December 29, 1941 – Monday

At 5 a.m. I phoned Collector de Leon. His voice showed that he was worried. “I have not heard from the Apo”, he said, “I fear that it may have been sunk.” I decided to take other steps if no reply was received by 6:30 a.m.

At 6:30 a.m. I called up Mr. Jose (Peping) Fernandez one of the managers of Compania Maritima and told him that I had to see him with an important problem. I rushed to his house. He realized my predicament. “I can offer you ships, but they are not here,” he said. After studying my needs from all angles we decided that the best thing to do would be to ask the U.S. Army to release the SS Mactan.

We contacted Colonel George, in charge of water transportation, and asked him to meet us at USAFFE Headquarters so that we could discuss the matter with General Marshall. We met at 8 a.m. and it was decided that the U.S. Army would release the Mactan to me to convert it into a hospital ship. I was told the SS Mactan, was in Corregidor and it would not be in Manila until after dark. I rushed to the Red Cross Headquarters and asked Mr. Forster to have the painters in readiness to start the painting without delay, as soon as the ship docked at Pier N-1.

Last night Mr. Forster sent a telegram to the American Red Cross in Washington informing them of our plan.

At 11 a.m. Collector de Leon phoned me that the Apo was sailing for Manila that evening. I thanked him and informed him that it was too late.

At 5 p.m. Mr. Wolff phoned me that they have received an important radiogram from the Secretary of State, Hull, and that my presence in the Red Cross was urgent to discuss the contents of this radiogram. I rushed there. Mr. Wolff, Mr. Forster, Judge Dewitt and Dr. Buss of the High Commissioner’s Office were already busy studying the contents of Mr. Hull’s radiogram. It was specified in it that the sending out of Red Cross hospital Ship was approved; that the Japanese government had been advised of its sailing through the Swiss Ambassador and that it was necessary that we radio rush the name of the ship and the route that would be followed. Moreover, we were told to comply strictly with the articles of the Hague convention of 1907. These articles define what is meant by Red Cross Hospital Ship, how it must be painted and what personnel it must carry. It clearly specifies that no civilian can be on the boat.

I left Red Cross Headquarters at 6:30 p.m. No news of the SS Mactan had been received. At 9 p.m. I called Dr. Canuto of the Red Cross, and I was advised that the ship had not yet arrived.

At 11 p.m. I went to Pier N-1 to inquire. No one could give me any information about the Mactan. There was a big fire in the Engineer Island. It had been bombed the previous day and the oil deposit took fire late this evening. The flames were very impressive. I left at 11:45 p.m

December 31, 1941

A day of conflagration. Yesterday, some of the big gasoline depots started burning. At first the gasoline was being emptied into the Pasig River. But accidentally—or intentionally—the gasoline caught fire, setting the river and the esteros aflame. The houses situated along the river and the esteros particularly in the Pandacan district were the first victims of this ill-planned sabotage.

For the last 48 hours, a gigantic column of smoke has been spouting, very black in the daytime and very luminous at night. Officially, these fires are a proof that Manila has become indeed an open city with no military installations. The general belief was that the gasoline stocks were burned to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

The Japanese forces are advancing, without opposition. They are about a hundred kilometers north and south of Manila. Although the newspapers do not admit the impotence of the USAFFE to stop the Japanese advance, one can see that the only resistance offered are some strategic retreats. All the soldiers who had returned from the front and those who have been waiting to be called for the last few weeks—are sent to Pampanga. But the invaders are already in Nueva Ecija and have in fact reached Cabanatuan.

The Japanese success is attributed not only to the numerical superiority, but also to their plan of flanking and attacking the most unexpected and most vulnerable places. The American strategy consists in fortifying the Manila Bay and the Batangas Bay simply because they thought that the Japanese would land there. The Japanese, however, landed in La Union and Tayabas and, evading the fortified areas, reached Manila without encountering much resistance.

This afternoon I went to San Juan del Monte. While I was there, Dr. Domingo Fernández called up from the Manila Gas. He wanted to inform me that they were planning to set on fire the huge gasoline deposits in Pandacan.

I ran to notify the Sisters of Santa Catalina. “Don’t get frightened, Sisters,” I began telling them. “There will be a…”

Boom! Boom! As I was talking, the explosions shook the house and the glasses as if there was an earthquake of a major intensity. Immediately, gigantic columns of smoke started to rise and the fire spread to the nearby houses and factories.


