(Updated, February 1, 2019) February 3 to March 3 traditionally marks the period of commemoration for the Battle of Manila in 1945. The first diary to cover this period featured on The Philippine Diary Project was the first-hand account by Lydia C. Gutierrez, who was a young girl at the time. In fact her diary covers only ten days: from the start, to the end, of her family’s ordeal.
Civilians interned by the Japanese were in two locations: Natalie Crouter an American civilian, with her husband and children, had recently arrived in Old Bilibid Prison after years of being detained in Baguio; Albert A. Holland and Raymond Leyerly were civilian detainees in the University of Santo Tomas. Their diaries actually end just at the point when their imprisonment ended –while Holland would, afterwards, have a distinguished career, Leyerley died soon after being freed –of starvation.
American Prisoners of War included Ike Thomas, a staff sergeant in the Medical Department of Old Bilibid Prison, and his chief, Major Warren A. Wilson, who was overall-in-charge as the senior American medical officer in the prison. Both also end their diaries soon after their freedom was restored.
Outside Manila were the Spanish Dominican Fr. Juan Labrador, OP, who was in Pangasinan but would make his way to Manila; he would chronicle for posterity, the destruction and suffering of the city. Secretary of National Defense and Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army, General Basilio J. Valdes was with President Osmeña; his diary also peters off at the point he finally returned to Manila. In Tokyo, Leon Ma. Guerrero a junior diplomat in the staff of Ambassador Jorge B. Vargas, would get snatches of news about home.
The prelude to the Battle of Manila can be seen in the September-December, 1944 diary entries of Felipe Buencamino III, a veteran of Bataan who’d stopped writing in his diary in September, 1944, when the first American air raid of Manila since 1942 took place.
Here are the days with relevant entries in The Philippine Diary Project.
February 2, 1945
February 3, 1945
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP:
A provost official –one of the many new friends with whom we had been fraternizing– offered me a trip to Manila in his jeep. I accepted willingly, in order to have a personal knowledge of what is happening in the Capital.
We left at 7:00 in the evening and we were at Balintawak by midnight. It was a very fast trip by the standards of these times. All the bridges had been blown up by the Japanese and had been replaced by pontoon bridges constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The way these soldiers are working is admirable.
We did not attempt to enter the city. Shelling was very intense. We spent the night in the jeep, parked in the middle of thick grasses. I did not sleep a wink as I watched the shrubs and grasses move, not by the wind but by some snipers. I heard the thundering booms of the guns and the whistling flight of shells as they rent the air over our heads, while in the city, vast columns of smoke were rising and big fires were raging.
At the break of day I entered the main gate of the University for the first time in three years. I found the Seminary filled with refugees. Most of them came from this northern sector of Manila where several blocks of houses had been burned by fire caused by Japanese, or started by Filipinos who had been paid or forced to burn them. The Education building has been converted to a hospital for civilian casualties who came from the south in uncontrollable influx.
The internees are still living in the main building in other smaller ones. They were huddled in rooms and corridors, but free, happy, well fed and properly clothed. Many of them are gradually recovering from their skeletal countenance and their cadaveric paleness due to starvation under the Japanese regime.
February 18, 1945
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP:
The evenings are a nightmare. They bring a rosary of shocks produced by powerful guns which, from New Manila and Grace Park, strike at Ermita and Intramuros, shaking the air, the earth, the doors and the nerves. Projectiles fly over our heads, whistling their funereal song of destruction. We cannot look at them: we can only follow their trajectory with our ears. Mortars from the Far Eastern University and the Osmeña Park batter the eardrums with metallic poundings. Machine guns, crackling like coffee grinders –Tac, Tac, Tac, Tac, Tac! rattle in, from behind, at the sides, in search of Japanese snipers. The fires from the Japanese side which reach our vicinity add to the confusion. A mortar hit the tower of the main building where the Americans had set up an observation post, and from which General MacArthur observed enemy lines this morning. Others fell on the Education building and on the intern’s garden. However, there were no casualties.
