work that it is doing, and cooperating to the fullest extent with the Japanese authorities in the Philippines for the accomplishment of the noble purposes envisaged in the said Pact of Alliance.
If the Filipino leaders have not thus far been as successful in their efforts as might be desired, their failure is due to a number of causes, many of them traceable to certain practices which should have been discontinued after our independence was declared. Foremost among these is the kind of treatment to which, from the very beginning of the occupation of the Philippines, a great number of our people have been subjected. . . .
The practice, for instance, of slapping Filipinos in the face, of tying them to posts, of making them kneel in public, in the heat of the sun, and then beating them up – this upon the slightest fault, mistake or provocation, or without any other reason than failure to understand each other’s language, is certain to create resentment on the part not only of the victim but also of the members of his family, his friends, and the general public. Even more serious is the practice of inflicting cruel, unusual and excessive punishment upon persons arrested on mere suspicion, during their investigation and before their guilt has been established. There have been even cases wherein, because of overcrowding in public places, such as street-cars, some Japanese, military or civilians who were inadvertently jostled or pushed, immediately slapped or beat the persons they thought guilty of pushing them.
Thousands of cases have been reported of people being either burned alive, killed at the point of the bayonet, beheaded, beaten without mercy, or otherwise subjected to various methods of physical torture, without mercy, without distinction as to age or sex. Women and children below fifteen years are known to have been among those who were victims of such punishment. On many occasions, these killings and punishments were purposely done in public. In my home town, Tiaong, Tayabas, over one hundred were summarily executed during the “zonification” of the people there shortly before the inauguration of the Republic. The same thing was done in Lopez, Tayabas, where not less than this number of people were put to death as recently as March 1944, upon no evidence but the identification by a secret informer. The cases of these municipalities are merely cited as typical instances of what are common occurrences in other municipalities all over the islands. The unfortunate thing about all this is that in many cases the victims are really innocent of any crime but are punished merely upon suspicion or false denunciation by informers who harbor some private or personal grudge against them, or if they are guilty at all, do not deserve the excessive penalties inflicted upon them. Many have no fault at all except the fact that they have sons or brothers who are members of the “guerrilla” bands, or that they have given food to the latter, under threat of death or physical injuries. If they are released maimed, crippled, or sick they lament, and naturally the feeling is shared by their families and friends and by those who have knowledge of such things.
Many also are the cases wherein people have been arrested, taken for questioning, and then disappeared completely. No information is ever given to their relatives as to their whereabouts and the nature of the charges against them. While the Philippine Government justifiably feels that it has a right to intervene and ought to intervene in matters which involve the lives and welfare of its citizens, it has not even gone to that extent but has merely tried to help the people who come to it for assistance in securing information concerning those whose disappearance has been reported after having been arrested by the Japanese authorities. In many cases, however, no information whatever concerning their whereabouts or the nature of the charges against them could be obtained.
The proclamation of the independence of the Philippines and the establishment of the Government of the Republic have not minimized these occurrences. They used to be done before but they have continued and continue to be done now. Most of the towns in the provinces are still actually governed by the commanders of the local Japanese garrisons, who are in the majority of cases with only the rank of Sergeant, and who treat the municipal mayors as their subordinates even to the extent of beating them publicly, and who continue to arrest and punish people without advising either the local civil authorities or the national government. The only sign of independence is the display of the Filipino flag. Even Japanese civilians consider themselves above Philippine laws, and Filipinos working in Japanese companies are sometimes punished summarily by their employers instead of being turned over to the appropriate Philippine authorities.
