12th February 1945

A feeling of depression has overtaken the Japanese. Everyone expected Yamashita to do something big in honor of yesterday’s festival. Kigen-setsu, empire foundation day. But nothing happened.

Instead, shaking from the attacks in the diet which has closed its session, the Koiso cabinet announced a reorganization. A new chief secretary of the cabinet has been appointed with the rank of minister and new ministers have been named for the ministries of welfare and education. In Japan the ministry of welfare is a euphemism for ministry of labor; thus the reorganization may be partly due to dissatisfaction with the way the manpower problem is being handled.

Today the embassy was asked to send a representative to another of an interminable and purposeless series of conferences on Greater East Asia students in Japan. Representatives of the Thai and Burmese embassies were also present as usual. The problem is typical of Japanese bungling in empire-building. Shortly after the start of the war, in the first enthusiasm for Nipponizing the southern regions of conquered Asia, the Japanese government selected groups of young men for study and training in Japan. In the Philippines the sons of the highest officials were picked for the first batch in 1943; they were followed last year by the winners of a competitive examination. All these boys arrived in Japan, dazzled by Japanese victories, eager to learn, already a little Japanized with their hair cropped close, their trained stiff bows, their earnest smattering of Nippongo. But soon they were floundering in disillusionment, confusion, a maddening bewilderment.

Nobody in Japan seemed to know what to do with them. They were bundled off to improvised dormitories, cheated of their special rations by racketeering cooks, bullied by drill sergeants, snooped on, slapped; they were, discouraged, then forbidden, to hear Mass; their letters home were censored; worst of all, nobody seemed to know what or where they should be taught. They were pulled and rushed here and there by bureaucratic jealousies; the army, the education ministry, the ministry for greater East Asiatic affairs, disputed jurisdiction over them. The Society for International Student Friendship and the Philippine Society bickered over them. Appropriations and subsidies, spheres of interest and authority, precedence and precedents, were at stake.

When the embassy arrived, confusion grew worse confounded. The students were Filipinos but, it seemed, the embassy had no jurisdiction over them; they were Japanese government scholars whose expenses were paid by the Japanese government. The embassy could inquire, suggest, petition, but not intervene. Meantime the students, having finished their indispensable preliminary training in Nippongo, were shunted around. In the Philippines they had been solicitously asked what course they wished to pursue and assured that Japan had the best in that line. Now they were told that the Japanese authorities in the Philippines had exceeded their authority; they were not acquainted with actual conditions and facilities in Japan. Most of the schools were closed; all Japanese students were in the factories; the Filipinos could neither go to school by themselves nor work in the factories, prohibited zones for foreigners.

A new plan is how being worked out. The wishes of the students will be respected, the embassy has been assured. They will be allowed to pick their own course and school from a list of those still open throughout Japan. There will be certain qualifications: the government is firm on getting all the foreign students out of Tokyo and it is equally determined to segregate the different nationalities. It is feared that the Chinese will contaminate the Filipinos with “dangerous thoughts” and that the Filipinos will contaminate the Malays.

But it is already too late. The Japanese themselves have done the contaminating. None of the Filipino students in Japan, none of the others from Greater East Asia, will ever again want to learn from Japan. They are cynical, contemptuous, intolerant. They want to go home. Once more the Japanese have thrown away their opportunities, wasted their small hoard of goodwill in Asia, wrecking their future with puerile incompetence.

x x x

Two open trucks were parked along a side-street near the embassy today to display an exhibition of B-29 fragments to the neighborhood. Pieces of the giant tail, twisted scraps of fuselage still shiny and indubitable steel, a pair of fur-lined boots: from even this poor wreckage and flotsam the simple people could gauge the formidable quality of their enemy. They started at these menacing relics silently, reading the labels with their voiceless lips. Finally one old man put out a diffident hand and fingered a shred of parachute — yes, it was real silk, good strong silk. For a moment he could think of nothing to say. Then he laughed. “Well,” he turned to a crony, “we’ll build a bigger plane than that. But I’ll tell you something. We shan’t waste any silk on parachutes. Parachutes! Our soldiers don’t need parachutes. They don’t get shot down.”

