Diary entries on the Leyte Landing: October, 1944

Philippine President Sergio Osmeña (center) and General Douglas MacArthur (right) on board a landing craft en route to the Leyte landing beaches, October 20, 1944. At left are Lieutenant General George C. Kenney and Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland. At the extreme right, with his head turned toward MacArthur, is Brigadier General Carlos Romulo. In the front row with two stars on his battle helmet, is Major General Basilio J. Valdes, Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army and Secretary of National Defense in the Osmeña War Cabinet. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
Philippine President Sergio Osmeña (center) and General Douglas MacArthur (right) on board a landing craft en route to the Leyte landing beaches, October 20, 1944.
At left are Lieutenant General George C. Kenney and Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland. At the extreme right, with his head turned toward MacArthur, is Brigadier General Carlos Romulo.
In the front row with two stars on his battle helmet, is Major General Basilio J. Valdes, Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army and Secretary of National Defense in the Osmeña War Cabinet.
Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

The Philippine Diary Project contains diary entries from a leading figure in the Leyte Landing: Major General Basilio J. Valdes. His diary, as encoded, edited, and provided to researchers by the Valdes family, provides an invaluable, first-person account of the entire Pacific War, from the outbreak of hostilities in 1941 to the restoration of the Commonwealth Government in Manila in 1945.

During this period, Valdes, already Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army, became a member of the War Cabinet of President Quezon, accompanying him to Corregidor, and then to the Visayas, Mindanao, Australia and the United States. During that period he underwent further training in Fort Benning, Georgia.

He then served in the Osmeña War Cabinet and in the first regular cabinet established by Osmeña in the Philippines, after which he returned to focusing on the Philippine Army until November 7, 1945. He established a private practice in medicine and served as the head of the Lourdes Hospital.

The Philippine Diary Project has already focused on the early part of World War II in the Philippines, contrasting the eyewitness accounts of officials like Valdes and civilians: see December 24-25, 1941 In Diaries for example.

December 24, 1941, Malacañan Palace, shortly before the Commonwealth War Cabinet evacuated to Corregidor: Maj. Gen. Basilio J. Valdes; President Quezon; Secretary to the President and soon-to-be Mayor of Greater Manila Jorge B. Vargas; Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Jose P. Laurel; Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos (taking his oath of office); senator-elect Benigno S. Aquino; Manila Mayor Juan Posadas  December 24-25, 1941 in Diaries

This period saw the transformation of Valdes from Chief of Staff to a member of the War Cabinet, including the key role Valdes played in the escape of a hospital ship, see The Great Escape of the S.S. Mactan

In Corregidor, the tensions of the time were also chronicled by Valdes; and it includes some acts of derring-do, for example the Evacuation of the Gold Reserves of the Commonwealth February 3, 1942. This was a time of particular crisis for Filipino leaders, which you can read about in The Debate on Taking the Philippines Out of the War: February 6-12, 1942.

Valdes’ diary then chronicles the risky, tension-filled hegira of the War Cabinet from Corregidor to the Visayas, then to Mindanao and Australia. From there, the War Cabinet went to the United States to establish a government-in-exile in May, 1942.

This entire period is a topsy-turvy one, and most accounts are confusing because the wartime situation necessarily made record-keeping and the keeping of an official chronology difficult.

This chart, prepared by the Presidential Library and Museum, shows in infographic form, the parallel governments that existed from 1942-1945:

As for the Commonwealth government-in-exile, you will find Valdes mentioned from time to time in the diary of Francis Burton Harrison who served as an Adviser to the government-in-exile. Much of 1943 was spent by Valdes undergoing further training, with expectations growing that the Allied forces would soon be returning to the Philippines.

The Quezon War Cabinet shortly after the Commonwealth government-in-exile was established in Washington, DC: Secretary of National Defense, Public Works, Communication and Labor Maj. Gen. Basilio J. Valdes; Member of the Cabinet without portfolio and Resident Commissioner Joaquin Elizalde; President Quezon; Vice President Sergio Osmeña, Secretary of Public Instruction, Health, and Public Welfare; Secretary of Finance, Agriculture, and Commerce Andres Soriano; Auditor-General Jaime Hernandez.

Valdes seems to have been relatively uninvolved in the intense debate over the succession issue involving the Philippine presidency at this time. For an insight into this, read Frederick Marquardt’s Quezon and Osmeña.

As for what was happening in the Philippines in the meantime, see Life, Death, Decisions During the Japanese Occupation and the special section in the Presidential Museum and Library, 70th Anniversary of the Second Philippine Republic for more information. This was a period of great stress for Philippine society: see the essay of Alfonso J. Aluit, World War 2 in the Philippines.

August 3, 1944, President Quezon’s state funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Front row: President Sergio Osmeña, Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce Col. Manuel Nieto, Secretary of National Defense, Communications and Labor Maj. Gen. Basilio J. Valdes; second row: Secretary to the President and Cabinet Arturo B. Rotor; former Resident Commissioner Joaquin Elizalde; Secretary of Public Information and Resident-Commissioner Lt. Gen. Carlos P. Romulo.

By August 1, 1944, Quezon was dead and Sergio Osmeña succeeded him as President of the Philippines. He was retained in the new War Cabinet, and soon after President Osmeña succeeded into office, preparations began for the return of Allied forces to the Philippines. Incidentally, Frederick Marquardt wrote an interesting account of the origin of the famous wartime slogan, “I Shall Return,” in Footnote to a slogan.

The Philippine Diary Project also allows us to contrast Valdes’ experience with those of civilians in Manila, before, during, and after the return of the Allies to the Philippines. Fr. Juan Labrador, OP, a Spanish Dominican priest, gives us the point of view of a Spaniard sympathetic to the Allies, and who shuttled back and forth between the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and the University of Santo Tomas where Allied civilians had been interned by the Japanese for the duration of the War. The diary entries of Felipe Buencamino III, a veteran of the Bataan campaign (see Bataan, 1942: Views of a Father and his Son), reflects the point of view of young Filipinos anxious for the return of the Allies and the expulsion of the Japanese.

Here are extracts from relevant entries in the Philippine Diary Project, together with information from C. Peter Chen’s Philippines Campaign, Phase 1, the Leyte Campaign: 22 Oct 1944 – 21 Dec 1944 from which come the dates and summary of military movements, in italics. Diary entries from the same day or thereabouts follows each date.

The diary entries of Felipe Buencamino III for October 1, 1944 and October 2, 1944 opens the scene, so to speak, with a description of how life in Manila was breaking down, and anticipation of an Allied invasion was building up.

On October 3, 1944 Gen. Valdes tersely begins his journey home, flying from Washington D.C. to Hamilton Field, California.

October 5, 1944: In preparation for the invasion of the Philippine Islands… United States Navy Admiral Chester Nimitz ordered Admiral William Halsey to strike Japanese airfields at Taiwan, China and Ryukyu Islands, Japan.

On the same day, October 5, 1944, Gen. Valdes, President Osmeña, Col. Alejandro Melchor and Captain Antonio P. Madrigal had arrived in Hawaii and transferred to Kwajalein. By October 7, 1944 they had arrived in Hollandia, where Gen. Valdes shared a bungalow with Gen. Carlos P. Romulo.

October 10, 1944: American aircraft struck Okinawa, Yaeyama, and Miyako Islands, Japan. Okinawan city of Naha was heavily damaged; many of the 548 deaths occurred in Naha, as many of the 698 wounded. 11,451 buildings were destroyed, which included a great number of civilian residences

October 11, 1944: Halsey struck Luzon, and moved on to bombard Taiwan from 12 Oct thru 15 Oct. The attack on Taiwan disabled or destroyed every single one of the 230 fighters that Admiral Shigeru Fukudome had available to him at Taiwan. Other pre-invasion operations included bombing of Hong Kong, Dutch East Indies, and Mindanao.

October 12, 1944: [A] cloudy day, a total of 90 Japanese aircraft were sent to attack Halsey’s carriers off Taiwan, which included Army B6N Tenzan torpedo bombers, Army Ki-49 Donryu horizontal bombers, and Navy P1Y Ginga horizontal bombers.

Gen. Valdes had spent October 8-12, 1944 at work with American staff officers.On the same day, Felipe Buencamino III recounts in his diary that he suffered a relapse of the Malaria he contracted in Bataan, and that,

A Japanese visited Tio Phil and told him that 700 U.S. ships were sighted north of Luzon including 100 aircraft carriers. I wonder if this is the invasion fleet, cross your fingers.

October 13, 1944: 947 American aircraft struck several Japanese airfields at Taiwan. The Japanese staged a counter attack that achieved little, but inflated reports on damage inflicted on the enemy provided the Japanese leaders the false information that the counter strike sunk one aircraft carrier and one battleship; meanwhile, the Japanese admitted to only two aircraft lost.

On this day, October 13, 1944, Gen. Valdes wrote that the invasion fleet bound for Leyte Gulf set sail from Hollandia:

At 10:40 a.m. we boarded our ship the APH SS John Lang. Captain Graf the skipper, a very charming U.S Navy officer met us. Several cabins belonging to the officers of the ship were prepared for us. I occupy the cabin of Lieutenant John F. Moorehead the navigator, and I am very comfortable. The bay is covered with ships of all kinds — hundreds of them: L.C.V’s, L.C.I’s, L.C.M’s, L.S.T’s, APA Cruisers, Destroyers, Airplane Carriers and P.T. Boats. Airplanes are flying over us continuously. What a magnificent display of force. This wonderful picture shows what the U.S can do when she gets started. The alert has been sounded for 1:30 p.m. In a few hours we will start moving, and then the biggest convoy set for an attack, since the invasion of France, will be on its way. I have talked to several officers and men. The morale is high, the enthusiasm inspiring. They are all happy to go, anxious to meet the foe in a death struggle. I am happy to be with them.

At 2:30 p.m. life belts were distributed and instructions were given to us on how to use them in case of sinking. It is on the same principle as the Mae West life vest used by Aviators. It becomes inflated with carbon dioxide. We were advised to keep it on continuously and not to inflate until after we are in the water, as it would be dangerous to jump overboard with that inflated.

It is warm; sea is calm, perhaps a presage of the “hell” to come. I hope the weather is good when we reach our objective. With the grace of God we cannot fail.

The convoy started on its way at 4 p.m.. 400 ships of all kinds. We travel only at eight knots per hour because the L.C.I’s cannot go faster.

On the same day that the Allied invasion fleet set sail, Felipe Buencamino III mused in his diary,

Tribune headlined U.S. raid on Taiwan. They claim that a hundred U.S. planes were shot down. I wonder how much damage was done. Question is now being raised as to whether the U.S. will attack Formosa before the P.I.? Or is the Formosa raid just a diversionary attack? Or will they head for the Japanese mainland immediately?

October 14, 1944: American aircraft struck Taiwan and northern Luzon, Philippine Islands. About 240 Japanese aircraft were lost on this day both in the air and on the ground, including aircraft lost during another failed counter strike. Imperial General Headquarters reported that, once again based on inflated reports from the field, that at least three American carriers, one destroyer, and three unidentified warships were sunk, with another carrier and another warship damaged.

On his diary, on the same day, October 14, 1944 Gen. Valdes wrote,

En route. We crossed the equator at 2:30 p.m., and I was made a member of the ‘Order of the Deep’. A card signed by ‘Rex Neptune’ was presented to me. It is very hot. Practically no breeze…

The convoy is magnificent & impressive. It shows the tremendous power of the U.S. ships of all sizes, types and denominations.