Another matter that needs to be mentioned is the practice of exacting collective responsibility for individual acts. If a “guerrilla” happens, for instance, to ride in a carretella [cart] with other peace-loving and law-abiding citizens who are completely unaware of the former’s identity, and that “guerrilla” is arrested, all those who, by pure accident, are riding with him are also arrested, and punished in the same way. Or when a “guerrilla” is discovered and arrested in one of the small roadside eating places (carinderia) in the provinces, the owner of the place and all those who happen to be eating there at the time are also arrested and punished. Similarly, entire barrios and municipalities have been placed in concentration and made to suffer for the acts of one or a few of the inhabitants there or because some “guerrillas” happened to pass by there and to exact food or other commodities of the innocent folk, who found themselves helpless because of the physical threats or coercion employed. Oftentimes there is no distinction between innocent and guilty, between old and young, or between strong and weak, to such an extent that there have been instances where women and children below fifteen have died as a result of the concentration, excessive punishments and outright executions. In fact, the innocent are usually the only ones who suffer, because the culprits manage to get out or otherwise escape punishment. . . .
One other thing which constitutes a source of mounting dissatisfaction among the people, particularly in the City of Manila, is the fact that many of them have been and are being ordered to evacuate their homes so that the same may be occupied by personnel of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. While in the beginning the needs of the Army and Navy for accommodations were attended to with dispatch and with as little inconvenience as possible to the house owners and tenants, the situation has come to such a point that it is no longer possible to do so without actually driving them out into the streets, with no place where they could be sheltered. . . .
The incidents and practices which I have described are the cause of constant requests for assistance received by the Philippine Government from the people concerned, and in making representations in their behalf to the Japanese authorities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs finds itself in the strange role of an embassy trying, none too successfully, to protect its nationals in the foreign country to which it is accredited.
It is for the foregoing reasons that many Filipinos seem to have but little faith in their government today. They doubt the reality of their country’s independence. They consider it hardly anything more than display of the Filipino flag, since independence has not minimized the rigors of military rule, particularly in the provinces. Even in Manila the people believe that independence has meaning only for those in the high council of the government, but none for the ordinary citizen. It becomes, therefore, an increasingly difficult task for the Filipino leaders to convince their people of the noble intentions of Japan in waging the present war and of the sincerity of the pronouncements of Japanese leaders that Japan came to the Philippines not as conqueror but as liberator. It is difficult for many Filipinos to conceive of Japan as it really is – as a nation with a high culture and advanced civilization – because not having been to Japan and not knowing enough of its history, literature or the spirit of its people, they have nothing on which to formulate their opinions except what they actually see and experience in the Philippines; the treatment that they receive at the hands of some Japanese, the injuries that they suffer, the personal indignities to which they are subjected, the inability of their Government to accord them adequate protection and consequent embarrassment which the Republic has to suffer. . . .
The existence of “guerrilla” elements or of outright banditry, particularly in the provinces, is not principally due to any fundamental political motive. It is doubtful whether those who are engaged in such activities are pro-American by conviction. In the first place, they have no real understanding of the basic issues involved in the present war between the United States and Japan. Nor do they feel any real attachment to the Americans with whom they never really mixed well, socially or otherwise. The main reason why many of them have turned “guerrillas” and bandits is not the desire that America should win the war, but simply because of the cruel treatment that they or their relatives, friends and countrymen had received at the hands of the Japanese and their fear that if they go out of hiding and live normal lives, they will be punished or put to death. .. .
Hundreds of cases where Filipinos were the victims of these practices have come to the attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Needless to say, many hundreds more and even thousands of similar cases have never been reported to the Philippine authorities either because the aggrieved parties were afraid of reprisals or because they thought it impossible to obtain any redress or satisfaction and, therefore, have preferred to suffer in silence. But they are matters of common knowledge and the subject of daily talks among the people.
Where innocent and law-abiding private citizens are involved the prestige of the Philippine Government suffers from the fact that these persons, their relatives and friends are thereafter convinced that this Government has neither power nor courage to intervene in behalf of its citizens. Cases involving government officials and employees are even more significant because the maltreatment of our government officials constitutes, in the eyes at least of our people, a serious reflection on the prestige and authority of the Government itself. How, in these circumstances, can we demand that our people respect and have confidence in the Government of the Republic when they see that the only authorized representatives of this Government receive such scant consideration on the part of certain Japanese elements in the Philippines? Is it not natural for a great portion of our people to believe that this Government is only a puppet, having no independent authority of its own, seeing that it is often subject to dictation or now violent interference by the Japanese authorities?