But more shattering than the dissonant harmony of war engines is the news about the tragedies suffered by survivors who escaped from the southern part of the city. The accounts are so terrifying and so macabre that my spirit was filled with infinite bitterness, and I wept with tears of pain and indignation. From the sadness and sympathy arose an impotent anger against the infernal forces which vented its desperation and hate among the civilian populace. So many families of acquaintances and friends exterminated. So many mutilated. So many who escaped the Japanese hell lost everything but their lives. The hospitals –the few old ones which still remain, and a number of improvised ones– are filled with the wounded, whose hands or feet or body are perforated with bullets or shrapnels. Many are searching desperately for their lost loved ones. Manila is a picture of sadness impossible to describe.
The Japanese plan of attack against the defenseless Manilans is as diabolic as it is organized. Its defense strategy consists in positioning themselves behind the civilian residents, and as the conquerors advance within a dangerous distance, they flee or burn the buildings and retreat a few blocks backwards. They machinegun the residents who attempt to put out the fire or run for their lives. The only way to save themselves is to jump into a ditch and stay there. Anyone who raises his head is fired at. They stay for four to eight days without eating or drinking, tortured by a rabid thirst. I was told of cases where persons, dying of thirst, drank human blood mixed with mud.
In many cases, the soldiers would approach the ditches and kill the occupants with bayonets. That was how they killed the De La Salle Brothers –Irish and Germans–, the Padres Paules of San Marcelino among whom were Fr. Visitator Tejada and Fr. José Fernández, and Irish Fathers of Malate, together with the evacuees in their buildings. The same fate fell on fifty others, almost all of whom were Spanish, who took shelter in the Spanish consulate. Aside from being attacked with bayonets, they were also attacked with hand grenades. Only a little girl escaped alive.
Another way of liquidating the people is by herding them into a house and setting fire to it, at the same time hurling hand grenades inside. Anyone who attempts to escape is shot.
There were frequent cases where soldiers threw hand grenades into the ditches or air raid shelters, and those who attempted to escape were hunted like animals. In order to economize on bullets, the assassins usually would tie entire families to post or pillars and kill them with bayonets. It was not rare that a hundred or more persons were lined up and machinegunned.
In the shelter at the German Club, some four hundred persons of different nationalities were attacked and massacred by drunken soldiers. Only about half a dozen escaped. The young Enrique Miranda, son of Telesforo Miranda Sampedro, told me that his mother and five brothers were taken by the Japanese. He did not know what happened to them. We learned later that their bodies were found mangled –those of his two brothers, in the street. Enrique said that he was made to kneel down and they hit him on his neck. He lost consciousness. He came to his senses when a soldier was prickling him with the point of his bayonet to find out if he was already dead. He tried to bear the pain and feigned death. The soldier covered him with earth. He was able to bore a hole through which he breathed. Later, he squeezed himself out and, bleeding all over, he hid among the stones until he was found by the Americans.
In Singalong, the Japanese marines gathered the men to send them on forced labor. The men were made to line up and were herded on groups of ten into houses where their heads were cut off. As those who were in the streets could not hear anything, they entered the houses confidently, believing they were only to register their names. A son of Mr. Ynchausti, among others, escaped, but was badly wounded.
It was providential that in almost all cases, someone among the victims was able to escape and was able to relate the fate of his companions.
The Japanese installed machineguns on the towers of the Paco and Singalong churches, not to counterattack the approaching Americans but to mow down the residents –men, women and children– who might attempt to flee. The Remedios Hospital and the San Andres agricultural school, where thousands of escapees had taken shelter, were shelled with mortars and even Japanese anti- aircraft guns. Many, however, were also killed by American bombs…
February 20, 1945
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP:
Let us shift our view for a while from this scenario of horrors, and take a look at the Manila of the liberators, as it was narrated to me.
The American High Command has not failed to notice the vandalistic scheme of the Japanese in the attempt to save themselves with the City and with the residents of the Capital, of converting the city into a heap of rubble and killing all the inhabitants, starting with the internees in Santo Tomas.