In Manila, October 14 was the first anniversary of the Republic established by the Japanese. Fr. Juan Labrador OP wrote about the isolated nature of the official commemoration:

Today is the first anniversary of the Republic. Due to existing conditions—Formosa is under air attack—the celebrations were limited to some ceremonies at Malacañan. The projected parade before the legislative building was suspended. The suspension was attributed to the lack of transportation for the students and employees who were supposed to attend. Only the President’s family and some Japanese officials were invited to Malacañan. The public had never attended such ceremonies, nor is it interested in the welfare of the Republic, which they consider to be moribund and liable to collapse anytime, either violently or by natural death.

In his diary, Felipe Buencamino III, Bataan veteran and guerrilla sympathizer, wrote,

Today’s the first anniversary of the Philippine Republic, heh, heh. Puppet Laurel declared: “The first-year of the Republic has been a success”. He forgot to say that during this republic’s first year, the people have had less and less food. The BIBA has distributed rice only three or four times. There has been no peace and order, no….. oh why crab about it.

–adding that the public had been expecting an air-raid.

October 15, 16, and 19, 1944: successive corrections to the reports further increased the number of American ships damaged and/or sunk during the counter strikes at the US 3rd Fleet operating east of Taiwan.

On October 15, 1944, writing in his diary on the progress of the invasion fleet, Gen. Valdes noticed,

At 11:45 a.m. another convoy coming from Manis Island joined us. We are now 600 ships. The hardest part is the total blackout at night.

On the same day, in Manila, Felipe Buencamino III recorded another Allied air-raid:

Hooray, there were here again… this morning. They came at about 10 o’clock, after Mass. Of course, you know who I mean by “they”.

Japanese planes went up this time. People said there were many dogfights around Caloocan. Several civilians were killed.

I saw a heartbreaking sight. An American aviator bailed out. First, he looked like a toy dangling on a white umbrella. Then his figure became more distinct and people started shouting “Parachute, parachute!”. When he was just above the housetops, Japanese soldiers started firing at him. I even heard the rat-a-tat of machine guns. Made my blood boil, this slaughtering of a fellow that’s defenceless. Can’t conceive how the Japanese can interpret such an act as bravery.

No more raids this afternoon…

Several of the boys that came to the house to play basketball believe this is the prelude to invasion.

On October 16, 1944, Felipe Buencamino III reported in his diary that,

The Japanese have spread their ammunition dumps all over the city. In front of Hicky’s and Gabaldon’s and the street leading to the house and beyond there are a lot of boxes under the trees. Taft Avenue is exclusively for Army cars and trucks. Streetcars are also for Army and Navy men only. There’s a rumor that cars, dokars and bicycles will be commandeered. That’ll leave us with practically nothing. They’ve taken our food, our shelter and now –transportation.

The Japanese claim they sunk 12 aircraft carriers. “We’ve driven them off,” they boast. “No,” added another, “we sunk them all.” That’s why I’m disappointed. I wanted them to come to make these fellows eat their words.

Tio Phil thinks this was just a diversionary raid. Their main objective is Formosa, he said. They sent a couple of carriers here to mislead the Japs, he opined.

America is still silent about yesterday’s raid. Some say Aparri was terribly bombed. That’s what I think. In my opinion, the air raid over Manila was just a feint. They were after some big game up north.

The diary of Fr. Juan Labrador OP on the same day gives his own eyewitness account of the same air-raid recorded by Buencamino –and his own account of the same Japanese propaganda:

I was reading this dogmatic editorial when the air raid signal no. 1 sounded, and within a few minutes, anti-aircraft shells were exploding above the clouds. The Japanese fighter planes, emboldened by the editorial, were flying confidently overhead when the American bombers came without having learned about the sinking of their aircraft carrier. Bombs exploded so loudly from Nichols that they could be heard in Balintawak, as a giant umbrella rose from the airfield.

Eighteen out of sixty American planes were downed according to Japanese propaganda. Tokyo found the figure too low and increased it to thirty. Both agencies are giving a decisive importance, and as we supposed, a very inflated one at that, to the battle being waged at the east of Formosa. Tokyo radio arrived at fifty-three American ships sunk or damaged, twenty-thousand Americans killed, and one thousand planes shot down. The Manila news agency was more conservative, scattering flying leaflets in the streets and sending out a van through the city with streamers announcing the resounding victory.

On October 17, 1944 Felipe Buencamino III noticed only Japanese planes were flying that day, and recorded that,

Several people were getting disappointed. They are asking: Maybe there is some truth in the Japanese claims of 12 aircraft carriers sunk? Is that why they can’t bomb anymore? Others are angry. They say: “The Americans shouldn’t have bombed at all if they were going to stop like this. It only gave the Japs a chance to spread their dumps into private houses. They should have kept it up, bombed on and on”. Only consoling note is the fact that Formosa is being bombed and rebombed. People say that this is a prelude to the invasion of the Philippines. “They’re neutralizing whatever help Formosa can give to the Japanese here when invasion comes” according to Joe.

The next day, October 18, 1944, Felipe Buencamino III wrote,

I don’t know what history books will write about this day. Maybe they’ll put it down as the beginning of the offensive for the reconquest of the Philippines. Or probably they’ll note it as just the 7th day of the naval attack on Taiwan with diversionary raids on the Philippines. To me it’s the day I had a narrow escape. A machine gun bullet struck our shelter, fortunately on the concrete side. If it had hit an inch higher, it would have penetrated the thin wooden panel and I wouldn’t be writing this now.

I don’t know how many U.S. planes raided Manila today. They looked plenty and I didn’t have time to count because AA shrapnel started raining around our garden. By the drone and by the glimpse I had, I judged there were at least a hundred.

October 18 to this tramp means nothing but several hours in the air-raid shelter, Mama nervous about Vic who refused to take cover, Neneng praying the rosary, grandpop smoking a cigar, Dad going in and out of the shelter to take a look and then to hurriedly run in when the earth begins to shake, and the dog trying to squeeze into the shelter.

October 19, 1944: By the time the Imperial General Headquarters released the battle report on 19 Oct, it noted that 11 carriers, 2 battleships, and 7 cruisers and destroyers American ships were sunk. Furious but yet somewhat amused, William Halsey noted to Chester Nimitz that “[a]ll Third Fleet ships recently reported sunk by Radio Tokyo have been salvaged and are retiring at high speed toward the Japanese Fleet”, and Nimitz promptly made that message into a public relations piece. The top ranks of Japanese leadership bought into their own propaganda, with Emperor Showa personally delivered a word of congratulations for the achievement that never took place.

From October 16-19, 1944 Gen. Valdes had nothing to write about except the routine of the invasion fleet’s voyage:

At sea. Nothing unusual. I attended Mass every Morning to receive Communion. It is nice to see a number of boys that attend Mass and receive Communion, about 100 every day

On October 19, 1944, Fr. Juan Labrador OP reported another air-raid on Manila:

We had a double feast today; great activity in the morning and doubly great in the afternoon. Without previous siren warnings the planes attacked at 7:15 a.m. and caught the sleeping guardians of the city by surprise. Before the anti-aircraft guns could be positioned, the enemies had dropped their loads and spun back to the skies beyond the reach of ground fire. There was not one red marked plane in sight the whole day. It’s either that they were not given the chance to take off or they were discarded for good. Anti-aircrafts barkings were fewer. Only the guns near the bombings were fired, unlike before when the air vibrated with activities and the city was draped in smoke. On the whole, the thunder was still terrific, but there were fewer shelling victims. It’s surprising how there could have been less accidents when people were all out in the streets watching and enjoying the fight in the sky.

I found the internees the best indicators of oncoming raids. They were the first to identify American planes. All I did was watch these internees as they pointed to the skies and applauded noiselessly.

The contrast between the speculation in Manila and the stealthy advance –under cover of air-raids in other places– of the Allies is a striking one.

General Douglas MacArthur (right, seen in profile) on the bridge of USS Nashville (CL-43), off Leyte during the landings there in late October 1944. Standing in the center (also seen in profile) is Lieutenant General George C. Kenney. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
General Douglas MacArthur (right, seen in profile) on the bridge of USS Nashville (CL-43), off Leyte during the landings there in late October 1944. Standing in the center (also seen in profile) is Lieutenant General George C. Kenney.
Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

October 20, 1944: After a two-day naval bombardment, the US Sixth Army landed on the northeastern coast on the island of Leyte on 20 Oct 1944 under the command of General Walter Krueger. The US 7th Fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid provided transport and protection for the 175,000-strong landing force. Against the advice of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo (IGHQ) sent in reinforcements to Leyte from Luzon and as far as China, determining to fight the decisive land battle against the American land forces at Leyte. Landing troops almost whenever they wished, the US forces largely accomplished the goals set for the first day of landing.

After having escaped from the Japanese and in the process fleeing his homeland, one can only image in the emotion felt by himself –and the other Filipinos in the landing party– when, on October 20, 1944, Gen. Valdes finally returned to the Philippines.

His account of the historic Leyte landing is terse:

General Douglas MacArthur (center), accompanied by Lieutenant Generals George C. Kenney and Richard K. Sutherland and Major General Verne D. Mudge (Commanding General, First Cavalry Division), inspecting the beachhead on Leyte Island, 20 October 1944. Note the crowd of onlookers. The swamped LCVP in the right background is from USS Ormsby (APA-49). Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
General Douglas MacArthur (center), accompanied by Lieutenant Generals George C. Kenney and Richard K. Sutherland and Major General Verne D. Mudge (Commanding General, First Cavalry Division), inspecting the beachhead on Leyte Island, 20 October 1944.
Note the crowd of onlookers.
The swamped LCVP in the right background is from USS Ormsby (APA-49).
Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Entered Leyte Gulf at midnight. Reached our anchorage at 7 a.m. The battleships, cruisers, and destroyers opened fire on the beaches and finished the work begun two days before ‘A Day’ by other U.S Navy units. The boys in my ship where ready at 9:45 a.m. At 10 a.m. sharp they went down the rope on the side of the ship. Their objective was Palo. At 1 p.m. General MacArthur and members of his staff, President Osmeña, myself, General Romulo, and Captain Madrigal left the ship and proceeded on an L.C.M for Red beach. The beach was not good, the landing craft could not make the dry beach and we had to wade through the water beyond our knees. We inspected the area, and at two instances shots were fired by Japanese snipers. General MacArthur and President Osmeña spoke in a broadcast to the U.S. We returned to the ship at 6 p.m. under a torrential rain. We transferred to the Auxiliary cruiser Blue Ridge flagship of Admiral Barbey, as the SS John Land was leaving for Hollandia.

In Manila, Fr. Juan Labrador OP observed there was no air-raid that day, which was just as well as everyone was on edge after the past few day’s bombings:

A bomb fell yesterday near the Legazpi-Urdaneta monument, up an enormous crater, burying alive thirty-one persons who died of asphyxiation. They were in a shelter nearby. At the explosion, mounds of earth and a big uprooted tree covered the entrance.

The Luneta was turned into a forest of anti-aircraft guns. There was such a shower of exploded shells and stray bullets that even those who stayed in light houses could not be protected. If anyone was spared by the metallic fragments, it was someting miraculous. A roof of GI sheets and a wooden floor were as easily pierced as if they were made of paper.

October 21, 1944: US 7th Cavalry Regiment reached Tacloban, the capital of Leyte. Civilians cheered them on as they entered the city, but the Japanese were still well dug-in.

In his diary on October 21, 1944, Gen. Valdes recounted a kamikaze attack on their ship:

At 5:30 a.m. ‘general quarters’ were sounded. All rushed to their respective guns and fired at approaching Japanese planes. The Australian cruiser Australia was about 300 yards from our starboard side. A Japanese plane coming from the stern flew very low strafing the cruiser. He accidentally came too low and hit the wireless and crashed on the forward deck near the bridge killing the Captain and mortally wounding the Commodore, who died six hours later. The cruiser Honolulu was also hit and was beached to save it. The Australia returned to Australia for repairs.