            I returned to San Sebastian. From its high steeples I could see how most of the city and its environs were burning. The piers, the customs area, the army camps, the Military Hospital of Sternberg, the ice factory, the whole district of Pandacan and many other places were a virtual inferno.

Terror was painted in every face. Last day of the year 1941.

December 31, 1941 – Wednesday







Got up at 4 a.m. Left Army and Navy Club at 5 a.m. Arrived Corregidor at 6:10 a.m. after a slightly rough trip. The North East monsoon was blowing quite hard. Upon arrival I reported the results of my trip to President Quezon and General MacArthur. Both were pleased and congratulated me for the success of my mission.

At 5 p.m. while I was at Cottage 605, the telephone rang. It was a long distance from Manila. I rushed to answer. It was my aide Lieutenant Gonzalez informing that the ship would be ready to sail, but the Captain refused to leave unless he had the charts for trip, and same could not be had in Manila. I told Lieutenant Gonzalez to hold the line and I asked Colonel Huff who was at General MacArthur’s Quarters next door, and he told me that the charts of the Casiana could be given. I informed Lieutenant Gonzalez. Half an hour later Lieutenant Gonzalez again called me and told me that the boat would leave at 6:30 p.m.

I was tired. After dinner I retired. At 10:30 p.m. a U.S. Army Colonel woke me up to inform me that the ship was still in Pier N-1 and that the Captain refused to sail unless he had the charts. We contacted USAFFE Headquarters. We were informed that the Don Esteban was within the breakwater. We gave instructions that the charts of the Don Esteban be given to the Captain of the SS Mactan and that those of the Casiana would be given to the SS Don Esteban.

I then called Collector of Customs Mr. de Leon, and asked him to see that the ship sails even if he had to put soldiers on board and place the Captain under arrest.

At 11:40 p.m. we were advised by phone that the SS Mactan, the hospital ship had left the Pier at 11:30 p.m. We all gave a sigh of relief. I went back to bed. And so ended 1941 for me. I could not sleep; I thought of home, of those dear to me, and I felt a terrible nostalgia. How hard life is at times. It is a good thing, that we have the faith in our God to lean on. I hope and pray that the much needed assistance from the U.S. will come very soon, so that we may eject the invaders from our country, and be able to return to Manila to our homes and our dear ones.

December 30, 1941

After yesterday’s bombings, the bomber planes merely hovered around Manila.

I made a quick round of the site of the tragedy so that the ruins would not affect me too much. I noticed that a bomb fell on the big courtyard near our dining room. Its shrapnels spread out like a fan, perforating our refrigerator. The posts and beams of the chapel here still burning. The chapel was completely destroyed inside, except the portion of the choir. Another bomb had bored through the wall, hitting the crucifix and shattering it to pieces.

Also our storeroom was still burning. Canned goods burst open under the heat of the fire… Thousands of pesos gone in smoke.

I observed the hole caused by the bomb which exploded at the base of a column about four meters away from our air raid shelter. I made a round of the new building. From the outside, it looked intact, but nothing was more deceiving. Almost all the wood inside was burned or scorched. The doors and windows are either burned or destroyed by the impact and not one of them is of any use. The roof of the fourth floor facing Beaterio Street, and which was made of corrugated iron sheets, fell on the floor when the wood supporting it was consumed by the fire.

            All over are ruins, piles of half-burned wood, mounds of twisted metal… a big heap of debris.

I went up the roof garden. From this vantage point, I had a panoramic view of the whole devastated area. Seven blocks of the Walled City were now nothing but a heap of rubble. Almost all their inhabitants had fled to safer places, and I could not but recalled Jeremiah’s words: “How lonely has been left a city, full of people…”

Hunted by the thought of the aerial visitors, I cut short my lamentations and made a hurried round of the vicinity of Santo Domingo. For three days now, the pillars and beams of such sizes that two men could hardly embrace them, have been burning. Some of the Fathers tried the flames and muddy water in search of anything worth salvaging: medals and charred rosaries, utensils and other metal objects which the fire had not consumed.

