The sinking of the S.S. Corregidor, December 16-17, 1941

The S.S. Corregidor of the Compañia Maritima, which sank on December 16, 1941. Photo from Chad Hill.
The S.S. Corregidor of the Compañia Maritima, which sank on December 16, 1941. Photo from Chad Hill.

On December 16-17, 1941 (around midnight, hence the event straddling two dates), the S.S. Corregidor, an inter-island steamship of the Compañia Maritima, hit a mine off Corregidor Island and sank, resulting in a tremendous loss of life.

Here is a map of the area (click on this link for the original scan).

Detail of sketch of minefields around Corregidor island, provided by Peter Parsons.
Detail of sketch of minefields around Corregidor island, provided by Peter Parsons.

There is a very interesting discussion on the disaster, and the question of whether negligence was involved, and if so, who should be assigned blame, in the The Loss of the S.S. Corregidor thread of Corregidor Then and Now Proboards. Within the thread can be found recollections by George Steiger (an officer in Corregidor), Charles Balaza (serving in an artillery detachment on Corregidor) and others.

Here is a dramatic account by one of the survivors of the sinking of the ship, in the memoirs of Jose E. Romero (Not So Long Ago: A Chronicle of My Life, Times, and Contemporaries, Alemar-Phoenix, Quezon City, 1997 reprint):

The S.S. Corregidor Disaster

WAR HAVING BEEN DECLARED, the next day the National Assembly met at the house of Speaker Yulo to pass legislation giving the President powers to be able to cope with emergency. After that the members of Assembly were concerned with the problem of returning home to their provinces and their families. I was very much chagrined that close friends of mine had been able to take passage on the S.S. Legaspi that was making trips to my hometown, Dumaguete, via Cebu, a trip that took two days, without having difficulty from Japanese boats and planes. I was also chagrined to learn that my good friend, the District Engineer of my province who had come to Manila with me a few days previously, had been able to get out of Manila by way of the Bicol provinces and then made it to Samar and Leyte and back to our home province. A few days later, another boat was scheduled to depart for the South, including my hometown of Dumaguete. Passengers, including myself, were aboard when an hour later we were told to disembark by order of the U.S. Army, probably for fear of enemy action.

Inasmuch as the Japanese had already bombed Clark Field, Camp Nichols, Cavite, and Manila itself, particularly the Intendencia building and the Herald building and Santo Domingo Church, I thought it would be safer, being alone in Manila with my houseboys, for me to live in my office in the Legislative building. (The basement at the Legislative building had been sandbagged and was converted into an air-raid shelter.) I immediately arranged with the late Ramon Fernandez, whose boats were making trips to the Visayas, to advise me whenever any of his boats made a trip for the South, but this he never did. I had also arranged with my good friend, Salvador Araneta, who was then one of the principal owners of the FEATI (Far East Aviation Transport Co., Inc.), which owned the planes making trips between Manila, Iloilo, and Bacolod, to advise me whenever there was a chance to get on one of those planes. I was very much worried because, as already stated, I had come to Manila immediately after the election, and being very confident that in case of emergency I could easily return to my province either by a FEATI plane or by boat, I had not made sufficient provision for the maintenance of my family during my absence. In any event we had used up practically all of our financial resources during the political campaign and I had precisely come to Manila, among other things, to make arrangements to meet my immediate financial problems.

Although Mr. Araneta did his best to try to get an accommodation for me on the plane to the South, the man actually running the affairs of the FEATI was so swamped with demands for passage on his planes that even Mr. Araneta’s recommendation could not help me. One night I received a message from Mr. Araneta advising me that if I would go to Batangas that night, I might be able to get a passage on a plane. (The Manila airfield at Nichols had been bombed and was not safe for takeoff and landing of planes.) This was very difficult because the country was then under blackout orders, it was not safe to travel at night, and there was no certainty that I would get on the plane. It was the last trip that the plane made, so I missed this chance.