At 5 p.m. some more Japanese planes attacked us and we downed two.

Manila found out about the Leyte landing on this day. Fr. Juan Labrador OP recounts in his diary entry for October 21, 1944, how news spread in the city:

Joy! Joy! The Yanks have arrived. They landed on the same place where Magellan set foot on firm land when he discovered these islands which he called St. Lazarus. The news of the landing in Leyte spread like wildfire. We took the news as probable, without reassuring ourselves of its certainty, but the exultant Filipinos believed it without a shadow of doubt. Tokyo had admitted it, although the local press still refuses to put its stamp of approval.

Gen. MacArthur and Pres. Osmeña were heard delivering messages over the radio. MacArthur announced that he had complied with his promise to return and, God willing, he would proceed with the re-conquest of the Islands. Osmeña declared that the legitimate government has been restored in this country. Reports have it that General Valdés, Soriano, Romulo and a nucleus of the exiled Philippine government has also arrived.

No one—not even the sharpest strategists—predicted where the landing was to be made. Some guessed that it would be in Mindanao, or at some gulf in Luzon, or in some island in the Visayas, but not one of them singled out the place where the landing was actually made. After the fact, everybody admitted that the Bay of Leyte, formed by Leyte and Samar, was the least guarded, least defended and most strategic point for the developing operations. Situated almost in the center of the archipelago, it is one leap from Mindanao, from Luzon, and from almost all the islands of the Visayas.

October 22, 1944: US 8th Cavalry Regiment secured the high ground around Tacloban, slowing strangling any remaining resistance in the area. At this stage, the American troops at Tacloban realized their mission became as much a humanitarian one as a combat one, for that many thousands of Tacloban residents were in dire need of food and shelter; some of the soldiers offered the little rations they had, while others opened up Japanese warehouses and distributed whatever they thought could help.

The day was spent quietly as far as Gen. Valdes was concerned: his diary entry for October 22, 1944 recounts sending radio messages and dinner on board another ship with American officers.

For his part, writing in Manila on October 22, 1944, Fr. Juan Labrador OP recounted how the Japanese finally confirmed the Leyte landing had taken place (and how Filipinos were responding to the return of the Allies):

Tokyo radio, in announcing the landings in Leyte, added that the Filipino and Japanese defenses furiously counter-attacked the invaders. This reports, however, were not repeated in the Philippines for lack of any semblance of truth. What appear credible to us, however, are the rumors that the Constabulary strongholds are passing over to the invaders. We were told that the insular police of different towns, with their rifles and baggages, have taken to the mountains to join the guerillas. In Calamba, the Constables have gone into hiding in the mountain thickness, a pattern which we had observed at other times. The guerillas are becoming active, mobilizing ex-USAFFE officers and chaplains.

With the first attack, whole towns have moved to the mountains. In some districts and provinces, the guerillas are in command. They cannot do so, however, in Manila, where it is risky for them to come out in the open.

U.S. naval vessels at Leyte, 1944

October 23, 1944: As soon as Tacloban [was] secured, MacArthur restored Osmeña’s government there as the ruling body of the Philippines. “On behalf of my government,” MacArthur announced, “I restore to you a constitutional administration by countrymen of your confidence and choice.” [At sea: Battle of Leyte Gulf, Oct. 23-26, 1944]

 

In his diary, Gen. Basilio Valdes (October 23, 1944)once again has a terse account of a history-laden event:

General Douglas MacArthur at the microphone during ceremonies marking the liberation of Leyte, at Tacloban, October 23, 1944. Philippine President Sergio Osmeña is in the center, one step behind MacArthur. At left are Lieutenant Generals Walter Kreuger and Richard K. Sutherland. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
General Douglas MacArthur at the microphone during ceremonies marking the liberation of Leyte, at Tacloban, October 23, 1944.
Philippine President Sergio Osmeña is in the center, one step behind MacArthur.
At left are Lieutenant Generals Walter Kreuger and Richard K. Sutherland.
Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Disembarked and went ashore to Tacloban. In front of the Capitol of the province, General MacArthur read the proclamation declaring null and void all laws promulgated by the Japanese and the puppet republic, and replacing those of the Commonwealth. His proclamation was followed by a speech by President Osmeña. At 2 p.m. I returned to the ship on a PT boat to get my luggage and return to Tacloban at 5 p.m. I was going to stay in the house occupied by the Japanese commanding general, which was made available for the President, but due to lack of space I accepted the invitation of Mrs. Losa to live in her home.

It’s only on this day, October 23, 1944, that Felipe Buencamino III is able to catch up with his diary, recounting the news of the Leyte landing and the excitement that swept the city:

Well, first there’s the landing in Leyte. The consensus was that they would land in Mindanao or perhaps Luzon so Leyte was quite a surprise. The Japs have admitted the landing but they’re trying to belittle it. Its been placed in a small corner of the front page. A lot of emphasis is being placed on the Taiwan affair. They’re tooting their horn about the aircraft carriers sunk, which to me is plain baloney. It seems they even had a sort of victory parade in Tokyo. People here think the Jap leaders are pulling the wool over the eyes of the Japs and that ought to be easy because they’re chinky-eyed.

Buencamino then catches up with the latest news –even in Manila, they’re getting news practically in real time by this point:

What really was a great surprise was the res-establishment of the Commonwealth Gov’t on Philippine soil. I’m not a very sentimental guy, but when I heard Osmeña and Romulo and Valdes and the rest were already in the Philippines, I wept like a kid. And when I repeated the story of how Mac landed to Dad, his eyes got moisty.

Everybody is jubilant these days. When you walk the streets, people greet you with “Have you heard? They’re here.”

The question now is when will they land in Luzon?

He also waxes nostalgic for President Quezon:

Quite anxious to see Baby and Nini. Gee, I wish their old man pulled through. Sometimes I think he’s still alive.

Yes, men like him, never die. He is the greatest man I’ve met.

October 24, 1944: [T]roops of the US 8th Cavalry Regiment crossed the strait to the island of Samar. [At sea: Battle of Sibuyan Sea] See photo of President Osmeña, Maj. Gen. Basilio J. Valdes, Lt. Gen. Carlos P. Romulo in Leyte, 1944.

The October 24, 1944 diary entry of Gen. Valdes features a close call with Japanese bombs:

5:20 a.m. I woke up with the sound of two airplanes flying low over our house. I thought “It’s nice to have our planes patrolling”. A few seconds later I was startled by two explosions nearby. The concussion blew away my mosquito net. I jumped out of bed. I took a quick bath, as I was wet with perspiration, dressed and went to the place where the bombs had exploded. The first one fell over a nipa house killing the whole family who were asleep. A woman and six children. The husband was out working for the U.S. troops unloading. When he returned home he found his home destroyed and all his family killed. Poor man. The second bomb fell about 60 yards from the house occupied by the other members of the Presidential party. The President slept elsewhere. Some small shell fragments went through the house.

In Manila, the story is of Allied air-raids. His October 24, 1944 entry has Fr. Juan Labrador OP writing,

Some twenty planes made a thunderous attack over Nichols, catching the guardians of the city unaware. They did not hit as accurately as on the first day.

In San Pedro, Makati, bombs were dropped off-target. A boat in Manila Bay was bombed several times but it remained firmly afloat.

A Japanese official attributed this poor hitting precision to the fact that the pilots were Canadians, not Americans. That was a consolation for the Imperial Air Force which had already lost supremacy of the air in the Philippines since the first day.

A good part of the Japanese officialdom is gradually being convinced, not only of the possibility of losing the war, but also of the improbability of winning it.

Once again, we have another eyewitness account of the same raid, this time from Felipe Buencamino III:

There are bombers flying. Nope, they’re pursuit planes, plenty of them, about fifty. They’re up too early, I think. Ben’s looking at them and he says they’re Japs. Yes, I think he is right. I can hear that familiar metallic roar… Vic is opening the radio to verify. Now, its not a raid. They’re playing a boogie number, “In the Mood” I think. Wait… I think that was an AA I just heard. Yes, siree, the guns are firing at something. It’s a raid, and the Japs have been surprised again. The radio is still playing “In the Mood”. Wow, I can see U.S. planes right here from the porch where I am typing. There goes five, ten, twenty, wow… so many…. heading for the Bay area. Now the house is shaking but they’re bombing the other side of Manila so I can still type. I want to give you a blow by blow description of this thing. Nope, change my mind. It’s getting too close. This blow-by-blow story might end up with this bum blowing up too.

P.S.

The radio announcer is excited. “There is an air-raid,” he says. There goes the siren giving the air-raid alarm. Caught asleep again, heh, heh.

October 25, 1944: [A]ll initial goals had been met, with slightly lighter casualties than expected. [At sea: Battle of Surigao Strait].

His diary entry for October 25-28, 1944 has Gen. Valdes recounting the success of U.S. fighter planes. On October 26, 1944, Juan Labrador OP was writing about the Japanese commandeering all forms of transportation:

The soldiers are commandeering horses, calesas, bicycles and push carts, and the people are forced to hide them. As a consequence, there is an even greater lack of transportation in Manila. This is a sign that the Japanese are running short of motorized vehicles. The trucks which they had confiscated at the start of the war are reduced to junk. They are now willing to pay ₱200,000.00 for an automobile of a reputable brand in running condition, and ₱400,000.00 for a good truck. The only cars moving about are those which are being used by the officers and ministers. There are many other cars, but their owners have dismantled them, hoping to drive them around again when the Leyte invaders arrive.

On October 29, 1944, Gen. Valdes was writing about going to Palo, Leyte:

At 9 a.m. left for Palo with Major Lambert 1st C.A.D., to inspect the post-office there. The town was full of soldiers, trucks, and tanks etc. The First Cavalry Division has a Squadron bivouac in Palo. The Church is being used as a hospital where army as well as civilian casualties are treated. Met Lew Ayers who is doing excellent work. Called on Bishop Manuel Mascariñas of Palo. He received me very cordially. He has accommodated civilian refugees in his convent and he himself at times sleeps in a chair.

For his part, after recounting there had been no Allied air-raids for four days, Felipe Buencamino III reported another Allied air-raid:

The Japs are in a happy mood. Their Propaganda Corps has been telling them for the last four days of great naval victories in Sulu Sea. Our Jap neighbors were drinking and feasting last night and shouting “Banzai! Banzai!”. Right now I can hear the radio saying something about outstanding victories in the waters east of the Philippines and that the American fleet is almost entirely crippled. Now he is boasting that MacArthur’s troops are stranded on Leyte. (Wait, I hear the roar of planes, many planes)

I can’t see them but I’m sure there are planes above. Maybe they are Japanese. There have been no raids these last four days. Some people are quite disappointed though many say that its just the lull before the storm. I’ve been trying to take bets that there will be landings in Luzon before the 7th or 15th and no one wants to call. The Japanese however interpret this lull as proof of the sinking of many aircraft carriers in Philippine waters. In fact, I can hear the radio saying this very thing right now. “The complete absence of raids in Manila for the last four days is proof,” he says, “of the crippling of the American Navy in the waters of…..” (Wow. That sounded like a bomb. More bombs. Yes, I can see planes diving at Nichols Field. Yes, that’s the direction of Nichols Field. There are hundreds of planes, Papa and Mama and Neneng are running to the shelter. My gosh… The Japs have been surprised again. Now the siren is giving the air-raid alarm, late again. The poor commentator has to eat his words. Now the AA guns are barking. But the planes don’t seem to mind. They keep on attacking the airfields and the Pier areas. Now I can hear machine guns, strafing probably. There’s not a single Jap plane intercepting. The Japs in the next house are now very silent. I can see them crouching in their foxholes. The Filipino boys in the fields behind the house are watching the planes and they are smiling. I got to leave now, AA shrapnels are falling nearer and nearer the house. I think I heard several drop on the cement pavement near the garage. Yes, Ma is calling for me. She gets nervous if all her chickens aren’t around her. I can hear more strafing. And there goes a big bomb. It shook the whole house. This is a pretty long raid. There goes another bomb and another…… Wish I could tell that radio commentator “So you’ve sunk all their carriers?”