Sunday, February 11, 1945

We had breakfast and started doing our housework but once in a while we would jump down the trapdoor to the dugout because of the shelling. Biring and her husband decided to butcher their pig and we all helped. Mama and Biring fried all the pork chops, made adobo, and salted the rest. We were in the shelter most of the time. Then a bunch of Japanese soldiers stopped in front of our house planting dynamite. We shivered! We noticed a fire nearby getting bigger and bigger. It was the Masonic Temple in Vermont and Taft burning and the wind was blowing the fire towards us. Burning particles were flying again, Papa and Frank thought it would be safer under the Gonzales’ house which was concrete, so they broke down the stone wal. We all ran under the Gonzales’ house. Then the Japanese passed on Wright st. with rifles ready to shoot. We lay flat but since there was no dugout we went back home.

Suddenly bunches of people came running towards our house. Some were wounded, some were carrying possessions, many were hysterical. They said the Japanese threw hand grenades at them in their shelters. They got separated from their families. We gave them water to drink and they ran out again. The fire was coming nearer and the smoke made our eyes water. It was time to go. We pushed our pushcarts and made trips back and forth. Among last night’s burned ruins we found many little roofs with refugees under them. Frank found an empty corner of a house in Florida st. The walls in one corner still stood and we pulled a piece of zinc from among the ruins and placed it across the walls. We put our bundles of clothes on the hot debris and sat on them. We could not save all our things as the Japs came to patrol. We could hear the crackling and we could feel the heat of the houses burning: Five of us had to go to another place under a small table. Our legs were popping out. We could hear the kids arguing and later two more came with us. At dawn we started for home cause our house didn’t burn after all.

Saturday, February 10, 1945

When it got bright we started fixing our house. We were preparing the whole day to run away. For my knapsack I got a nepa bag and put one change of clothing, my veil, rosary, and some clean strips of cloth in case anyone got wounded. Mama gave each of us rice, red beans and some money. We also were given a tag with our name and address (613 Remedios Malate, Manila) written in India ink. We pinned it with our blessed Miraculous medals. We were never to remove it.

We packed our pushcarts with food, clothes and cooking utensils and left one empty for the children to ride. The shelling was getting worse and worse, so that we could not even go outdoors to get water from the well.

10th February 1945

The Japanese were buoyant this morning. All the vernaculars have headlined a delphic boast from Yamashita: “The enemy is in my stomach.” It is, I suppose, the equivalent of the American “It’s in the bag”. The immediate unanimous but private reaction of the Filipinos here was: “He’ll have indigestion.”

The cold wave of the past three days has meant more than a pretty snowfall for the average Japanese. The water is freezing in the faucets and they have no fuel to thaw it out. The distribution of rations has been delayed; possibly the roads are blocked. Yvonne, weeping and wailing, came knocking at the door of our neighbor, asking for his help. Now they had turned off the electric current in her room. She was half-hysterical, the poor woman, but again it is largely her own fault. She just can’t control either her consumption of gas and electricity or her feelings. She only keeps wailing that the little singing-bird she keeps in her lonely room for company will freeze to death.

Yesterday a barter day, the first of a series, was held at the Matsusakaya department store in Ueno. Applicants had registered their names and their goods previously, receiving in exchange tickets to be traded in for the goods of other applicants. Today all the vernaculars had an extensive coverage of this primitive solution for Tokyofs broken-down distribution system. It seems that all goods were disposed of one and a half hours after the doors of the store were thrown open. The most popular items were shoes and clothing. Only some flower-vases and pictures remained unbartered. Bare need has shoved aside the famous Japanese cult of the aesthetic. One of those who showed up was a fat old woman lugging an iron stove. The store officials reminded her that all iron articles were supposed to be given to the government and, after refusing to list the stove for barter, asked her pointedly to donate it to the government for war purposes. The vernaculars say she refused and ran out weeping.