One day the member of the Assembly were advised that a special train was being reserved for us to go to Sorsogon. From there we could get launches or sailboats for Samar, Leyte, and our respective provinces in the Visayas. At the appointed day and hour many of us gathered at the Paco Station and we were hardly seated in the car when we were asked to come down because the Japanese had landed in Legaspi. A couple of days later, I saw my colleagues who like me had been living in the Legislative building rushing toward the Compañia Maritima office. One of them shouted to me that the S.S. Corregidor was leaving for the South. I immediately packed up the few things that I had and, together with a cousin of mine and his daughter who were living with me in the Legislative building, hied myself to the Compañia Maritima building. It was chaos there, with hundreds of people trying to get into the building to buy a ticket for the trip. A security guard, gun in hand, was at the door trying to prevent people from going into the building. I explained to him that I had an arrangement with Don Ramon Fernandez to get on the first boat going to the south, but he said that he knew nothing about the arrangement and would not let me in. My cousin, his daughter, and I left the building very disappointed when a little farther on we met Don Ramon’s nephew, Carlos, who today is still active with the shipping company. I explained my situation to him and he asked me whether I was really anxious to go on that trip. When I answered in the affirmative, he personally took me inside the office and helped me get a ticket for myself, my cousin, and his daughter. I also bought a ticket for a fellow townsman who wanted to return home but was without funds. But the danger of the trip was made manifest by our being asked to sign a waiver of any responsibility on the part of the shipping company in case a mishap occurred during the trip.

From the Compañia Maritima office and the Muelle de la Industria, we went to the South Harbor where the S.S. Corregidor was docked. There were hundreds of people and it seemed that there were many who got aboard even without tickets. I was delighted to find aboard Senator Villanueva, his recently married son and daughter, and their household help. He told me that he had been trying to contact me repeatedly the last few days, because he was anxious that we should go home together. In times of emergency like this, personal animosities among relatives are forgotten and the old family ties reassert themselves. I also met Captain Calvo of the boat, who had been a longtime friend of mine, with his pretty young wife that he had just married. He told me that I must be anxious to get back home under such conditions of danger. I told him that if he and his wife, my relatives and other people were willing to take the chance, there was no reason why I should not do the same. The boat was being located with ammunition and other military equipment for the South. I was quite nervous and I was told later that he had not wanted to make that trip. This probably partly explains why he was taking his wife along with him. I was also told later that on previous occasions, while passing the mined sections around Corregidor he had been warned that he was passing too close to the mines.

Probably the trip would not have been as risky as it was surmised. The plan was to land at the first port in the South at daybreak and from there the passengers would take sailboats or other means of transportation to the provinces which were still unoccupied by the Japanese. There were many times more passengers than should ordinarily have been allowed aboard. We stayed aboard for several hours and strict blackout was observed. Senator Villanueva and his family and I and my cousin with his daughter seated ourselves directly in front of a lifeboat as we thought we could quickly get on it in case of emergency. We were all furnished life belts and hundreds of other life belts were strewn around the deck. About midnight the boat started to leave in pitch darkness. I was half-asleep but noticed that light signals were being flashed from what I think was Corregidor Island. I was to learn afterward that the signals were to warn the captain of the boat that he was not on the right track. (The passage between Corregidor and the mainland in Manila Bay had been mined.) All of a sudden there was a dull thud and then an explosion. We had hit a mine. The boat shuddered as if mortally wounded. It did not sink immediately and the group already referred to who were seated near a lifeboat got aboard it.

Before the boat left, as already stated, we had been supplied with life belts. My companions were very prudent in having attached the life belts to their bodies, but I only held mine in my hands. A husky Spaniard had been saying that this was a bad joke we were playing with the life belts, but I told him that it was customary, even in peacetime, to have drill aboard the ships and practice the use of life belts. When we hit the mine this husky man grabbed my life belt, since he had not taken the precaution to provide one for himself. I insisted that the life belt was mine, but he claimed that it was his and proposed that we throw the life belt into the water, confident that later on, if we had to struggle for that life belt, as a much huskier man he would have the advantage. But the man from my province, whom I had helped to get a ticket on that trip and for which ticket I had paid, handed me another life belt. Again it was grabbed by another person. This faithful protege of mine handed me another one and still another one, but each time somebody would grab the life belt away from me. Remembering that I was the only one without a life belt and recalling that hundreds of life belts had been scattered on the deck in the early evening, I went down to the deck to see if I could find another life belt. At this moment, there was a second and more terrible explosion. It seemed that it was the boiler that exploded and the boat immediately sank headlong into the water. We were all drawn by the suction and had the water in those parts been deeper, we could not have returned to the surface.