I could see a number of cars—more than twenty of them—abandoned along the sidewalk near Santo Domingo, Santo Tomas and Tesorería. Nothing was left of these cars but their steel frameworks. One of them was hurled against the wall of the Treasury, half buried in it. The Magallanes Drive and the Plaza de España were pockmarked with craters.

That night, using blowtorches, we forced open the steel door of the safety vault of the Procurator’s office. The venerable statue of the Virgin, the jewelry and other marble statues, together with the great portion of the archives, remained intact in spite of the fire that surrounded the vault for three days. Braving the scorching heat inside the vault, the priests, 15 of them, finished the long salvage work at around 11:00 in the evening. Fr. Ortega stayed in his knees with the Virgin’s statue in the wagon while on the way to Sulucan. With the help of about twelve men armed with pistols and six policemen who stood on guard, they safely deposited the precious treasures in the offices of the University of Santo Tomas.

People were asking, “Did the Japanese bomb Letran with incendiary bombs?” Many thought so, considering the big fires caused by the bombings. However, I am not sure since they did not contain combustible liquid. The steel frame simply contained shrapnels. We, who were at Letran during the bombings, saw that fire did not immediately flare up after the explosions. Some of the Fathers found fragments of bombs which were incandescent. One of them had the inscription, “Made in Japan. 30 kilos.” Some others thought that the fires were due to broken electrical installations.

December 30, 1941 – Tuesday








At 5 a.m. Mr. Williams of the Red Cross phoned me that the ship had arrived but that he was not willing to put the painters on because there was still some cargo of rifles and ammunition left. He informed me that the Captain (Tamayo) and the Chief Officers were in his office. I asked him to hold them. I dressed hurriedly and rushed to the Red Cross Headquarters. They repeated the information given to Mr. Williams. Believing that this cargo belonged to the U.S. Army I asked them to come with me to the USAFFE Headquarters. I had to awake General Marshall. Pressing our inquiry we found out that this cargo consisted only of 3 or 4 boxes of rifles (Enfield) and 2 boxes of 30 caliber ammunition belonging to Philippine Army. It had been left as they were forced to leave Corregidor before everything had been unloaded. We explained to them that there was no danger and with my assurance that these boxes would be unloaded early in the morning, they returned to the ship, took on the painters and left for Malabon for the painting job.

From the USAFFE Headquarters, I rushed to the house of Colonel Miguel Aguilar, Chief of Finance. I found him in bed. He got up, and I asked him to see that the remaining cargo there be removed without delay. He assured me that he would contact the Chief of Quartermaster Service and direct him accordingly. My order was complied with during the course of the day.

At 9 a.m. I contacted Mr. Forster. He informed me that the painters were on the job and that in accordance with my instructions, two launches were tied close to the ship to transport the painters to the river of Malabon in case of a raid. I then went to Colonel Aguilar’s office at the Far Eastern University to discuss with him some matters regarding finance of the Army. From there I went to Malacañan to see Sec. Vargas, and from there to the office of the Sec. of National Defense, to inquire for correspondence for me.

At noon, I called Mr. Jose (Peping) Fernandez to inquire where the ship was. He asked me to have luncheon with him and to go afterwards to Malabon. After lunch we went by car to Malabon. I saw the ship being painted white. It already had a large Red Cross on the sides and on the funnel.

I returned to the Red Cross Headquarters to ascertain if all plans had been properly carried out. Mr. Forster was worried as he did not know whether the provisions and food supplies carried by his personnel would be sufficient. I then contacted Colonel Ward by phone, and later Colonel Carroll. Both assured me that there would be enough food and medical supplies for the trip.

With that assurance, and the promise of Mr. Forster that his doctors and nurses were all ready to go and of Colonel Carroll that as soon as the boat docked at Pier 1, he would begin to load his equipment, beds, etc. and transport his patients, I felt that my mission had been successfully accomplished.

I spent the evening fixing financial matters and giving instructions to my brother Ramon, regarding payment of certain obligations (Premium Fire Policies, Land Taxes, etc.)

December 29, 1941

The war holds your problems in grateful suspension. You almost dread the coming of peace which will once more precipitate them. For the moment, they have lost their urgency. That trouble with your family, the uncompleted novel, the hopeless passion for a girl who does not love you, which had formerly so troubled you, must now stand humbly at the door while you occupy yourself with matters more pressing, of life and death. That fine emotional balance, that delicate synchronization of all your parts, that rich fulfillment you thought was so necessary to your happiness have ceased to concern you, for the reason that happiness has become, for the duration, superfluous. No longer necessary. The war has given you a breathing spell.