By October 29, 1944, Juan Labrador OP would be writing about the increasing absurdity of Japanese propaganda:

The press proclaimed in bold lines: “American Bombing in Leyte Ceases”.

“In the face of a terrific Japanese attack, the American fleet had abandoned the landing troops which are facing complete annihilation. American forces in the Pacific have been completely destroyed and Manila is going to be spared attacks for a long time.”

I was reading these lines this morning when, without previous warning, American planes came within visible altitude, dropping their bombs on their targets on Manila Bay. The people who are getting to be more hopeful are comparing what the Japanese are claiming and what is actually happening. Obviously, what was annihilated was the Japanese fleet, and the Imperial Air Force has been left without wings.

Today is Sunday, and the UST Chapel was full of devotees. The sermon started just when the bomb explosions were loudest, the pounding of anti-aircraft shots was most resounding and the gloomy staccato of machine guns was most frightening. Many of the faithful were feeling uneasy, glancing towards the door with one foot forward. The preacher, calmly and cooly, exhorted the people to stay in their seats as they were safe within that sacred place. The Mass—a High Mass—went on and the choir continued singing to the accompaniment of the Celestial concert outside.

            Later, everybody ridiculed the Tribune editorial which promised peace and a sky free from attacks. It was a known fact that when the newspapers predicted a pleasant time, based on Japanese victories, the American planes—which were supposed to have fled or been destroyed—came attacking with greater intensity.

And so, on October 30, 1944, Felipe Buencamino III would write,

There are many planes flying but they’re Japs. You can tell by the metallic desynchronized roar of the engines. There’s one plane flying very low. It passed directly on top of the house. There was a time –just after Bataan when I would dive on the floor when I hear a plane. I must’ve been bomb-shocked but I didn’t realize it…

The Tribune says the Americans are shelling Lamon Bay. That’s about 60 miles from Manila in a straight line. Why don’t they hurry up because this waiting and waiting is killing me? Somebody told me the suspense is like waiting for the bride to appear in Church. Saw Emilio on my way home. He was looking at the map.

I can hear the sound of blasting somewhere in the direction of McKinley. I’ m afraid the Japs are planting mines.

Heard the G8s have been tipped to expect landings on either the 3rd or 4th.

Listened to broadcasts from Leyte to America by the different newspapermen there. Liked Cliff Roberts’ “personal report”. Time had a good story on the naval battle off Leyte Bay. Courtney had a good report on the rehabilitation work in Leyte.

P.S.

Heard that Romulo gave a nationwide instruction to the Filipino people. It was short, dramatic: WORK OR FIGHT!

The month ends with Gen. Valdes’ laconic entry for October 31, 1944:

Two air raids…An uncomfortable night.

But there would be months more of fighting before the Allies even reached Manila –and then the death agony of the capital city would take place. See The Battle of Manila, Feb. 3-March 3, 1945 for eyewitness accounts of the Battle for Manila. During that period, on February 25, 1945, Valdes took on the Health portfolio; soon after that, he would leave the Cabinet altogether to wrap up his work as Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army.

President Sergio Osmeña (September 9, 1878 – October 19, 1961) inducts his first regular Cabinet into office in the Council of State Room (now the Quirino Room) in the Executive Building (today known as Kalayaan Hall), Malacañan, 1945. His first regular Cabinet was composed of Secretary of the Interior Tomas Confesor; Secretary of Finance and Reconstruction Jaime Hernandez; Secretary of Justice Ramon Quisumbing; Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce Vicente Singson Encarnacion; Secretary of National Defense Tomas Cabili; Secretary of Health and Public Welfare Basilio Valdes;Secretary of Public Instruction and Information Francisco Benitez; Secretary of Public Works and Communications Sotero Cabahug; Secretary of the Budget Ismael Mathay Sr.; Executive Secretary Jose S. Reyes; Secretary of Labor Marcelo Aduru; and Resident Commissioner Carlos P. Romulo.

 

 

 

 


The debate on taking the Philippines out of the war: January 28 to February 12, 1942

Mrs. Aurora A. Quezon, Mrs. Jean Faircloth MacArthur, President Manuel L. Quezon, Arthur MacArthur, Maria Aurora Quezon, Corregidor, 1942.

(entry updated January 25, 2016)

The beginning of World War 2, despite the immediate setback represented by Pearl Harbor, was greeted with optimism and a sense of common cause between Americans and Filipinos. See: Telegram from President Quezon to President Roosevelt, December 9, 1941 and Telegram of President Roosevelt to President Quezon, December 11, 1941.

However, From late January to mid-February, 1942, the Commonwealth War Cabinet undertook a great debate on whether to propose the Philippines’ withdrawing from the war, in the hope of neutralizing the country.

The cause of the debate seems to have been concerns over reports of the situation in the provinces, the creation of a Japanese-backed government in Manila, and the apparent lack of any tangible assistance to the Philippines as Filipino and American troops were besieged in Bataan. Here is a sampling of some letters received in Corregidor, from Filipino commanders at the front:

Letter from Mariano Castaneda to President Quezon, January 18, 1942
Letter from Gen. Fidel Segundo to President Quezon, January 20, 1942

 

In his diary entry for January 21, 1942, Felipe Buencamino III, in the Intelligence Service in Bataan, visited Corregidor and wrote,

President Manuel Quezon is sick again. He coughed many times while I talked to him. He was in bed when I submitted report of the General regarding political movements in Manila. He did not read it. The President looked pale. Marked change in his countenance since I last had breakfast with his family. The damp air of the tunnel and the poor food in Corregidor were evidently straining his health. He asked me about conditions in Bataan –food, health of boys, intensity of fighting. He was thinking of the hardships being endured by the men in Bataan. He also said he heard reports that some sort of friction exists between Filipinos and American. “How true is that?” The President’s room was just a make-shift affair of six-by-five meters in one of the corridors of the tunnel. He was sharing discomfort of the troops in Corregidor.

The hardships of Filipino soldiers in Bataan –young ROTC cadets had already been turned away when they turned up in recruiting stations in December, 1941, and told to go home (though quite a few would join the retreating USAFFE forces anyway)– was troubling the leadership of the Commonwealth. The troops, too, were beginning to starve. On the same day Buencamino wrote his diary entry, the S.S. Legazpi was dispatched to Capiz Province to try to bring rice to supply the troops:

Letter from Col. Manuel Roxas to Governor Hernandez of Capiz.

The next day, this letter would arrive from Mateo Capinpin, stating the lack of food for the troops:

Letter from Mateo Capinpin to President Quezon.

On January 27, 1942, Felipe Buencamino III wrote in his diary,

Bad news: Japs have penetrated Mt. Natib through center of line of 1st regular division. Boys of 1st regular are in wild retreat. Many of them are given up for lost.

If this penetration widens, entire USAFFE line must fall back on reserve lines –the Pilar-Bagac road. This is our darkest hour. I’m praying for the convoy. Come on America!

The next day, January 28, 1942, Buencamino was writing in his diary:

Gap in western sector widening. Japs penetrating Segundo’s line in force. 1st regular division in wild retreat. Hell has broken loose in this area. Many dying, dead.

No reinforcements can be sent to bridge gap. No more reserves. 1st regular given up for lost. Japs following successes slowly, surely, cautiously.

USAFFE line will be shortened to stabilize and consolidate front. All divisions packing up to make last stand on Pilar-Bagac road. If this line, if this last front line breaks, our days are numbered.

Went to eastern front to see conditions there. Everybody is moving, retreating, to avoid being outflanked.

On that same day, the opening salvo in the debate over whether to keep the Philippines in the war or not was launched. Letter of President Quezon to Field Marshal MacArthur, January 28, 1942:

At the same time I am going to open my mind and my heart to you without attempting to hide anything. We are before the bar of history and God only knows if this is the last time that my voice will be heard before going to my grave. My loyalty and the loyalty of the Filipino people to America have been proven beyond question. Now we are fighting by her side under your command, despite overwhelming odds. But, it seems to me questionable whether any government has the right to demand loyalty from its citizens beyond its willingness or ability to render actual protection. This war is not of our making. Those that had dictated the policies of the United States could not have failed to see that this is the weakest point in American territory. From the beginning, they should have tried to build up our defenses. As soon as the prospects looked bad to me, I telegraphed President Roosevelt requesting him to include the Philippines in the American defense program. I was given no satisfactory answer. When I tried to do something to accelerate our defense preparations, I was stopped from doing it. Despite all this we never hesitated for a moment in our stand. We decided to fight by your side and we have done the best we could and we are still doing as much as could be expected from us under the circumstances. But how long are we going to be left alone? Has it already been decided in Washington that the Philippine front is of no importance as far as the final result of the war is concerned and that, therefore, no help can be expected here in the immediate future, or at least before our power of resistance is exhausted? If so, I want to know it, because I have my own responsibility to my countrymen whom, as President of the Commonwealth, I have led into a complete war effort. I am greatly concerned as well regarding the soldiers I have called to the colors and who are now manning the firing line. I want to decide in my own mind whether there is justification in allowing all these men to be killed, when for the final outcome of the war the shedding of their blood may be wholly unnecessary. It seems that Washington does not fully realize our situation nor the feelings which the apparent neglect of our safety and welfare have engendered in the hearts of the people here.

In the same letter, Quezon asked that a proclamation be given the widest possible publicity. Here it is in leaflet version, distributed in the front lines:

Proclamation of January 28, 1942 by President Quezon

The next day, January 29, 1942, Buencamino would write,

Japs have encircled the 1st regular. I wonder what will happen to the boys there. This is a great calamity.

Apparently, Japs crawled through precipices of Mt. Natib. After penetration, they made a flank maneuver and concentrated fire on rear of Segundo’s line.

MacArthur forwarded this letter to President Roosevelt in Washington, and according to most accounts it triggered unease among American officials. See Telegram from President Roosevelt to President Quezon regarding his letter to Field Marshal MacArthur, January 30, 1942:

I have read with complete understanding your letter to General MacArthur. I realize the depth and sincerity of your sentiments with respect to your inescapable duties to your own people and I assure you that I would be the last to demand of  you and them any sacrifice which I considered hopeless in the furtherance of the cause for which we are all striving. I want, however, to state with all possible emphasis that the magnificent resistance of the defenders of Bataan is contributing definitely toward assuring the completeness of our final victory in the Far East.

The day after FDR sent his telegram, the front in Bataan stabilized, as Buencamino recorded in his diary on January 31, 1942:

Good news. Troops of Segundo have reentered our new lines. They escaped Jap encirclement by clambering precipices on Western coast for two days and nights. The men looked thin, haggard, half-dead. They all have a new life. Segundo arrived with troops dressed in a private’s uniform. Japs were slow following initial successes. Some boys, unfortunately, fell while clambering through very steep precipices. In some cases, men were stepping in ledge only half-foot wide. Some of the wounded were left to mercy of Japs. Others were carried by companions. I will try to see either Feling Torres or Manny Colayco. They belong to the 1st Regular –if they are still alive.

There seems to be a move to change Gen. Segundo. Col. Berry will replace him, I understand. I don’t think Segundo is at fault. His troops have been fighting since December in Camarines. His men are recruits, volunteers, mostly untrained civilians. His division has not had a bit of rest since campaign in Southern front and when Japs first attacked Bataan front, they chose his sector.