When the boat reached the bottom and there was no more force of suction, I instinctively swam with all my force toward the surface, and when I reached the surface after what seemed an endless effort to reach it, it seemed this was a second life for me. Right in front of me was a life belt and a piece of board just enough for me to lie down on. If ever there are or were miracles, this certainly was one. I had gone into the water without a life belt and here right in front of me was the board of salvation and a life belt. I did not realize it then, but I had ugly cut in the head which must have been caused when the boat touched the bottom and my head hit something hard. I was too weak to tie on my life belt and it was really the board that saved me. I was too weak from loss of blood, so I only hung on to the board which, as I said, was just sufficient to keep my body afloat. Fortunately, it was as long as my body so that my body covered it almost entirely, otherwise other people who were floating around without support might have tried to grab it from me. I just lay over that board semi-conscious for several hours. Fortunately, the sharks that infest these waters must have been kept away by the explosion and by the oil from the sunken ship. About four hours later. I felt as if there were some bright lights. It was one of the P.T. or so-called mosquito boats that had been sent to rescue the survivors. I looked up and one of the American crewmen threw me a life belt which was tied to a rope that he held. I took hold of the life belt and he pulled me toward the boat. I must have looked like a real mess, covered all over with oil from the boat that sank and with the blood of my head over my face. I just lay there on that boat while we were being taken to Corregidor. It was just beginning to dawn when we docked at the harbor of Corregidor. I will never forget, especially after seeing the callousness and cruelty of the Japanese later, seeing one of the American soldiers who had come to the dock to meet the survivors take particular notice of me, saying, “This man is badly hurt.” He immediately ran up the gangplank, took me in his arms, loaded me into the car that he was driving, and then rushed me like mad to the hospital in Malinta Tunnel. The others who were not so badly hurt were taken to Manila. Only about one-third of some one thousand people that were in the S.S. Corregidor were saved. Senator Villanueva and his son, my cousin and his daughter, as well as two of my colleagues, Representatives Ampig and Reyes of Iloilo and Capiz, respectively, perished in the disaster, as did the wife and children of Representative Dominador Tan. Representative Zaldivar, later Justice of the Supreme Court, survived.

In Corregidor Hospital

At the hospital in Malinta Tunnel, which I revisited later, the wound in my scalp was sewn up by a kind American doctor. Fortunately, the wound was only skin-deep and did not fracture my skull. When a Filipino nurse found out who I was, she made a lot of fuss about it and many people were soon coming to see me. (Much later when I was Secretary of Education, on a visit to Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, I was fortunate to see her again with her husband.) Two of the young officers who visited me in Corregidor were from my town and province. A medic or medical assistant, an American, took very kind interest in me. (To anticipate my story, when I left Corregidor Hospital ten days after I entered it, I was to wear his civilian clothes as I had none of my own. I gave him my address and after the war when the House of Representatives, of which I was a member, was reconvened, one day an American came to my office and greeted me joyously. When I could not quite remember him, he said, “I was the one who sewed up your head in Corregidor.” It was a happy reunion. He gave me his address in the U.S. to which he was returning and when I was Ambassador to London, I unfailingly sent him a Christmas card. I did not receive any reply from him, but after the third or fourth time I sent him a card, I got a reply explaining that the reason he did not acknowledge my previous cards was that he did not know the address of the Philippine Embassy in London, not realizing that it would have been sufficient for him just to put the Philippine Embassy as address. He told me that he was working somewhere in the Middle East and was doing pretty well financially.)

I developed a slight case of pneumonia, but thanks to the sulfa drugs that had just recently been discovered, this danger to my health was averted.

To return to my story, next to my bed at the hospital was that of Captain Kelly of the United States Navy, a man made famous by a book written in the United States by American escapee during the War, entitled They Were Expendable—a bestseller. Like many Americans in Corregidor, they were still confident that military aid would come from the United State and that the Philippines would be retaken. But this was not to be for more than three years.