This was confirmed by some well-meaning Japanese. The program of destruction, murder and suicide, which is being launched in the southern zone is also being planned for the northern section. Written orders to this effect had been found and brought by the guerillas to the headquarters of General MacArthur.
The Japanese did not expect the American advance forces at the approach to Manila until about the 6th or 7th of February, so that on the 3rd, it was supposed that the front line was about fifty kilometers from Balintawak. On the eve of this day, at about 8:00 o’clock, the priests and internees of Santo Tomas heard tanks penetrating through España street. They posted themselves in front of the gate of the University campus. Lights went on and illuminated the buildings. Jubilant shouts and outbursts of joy were heard from the detainees who barely perceived that their liberation was forthcoming. In a few moments, volleys sounded from within and without the campus. The tanks and machine-guns replied. A number of soldiers and guerillas who served as guides fell, among them Manuel Colayco and the young Kierulf who died later. Absolute silence. Total darkness. Then the lead tank barged in through the fence into the campus, followed by seven others and by twenty trucks loaded with troops, the first with lights on, the others without lights. They reached the front of the Main building. Another shout and welcome from the prisoners. A new discharge of fire from the Japanese defenders, and then another sepulchral silence. The monstrous caterpillars kept advancing along the sides of the building until they were positioned one at each alley. Some internees started fraternizing with the liberators and received their first cigarettes, biscuits and canned goods. Other tanks positioned themselves towards the gymnasium and the Education building.
So passed the night.
At daybreak, the capture of the Gymnasium. There were Japanese soldiers there guarding the prisoners. But they fled into the darkness. The Americans scoured the place fearing that the Japanese had hidden themselves in a nearby grassy area. But they could not be found.
Later, the conquest of the Education building. There were some seventy Japanese soldiers dispersed behind the detainees. The Americans appealed to the Japanese to surrender. No response. They were promised to be let free out of the campus. Negative. They were promised to be transported with their arms up to the Japanese lines. The Japanese conceded, and in two trucks they were transported up to the Rotonda.
That was how the campus which had imprisoned some four thousand internees, and, incidentally, occupants of the seminary, was recaptured. But they were so far the only liberated buildings together with those near Malacañang. The rest of the city, during the night of the 3rd and the whole day of the 4th, were still not re-occupied, except in the sense that the liberators were almost in the middle of the capital. But there was only a handful of American troops who had entered the enemy territory. It was a blow which was as bold as it was daring.
The First Cavalry, dismounted but motorized, had left Cabanatuan two days before. As it was left behind forty kilometers from the main body of the advance forces, it opened up a road through Novaliches and Balintawak, Rizal Avenue and Quezon Boulevard, spitting machinegun shells against Japanese troops and trucks they encountered along the way, and penetrating almost into the heart of the city. They were about a thousand men surrounded by Japanese forces bent on defending the city. Their audacity rattle the enemy. If the Japanese had a foreknowledge of the small number of the infiltrating forces, and had they organized a rapid and decisive attack on the Americans, the liberating forces would have been annihilated. They had thirty-six hours to do it and they faltered. Thus were saved the First Cavalry, the American prisoners and the north of Manila.
In the morning of the 5th, when the Japanese initiated a disorganized attack from España street, from Far Eastern University and from Bilibid, the 37th Division had already penetrated the City from the north and from the east, joining the liberators of Santo Tomas, and jointly re-occupying Quezon City and the sector of Manila north of Azcarraga. Malacañan and Bilibid, where some one thousand two hundred seventy war and civil prisoners were detained including those who came from Baguio, were also liberated.
The Japanese began their program of destruction. They placed cans of gasoline and mines in big buildings of the Escolta, and surrounding streets, and destroyed fire engines and equipments. They blew up and burned buildings, and the uncontrollable fires razed the whole of the commercial district from Azcarraga to the Pasig.