Cases of this nature become all the more serious when they involve the arrest of high ranking authorities of the Government. Without going to the extent of claiming that such officials should be exempt from the operation of military law, it seems reasonable to propose that the arrest of all such officials be done only with the knowledge and consent of the President of the Republic of the Philippines. . . .
In calling attention to these matters, there is no intention to ignore the generous and understanding attitude which the high officials of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy in the Philippines have consistently shown towards the Filipino people, towards their leaders, in particular. This attitude has even been marked by the utmost sympathy and consideration expressed in many concrete acts of encouragement and support in all that the government had tried and is trying to do in order to establish the Republic upon a stable and enduring foundation. In particular, Your Excellency has been instrumental in conveying effectively to the Filipinos the liberal and magnanimous policies of the Japanese Government and in interpreting to our people the high-minded principles repeatedly enunciated by Premier Hideki Tojo as constituting the basis for the establishment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. In your relations with the Filipino leaders before and since the establishment of the Republic, you have observed the most exemplary and statesmanlike conduct and have thereby won the respect and gratitude of us all who have the privilege of coming in contact with you.
On the other hand, His Excellency, the President of the Republic of the Philippines, has been equally assiduous in bringing home to the Filipino people the generous purposes of Japan in the Philippines. He has staked his political fortune and even his life in the establishment of an independent Philippines as a proud and self-respecting member of the Co-Prosperity Sphere. He has called upon his people to do their part in the establishment of the Sphere upon the enduring foundations of peace, reciprocity, and moral justice. He has tried by precept and by example to imbue the young Republic of the Philippines with the prestige and dignity befitting it as a sovereign state. Your Excellency is personally aware of the President’s sincere and tireless efforts in this direction, and if I mention them now, it is only to emphasize the fact that there is an inexhaustible fountain of generous sentiments on both sides to warrant an increase in mutual sympathy and understanding.
Yet precisely because there exists such an abundance of genuine goodwill in the high councils of the Japanese Government and of the Government of the Republic, one is constrained to regret very deeply the present unsatisfactory relations between the Filipinos and the Japanese in the Philippines. Without attempting to relieve my own people of their share of the responsibility for this state of affairs, I think it only just to explain that the situation is partly due to the fact that the liberal policies of the Japanese Government have not percolated to the rank and file of the Japanese soldiers and civilians in the Philippines. While the highest officials here and in Tokyo have always treated us with the utmost tact and consideration, the conduct of those in the lower ranks leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, it is the day-to-day relationships between the Filipino masses on the one hand, and the Japanese soldiers and civilians on the other that, in general, determine the degree of Filipino-Japanese collaboration and sympathy.
This is not to ignore the fact that the exigencies of military operations and the problems of men required by such operations do not always permit smooth relations and flawless conduct. Breaches of discipline are bound to occur. Neither do I ignore the sincere efforts of the Japanese authorities to apprehend and punish those elements whose misconduct has caused disaffection among our people. But I believe, and I think you will agree with me, that there is plenty of room for improvement on the part of both sides, and that the occasions of friction between them could be further minimized.
In view of the impending developments in the war situation, it is especially important to bring about more harmonious relations between Filipinos and Japanese and to arouse Filipino loyalty to the Republic. The problem briefly stated is this: How are we to prepare the Filipino people, mentally and spiritually, to assume their obligations under the Philippine-Japan Pact of Alliance in the event that they should be called to live up to its terms as demanded by the circumstances foreseen in the pact?