During my ten-day stay in Corregidor, from December 17, the day of the sinking of the Corregidor, until December 27 when we were ordered to evacuate to Manila, many prominent officials went to Corregidor. Among those who visited me were the Commanding General of Corregidor and the U.S. High Commissioner, Francis B. Sayre, Vice-President Osmeña and his family, ex-Speaker Roxas, and Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos. President Quezon and his family, however, who also arrived at Corregidor on Christmas Eve, did not visit me. When casually one night I saw him and Mrs. Quezon, he did not even talk to me. I think he was ill and depressed when he saw me with my bandaged head and, perhaps thinking that I was more badly hurt than I really was, he simply was too depressed to talk to me. However, Mrs. Quezon who was seated next to me while we were seeing a movie just outside the entrance to Manila Tunnel during a lull in the bombing by the Japanese, held my hand and gave me words of comfort. From Vice-President Osmeña, I learned for the first time that my relatives by affinity, ex-Senator Villanueva and his son, had not survived the sinking of S.S. Corregidor, although the ex-Senator’s daughter-in-law, who was expecting a baby (and who is still very much alive), and two maids survived.

Christmas Eve was celebrated in Corregidor, and in my condition, away from my family, it was indeed a sad Christmas Eve for me. The singing of Christmas carols by the American and Filipino nurses and other personnel only added poignancy to my depressed spirit. On December 27 an order was received from General Douglas MacArthur for the evacuation of all civilians in Corregidor to Manila, as the Japanese were fast approaching Manila. The medic who took such interest in me suggested that I ask President Quezon to contact General MacArthur and get him to make an exception in my case by allowing me to stay in Corregidor. I contacted Mr. Roxas, who immediately got in touch with President Quezon and who in turn tried to get in touch with General MacArthur. However, General MacArthur was busy directing the withdrawal of USAFFE troops to Bataan and could not be contacted. Mr. Roxas urged me, however, to go to Manila. He said that I could get better medical treatment there and, besides, the boat leaving for Manila might be the last one that could make the trip as, with the arrival of the Japanese, Manila would be isolated from Corregidor. So I decided to leave.

We left again in pitch darkness, as complete blackout was ordered everywhere. I shall not forget another American soldier who took me in his car to the waiting ship and then removed his overcoat and placed it over me. After my experience on the S.S. Corregidor, to travel again in complete darkness could not but inspire fear in me, but we made the trip uneventfully. Upon arrival in the South Harbor, we were placed in a covered truck where it was also very dark. The driver had to stop at every street corner to find his way, and finally I was deposited at the Philippine General Hospital which was then under the direction of my good friend, the late Dr. Augusto Villalon. I was placed under the direct care of Dr. Santos Cuyugan, who was a specialist in wounds and burns. Because of the infection of my wound, it took about three months to heal, although it was only a superficial one

The Philippine Diary Project contains several points of view discussing the S.S. Corregidor disaster. The earliest one appears in an entry in the diary of Teodoro M. Locsin, December 16, 1941:

Today the inter-island vessel Corregidor struck a mine near the mouth of Manila Bay and sank in a few minutes. The ship was packed to the gunwales with passengers leaving the city for the southern islands, thus reintroducing the “Samarra” theme.

The number of people on board was estimated at from 600 to 1,000. The exact number may never be known. Government officials used their influence to make the ship’s agents issue them and their friends tickets. Many went up the gangplanks just before the boat sailed, thinking to get their tickets from the purser afterward, when the boat was out at sea. Each, in one way or another, properly sealed his fate.

Later in the day, I was shown a wire from a man in Iloilo asking a friend in the city to secure a ticket for his mistress on the Corregidor. The war caught the woman in Manila and the man wanted her with him. The friend, I need not say, got the ticket.

Locsin, then a young newsman in the Philippines Free Press, would have been among the first to receive important news. Others got the day after. Fr. Juan Labrador OP, December 17, 1941 mentions how most other people got the news, and details that shocked the public:

At noontime, an “extra” of the dailies announced the great catastrophe of the vessel “Corregidor”. This was the heaviest and fastest of the boats anchored at the river. It set sail the night before without previous notice. Nevertheless, it was teeming with passengers destined for the Visayas. Around midnight, it hit a mine near the island of Corregidor and in three to five minutes it was swallowed up by the black waters of Manila Bay. It cannot be ascertained how many lives were lost. The Compañía Marítima does not have a list of the passengers. Many had filtered in without paying the fare, or mounted aboard with the idea of paying later on. Only 200 passengers were rescued, and the number of those drowned is estimated at 600 to 800.