The Philippine Diary Project provides a glimpse into how the telegram from FDR was received. On February 1, 1942, Ramon A. Alcaraz, captain of a Q-Boat, wrote,

Later, I proceeded to the Lateral of the Quezon Family to deliver Maj. Rueda’s pancit molo.  Mrs. Quezon was delighted saying it is the favorite soup of her husband. Mrs. Quezon brought me before the Pres. who was with Col. Charles Willoughby G-2. After thanking me for the pancit molo, Quezon resumed his talk with G-2. He seemed upset that no reinforcement was coming. I heard him say that America is giving more priority to England and Europe, reason we have no reinforcement.  “Puñeta”, he exclaimed, “how typically American to writhe in anguish over a distant cousin (England) while a daughter (Philippines) is being raped in the backroom”.

The remark quoted above is found in quite a few other books; inactivity and ill-health seemed to be taking its toll on the morale of government officials, while the reality was the Visayas and Mindanao were still unoccupied by the enemy. Furthermore, Corregidor remained in touch with unoccupied areas, and a sample of reports and replies helps put in context the attitude of the Filipino leadership in Corregidor.

Telegram on the Provincial Situation sent to President Quezon.
Telegram sent by President Quezon to the Governor of Nueva Vizcaya.

On February 2, 1942, Gen. Valdes wrote that the idea of evacuating the Commonwealth Government from Corregidor was raised –in case “forces in Bataan were pushed back by the enemy,” suggesting that holding the line after the last attempted advance by the Japanese still left the weakened defenders uneasy.

Writing in his diary on February 2, 1942, Felipe Buencamino III recounts battle stories of his comrades, and the physical and mental condition of soldiers like himself:

Talked to Tony Perez this morning about penetration in Mt. Natib. He said they walked for two days and nights without stop, clambering cliffs, clinging to vines at times to keep their body steady, in a desperate effort to escape encirclement by the Japs. He said it was a pity some of the weak and wounded were left behind. There were men he said offering all their money to soldiers to “please carry me because I can no longer walk.” He said that he and a friend carried a fellow who had a bullet wound in the leg. “Some of the boys” he said “fell down the precipice because the path was very narrow, in some cases just enough for the toes.” He expressed the opinion that if Japs had followed their gains immediately and emplaced a machine gun near the cliff, they would all have been killed. “It was heart-breaking” he said. “There we were trying to run away from Japs and sometimes we had to stay in the same place for a long time because the cliffs were very irregular, at times flat, at times perpendicular.” He said that most of the men discarded their rifles and revolvers to reduce their load. Most of our artillery pieces were left, he stated. “We were happy,” he recounted, “when night came because it was dark and the Japs would have less chances of spotting us but then that made our climbing doubly difficult because it was hard to see where one was stepping especially when the moon hid behind the clouds.” He opined that the Japs probably never thought that one whole division would be able to escape through those precipices in the same way that we never thought that they would be able to pass through the steep cliffs of Mt. Natib. Fred said he will write a poem entitled “The Cliffs of Bagao” in honor of the Dunkirk-like retreat of the 1st regular division…

Life here is getting harder and harder. I noticed everybody is getting more and more irritable. Nerves, I think. Food is terribly short. Just two handfuls of rice in the morning and the same amount at night with a dash of sardines. Nine out of ten men have malaria. When you get the shivers, you geel like you have ice in your blood. Bombing has become more intensified and more frequent. The General is always hot-headed. Fred and Leonie are often arguing heatedly. Montserrat and Javallera are sore at each other. And I… well, I wanna go home.

Another incident seems to have have happened the day after purely by chance, see Evacuation of the Gold Reserves of the Commonwealth, February 3, 1942. This mission was one of several intrepid efforts by American submarines. See Attempts to Supply The Philippines by Sea: 1942 by Charles Dana Gibson and E. Kay Gibson:

Although the U.S. Navy never showed any willingness to use its surface ships to assist the supply of the Philippines, whether for the carriage of cargo or as escorts, that reluctance did not apply to its submarines, but it took direct pressure from the White House to get action. Between mid-January and 3 May, eight U.S. submarines unloaded cargoes at Corregidor. For their return trips, they evacuated a total of 185 personnel together with the treasury of the Philippines as well as vital Army records. The quantity of the cargoes the subs delivered totaled 53 tons of foodstuffs along with various quantities of munitions and diesel oil. In aggregate, this was hardly enough to make a dent in the overall need; nevertheless, it was an asset to the morale of the defenders. The personnel who the submarines evacuated were of considerable import as most of them were essential to the future conduct of the war.

The same paper also discusses efforts to bring much-needed food and supplies to the soldiers in Bataan and Corregidor:

There was, though, one shining moment, and this was the result of a plan put in force by MacArthur’s quartermasters during early January to utilize ships which had been anchored off Corregidor since the evacuation from Manila in late December. Three were used, all being medium-sized Filipino coasters: Legazpi, Kolumbugan, and Bohol II. Between mid January and mid February, each of them made two round trips for a total of six deliveries of foodstuffs to Corregidor from the island of Panay as well as from Looc Cove in Batangas Province. Legazpi and Kolumbugan were victim to enemy interception on what would have been for each of them their third attempt. After those losses, it was decided that to send Bohol II again would have been futile since it was obvious that the Japanese blockade had effectively canceled out any hope of success.

Although the three ships which sailed from Corregidor had a short operational history, they had all told brought in 5,800 tons of rice and other foodstuffs together with 400 head of livestock. It was not enough to stave off surrender, but it must have made the last days
of the siege a bit more bearable.

Three days after the reserves of the Commonwealth were evacuated, however, matters came to a head.  On February 5, 1942 General Valdes went to Bataan to inspect the troops and confer with Filipino and American officers. He returned to Corregidor that evening; one can possibly infer he then made a report to the President. What is explicitly recorded in the Diary of Gen. Basilio Valdes, on February 6, 1942 is that the following took place:

The President called a Cabinet Meeting at 9 a.m. He was depressed and talked to us of his impression regarding the war and the situation in Bataan. It was a memorable occasion. The President made remarks that the Vice-President refuted. The discussion became very heated, reaching its climax when the President told the Vice-President that if those were his points of view he could remain behind as President, and that he was not ready to change his opinion. I came to the Presidents defense and made a criticism of the way Washington had pushed us into this conflict and then abandoning us to our own fate. Colonel Roxas dissented from my statement and left the room, apparently disgusted. He was not in accord with the President’s plans. The discussion the became more calm and at the end the President had convinced the Vice-President and the Chief Justice that his attitude was correct. A telegram for President Roosevelt was to be prepared. In the afternoon we were again called for a meeting. We were advised that the President had discussed his plan with General MacArthur and had received his approval.

The great debate among the officials continued the next day, as recounted in the Diary of General Basilio Valdes, February 7, 1942:

9 a.m. Another meeting of the Cabinet. The telegram, prepared in draft, was re-read and corrected and shown to the President for final approval. He then passed it to General MacArthur for transmittal to President Roosevelt. The telegram will someday become a historical document of tremendous importance. I hope it will be well received in Washington. As a result of this work and worry the President has developed a fever.

The end results was a telegram sent to Washington. See Telegram of President Quezon to President Roosevelt, February 8, 1942:

The situation of my country has become so desperate that I feel that positive action is demanded. Militarily it is evident that no help will reach us from the United States in time either to rescue the beleaguered garrison now fighting so gallantly or to prevent the complete overrunning of the entire Philippine Archipelago. My people entered the war with the confidence that the United States would bring such assistance to us as would make it possible to sustain the conflict with some chance of success. All our soldiers in the field were animated by the belief that help would be forthcoming. This help has not and evidently will not be realized. Our people have suffered death, misery, devastation. After 2 months of war not the slightest assistance has been forthcoming from the United States. Aid and succour have been dispatched to other warring nations such as England, Ireland, Australia, the N. E. I. and perhaps others, but not only has nothing come here, but apparently no effort has been made to bring anything here. The American Fleet and the British Fleet, the two most powerful navies in the world, have apparently adopted an attitude which precludes any effort to reach these islands with assistance. As a result, while enjoying security itself, the United States has in effect condemned the sixteen millions of Filipinos to practical destruction in order to effect a certain delay. You have promised redemption, but what we need is immediate assistance and protection.We are concerned with what is to transpire during the next few months and years as well as with our ultimate destiny. There is not the slightest doubt in our minds that victory will rest with the United States, but the question before us now is : Shall we further sacrifice our country and our people in a hopeless fight? I voice the unanimous opinion of my War Cabinet and I am sure the unanimous opinion of all Filipinos that under the circumstances we should take steps to preserve the Philippines and the Filipinos from further destruction.

Again, by most accounts, there was great alarm in Washington over the implications of the telegram, and after consultations with other officials, a response was sent. See Telegram of President Roosevelt to President Quezon, February 9, 1942:

By the terms of our pledge to the Philippines implicit in our 40 years of conduct towards your people and expressly recognized in the terms of the McDuffie—Tydings Act, we have undertaken to protect you to the uttermost of our power until the time of your ultimate independence had arrived. Our soldiers in the Philippines are now engaged in fulfilling that purpose. The honor of the United States is pledged to its fulfillment. We propose that it be carried out regardless of its cost. Those Americans who are fighting now will continue to fight until the bitter end. So long as the flag of the United States flies on Filipino soil as a pledge of our duty to your people, it will be defended by our own men to the death. Whatever happens to the present American garrison we shall not relax our eiforts until the forces which we are now marshaling outside the Philippine Islands return to the Philippines and drive the last remnant of the invaders from your soil.

Still, seizing the moment, the Commonwealth officials pursued their proposal; see Telegram of President Quezon to President Roosevelt, February 10, 1942:

 I propose the following program of action: That the Government of the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan recognize the independence of the Philippines; that within a reasonable period of time both armies, American and Japanese, be withdrawn, previous arrangements having been negotiated with the Philippine government; that neither nation maintain bases in the Philippines; that the Philippine Army be at once demobilized, the remaining force to be a Constabulary of moderate size; that at once upon the granting of freedom that trade agreement with other countries become solely a matter to be settled by the Philippines and the nation concerned; that American and Japanese non combatants who so desire be evacuated with their own armies under reciprocal and appropriate stipulations. It is my earnest hope that, moved by the highest considerations of justice and humanity, the two great powers which now exercise control over the Philippines will give their approval in general principle to my proposal. If this is done I further propose, in order to accomplish the details thereof, that an Armistice be declared in the Philippines and that I proceed to Manila at once for necessary consultations with the two governments concerned.

But it was not to be; the next day the reply from Washington came. Telegram of President Roosevelt to President Quezon, February 11, 1942:

Your message of February tenth evidently crossed mine to you of  February ninth. Under our constitutional authority the President of the United States is not empowered to cede or alienate any territory to another nation.

In the Philippine Diary Project, the despondent response to this telegram is recorded. See Diary of Gen. Basilio Valdes, February 11, 1942:

Had a Cabinet Meeting. The reply of President Roosevelt to President Quezon’s radio was received. No, was the reply. It also allowed General MacArthur to surrender Philippine Islands if necessary. General MacArthur said he could not do it. The President said that he would resign in favor of Osmeña. There was no use to dissuade him then. We agreed to work slowly to convince him that this step would not be appropriate.

By the next day, cooler heads had prevailed; the response was then sent to Washington. See Telegram of President Quezon to President Roosevelt, February 12, 1942:

I wish to thank you for your prompt answer to the proposal which I submitted to you with the unanimous approval of my war cabinet. We fully appreciate the reasons upon which your decision is based and we are abiding by it.