Friday, February 9, 1945

We awoke hearing the rumbling of tanks. We thought they were American tanks but we were mistaken. We spent the whole morning downstairs. We only went up in the afternoon but were alert and ready to run down, whenever a shell burst. The time passed so slowly. How dreary! We ate early and decided to sleep on the cement steps and the landing.

Around 10 p.m. we heard a big commotion. There were two big fires, one in Irasan and one on Leveriza St. All the people were running back and forth carrying their possessions, and piling them up on the sidewalks. The streets were noisy and crowded with people talking and running with their belongings. Frank brought Josie and Bobby home and told Baby and I to watch the house. We were so afraid. We started folding blankets and packing. Frank came back with the others from home with a pushcart. They made several trips. Frank and I brought down the refrigerator with Baby putting a sack underneath so we could slide it down the two flights of stairs, into the yard and on the sidewalk. But the fire was getting nearer so we left it and saved the other things. From home we watched the houses burn one by one. No one stopped the fire as there was no water in the fire hydrants. The whole Kalaw Court was burned and the whole block (bound by Georgia, San Andres, Remedios and Florida sts.) The fire stopped by itself around 3 a.m. and then we lay down and rested, feeling very sad.

9th February 1945

The Japanese are blaming the Americans for the destruction of Manila. A Domei dispatch carried by the Mainichi today quotes the spokesman of the Japanese forces in the Philippines as follows: “With a view to saving the traditional cultural establishments of Manila from the havoc of fire and to prevent innocent inhabitants from suffering untold distresses, the Japanese forces in this city (Manila) had beforehand removed or destroyed the important military facilities and taken away the munitions elsewhere. Leaving only a small force necessary for the maintenance of order, we had withdrawn our main strength from Manila. This step was endorsed by the Philippine government which also moved from Manila to attend to administrative duties so that the present city of Manila should be considered a mere cultural city without military or political significance. “Acting from political motives,” continues the spokesman, “the enemy American forces set an excessive strategic value on Manila…. Without regards to the means employed, the Americans behaved in such a manner as to force street-fighting in Manila. The bandit units nurtured by the Americans beforehand, as well as ill-principled men, have taken advantage of this opportunity to precipitate the city into a condition of tragic and horrible misery. For this act of robbing a free nation of its welfare and happiness, the invading American forces should be held responsible.”

Meantime San Francisco accuses the Japanese of burning and blowing up the downtown business center, entrenching themselves in pillboxes in all big buildings, massacring political prisoners in Fort Santiago, holding the entire population of the old walled city in hostage, and wreaking the most savage and unspeakable vengeance on the Filipinos within their reach. The burned and mutilated corpses of the victims of mass executions have been found in the portions of Manila taken by the Americans. It is the story of an army gone mad in the last agony of desperation, looting, burning, raping, killing, torturing every living thing within its reach, obsesses by the ferocious determination that nothing shall survive it.