Among the passengers were assemblymen, students from the South, and well-known families, including the brothers of the Archbishop of Cebu, one of whom was a professor and secretary of the Faculty of Law of the University of Santo Tomas; the other was a member of the Assembly. The assemblyman drowned, but the faculty member of UST was saved after swimming and floating for six hours. Those who were trapped in the cabins—women and children, for the most part—are forever buried in the bosom of the sea. Even among those who were on deck and had time to jump overboard, many were drowned for lack of lifesavers or for their inabiity to resist the current of the waves.

It was the first great tragedy of the war, and God permit that it be the last.

A young officer in the Philippine Coastal Patrol (the fledgling Philippine Navy) wrote about the tragedy as he received the news from colleagues in the US Navy. See Ramon Alcaraz, December 17, 1941:

By night time, the tragedy was compounded by the sinking of S.S. Corregidor in our own defensive minefields guarding the entrance to Manila Bay west of Corregidor Fortress.  S.S. Corregidor is one of the best among our inter-island commercial vessels with civilian and military personnel aboard bound for Visayas and Mindanao.

Loaded also are Artillery pieces, equipment and supplies of the 101st FA, and other Vis-Min Units.  From initial scant report I got from my Mistah Alano, ExO of Q-111 that participated in the rescue, he said the ship hit a mine and sunk so fast virtually all passengers went down with the ship including her Captain.  There were very few survivors.  The mined area is under the responsibility of the Harbor Defense and PT RON 3.  I should know more details about this tragedy after I talk with some of my comrades on duty then at PT RON 3.

Five days later, Alcaraz had more information about the tragedy. See Ramon Alcaraz, December 22, 1941:

I also talked with Ens. George Cox, CO PT 41 on duty when S.S. Corregidor sunk five days ago.  He said PT 41 was leading the ill fated ship at the channel but suddenly, all at once, the S.S. Corregidor veered course towards the minefields and his efforts to stop her were to no avail.  There was a loud explosion after hitting a mine, the ship sank so fast virtually all aboard went with her including the ship captain. There were very few survivors.

Events would rapidly overtake the S.S. Corregidor disaster. See December 24-25, 1941 in diaries; The Great Escape of the S.S. Mactan: December 31, 1941Evacuation of the Gold Reserves of the Commonwealth, February 3, 1942The debate on taking the Philippines out of the war: February 6-12, 1942Bataan, 1942: views of a father and his son; Life, death, decisions, during the Japanese Occupation; Diary entries on the Leyte Landing: October, 1944; and The Battle of Manila, Feb. 3-March 3, 1945 for more features on entries in the Philippine Diary Project.

 


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.

 

 

 

 


Life, death, decisions, during the Japanese Occupation

Filipino officials and Japanese General Homma Masaharu at the former residence of the U.S. High Commissioner, January, 1942

In October, 2013, the country will mark the 70th anniversary of the so-called Second Republic established under Japanese auspices.

In anticipation of that event, the project aims to complete the publication of the Iwahig Prison Diary of Antonio de las Alas, a prominent prewar political and business figure, and member of the Laurel government. His diary, written while he was detained by Allied forces awaiting trial for collaboration, gives a thorough account of the dilemmas and choices made by officials who served during the Japanese Occupation, including their motivations and justifications for remaining in the government.

The diary of de las Alas goes backward and forward in time: starting on April 29, 1945 he details the tedium and petty bickering of prison life, he also gives an insight into politics and society during the Liberation Era, while extensively recounting his experiences during the Japanese Occupation.

Salvador H. Laurel, son of occupation president Jose P. Laurel, was tasked by his father to keep a diary of their going into exile at the hands of the Japanese (see entries from March 21, 1945 to August 17, 1945).

His account bears comparison with the conversations recorded by Francis Burton Harrison, prewar adviser to President Quezon, who again served as an adviser during World War II, when the Philippine government went into exile in Washington D.C. His entries covering the government-in-exile begin on May 30, 1942, and come to an end on May 31, 1944.

In the Philippine Diary project, other diarists put forward different facets of life in the Philippines during the Japanese Occupation.