The war has given me what I never had before: time to read as much as I like. I had several books I bought and never found the leisure to read. I had given them up as money lost. During the last three weeks, I was able, between alarms and all-clears, to finish reading them all. The war has been an unexpected dividend.

It has changed, though, the character of my reading. I have a collection of detective novels still unread. I used to enjoy few things more than to run through their gory pages at the end of the day. Now I cannot read them.Their dismay over the killing of one, two or three people seems to me rather petty. Now.

Now I find comfort and relish in the pages of the philosophers whose conclusions may be briefly stated:

Nothing matters.

The war has also affected our drinking habits. Those who drank as a matter of habit are drinking more than ever. They drank for relief, as a means of escape from the intolerable self. Now they drink to escape, simply, the war.

Those who drank on occasion have, on the other hand, stopped drinking altogether. They drank as others read books, listen to music, collect paintings or go to the movies, to relieve boredom. The war has taken boredom away. Bombers coming over in perfect formation, glistening with death, are the equivalent of a good stiff drink. Bombs rushing through the air overhead are an all-night revel.

At the Arcade bar a man started a collection for a soldier who had just come back to the city from Lingayen and was now in a hospital for treatment of his wounds before returning to the front.

“I want to have enough to buy him a complete suit.”

When the Japanese captured the boy, they stripped him of his clothes except his underwear, leaving him shivering in the December cold. Managing to escape from prison camp, the boy reached Manila the other day, undaunted, naked except for his undershirt and shorts.

The narrator, a Dutchman who had once been district commissioner in the Netherlands East Indies, had retained his youthful admiration for Oscar Wilde’s wit. Now he concluded his little tale:

“He kept his pants up.”

What happens to a man is his private concern. It can hardly be of interest to anyone but himself. If he has a wife and children, it touches them. Otherwise, he goes alone.

But what happens today to a man is happening, in greater or less degree, to other men all over the world. The war has descended on us all. We are its heirs, joint and solitary. It cannot be disposed of separately.

We live a common life and the fate of one becomes, in time, by a new necessity, the fate of all. The order of the day has replaced “I” –precious relic from the past– with the collective “we”. We are all, under an absolute clause, parties to the act.

At the bar I heard a man complain to another about his bad luck. He had bought several yards of Irish linen some time ago and taken them to his tailor in Intramuros to have them made into suits. The suits were finished.

“I reminded myself to pass by Intramuros on the way home in the afternoon and get the suits. I never did. It was one thing or another, the days went by and the suits remained with the tailor. Yesterday, after the bombing, I went to Intramuros. There were no longer any suits. There was no longer any tailor.”

The man he was telling the story to asked him the name of the tailor. When he gave it, the man said:

“He was my tailor, too. I had two suits with him.”

The first man said he would be damned.

“I have a drink with a stranger, tell him about the suits I lost in the raid, and what does he tell me –this perfect stranger– he had lost his, too, in the same place, with the same tailor, in the same raid!”

“We are all in the same war.”

Including the tailor.

The people are taking to the war easily. They have adjusted themselves to having to walk to work in the morning, to salary cuts, to unemployment, to the possibility of death during the day. They have few possessions, and the war finds them singularly unencumbered except for the wish to survive without loss of character, to give no way to fear.

The rich and the influential are the pitiful ones. They have so much to lose! They shake for their lives, they shake for their office, they shake for their bank accounts. They read all the literature on the established methods of avoiding death and damage by bomb, bullet, and gas. They sit in a circle all day and worry over every rumor and report of disaster. They scan every threat to their security with the passion of scholars poring over a newly recovered line from the Greek Anthology.

The war freshly illumines a paradox:

One may be casual about one’s life but rarely over one’s property.

In high good humor the people are compiling a list of dishonor. With infinite malice they treasure each new story of how their lords and masters have disgraced themselves.

A prominent politician who used to set the National Assembly on fire with his oratory, when the bombs began to fall last week in one part of the city, flung himself on the floor of his office so hard he broke an arm.