On the 6th, the Americans positioned themselves along the Pasig River. The whole northern region was thus liberated, although small groups of Japanese continued burning clusters of houses and forcing the Filipinos under their control to do the same. On the 7th, the battle of the Philippine General Hospital shelled the north of the city, especially the University of Santo Tomas which suffered fifty to sixty hits, mostly on the construction of P. Ruaño, the principal target of the Japanese guns. There was a lamentable number of casualties, some forty dead and three hundred wounded among the recently liberated. In the Education building, five were wounded. In the Seminary, there were only two slight casualties, a priest and a househelp. The attack lasted forty-eight hours.
The Japanese blew up the four bridges across the Pasig. On the 7th, further beyond Malacañan, five battalions of the 37th Division crossed the river in tanks and amphibian trucks and, after fierce fighting, they opened up a path through the cleared areas of Paco and the Gas factory. The Japanese defenders started converting each house and building into a fortress, burning them and killing their occupants when they had to abandon their posts.
In the meantime, the 11th Airborne Division, after a successful landing in Tagaytay, advanced until they joined the first wave at the southern approaches to the capital through Baclaran and Nichols Field. They mopped up these areas, destroying one hundred Japanese fighter planes and capturing seventy-five pieces of artillery and one hundred and twelve machineguns. They then proceeded towards Pasay. The cavalry made a second crossing of the Pasig through Sta. Ana. After a bitter house-to-house fighting, they drove back the Japanese from the hippodrome and from Makati. They then joined the 37th Division near the Paco Railroad station, and the 11th Airborne at the north of the Polo Club.
With these reunited forces, the Japanese defenses in Manila have been isolated and pushed back in Singalong, Malate, Ermita, Paco, Intramuros and the Port Area. American advance is slow. They are not employing the air force and they use the artillery with moderation for the sake of the civilians. The soulless defenders entrench themselves behind houses and concrete buildings, devoting their time more to arson and murder rather than in fighting the liberators. The Americans, in a rapid execution of strategy, were able to save some seven thousand refugees at the General Hospital before the vandals could effect their diabolic plans.
February 21, 1945
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP:
Weeks have passed since the start of a thorough attack on the south of the Pasig. The battle was bloody and although there were heaps of Japanese fatalities, there were very few prisoners. American casualties were heavy. The front line ran along behind San Luis Street, behind the Casino Español, City Hall up to Quezon Bridge. American artillery is demolishing the palace of the High Commissioner, the Army and Navy Club, the Bayview Hotel and the government buildings east of the Wallace Field. City Hall and the Post Office building also received their share of shells.
The shelling of Intramuros has begun. The Japanese are using the walls as mortar positions and defense walls. They launched a mortar attack on the tower of the UST main building, and another on the Education building.
American firing during the day is incessant, and by night, formidable. They are pulverizing the buildings between Taft Avenue and Burgos Street, and those of the Luneta. The clouds of smoke rise like a black torrent surging from the horizon and enveloping the sky. We are worried about the fate of the residents of Intramuros, trapped within its walls. We can only foresee unspeakable anguish and torture and a bloody agony in the hands of their tormentors.
The number of persons imprisoned is calculated to be around seven thousand, among whom were some forty missionaries, mostly Spanish, and some Filipino and Spanish Sisters.
February 24, 1945
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP:
The final and thorough attack on Intramuros was effected yesterday. After the artillery assault, the most thunderous and terrifying we had ever heard over this locality, armored cars and amphibian tanks crossed the river along that area and landed via Santa Clara in the Cathedral plaza, advancing up to the center of the Walled City. At the same time, other units hopping through the rubble of the walls at the south of the Victoria Gate, despite heavy casualties, penetrated along the once narrow streets now in ruins, until they joined the amphibian forces.
Towards the afternoon yesterday, the first liberated residents of Intramuros arrived. I talked to some of them. They were completely rattled and shaken not because of wounds or weakness but more because of the horrible scenes that they witnessed and the savagery which they had been subjected to.