Charles Gordon Mock, an American originally imprisoned together with other Allied civilians in the University of Santo Tomas, details his experiences as a prisoner-of-war transferred to Los Baños on May 14, 1943.

The experiences of soldiers and guerrillas are captured in the diary entries of Ramon Alcaraz –his entries chronicle the transformation of a prisoner-of-war into a soldier serving in the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Constabulary: and how he used his Constabulary postings for guerrilla activities (the progression of this development can be gleaned from a sampling of entries: June 30, 1942; August 3, 1942; August 30, 1942; February 20, 1943).

The diary of Felipe Buencamino III ends with his first few weeks as a prisoner-of-war in the concentration camps established by the Japanese; but he resumes his diary on September 21 1944, at the tail end of the Japanese Occupation (see October 2, 1944 for an example of the growing anticipation of the end of the Occupation): in fact, his diary ends just at the moment of Liberation.

His father, Victor Buencamino, chronicles the frustrations, fears, and tedium of being a mid-level official still serving in the government, not so highly-placed as to be ignorant of public opinion, but also, trapped between public opinion and his own problems as someone in government. His diary serves as a counterpoint to the diaries of soldiers and officers in the field, and to the other diaries describing life during the Occupation.

Two other diaries remain to be uploaded extensively, namely the Sugamo Prison diary of Jorge B. Vargas, onetime Chairman of the Philippine Executive Commission, and Laurel’s wartime ambassador to Japan, and the diary of Fr. Juan Labrador, O.P, a Spanish Dominican who kept a diary during the Japanese Occupation. But perhaps these will have to wait for future anniversaries.

You can browse the entries of the diarists mentioned above by clicking these links to view their entries in reverse chronological order:

Antonio de las Alas

Ramon A. Alcaraz

Felipe Buencamino III

Victor Buencamino

Francis Burton Harrison

Juan Labrador O.P.

Salvador H. Laurel

Charles Mock


The Battle of Manila, Feb. 3-March 3, 1945

The Philippine Diary Project contains a first-hand account by Lydia C. Gutierrez, of the Battle for Manila. In fact her diary covers only ten days: from the start, to the end, of their ordeal.

In his diary, Fr. Juan Labrador OP, wrote of the liberation of the University of Santo Tomas in his entry for February 20, 1945; he talked to survivors and wrote down their stories, for example, see his entry for February 18, 1945, about the massacres in Singalong, De La Salle College, and the German Club; and see the accounts of survivors of the massacre in Intramuros in his diary entry for February 24, 1945; he also toured the city after the fighting and vividly described the ruins of Manila in his diary entry for March 17, 1945. On March 18, 1945 he visited Los Baños, and described the ordeal of prisoners there, and the destruction of Batangas.

From his diary entry, March 20, 1945:

Our new friends repeatedly asked us if we had not feared that such human slaughter would occur; if we did not have any inkling that the Japanese would make such a bloody exit.

Frankly, neither did we foresee or at least suspect such. Had we known it, we would not have submitted to it like lambs. Never did we imagine that a human being, even if he were Japanese, could go down to such a low level of brutality.

For more information, visit The Battle of Manila, in the Presidential Museum and Library site, with an embedded rare color film of the ruins of Manila in 1945. Visit Battle of Manila Online, too.


December 24-25, 1941 in diaries

From Malacanan

December 24, 1941: Philippine Army Chief of Staff and Secretary of National Defense, Secretary of Public Works and Communications and Secretary of Labor Basilio J. Valdes, and Executive Secretary Jorge B. Vargas, watch as President Manuel L. Quezon administers the oath of office to Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, who also became Acting Secretary of Justice & Acting Secretary of Finance; witnessed by Jose P. Laurel and Benigno S. Aquino, in the Social Hall of Malacañan Palace. A few hours later the government evacuated to Corregidor, where the seat of government was transferred. Behind Quezon can be seen the Rest House (now Bahay Pangarap) across the river in Malacañang Park.

The Philippine Diary Project has several entries for this and the next day, covering different facets of life:

Basilio J. Valdes: December 24, 1941 begins his day at 8 am with a Cabinet meeting; on December 25, 1941, he recounts midnight Mass in Corregidor.

Ramon A. Alcaraz: does escort duties as a Q-Boat captain, on December 24, 1941.