A former executive, who liked to make a show of independence of spirit and about whom I had, with the careless accuracy of journalism, written admiringly in the past, made the Manila Hotel, which has the best air-raid shelter in the city, his home, careful not to leave its premises unless absolutely necessary. He was having a drink with a woman at the hotel bar when the first bomb fell on Port Area. At the thud of the bomb, he left lady and drink at the bar and scurried for shelter. The following day, the woman was having lunch with a friend in the dining-room when the father of his province passed by. Seeing the woman he had so casually deserted the day before and seeing no way out of it, he came over and made small talk as though nothing had happened. The woman, after listening to him for a while, smiled amiably.

“Gotten over your jitters now?” she asked, shattering him.

And here’s a story:

The first time Japanese bombers came over the city, students manning a machine-gun unit on top of their college building debated among themselves where the bombs were falling.

“Nichols Field.”

“No, it’s Fort McKinley.”

“It’s the Nielson air-port.”

The debate went on. American officers from another unit came over and listened to the Filipino boys argue which part of their country was being bombed by the Japanese. They broke into pure laughter when a boy of 19 put an end to the fruitless debate by declaring with a grave and judicious mien:

“The Philippines.”

This morning an army officer came to the office and offered two to one that Manila would never be taken.

“We have not even begun to use our army. We let the Japanese come through, then we cut them down. Down in the South we let Japanese trucks loaded with soldiers come up the road, then, from the hillside, we cut them down with machine-gun fire. You could see the trucks turn over and spill the bodies of the Japanese all over the road.”

They would never take Manila.

December 28, 1941 – Sunday







I attended Mass at 6:30 a.m. After Mass I had breakfast and then went to the cottage assigned to us to take a bath and change clothes. At 9 a.m. Colonel Willoughby G-2 USAFFE arrived and told me that General MacArthur wanted to see me ASAP. I dressed hurriedly and proceeded to the house of General Moore which General MacArthur was occupying. He received me and instructed me to proceed immediately to Manila and organize a Hospital Ship to leave Manila within 4 days with all serious patients of Sternberg General Hospital and added: No military personnel must be on board except the Commanding Officer of the unit and one nurse. The balance must be Red Cross personnel. We shook hands and I left. I realized that the mission was hard as I had been informed that the previous day the Japanese had severely bombed Manila Bay and had sunk various ships.

We left Corregidor on a Q Boat. It took us 45 minutes to negotiate the distance. The picture of Manila Bay with all the ships either sunk or in flames was one of horror and desolation. We landed at the Army and Navy Club.

I rushed immediately to Red Cross Headquarters. I informed Mr. Forster, Manager Philippine Red Cross, and Mr. Wolff, Chairman of the Executive Board of my mission. I then called the Collector of Customs Mr. de Leon and I asked him what ships were still available for my purpose. He offered the government cutter Apo. I accepted. He told me that it was hiding somewhere in Bataan and that he expected to hear from the Captain at 6 p.m.

From his house, I rushed to Sternberg General Hospital where I conferred with Colonel Carroll regarding my plans. Then I returned to the Red Cross Headquarters and arranged for 100 painters and sufficient paint to change its present color to white, with a huge Red Cross in the center of the sides and on the funnel.

At 3 p.m. I again called Collector de Leon and inquired if he would try to contact the Apo. He assured me that he would endeavor to contact the Captain (Panopio). At 11 p.m. Mr. De Leon phoned me that he had not yet received any reply to his radio call. I could not sleep. I was worried.

December 27, 1941

All night last night the fire across the river continued to burn and the smoke roll across the moon-lighted sky. It made quite a picture, one of silver and black to which  the explosions that came at irregular intervals brought angry flashes of orange and red.

Today, the open city of Manila, but two days old, unexpectedly came of age. Suddenly it felt very old.

There were no military forces, either defensive or offensive, inside the city and its suburbs. There were no anti-aircraft guns in or near Manila. We had been quite thorough about being an open city.

Just below the Jones Bridge over the Pasig were docked four interisland vessels. Across the river and closer to its mouth were several others. Their owners had been ordered to move the ships out into the bay at least a week ago, but the ships remained where they were. Moving the ships meant trouble and expense. These were bad times. We must retrench, gentlemen.