The most coherent account was made by Fr. Belarmino de Celis of the Convent of St. Augustine which I shall narrate here as a typical example.
On February 8, all male residents of Intramuros from fourteen years up were taken to Fort Santiago. The women and children were herded into San Agustin Church and the Cathedral. Then the Japanese made a thorough search of all houses, placing dynamite in strong buildings to blow them up or burn them later. In prison, the Spaniards were separated from the Filipinos who numbered about two thousand. After a week without food and water, they were sprayed with gasoline with the use of a hose. Many thought that it was water and therefore opened their mouth to quench their thirst. They were then burned alive. A number of them, driven mad by the fire and by thirst, were able to break the bars of the cells and jumped into the river. But they were machine-gunned by the sentries, and only two, a Filipino and a Spanish youth, were able to escape. The young Spanish, Luis Gallent, with a fractured dorsal spine, swam to the opposite bank and was picked up by the Americans.
The Spanish group (among whom were forty missionary priests) was detained in another room, where they were so crowded that there was no room to fall down on the floor. The food sent them by the women from San Agustin was appropriated by the Japanese. On the 10th, they were returned to the San Agustin Church. Both in prison and in this church, five Filipino spies who confessed their guilt, were mixed with them.
On the 18th, they were moved out to a warehouse in front of Sta. Clara, after the women were assured that the men were being transferred to a safer place, and only for a day or two. The evening of the following day, they were made to line up in the street, guarded by an additional contingent from Fort Santiago, and led to some wide concrete shelters constructed in the yard of the old headquarters in front of the Cathedral.
With their repeated and courteous protests that measures be taken to protect them from the intense shelling, they were made to enter the shelters. In one shelter, eighty were herded, in another, thirty-seven. As the caves did not have the capacity for so many, they made the most of the situation as, after all, the shelling would last only for a couple of hours. When they were all packed up and praying the rosary and receiving the absolution, the Japanese started hurling hand grenades through the port holes of the shelter. Everyone was wounded, each in varying degrees. Some were able to force the door open and attempted to escape. They were met with bullets and laughter. A good number were killed. When the shouting and moanings decreased, the entrance was sealed with earth and gasoline drums so hermetically that those who were still alive died of suffocation.
In another smaller shelter, the soldiers threw grenades through the entrance, and only those near it received the impact. Seven survivors were able to make an opening and got out of the sepulchre alive.
In the other shelter, Fr. Belarmino, with his face and side pierced by shrapnel, noted that he was not seriously wounded, but he was suffocating in that cave and tried to bore a hole at the entrance. But one of the graveyard caretakers detected the hole and sealed it. After a long while, the interred prisoner opened it anew. He had to crawl over the corpse of his dead companions. He could still hear the moanings of some who were in agony. The shells which continued falling all around caused earth and stone to fall and cover the agonizing and the dead. The corpses decomposed and were covered with flies.
Fr. Belarmino was buried alive for seventy mortal hours, dying of thirst and suffocation. On the night of the 22nd, he decided to die of bullets rather than of asphyxiation. He succeeded in removing sufficient quantity of stones and thus create a wide opening. The Father and Mr. Rocamora, the only survivors, pulled themselves, as they could not walk, they crossed the plaza of the Cathedral which was littered with broken glass and barbed wire which opened up new wounds. But they were able to reach the Bureau of Justice building. After a short rest, the priest left his companion who could not crawl any farther and he reached the convent of Santa Clara where he asked for food and water from the Sisters. The Sisters could not give him food or drink as they themselves did not have any. He advised them to leave the convent. They were surprised how he was able to reach that far without having been killed by the sentries and they begged him to go before the sentry returned and killed him. He returned to the Bureau of Justice, searched all corners and found a toilet with the tank full of water. He quenched his thirst and filled a can for his companion. They recovered their strength somehow in spite of the loss of blood, and passed the rest of the night quietly.