Fr. Juan Labrador, OP, a Spanish Dominican, tries to piece together the information he has in UST for December 24, 1941. He is better informed than most.

Teodoro M. Locsin: as a civilian, December 24, 1941 was, for him, about the effects of air-raids in Manila. With nothing to do on December 25, 1941, Locsin observes life around him, and the isolation war brings.

Felipe Buencamino III: writing as a young lieutenant in Tagaytay, rounds off December 24, 1941 among the diarists.


May 7, 1945

IT WAS 1,246 days ago today when I started scribbling the first page of this notebook. It has since then become my inseparable companion, my vade mecum since that treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor which started the conflagration in the Pacific. After three years and five months, I am closing it today, bidding it goodbye more with nostalgia than with joy, as a friend who is leaving.

Today, after five years, eight months and six days, Germany surrendered. The war in Europe has ended. Technically, the war in the Philippines has also come to an end. The Imperial Army, destroyed and disunited, is no longer an organized army but scattered groups of desperate people running amuck. The liberating forces are landing without opposition at all important points in this archipelago and are pinning down with their pincers the remaining members of the “invincible” Japanese Army who are nested in caves and crests of the mountain ranges. The mopping up would be a task more or less tiresome but the danger has subsided.

As I look back on the days past—writers commonly preface their work by referring to their achievements as mountain tops and as valleys what they left behind—I had to force myself into fighting the temptation of moralizing, into which many new writers fall.

There is one point I want to emphasize, now that it can be discussed clearly and intelligently. During the Japanese domination, speaking and writing were risky. Spiritually, morally and culturally, we were suppressed. We were separated from the Japanese by an impenetrable, unscalable wall. They never associated with us. We never succeeded in understanding them, being intimate with them, or having an interchange of opinion, sentiments, ideas and ideals. When we chanced upon one of them who seemed to be different, one who seemed to have unveiled for us something of the Japanese mysterious, inscrutable character, we would feel we had made a marvelous discovery, having found a rare breed. We told our friends about it. And these friends skeptically warned us:

“Watch out. Don’t be too sure. There is no telling what that Japanese is up to.”

Or perhaps another would say, “A Japanese said that? I don’t believe it.”

And the wall of separation became taller and thicker.

On the other hand, prudence or caution prevented us from speaking out openly before our neighbors if they were not of our trust. We would rather keep quiet. They could be spies who could denounce us. The shadow of the Kem Pei Tai or the thought of Fort Santiago cast fear even among the most courageous.

I confess I am not among these. I was writing my notes daily or weekly with fear and trembling. Now that I can speak and write in any way I want before the army and civilians, before friends and foes alike, these fears appear ridiculous and unfounded. The fact is that many have started their diaries but never closed them. To start it is an implicit indication of sympathy; to continue with it, a confirmation of pro-Americanism; and to finish it, an open profession of faith.

Several times, I had been at the point of relegating these innocent creatures to the waste can or to the fire. Whenever the curiosity of the police dogs seemed to direct its obstinate sniffings towards my room, the fear of endangering myself and my companions placed me on the verge of making an act of faith. Providence which saved me and my brothers in many occasions from the hands of bloody Herod—from the dungeons of Intramuros and the prison chains of Baguio, among others—also saved these people from a painful and hardly spirited death.

The moral chain which bound my conscience or my subconscience according to the degree of the threat of danger, did not permit me to be as outspoken as I wanted to be. Unconsciously, I tended to tone down my statements, glide along the surface of these rugged events and cloak the interpretation which might seem subversive against the new order which was nothing more than an old disorder.

No matter how hard I tried to assume the stoic position of an independent observer and outwardly tried to play the role of an impartial chronicler, convincing myself of foolhardy thought that this would lessen the danger, actually neither was the risk diminished nor did I succeed in maintaining a balanced and neutral attitude.

Such is the texture of the individual and collective spirit, such is the nature of events and experience, that only a statue can remain indifferent. I was either for the Japanese or against them. There were neutralities which killed. There were positions which were impossible to maintain throughout the three years.

The sphinx-like temperament is reserved for certain people. Neither our western Christian education nor the profession which we pursue permitted us to feel one thing and say another without blushing. The art of cunning or the masked trick of covering a dangerous intention with honeyed or high sounding phrases, are monopolized by certain conquerors who feel an achievement in the conquest of land rather than of the spirit. The noble warrior who has the conscience overflowing with the bounty of his cause and of his resources, manages arms and souls with as much skill as with frankness. Never does he employ deceit and cunning.