For us it does not even matter, not any more, who is telling the truth. We are conscious only of a vague, impalpable, but oppressive and inescapable horror, like a poisonous fog — horror, tortured anxiety, fear, a dark anger at the whole of life, a nameless bottomless pity that pulls and wrenches us toward those we love, those we know, and those we do not know, in our burning and dying city beyond the horizon. We have not yet the heart to listen to the evidence, to fix responsibilities, to apportion the blame, to concern, to hate. We can only think in terms of a faceless ruin, death with a hidden visage and an impartial hand, blindly reaching out and striking down and squeezing and tearing — whom? One of us has a wife and six children in Manila: another has a father and mother, brother and sister; each and everyone of us has left someone behind. What has happened to them? Communiques and official statements, atrocity stories and alibis, give no names. Five hundred corpses in a bloody courtyard — if we could go and turn over one of those charred and twisted bodies and peer into its blistered and contorted face, would it be you, father, brother, friend of my youth? What were you to these lean fierce strangers in their sweat-soaked uniforms? A pale stammering old man, one more Filipino caught behind the lines, to be dragged away and bayonetted; a tight-lipped clawing biting girl to be tamed and taken in a last revenge; a dirty bloody corpse, beginning to stink, to be photographed, catalogued, indexed, released for publication, put in a book, thrown on a screen in technicolor, and copyrighted, all rights reserved. What were you to them or they to you, what were we to them or they to us. These grimy crop-haired Japanese with their fixed glinting madmen’s eyes, dragging hobnailed boots to their last stronghold in the old garage where we played handball, or these hairy sinewy Americans smelling of canned pork and toasted cigarettes and acid-neutralizing toothpaste, hurling themselves eagerly forward in their tanks and their jeeps, one more beach-head, one more native town, get those little yellow bastards, on to Tokyo — what were you to them or they to us?

Annihilate the enemy, grasp the heavenly chance for final victory, liberate them, clean up those little monkeys, ten thousand years for His Imperial Majesty, the Stars and Stripes forever — and in between and all around, underfoot and in the way, this battered plastered smashed raped and bayonetted city, this bloody mess of rubble, splintered glass, twisted steel and broken flesh and bone, this cunning trap and hold-out strong-point, objective, beach-head, political nerve-center, distribution point, symbol of prestige, best anchorage in the Far East, which is also and incidentally our home and all we know and all we are. What do you know of our city who only conquer or liberate it, camping out, digging in, passing through? They pile up their equipment in the churches where we were baptized, they uproot the graceful trees and level out the boulevard where we first kissed, they pitch their tents and ladle out their soup and stew in the shadow of the hero’s monument where our children played. They write their pieces and they shoot their pictures and they sit before a microphone and talk, thousands and millions of words, describing, accusing, blaming, praising, sympathizing, condemning, pitying, hurrah for liberation, Tenno Heika Banzai, and they do not know you, father, mother, brother, sister, wife, child, friend of my youth, nameless lover with your rotting face in technicolor, unidentified beloved in a copyright cable.

Thursday, February 8, 1945

Few people walked out in the streets because of the shelling. The shrapnels fell like scattered stones on rooftops. By midnight shells came nearer. Frank and Josie got up and brought Bobby down. Baby and I followed. It was damp and cold at the landing of the stairs. But we spent the rest of the night there. Frank brought a small suitcase and foodstuffs in case we’d have to run. Then I went up to get more blankets but when I reached the top of the stairs I couldn’t move because I was afraid. But I ran into the room, pulled the blankets and ran down the stairs. The cement steps where we lay were so cold and my bones ached. Frank put an oil lamp and played with cards to keep awake. I slept very little.

8th February 1945

A heavy snowfall did not help to cheer us up. All of us were in a bitter mood. Vargas has definitely rejected the proposition that, due to the possible suspension of funds from Manila, he be put on the Japanese government payroll. “It would put me in the position of a querida,” he exclaimed. And he added: “I don’t love the Japanese government that much.”

A ranking officer from the war office had dinner with him last night. With the help of numerous military maps he took the trouble of bringing along, he explained Yamashita’s strategy in the Philippines. His version was substantially that given in every newspaper in Tokyo: a strategy of “blood-letting” or attrition from mountain positions dominating Manila, Clark Field, and the gate to the Cagayan valley in northern Luzon. Cagayan will be Yamashita’s Bataan.

In the diet the fall of Manila led the lower house to pass a nagging resolution calling on the Koiso government to get going.

February 8, 1945 — Thursday

Returned to Manila with food supplies for the family. Saw the destruction by three direct hits on Tata’s house by six inch Japanese shells. Five hits on the garden. One neighbor killed, several were wounded.