Yesterday morning, the siege subsided over that part of Intramuros after a very intense barrage, preparatory to the crossing of the river. There was calm for a couple of hours. Suddenly, they heard voices: “Come on, come out.” From the accent, they knew that they were Americans and they saw the heavens open. The Father, supporting himself on the wall, came out to meet them. But his companion could not move. Three sisters of Santa Clara came. Their convent was a heap of rubble where ten other Sisters were buried. The priest showed the soldiers where his companion was and they took him in a stretcher while he, supported by two soldiers, was taken to another building where he was given food and water. He told them about the two shelters full of people, but they could not cross the Plaza as the Japanese were firing at the Cathedral. He was transferred to the other side of the river and later was brought to the hospital at the UST campus where he narrated to me all these.
In another ward, I visited Fr. Cosgrave, an Irish Redemptorist. He had both shoulders pierced by a bayonet. His account was another typical one among hundreds which could be told.
Fr. Cosgrave, together with sixteen lay brothers, their chaplain and four families were living in an unoccupied portion of the De La Salle College. The four families — of Vásquez Prada, Judge Carlos, Dr. Cojuangco and his politician brother, were composed of thirty women and children, twelve houseboys, aside from the men, a total of seventy persons.
On the 7th of February, the Japanese took the Director, Brother Xavier and Dr. Carlos. They never returned. On the 12th, while the refugees were under the stairs because of a violent shelling, a Japanese officer with twenty soldiers came. Upon orders from the officer, the soldiers poked their bayonets at all men, women and children. Some of the Brothers — twelve of them were Germans — were able to get away and run upstairs. They were chased by the soldiers and were stabbed at the entrance of the chapel, others inside. Those who resisted were shot by the officer.
When the soldiers were through with the orgy, they dragged the bodies and piled them under the stairs, the dead over those who were still alive. Not all died upon being stabbed. Among them were children of two years and less.
At about ten o’clock in the evening, the chaplain, notwithstanding his wounded shoulders, was able to free himself from the heap of corpses and crawl upstairs to the chapel. He administered the extreme unction on the agonizing, himself resigned to his fate, and likewise asking pardon for their torturers. He found other corpses in the chapel. Hiding behind the altar were ten others.
On the following day, the Japanese started blowing up different parts of the College. They tried to burn the chapel, but as it was made of concrete, only the furnitures caught fire. For a while, they feared that the smoke would suffocate them. On the 15th, after four days of natural fasting and slow bleeding, the ten survivors — among them a son of former Speaker Aquino — were saved by the liberating troops.
February 25, 1945
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP:
The civilians who escaped the murderous claws of the Japanese were able to save themselves either fortuitously or through the intervention of some good-hearted Japanese — we have to do justice to some of them who saved others at the risk of their own lives — and always by a providential act of the divine mercy which knows how to counteract the most notorious plans. Both the annihilation of the civilian population and the mass suicide of the Japanese army and people had been premeditatedly planned by order of the Imperial government which wanted to drown national defeat and humiliation in blood.
February 27, 1945
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP:
The last night I spent in Manila was the first that was exempt from the thunder and lightnings of war. I returned to my rural residence, From 7:30 in the morning to 7:39 in the evening — the return trip was not as enjoyable and as fast as when I left. Inhaling dust, I watched the interminable caravan of vehicles going towards Manila. Each time, we stood amazed by the numerous war equipment produced by the Americans and landed here by the army.
Some 25 kilometers north of Manila, I saw by the bridge of Meycauayan a dozen of Japanese prisoners, withered and starved. They had just been captured while awaiting a chance to attack the Americans who would pass by the bridge. Such attacks were frequent — on bridges, in encampments, always at night and suicidal, with hand grenades or bayonets. The damage they caused was insignificant in comparison with what they suffered. But, either on their own will or upon orders, they had to die, killing in the process. It was easy for them to die, but they found it difficult to kill. For what could they do with their antiquated arms against automatic rifles which could discharge thirty rounds or more? They were searching for immortality and they found it. They wanted death and glory — not death or glory — and the G.I.’s gave it to them wholeheartedly. It was an insatiable thirst, this suicidal and destructive fanaticism. It was so irritating, inexplicable, exciting and the cases involving it so typical, crude and frequent that we always tended to deal on this sempiternal topic without exhaustion. And the more we delved into it, the more we found it inexplicable and unpardonable.