The question suggests its own remedy. Under the terms of the Pact of Alliance, the Filipino people are called upon to render the closest possible economic, political and military collaboration with Japan for the purpose of safeguarding the territorial integrity, and independence of the Republic. As far as the resources of the nation is [sic] concerned these have been placed entirely at the disposal of the Japanese Government. But in order to create a united and resolute attitude among the Filipinos in support of the pact, it is necessary to convince and persuade them that they have a country to defend and an independence to safeguard. They must be made to feel that this country belongs to them, that they are master in their own land, that the independence which they have proclaimed and which Japan has recognized is real and authentic. For how, otherwise, would it be possible to induce the Filipino people, or any people for that matter, to defend a country that they may not call their own or to safeguard an independence that does not exist?
In other words, the Filipino must be given a real stake in the war. He must be given something concrete to fight for – his land, his honor, his freedom and independence – something that will invest with living substance such high principles as Asia for the Asians or such large ideals as the establishment of the Co-Prosperity Sphere.
Source: Claro M. Recto, Three Years of Enemy Occupation (Manila, Philippines: People’s Publishers, 1946, reprint edition, Manila: Cachos Hermanos, 1985), 115-125.
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Note: This essay is adapted from one in Spencer C. Tucker et al., eds., World War II: A Student Encyclopedia, 5 vols. (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005), Vol. 5, 1666- 1672. Used with permission of ABC-CLIO.
 For further insight into the complexities of Pan-Asianism and the impact of Japanese occupation across much of Asia, see Eri Hotta, Pan-Asianism and Japan’s War 1931-1945 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Sven Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman, eds., Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History, Vol. 2: 1920-Present, 2 vols.(Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011), esp. the editors’ introduction; the essays in Sven Saaler and J. Victor Koschmann, eds., Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Colonialism, Regionalism and Borders (New York: Routledge, 2007); and those in Li Narangoa and Robert Cribb, eds., Imperial Japan and National Identities in Asia, 1895-1945 (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003).
 Wang Gungwu, Bind Us in Time: Nation and Civilisation in Asia (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 2002), 2-3; Iriye, Power and Culture, 50-51; Christopher Thorne, The Issue of War: States, Societies, and the Far Eastern Conflict of 1941-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 6-7, 23, 30-31, 161- 162.
 On Japan’s espousal of a new order in Asia, and the shortcomings in Japanese conceptualization of this idea, see Akira Iriye, Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 1941-1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), 3-15, 38-49, 63-72, 96-121; Theodore Friend, The Blue-Eyed Enemy: Japan Against the West in Java and Luzon, 1942-1945 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988); and the works cited in note 1 above.
 On Japan’s conquest of the Philippines and the Philippine government established during the subsequent occupation, see Nicholas Tarling, A Sudden Rampage: The Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asia, 1941- 1945 (London: Hurst, 2001), 159-174; David Joel Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in World War II (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967), 25-43; Teodoro Agoncillo, The Fateful Years: Japan’s Adventure in the Philippines, 1941-4, 2 vols. (Quezon City: R. P. Garcia Publishing Company, 1965), 1: 50-334; and Friend, The Blue-Eyed Enemy.
 On attitudes toward collaboration with Japan, and the way in which these differed both within individual states and between different nations, see esp. Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in World War II; Thorne, The Issue of War, 144-172; Tarling, A Sudden Rampage; Willard H. Elsbree, Japan’s Role in Southeast Asian Nationalist Movements 1940 to 1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953); Friend, The Blue-Eyed Enemy.
 On Japan’s wartime policies in Southeast Asia, and the responses to these, see Tarling, A Sudden Rampage, chs. 4-7; Hotta, Pan-Asianism and Japan’s War 1931-1945, 212-219; Iriye, Power and Culture, 112-121; Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in World War II, chs. 4-5; Thorne, The Issue of War, 113-115, 144-161; Friend, The Blue-Eyed Enemy, chs. 3-10.
 On the dissatisfaction and resentment that Japanese rule provoked in Indonesia, China, Burma, and the Philippines, see Elsbree, Japan’s Role in Southeast Asian Nationalist Movements 1940 to 1945, chs. 2 and 3; Tarling, A Sudden Rampage, 252-268; Friend, The Blue-Eyed Enemy, chs. 5-9.