During the three years of Japanese occupation, we witnessed innumerable cases of hypocrisy, Machiavellian in some cases, infantile in others. We did not have any direct proofs that the Americans fought like gentlemen and that they played it clean, isolated as we were within the Sphere. But we could sense it. We felt that we had known them well enough not to believe the atrocities and hypocrisies attributed to them by their enemies. During these past three months with them, our intuition had been transformed into a full vision, verified by personal experiences.

Is this a defense? An allegation? It is nothing more than a soliloquy exploding out sentiments suppressed for so long under the Sphere.

We end with the hope that the Philippines get speedily rehabilitated physically, economically, morally, and spiritually.

 

[The diary ends here]


December 22, 1944

The events are developing kaleidoscopically. The Philippine government, reduced to the bare minimum, that is, to the members of the Cabinet—the multitude of government employees are without work to do, just idling—has been moved to Baguio by General Yamashita. As we are only few, we will have a grand time of it. They are coming as political detainees so as to be nearer to Formosa. At least so they believe. The official force is being sugar-coated by the phrase “preventive protection”, which does not, however, succeed in deceiving even the unsuspecting. More than a month ago, two guards were placed at each of the houses of the ministers in the guise of Japanese police. Only Speaker Aquino had the guts to dispose of them. Angrily and firmly he told them to leave the house or he would leave them, together with all the responsibilities on their shoulders. He hit the cord at its strongest point and the guardians left. The President, with his Filipino guard, settled down at the Mansion House. Yamashita, likewise, installed his headquarters in this mountain retreat.

Manila has lost to Baguio as the capital of the Philippines. Could it be that they intend to declare this an open city as General MacArthur did three years ago today? This is the speculation of the optimists, with no other basis than their valid imagination. Or could it be that they shall convert this dead end alley into another Bataan? This is what some Japanese, who showed us proof that Baguio is being reinforced with 150,000 soldiers, are circulating. Could they be planning a semblance of defense, and if it turns out bad, they would escape to the north and, if they could do it which surely they couldn’t—they would make a run for it across the channel separating us from Formosa? This seems to be the more sensible opinion, or so it sounds, although what sounds in the meantime, are the cannons, the bombs, the mortars and all the heavy hammers of war.


December 20, 1944

For seven days now we are without radio, and consequently, without news. The press is ashamed to circulate outside the capital, out of respect for the guerrillas of the air raid siren sounds—at most for ten hours. Its week-long silence means that the bombing of Manila must have been uninterrupted.

We learned from the people who escaped from that hell that from 4:00 in the morning of the 14th to 6:00 in the morning of the 17th, there was a continuous wave of bombers with only a six-hour respite. During this dark night, the Americans landed in Palawan, and in Mindoro, the latter being less than two hundred kilometers from the Mecca of their aspirations.

To give us an idea of the hunger and terror reigning in the capital, we were told that a member of the Cabinet was having only a meal a day, consisting of porridge.

Deaths from bombs and from hunger plague the streets and many houses. Caravans of rugged and hungry people are abandoning the city on foot, carrying the few belongings they can load on their shoulders. All sorts of locomotion, including carts, have been confiscated by the Imperial Army. Manila is suffering more than the most punished Sodom of this war. May God cut short the rain of fire and sulphur, if only in consideration of the many who are just.


December 18, 1944

The alarm sounded yesterday, but the skies of Manila were clear of planes. The raids were made over Clark Field and Legazpi. However, we were kept alert by the raid today from 8:00 in the morning to 5:30 in the afternoon. In the morning a plane was shot down and the pilot parachuted down. A short raid was made in the afternoon over Manila Bay. Official sources said that Clark Field was raided anew, simultaneously with Aparri, Cebu and Leyte, although the press reported very light damage.

A new reporter wrote: “Our first impulse upon learning about the destructive attacks of the immense enemy forces was to be thankful we are spared from the air attack. At least for this year.” But we knew that the American Fleet was still afloat and continues to inch in, entering by the Lingayen Gulf from where it pounds on the coastal defenses.