From then on, the question became where it would be best to continue the operations of the government; and plans were resumed to move the government to unoccupied territory in the Visayas. The sense of an unfolding, unstoppable, tragedy seems to have overcome many involved. From the Diary of Gen. Basilio Valdes, February 12, 1942:

The President had a long conference with General MacArthur. Afterwards he sent for me. He asked me: “If I should decide to leave Corregidor what do you want to do?” “I want to remain with my troops at the front that is my duty” I replied. He stretched his hand and shook my hand “That is a manly decision; I am proud of you” he added and I could see tear in his eyes. “Call General MacArthur” he ordered “I want to inform him of your decision.” I called General MacArthur. While they conferred, I went to USAFFE Headquarters tunnel to confer with General Sutherland. When General MacArthur returned he stretched his hand and shook hands with me and said “I am proud of you Basilio, that is a soldier’s decision.” When I returned to the room of the President, he was with Mrs. Quezon. She stood up and kissed me, and then cried. The affection shown to me by the President & Mrs. Quezon touched me deeply. Then he sent for Manolo Nieto and in our presence, the President told Mrs. Quezon with reference to Manolo, “I am deciding it; I am not leaving it to him. I need him. He has been with me in my most critical moments. When I needed someone to accompany my family to the States, I asked him to do it. When I had to be operated I took him with me; now that need him more then ever, I am a sick man. I made him an officer to make him my aide. He is not like Basilio, a military man by career. Basilio is different, I forced him to accept the position he now had; his duty is with his troops”. Then he asked for Whisky and Gin and asked us to drink. Colonel Roxas and Lieutenant Clemente came in. We drank to his health. He made a toast: “To the Filipino Soldier the pride of our country”, and he could not continue as he began to cry.

On February 15, 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese. That same day, February 15, 1942, General Valdes wrote,

At 9 a.m. the President called a meeting of his war cabinet. The matter of our possible exit from the rock was discussed. It was shown that the President could be of more help to General MacArthur and the general situation outside of the rock. The President conferred after with General MacArthur. He readily saw our point of view, to which was added my frequent report regarding the physical condition of the President. General MacArthur promised to radio asking for a submarine.

The Japanese are shelling Corregidor from the Cavite coast, probably Ternate.

Five days later, the Commonwealth government departed Corregidor to undertake an odyssey that would take it from the Visayas to Mindanao and eventually, Australia and the United States. See Escape from Corregidor by Manuel L. Quezon Jr. See also the diary entries of General Valdes for February 20, 1942, and February 21, 1942.

See also the diary of Felipe Buencamino III, earlier that same day, February 20, 1942:

Accompanied General to Mariveles. Was present in his conference with Col. Roxas. Javallera also attended meeting.

Roxas although colonel was easily the dominant personality of the meeting. He is a fluent, interesting and brilliant speaker.

Roxas explained military situation in Bataan. He said the convoy cannot be expected these days. He pointed out that Jap Navy controls Pacific waters. He stated that very few planes can be placed in Mariveles and Cabcaben airfields, certainly not enough to gain aerial superiority. “And,” he pointed out, “we don’t have fuel here, no ground crews, no spare parts!”

Roxas said Bataan troops must hold out as long as possible to give America, time to recover from initial gains of Japs who will attack Australia after Bataan.

Roxas said that Corregidor questions a lot of our reports.

Roxas said that evacuees are a big problem. They are thousands and they must be fed and they are in a miserable pitiful condition. He is thinking of sending them to Mindoro by boat that wil bring food here from Visayas.

Roxas revealed that thousands of sacks of rice good for a couple of days were brought to Corregidor by Legaspi  from Cavite.

Though never publicized (for obvious reasons) by the Americans, the proposal to neutralize the Philippines was viewed important enough by Filipino leaders to merit the effort to ensure the proposal would be kept for the record.

From the Diary of Gen. Basilio Valdes, April 11, 1942:

The President called a Cabinet meeting at 3 p.m. Present were the Vice-President, Lieutenant Colonel Soriano, Colonel Nieto and myself. He discussed extensively with us the war situation. The various radiograms he sent to President Roosevelt and those he received were read. All together constitute a valuable document of the stand the President and his War Cabinet has taken during the early part of the war. The meeting was adjourned at 6 p.m.

In the Philippine Diary Project, this account by an unnamed officer to Francis Burton Harrison, recorded in his diary on June 13, 1942, gives an insight into the frame of mind of officers and soldiers at the front even as the debate was going on:

Supplies for besieged armies on Corregidor & Bataan: An officer told me: ‘All through the battle of Bataan we expected relief and reinforcements, though we knew the American Pacific Squadron had been temporarily put out of action at Pearl Harbor. On my first trip back from the front at Bataan to see General Sutherland on Corregidor the boys in the trenches had asked me to bring them food, tobacco and whiskey. This was on February 3rd; on February 18th I was again sent from the front on an errand to Corregidor, and this time all that the boys asked me to bring back was only “good news”–i.e., of relief coming. We all expected help until we heard President Roosevelt’s address on February 22nd. The truth about the sending of supplies is as follows: three convoys started from Australia. The first was diverted to Singapore; the second to the Dutch East Indies, and the third, consisting of three cargo boats started at last for the Philippines. Two of the vessels turned back and went to the West coast of Australia–to Brisbane. One boat, the Moro vessel Doñañate (?) got through to Cebu; it carried 1,000 tons of sugar and 1,000 tons of rice, both commodities we already had in the Visayas, so it was like carrying coals to Newcastle. Very little of this got through to Corregidor and Bataan, because of the blockade. Another vessel went aground near Leyte but the cargo was salvaged. We understood that after Pearl Harbor, the American Navy could not convoy supplies to us. Nor, of course, could they strike directly at the Japanese Navy as had always been the plan.’

Francis Burton Harrison’s diary entry June 12, 1942 and for June 22, 1942  also has a candid account by Quezon of this whole period and his frame of mind during that period.

June 12, 1942:

When we were alone together once more, I asked Quezon why, when he was on Corregidor and refused the Japanese offer of “independence with honor,” he had been so sure in staking the whole future on confidence in a positive victory over Japan. He replied: “It is the intelligence of the average American and the limitless resources of your country which decided me. The Americans are, of course, good soldiers, as they showed in Europe during the last war, but as for courage, all men are equally courageous if equally well led. Merely brave men certainly know how to die–but the world is not run by dead men.” He cited the case of the Spartans and the Athenians. “What became of the Spartans?” And then he added that in making on Corregidor that momentous decision, he “wasn’t sure.”

It seems Harrison was quite interested in this question and on June 22, 1942 he got Quezon to expound on the situation in February at greater length:

Exchange of cables between Quezon in Corregidor and Roosevelt: Quezon advised him that he was in grave doubts as to whether he should encourage his people to further resistance since he was satisfied that the United States could not relieve them; that he did not see why a nation which could not protect them should expect further demonstrations of loyalty from them. Roosevelt in reply, said he understood Quezon’s feelings and expressed his regret that he could not do much at the moment. He said: “go ahead and join them if you feel you must.” This scared MacArthur. Quezon says: “If he had refused, I would have gone back to Manila.” Roosevelt also promised to retake the Philippines and give them their independence and protect it. This was more than the Filipinos had ever had offered them before: a pledge that all the resources and man power of United States were back of this promise of protected independence. So Quezon replied: “I abide by your decision.”

I asked him why he supposed Roosevelt had refused the joint recommendation of himself and MacArthur. He replied that he did not know the President’s reasons. Osmeña and Roxas had said at the time that he would reject it. Roosevelt was not moved by imperialism nor by vested interests, nor by anything of that sort. Probably he was actuated by unwillingness to recognize anything Japan had done by force (vide Manchuria). Quezon thinks that in Washington only the Chief of Staff (General Marshall) who received the message from MacArthur in private code, and Roosevelt himself, knew about this request for immediate independence.

When Quezon finally got to the White House, Roosevelt was chiefly concerned about Quezon’s health. Roosevelt never made any reference to their exchange of cables.

Quezon added that, so far as he was aware, the Japanese had never made a direct offer to the United States Government to guarantee the neutrality of the Philippines, but many times they made such an offer to him personally.

“It was not that I apprehended personally ill treatment from the Japanese” said Quezon; “What made me stand was because I had raised the Philippine Army–a citizen army–I had mobilized them in this war. The question for me was whether having called them, I should go with this army, or stay behind in Manila with my people. I was between the Devil and the deep sea. So I decided that I should go where the army did. That was my hardest decision–my greatest moral torture. I proposed by cable to President Roosevelt that the United States Government should advise the Japanese that they had granted independence to the Philippines. This should have been done before the invasion and immediately after the first Japanese attack by air. The Japanese had repeatedly offered to guarantee the neutrality of an independent Philippines. This was what they thought should be done.” Quezon is going to propose the passage by Congress of a Joint Resolution, as they did in the case of Cuba, that “the Philippines are and of right out to be independent” and that “the United States would use their armed forces to protect them.”

When asked by Shuster to try to describe his own frame of mind when he was told at 5:30 a.m. Dec. 8 of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Quezon said he had never believed that the Japanese would dare to do it; but since they had done so, it was at once evident that they were infinitely more powerful than had been supposed– therefore he immediately perceived that the Philippines were probably doomed.

The question of the not just future, but present, status of the Philippines, particularly in light of the de facto government set up by the Japanese in Manila, led to this entry on February 25, 1943: in his diary, Harrison hears that,

It appears that Justice Frank Murphy presented to Roosevelt the plan for the recent announcement that Roosevelt has already recognized the Philippines as possessing the attributes of an independent nation by putting Quezon on the Pacific War Council and asking him to sign the United Nations declaration.

The United States published some of the documents cited above, and others, in a compendium covering the period from December 12, 1941, to December 12, 1942, which provides an insight into the internal discussions taking place in Washington and between Washington and Corregidor: See Official US-PH correspondence to open the PDF file of documents as published.

A postscript would come in the form a radio broadcast beamed to occupied Philippines. See the Inaugural Address of President Manuel L. Quezon, November 15, 1943:

I realize how sometimes you must have felt that you were being abandoned.  But once again I want to assure you that the Government and people of the United States have never forgotten their obligations to you. General MacArthur has been constantly asking for more planes, supplies and materials in order that he can carry out his one dream, which is to oust the Japanese from our shores.  That not more has been done so far is due to the fact that it was simply a matter of inability to do more up to the present time.  The situation has now changed. I have it on good authority that General MacArthur will soon have the men and material he needs for the reconquest of our homeland. I have felt your sufferings so deeply and have constantly shared them with you that I have been a sick man since I arrived in Washington, and for the last five months I have been actually unable to leave my bed. But sick as I was, I have not for a moment failed to do my duty. As a matter of fact the conference which resulted in the message of President Roosevelt was held practically in my bedroom. Nobody knows and feels as intensely as I do your sufferings and your sacrifices, how fiercely the flame of hate and anger against the invader burns in your hearts, how bravely you have accepted the bitter fact of Japanese occupation. I know your hearts are full of sorrow, but I also know your faith is whole. I ask you to keep that faith unimpaired. Freedom is worth all our trials, tears and bloodshed. We are suffering today for our future generations that they may be spared the anguish and the agony of a repetition of what we are now undergoing. We are also building for them from the ruins of today and thus guarantee their economic security. For the freedom, peace, and well-being of our generations yet unborn, we are now paying the price. To our armed forces, who are fighting in the hills, mountains and jungles of the Philippines, my tribute of admiration for your courage and heroism. You are writing with your sacrifices another chapter in the history of the Philippines that, like the epic of Bataan, will live forever in the hearts of lovers of freedom everywhere.