 See Ricardo T. Jose, “Accord and Discord: Japanese Cultural Policy and Philippine National Identity during the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945),” in Narangoa and Cribb, eds., Imperial Japan and National Identities in Asia, 1895-1945, 249-269.
 See David M. Crowe, War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice: A Global History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 262-282; Margherita Zanasi, “Globalizing Hanjian: The Suzhou Trials and the Post- World War II Discourse on Collaboration,” American Historical Review 113:3 (June 2008): 731-751; Xia Yun, “‘Traitors to the Chinese Race (Hanjian)’: Political and Cultural Campaigns Against Collaborators During the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Oregon, 2010); Timothy P. Maga, Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001).
 On the Philippines, see Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in World War II, 122-163. On South and Southeast Asia, see Thorne, The Issue of War, 168-170.
 See esp. Claro M. Recto, Three Years of Enemy Occupation: The Issue of Political Collaboration in the Philippines (Manila: People’s Publishers, 1946; reprint ed. Metro Manila, Philippines: Cachos Hermanos, 1985).
 On Recto’s pre-war fears of domination by either Japan or China, see Appendix D: “‘Asiatic Monroeism’: A Prediction That Came True,” in Recto, Three Years of Enemy Occupation, 131-153; see also George M. Taylor, The Philippines and the United States: Problems of Partnership (New York: Praeger, 1964), 101-102.
 For the text of this letter, see Recto, Three Years of Enemy Occupation, 115-125. It was reprinted in Renato Constantino, ed., Vintage Recto: Memorable Speeches and Writings (Quezon City, Philippines: Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1986), 27-46; and in Gregorio F. Zaide, ed., Documentary Sources of Philippine History, Volume 12 (Metro Manila, Philippines: National Book Store, Inc., Publishers, 1990), 57-74.
 Recto, Three Years of Enemy Occupation, 115-116.
 Elsbree, Japan’s Role in Southeast Asia, 72-73; Recto, The Years of Enemy Occupation, 76-77, 116.
 Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in World War II, 107-108; Tarling, A Sudden Rampage, 170-171; Taylor, The Philippines and the United States, 106-107.
 Stanley Karnow, In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines(New York: Ballantine Books, 1990), 312-322; Richard Connaughton, The Battle for Manila(Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1995); Robert Ross Smith, Triumph in the Philippines (Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army, 1963); Thompson, Empires on the Pacific, 316-326.
 On the American position on collaboration in the Philippines, see Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in World War II, 108-112; Karnow, In Our Image, 327-329; Taylor, The Philippines and the United States, 116-120; Friend, The Blue-Eyed Enemy, 243-245. General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded the American forces that invaded the Philippines, effectively undercut many of the stated American policies on collaboration.
 Constantino, ed., Vintage Recto, 46-59, quotations from 49, 55, 51, 50; see also Recto, Three Years of Enemy Occupation, 60-109. Taylor’s study of the Philippines agrees with Recto’s assessment of Philippine leaders such as himself, as feeling little sympathy for Japan but working with the occupying authorities in an effort to mitigate the harshness of Japanese rule. Taylor, The Philippines and the United States, 104- 107. Steinberg takes a more nuanced view of the position of the Philippine elite who collaborated with Japan, arguing that they constituted an oligarchy who believed that they represented the nation, whatever the circumstances, an elite group whose members had successively cooperated with their country’s Spanish, American, and Japanese overlords. Steinberg, Philippine Collaboration in World War II, 166-176.
 Daniel B. Schirmer and Stephen Rosskamm Shalom, eds., The Philippines Reader: A History of Colonialism, Neocolonialism, Dictatorship, and Resistance (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1987), 149, 152-154; Renato Constantino, The Making of a Filipino: A Story of Philippine Colonial Politics (Quezon City: Malaya Books, 1969). The information on Recto is also taken from Taylor, The Philippines and the United States, 129-130, 148, 238, 242-243, 256.