Shortly before noon, for three whole hours, Japanese bombers tried to get those ships. Their aim was truly execrable, not one of the ships was hit, but before they went away, they killed 43 people, wounded at least 150 and destroyed 5,000,000 pesos worth of public and private buildings.

The open city of Manila had failed to take into account one thing. There was one factor it had overlooked. It had not considered the enemy’s bad aim.

Now that the bad business of declaring Manila open had been found bankrupt, now that we were in the war again, now that we had been relieved of our secret shame, the city took heart once more and strangers in the streets looked into each other’s eyes and gave each other a small significant smile. The city had recovered its honor and need not fear to face the soldiers when they come back.

And in spite of the death and the damage done, because they were done by the enemy’s bad aim, the city felt it was scored a victory.

I was on Escolta when the bombers came. When the bombs came –sounding so near– some of the people in the store I was caught in by the raid fell on their faces as they had read in the papers they should do in such emergencies. But the others, while the bombs came “thud-thud-thud”, made no movement but stood where they were. The salesgirls grew pale but kept their places behind the glass counters. After the explosions, those who had flung themselves on the floor got up and grinned sheepishly. Then the bombs thudded again and they resumed their former position. Somebody said something and swift laughter went though the store like a point of light in a blackout.

Someday, someone will write in detail about the men and women of Manila, how they conducted themselves, under bombardment. Meanwhile, these men and women, who used to look up and down the street so carefully before crossing, now go downtown and face the possibility of death without thinking too much about it.

“It is remarkable,” observed a woman I knew, “how the human being can take, how the human frame can adjust itself to all sorts of conditions.”

She herself is going to have a baby.

The enemy continued to advance slowly in the north and in the south and land reinforcements. In the north the battle-line followed the Agno River, in the south the fighting was clustered in the Atimonan area.

In Washington, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, declared that the democracies would take the initiative in 1943.

“The United States and Britain will give Japan a lesson the Japanese and the world will never forget.”

December 26, 1941

We are now reconciled –there were six alarms today– to having an air raid announce breakfast, serve lunch and interrupt dinner. One wonders at the indefatigable newsboys, undismayed by the news they cry, innocent of the meaning of the stuff they sell. Since the war began, there has been wedding after wedding in the city. How many of these marriages, contracted in the heady air of war, will survive the calm, slightly enervating air of peace? Well might you ask the livelong day. Reports of tanks rolling to meet the enemy thousands of miles away, in the Philippines, must now bring comfort to the isolationists. They had done their best to keep those tanks from getting here at all. We must have no hate or bitterness toward anyone –even Lindbergh. Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season, as the poet says.

The story persists that Filipino soldiers, most of whom came from the farm, just before going over the top inquire of their officers if they may fight in any way they choose.

“Fight any way you like.”

And the Filipino soldiers do –without shoes.


Today, Manila was declared an open city. All military centers have been destroyed and all soldiers withdrawn from the city. It is now armless and harmless. It has earned the right not to be bombed. It is no longer in the war. It has made what Hemingway called a separate peace. It is a little ashamed of it.

Elsewhere the military situation was regarded as completely under control. A military spokesman declared that our forces were not only holding their own but doing better, even, than had been expected. On the northern front, the action consisted mainly of artillery duels between the two forces. The enemy continued to bring up artillery to increase pressure on our line. In the southeast, from Atimonan to Mauban, the enemy continued to effect landings. Our forces advanced to prevent the enemy from using these beach-heads as bases for a blitz drive on Manila, which is entirely open, the spokesman said.

Turning from my desk at the office to look out of the window, I saw a tall column of smoke rising from one part of the city. The thick black smoke billowed into the serene sky, obscuring the morning sun which at moments shot through a rift in the smoke a shaft, such as you see slanting down from the glass window of a cathedral during an early Mass –of light.

One man said it was the National Development Company, which was only a block or two from my home. I thought of my books, which I had acquired, through so many denials, over a period of so many years. As the smoke continued to rise, I told myself my books were gone. I suddenly felt empty but free. I no longer gave a damn.

When, much later, I learned that the fire was across the river and home and my books were safe, I felt I had, by renouncing my goods in my mind, somehow saved them. I felt I had personally outwitted the enemy.

Coming home in the afternoon, I saw the sun like a white-hot coin shining through the smoke.

I am living now very much alone.