 


Evacuation of the Gold Reserves of the Commonwealth, February 3, 1942

Commonwealth War Cabinet-in-exile: (r. to l. ) Defense Secretary Gen. Basilio J. Valdes, Resident Commissioner Joaquin Elizalde, President Manuel L. Quezon, Vice President Sergio Osmeña, Finance Secretary Andres Soriano, Auditor-General Jaime Hernandez. Washington, D.C, May, 1942.

(revised and updated February 3, 2017)

Watch: British Pathe newsreel: Treasure Submarine, 1942.

The February 3, 1942 diary entry of Gen. Basilio J. Valdes mentions a “secret and delicate mission:”

At 10 p.m. I was already in bed when the phone rang. It was the Chief Justice telling me to get dressed as we had to go to the vault, to perform a secret and delicate mission. I dressed hurriedly met them at the entrance of the Malinta tunnel and we proceeded by car for the vault. The guards were surprised at our unannounced visit. A few minutes after we arrived, Commander Parker U.S. Navy and some men with two station wagons arrived followed closely to the Staff of the U.S. High Commissioner. We worked incessantly all night. The work was performed with military proficiency, no noise, no conversations. We finished our mission at 4:30 a.m. What a relief! I returned home very tired and exhausted.

This was the transfer of the gold reserves of the Philippine Government from vaults in Corregidor to a U.S. submarine, which brought the reserves to the United States.

The genesis if this article was a meaty exchange with a reader about the prewar gold reserves of the Philippines some years ago. The reader emailed me this query, which I reproduce in full:

Dear Manolo, I’ll go direct to the point. Please help me unravel a mystery that has not only aroused my curiosity but baffled me as well. With your considerable reputation as a historical sleuth, I’m confident you can solve or otherwise clear this up. Whatever will be the outcome will make for a good thriller. Of that I’m sure. The mystery concerns what I call our national treasure consisting of some 20 tons of gold bars. This represents our country’s entire gold reserve at the time and quite possibly the total output of all the gold mines operating in the Philippines. The fabled Yamashita treasure, which in all likelihood is just a figment of the imagination, seems like loose change compared to the enormous value of this real-life treasure which may exceed 20 billion U.S. dollars using the current price of gold per kilo. When Bataan, Corrigedor, Manila and the rest of the Philippines were about to fall to the Japanese in 1942, all the gold bars were removed from the Central bank located then at the port area in Manila and ferried by a navy vessel to Corrigedor. The precious cargo was loaded onboard the U.S. submarine U.S.S. Trout. On February 22, 1942, it left Corrigedor for Guam. Also aboard were President Manuel L. Quezon, his family and a few, select members of his wartime cabinet. President Quezon and his party, however, landed at Cagayan de Oro and then motored to the highlands of Bukidnon where they were flown to Australia. From there, they went to America where President Quezon lived in exile until his death at Lake Saranac in New York in 1944. So much has been written about the harrowing and exciting escapes of Pres. Quezon and General Douglas MacArthur from the “Rock” fortress, the latter by PT boat. Both were highly-secret naval operations to save the two from eventual capture by the enemy. But little, if none at all, is known about the enormous cargo of gold which President Quezon obviously brought with him. It seems this was the bigger secret, and it is not far-fetched to think that the Japanese were also after it. The gold bars reached Guam and were transferred to the heavy Cruiser USS Michigan which sailed on to San Francisco where they were finally off-loaded at the wharf there. This is where my story ends, and the mystery begins. Where did the shipment go from San Francisco? Were the 20 tons of gold all brought to Fort Knox where gold bullions such as these are generally known to be stored for safe-keeping or somewhere else in the United States? Assuming that they were indeed kept at Fort Knox, what happened to them after the war? Were they ever returned to the Philippines? If so, when and by what means? There should be a paper trail in this secret odyssey of our national treasure. The Central Bank should or ought to know the whole story. The time has come to tell this in its entirety. Whether by design or plain oversight, we’ve been kept in the dark for close to 63 years. History abhors a mystery. So do I and, of course, you. I will be vastly relieved if this story has a happy ending; that our national treasure is intact afterall and has not been lost or stolen. Kindly take over where I left off at the wharf in San Francisco and finish the whole drama to its conclusive ending whatever that may be: either good or one more national disgrace.

Very truly yours,

FERNANDO A. ALMEDA, JR.

President Surigaonon Heritage Center

Parola Boulevard, Surigao City

My response was as follows:

Thank you for your letter. The disposition of the Philippine Treasury (its transfer from Manila to Corregidor, and the transfer of a large portion of it to the United States) was accomplished by a committee presided over by Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos (in his capacity as Secretary of Justice and Finance in the War Cabinet) and included Manuel Roxas. Treasury certificates and paper currency were burned after being itemized and notarized in a list. Coinage was dumped in the sea (where some of it was salvaged by the japanese, the majority of the coinage, however, being salvaged by the US Navy after the war). President Quezon did not leave on the same submarine on which the Philippine bullion reserves was transported. The submarine you mentioned, the USS Trout, was not the submarine he traveled on, the USS Swordfish. Neither did Philippine officials leave on the same date as the shipment of Philippine gold reserves to the USA.

You will find descriptions of this process in the published biography of Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos by Justice Ramon Aquino:

Part of Abad Santos’s work on Corregidor as secretary of finance was the custody and disbursement of government funds. With [Vice President] Sergio Osmena, [Philippine Army Chief of Staff] Basilio Valdes, Jr., [Colonel] Manuel Nieto, and members of the American High Commissioner’s staff, he checked the gold bullions and silver coins deposited in Corregidor. He supervised the shipment of these by submarine to the United States. He superintended the burning of about forty million pesos in paper bills.

Justice Aquino’s sources are the Philippines Free Press February 17, 1951 and Carlos P. Romulo’s I saw the Philippines fall. Indeed in most histories of this period the transfer of government funds from Manila to Corregidor and then to the USA is mentioned, and the care with which this was done, noted. As early as 1942, in the book Serpent of the Seas, by Commander Harley Cope, USN, you will find this (pp.222-225):

Another of our asiatic submarines had a unique assignment. Lieutenant Commander Frank W. “Mike” Fenno was given the job of evacuating the precious metal belonging to the Treasury of the Philippines and the banks from the Islands before the Japanese got their hands on it. This tall, sloping shouldered ex-captain of a champion Naval Academy baseball team –and who pitched our Asiatic Submarine baseball team to a Fleet victory when I was out there in the s-40– had been currently bringing in ammunition for the anti-aircraft guns on Corregidor. The shells were also worth their weight in gold. The Japanese knew of course that there was a large amount of gold stored on Corregidor and in the bank vaults of Manila. Needless to say they were most desirous to obtain it. Efforts to prevent the Japanese from getting the gold were under way immediately after the war begun. American and Filipino stevedores worked day and night collecting metals, currency and securities belonging to the Philippine Commonwealth, to banks and mines and individuals. On the night of February 4th, Captain Ferino brought his submarine into the harbor on the south hook of Corregidor, unloaded his precious cargo of much-needed anti-aircraft ammunition and took on gold and silver. Before the morning’s early light could expose the submarine to the eyes of Japanese patrolling planes it had slid out of the harbor and remained submerged during the day. After nightfall it was again alongside the dock and ton after ton of gold and silver was loaded aboard. This task was completed about 4 a.m. -too late to carry out the next assignment. The next night the submarine kept a rendesvous with an auxiliary vessel carrying the securities that were to be evacuated. Mr. Woodbury Willoughby, former financial adviser to Mr. Francis B. Sayre, Philippine [High] Commissioner, to whom the Navy gave much credit for collecting the wealth of the Philippines, was on the auxiliary vessel and described the submarine’s appearance in the dark. ‘When nightfall came,’ related Mr. Willoughby, ‘the auxiliary vessel sailed from Corregidor to the rendezvous with her load of securities. The submarine did not make her appearance immediately. But, after a while, the dark hulk of the submarine pushed through the surface. ‘It took about 20 minutes to transfer the securities. Then Commander Fenno made a remark I’ll never forget. His crew had gone below and he was standing by the conning tower preparatory to giving the order to submerge. ‘Any passengers?’ hr asked cheerfully. Any of us would have been glad to get aboard that submarine but it was not for us to leave. We had to tell him no.’ During the long trip from Manila to Pearl Harbor several Japanese ships came within range of the American submarine and Captain Fenno lost no time in sending them to the bottom. The mere presence of tons of gold aboard could not keep my good friend ‘Mike’ out of a fight. On March 20 Commander Fenno was awared the Distinguished [Navy] Cross for his entire crew of six officers and sixty-four men received Silver Stars for the feat of spiriting out a vast treasure of gold and silver from Corregidor right under the nose of the Japanese forces, and then sinking three of their ships.

Incidentally you will note that the Swordfish was commanded by Capt. Chester Smith, and that it left Corregidor Feb. 19, nearly two weeks after the departure of the bullion. The circumstances surrounding the transfer of the Treasury are documented in The Sixth Annual Report of the United States High Commission to the Philippine Island to the President and Congress of the United States, Covering the Fiscal Year July 1, 1941 to June 30, 1942 Washington D.C., October 20, 1942 (pp. 48 to 58 chronicles this in extreme detail; the relevant portion as per your inquiry follows): (pp.57-58)

“BULLION AND CURRENCY HELD BY COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT ON CORREGIDOR

“In addition to the valuables taken to Corregidor by the Office of the High Commissioner, a large amount of gold, silver, and paper currency was held there by the Commonwealth Government and was never turned over to the Office of the High Commissioner for safekeeping. Ther gold and sliver, which served as currency reserves, were on Corregidor, in the Philippine Treasury Reservations on that Island, before the war started. The gold comrpised 269 bars with an indicated weight of 1,343,493.95 grams and was derived from the melting of $805,410 face value of United States gold coins held by the Commonwealth Government at the time of the devaluation of the dollar in 1933. The silver was in the form of 1-peso coins an aggregate face value of P16,422.000. There were several small pieces of gold and silver in addition to the above. All of the gold and a large amount of 1-peso coins were loaded under the supervision of Commonwealth officials, headed by Vice President Osmena, and were sent to the United States as ballast on the same submarine which carried the gold held by the High Commissioner.

“It Is believed that the Philippine paper money in the Treasury reservation was brought to Corregidor by the Commonwealth officials who accompanied President Quezon when he was evacuated from Manila. It appears from the records supplied by the Commowealth government that there was, early in Jaunary 1942, P78,261,825 in Philippine paper currency of various denominations held by the Commonwealth in its vaults on the Treasury reservation. This was subsequently increased by P19,900,000 clearing house funds, as noted above, making a total of P98,161,825.

“Twenty million pesos, all in Philippine Treasury certificates of P500 denomination, are reported to have been burned on January 19 and 20, 1942, on Corregidor by a committee designated by the President of the Philippines [footnote 17: The committee consisted of Messrs. Sergio Osmena, Vice President of the Philippines, Jose Abad Santos, Acting Secretary of Finance; E.D. Hester, Economic Adviser of the High Commissioner; and Col. H.F. Smith, United States Army). On January 21, 1942, it is reported that P500,000 were withdrawn from the Treasury Reservation and placed at the disposal of Mr. S.D. Canceran, special disbursing officer, Office of the President of the Philippines, to be disbursed by him for the purpose of paying of salaries and wages of officers, employees, and laborers of the Government, and for such other purposes as might legally be authorized. A message received from Corregidor in April [1942] indicates that prior to the capitulation of the fortress P50,097,925 in Philippine paper currency which was in the Treasury vaults was destroyed as well as P1,000,000 which was in a safe of the former Office of the President of the Philippines at Fort Mills, Corregidor.”

On pp. 118-119 the same report gives a full accounting of Philippine government funds in the United States; the gold is listed on a table on p. 118, in US dollars, at $1,360,621.08 and on p. 119:

“Currency Reserves in the United States. -When the Philippines are reoccupied it will almost certainly be necessary to adopt a new currency system. The Commonwealth government will be fortunate in having at its disposal for this purpose ample reserves now held in the United States. There were on deposit on June 30, 1942, in the United States Treasury $133,813,902.59, representing reserves of the Philippine currency. In addition, there was a small amount ($355,831.44) of currency reserves on deposit with a private bank in the United States and the United States Treasury is holding for the Commonwealth gold bullion valued at $1,360,621.08 [footnote 40: This gold was brought to the United States by submarine after the war with Japan started as described in the section of the report entitled”Program for the safekeeping of currency, gold, securities, and other valuables.” Its value has been computed at $35 an ounce. See pp. 46-57 of this report]. The total of these items is well in excess of the largest circulation of currency that there ever was in the Philippines. As has been noted earlier in this report, ther greatest circulation of which we have record was P200,445,432, equivalent to $100,222,716, on September 30, 1941. “The Commonwealth Government also has in storage in the United States a large number of silver 1 peso coins which were brought to the United States by submarine after the war started (see p. 57 above) After reoccupation of the Philippines it will be possible either to reissue these coins or melt and remint them.”

As for the disposition of government funds from 1942-45, the relevant executive issuances are in Executive Orders of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Manila, Bureau of Printing 1945 I hope this answers your inquiry to your satisfaction. There was no mystery surrounding the transfer of treasury funds as they were the currency reserves of the country. It was against the value of this gold that emergency wartime currency was issued by the guerrillas.

In response to the above, I was highly gratified to receive the following response:

Thank you likewise for your very kind, comprehensive and scholarly reply to my query. I’m completely satisfied that we have a happy ending here. Obviously, those were the times (perhaps just a golden memory) when public servants can be trusted with million of pesos of the people’s money. You’re absolutely right. President Quezon and party did not leave onboard the submarine USS Trout but the USS Swordfish. I assumed that he did so because the date of his departure was Feb. 22, 1942, about the same as the ETD of USS Trout. ThatÃ’s what I got for dealing with scanty and segmented data. Sorry. There’s no mystery about the great wartime of our national treasure NOW. That’s because you’ve cleared that. How many students of history know what you’ve just narrated? I’m not sure if this event was discussed at all in our history classes with the length and clarity you just did which has amply justified my description of you as a historical sleuth. And what about the technical documents and process by which the gold reserve and other funds were removed from the Central Bank and our country. That certainly is something we didn’t know before. Now we know better. Thanks to you. The lesson here seems to be: We should study our history more thoroughly and seriously. We can’t simply rely on you and a few other scholars to do so for us. Your narrative was gripping, accurate and thrilling – and worth the reading. I said that earlier. I’m not disappointed that the whole episode had a happy ending. And I’m relieved.

Highest esteem.

Fernando A. Almeda Jr.

As was I, as I didn’t know the answer in full until Atty. Almeda made me look into it!

On a final note, the compensation given to the Philippines due to the devaluation of the US dollar, which Romero mentioned in the first extract in this entry, was officially quantified in the High Commissioner’s report quoted in turn, above.

Additional documents I’ve encountered, concerning the disposition of currency notes, can be gleaned from the papers of President Quezon and of Andres Soriano, Acting Treasurer of the Philippines and then Secretary of Finance in the War Cabinet. They trace the story of the disposition of treasury funds during the hectic opening months of the war.

The situation faced by the Philippine government was threefold:

  1. Preventing Philippine government assets from falling into the hands of the Japanese.
  2. Safeguarding and accounting for the assets transferred to, or located in, Corregidor and brought ought for safekeeping in the United States or use in the field;
  3. Authorizing the continued expenses of the government in areas free from enemy control. This was done by virtue of the Emergency Powers granted the president.

The complexity of this can be gleaned from this selection of documents:

December 26, 1942: Memorandum from National Treasurer Serafin Marabut on currency notes and certificates, and inventory for purposes of destruction to prevent capture by the enemy. Part 1, part 2, part 3.

December 31, 1941: Jorge B. Vargas writes from Manila about moving as much as possible from Manila to Corregidor before the arrival of the Japanese: part 1, part 2.

Undated, but likely December 31, 1942: Designating Vice-President Osmeña to hold keys to Treasury Vault in Corregidor.

January 1, 1942: Certification signed by Vice President Sergio Osmeña, Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, Gen. Basilio J. Valdes, of currency and coinage from Manila and received in Corregidor.

February 4, 1942: Transmittal receipt of government gold reserves transferred to safekeeping of submarine commander.

February 12, 1942: Memorandum to Gen. MacArthur arranging for inventory of contents of Treasury Vault.

February 17, 1942: Letter of appreciation on cooperation in conducting inventory of Treasury Vault.

February 19, 1942: Soriano appointed, ad interim, Treasurer of the Philippines.

March 8, 1942: Authority to constitute the Currency Committee for the provinces of Mindanao.

Cebu City, March 10, 1942: Treasurer’s Receipt. Part 1, part 2.

March 15, 1942: A treasurer’s report.

March 16, 1942: Appointing the Currency Committee for the Provinces of Mindanao.

March 24, 1942: Counterpart No. 1, Counterpart No. 2a and No. 2b, Counterpart No. 3, Counterpart No. 4, Del Monte, Bukidnon.

March 24, 1942: In the event the military situation indicates that the Commonwealth Government funds are in danger of being captured by the enemy, the Commanding General. Mindanao Force, may order destruction, by a Committee of Three who will certify that the funds have been destroyed by them personally.

March 26, 1942: Counterpart No. 5 and 5b, Counterpart No 6,  Counterpart No. 7, Counterpart No. 8, Del Monte, Bukidnon. Andres Soriano appointed Secretary of Finance ad interim.

April 19, 1942: Letter to MacArthur authorizing Joseph McMicking to disburse Commonwealth government funds for contingencies. Part 1, part 2.

April 20, 1942: Unnumbered Executive Order establishing contingency fund in Australia.

May 21, 1942: Submission of documents to the Auditor General in Washington. Part 1, part 2.

November 20, 1942: Excerpt from minutes of Cabinet Meeting at the Shoreham.

January 8, 1942: Excerpt from minutes of Cabinet Meeting at the Shoreham.

January, 1946: Ten months of President Osmeña’s Administration.

June 3, 1946: First State of the Nation Address of Manuel Roxas (see also Shirley Jenkins’ 1952 book):

In regard to emergency and guerrilla currency, we asked in Washington for the speediest determination by the War Department of its share of the obligation incurred. As soon as this determinati6n is made, we shall enter into negotiations with the United States looking forward to the redemption of this money or of such a percentage of it as will be fair and equitable to those who received it in payment for goods or services. Meanwhile I will recommend to the Congress, if it proves necessary, steps to prevent the further drift of this currency into the hands of speculators and profiteers. I issue this warning now: That we will take every precaution against the realization of even a cent of profit by those whohave purchased for speculative purposes the currency which helped gain the victory.

The matter of guerrilla currency is not our only problem involving currency. It is necessary that this nation, when it becomes independent, have an entirely new currency as soon as practicable, replacing both the pre-war currency and the present victory money. We entered into negotiations with Treasury Department officials in Washington and have made tentative arrangements for the printing of a new issue of money by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. Special legislation will be required to authorize the issue.

C


September 13, 1969 — Saturday

I had a bad night. I slept two hours in the arm chair under continuous oxygen. I wanted to rest in bed longer during the morning but I had to introduce Doctor Pacis to Sister Ingoberga at the hospital and then rush back to Cancer Clinic to see a patient from China Bank.

I had a light luncheon , and a two hour siesta. At 4:30 p.m. I met John G. Brimo in his office and we went to Luneta for some fresh sea air. We parted at 6 p.m. as he had a dinner engagement.


May 29, 1969 — Thursday

I had an excellent night last night. I slept in bed for long stretches and woke up at 5 a.m. very well rested.

At 9 a.m. I went to Oceanic Commercial central office at Pasong Tamo for my  weekly consultations. Returned home for a needed rest before lunch. It continues to be very hot, with the temperature 100 degrees Fahrenheit or very near. We needed rain very badly. This prolonged dry weather is hard on the farmers. In our Hacienda del Carmen in Pampanga, this prolonged lack of rain is interfering with planting of sugar cane.

At 4 p.m. went to China Banking Corporation and returned home early, to wait for former Ambassador to Spain, Colonel Manuel Nieto, who arrived by plane last night and wanted to see me. We were both very happy to see each other. I did not inquire about his illness.

I had the surprise visit of Nonong Quezon.


June 25, 1945 Monday

It is reported in the newspapers that prices in Manila are very high. Meat costs ₱8.00 per kilo; fish ₱4.00, etc. It is also reported that more than one million people live in Manila. They must be suffering very much. I am worried about my family. The immediate cause of course is the operation of the law of supply and demand. Goods, especially foodstuffs are not produced or brought to Manila fast enough to keep up with the demand and buying power of the people. But the main cause is inflation which generally accompanies wars. But there are different ways of combatting inflation, at least of minimizing the effects of inflation. Apparently, the necessary measures are not being adopted. I shall discuss more fully the inflation problem.

It is reported that Don Vicente Singson Encarnacion was appointed Secretary of Agriculture, and ex-Representative and ex-Governor Marcelo Adduru as Secretary of Labor. As constituted, the rest of the Cabinet is as follows: Interior, Confesor; Finance, Jaime Hernandez; Justice, Delfin Jaranilla, Acting; Public and Communications, Cabahug; National Defense, Cabili; Health and Welfare, Gen. Basilio Valdes, and Public Instruction and Information, Maximo Kalaw. The general comment is that it is a very poor Cabinet. The present Cabinet is not a credit to the appointing power. Probably, service as “guerrillero” has been the predominating consideration. Also political consideration must have entered into the selection. There are some that believe Pres. Osmeña had also been swayed by personal considerations. I hope the present Cabinet will show that in accomplishment it is not behind other Cabinets.

I had been giving a description of some newcomers. Among the latest newcomers are boys of eighteen of less. Should they not be separated so that the youth would not be under the malevolent influence of hardened criminals. There is a very old man who is a paralytic. He could hardly walk to the mess. I do not know whether he was effective in the performance of activities attributed to him. Certainly he cannot render any effective service now. I would release him even under parole. The detention of these persons seem to be un-American.

At this juncture, I would like to mention again an old timer, Gov. Jose Urquico. He is suffering from tuberculosis of the vertebrae—spinal cord. He is very sick as testified by American Army doctors who have have examined and X-rayed him in the military hospital at Iwahig. He is getting weaker and he may die soon. He cannot be treated here, but he is afraid to go to a hospital in Manila as he may be placed again among foreign war prisoners as what happened to him before they brought him to Iwahig. For the sake of humanity, he should be released so that he can be given proper food and be attended to in his home.

In connection with the election of Jose Zulueta as Speaker, it will be remembered that I had to withdraw from the race on account of the fact that Pres. Quezon, then President of the Senate, and I were both Tagalogs and from the same Senatorial District. It was feared that this would weaken the party. The election of Zulueta means that regional considerations and politics no longer prevail as he, like Roxas, President of the Senate, are both Visayans and come from the same Senatorial District.

Tonight there was cinematograph show at the Recreation Hall. The films were good, especially the main feature. It explains the victory of the United States—many equipment and the most modern. Their firing power is tremendous. The tanks emit flames which are very destructive and deadly.


December 10, 1944 — Sunday

77th Division is probing south. The 7th Division moving northward has captured Albuera. Enemy pinched between has great losses. In the North the 32nd Division captured a field battery & large dumps of ammunition and supplies.