In Calasiao, I saw a vast expanse of land surrounded by wired fence. I was told that it was a concentration camp for those captured in the northern sector. The prisoners could be seen walking, working or resting. The police had to be on watch, not to prevent their escape but to protect them from being attacked. They knew that if they escaped, they would not only be unable to find anyone to give them refuge, but they would certainly be cut to pieces either by the guerillas or by their countrymen.
The American Army took few prisoners. The Filipino Army turned in only dead ones. Sometimes the MP’s had to defend the prisoners from the infuriated populace.
March 6, 1945
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP:
I returned to Manila, this time for good. These officers were so accommodating that they were willing to go two hundred kilometers just to please us. But, in order not to absent themselves from their posts during their tour of duty, they travelled during the unholy hours of the night. Never had I experienced such cold weather in the Philippines. It reminded me of Siberia. Our host, a phenomenon that he was a captain at 24 and weighed 280 pounds, had to put on his leather jacket. With my frail body and with my tropical garb, I was shivering all over.
The mountains to the east of Bamban were still shaking under the thunderous pounding of our friends in the 43rd Division. Without giving enough time for rest and the disposal of casualties suffered in Rosario and the road to Baguio, the High Command transferred part of the Division to Zambales and part to Camp Murphy in New Manila for a mopping up operation of Clark Field and Antipolo.
That night, when I heard their cannon rumbling, I whispered a prayer for our liberators, our best friends who up to this time were still with me, the bravest and the most generous.
March 8, 1945
Leon Ma. Guerrero, Tokyo:
On the 8th of every month, which is set aside all over Japan to commemorate the imperial rescript declaring war, Vargas pays his respects at the Yasukuni shrine, where the spirits of Japan’s war-dead are enshrined. Today, after the customary ceremony, he was taken to a new six-foot drum.
“Will His Excellency be so kind as to beat this drum?”
His Excellency did.
“No, No,” the chief priest exhorted. “Harder, beat it harder, hard enough so it can be heard in the Philippines.”
Apparently the drum has not been beaten hard enough. The Asahi complains today that “our crack forces on Luzon and Yiojima are fighting valiantly, causing the enemy much bloodshed, but to our regret the hegemony of the sea and the air is in enemy hands.” And the paper continues: “While our forces have little means of further supplies the enemy is in a position to obtain supplies in rapid succession. Accordingly, in spite of the valiant fighting of our forces, the war situation on both battlefields cannot but be judged unfavorable to us.” The paper then goes on to warn that a landing on the mainland is to be expected.
For its part the government has decided to reopen the diet for a single day on the 11th March “with the intention of explaining present conditions and of clarifying the conviction of the government to cope with the situation.” Another session of the diet will be called on the 15th or 16th “to present various bills.”
As the shadow of invasion and defeat falls deeper on Japan a cold wind of suspicion and hatred for all foreigners rises. The German embassy has found it advisable to warn all its nationals off bombed areas “to avoid disagreeable incidents”. Nor are the East Asians wholly sheltered from this popular reaction. The press speaks openly of the “Bei-Hi-Gun”, the American-Filipino forces now fighting on Luzon. The Philippine Society, in planning its new quarters, has notified the embassy that shelter will be provided for Filipinos “in case of rioting”. But most chilling symptom of all has been the current box-office-hit in Tokyo, a thriller called “Rose of the Sea”. The star portrays a Filipina of mixed Chinese parentage who operates as an American spy in Japan, transmitting military information through a radio set hidden in a Christian church. She reforms in the end, of course, arid realizes “her true Asian destiny” but the implications are ominous. The film could not have been produced without official approval; indeed it is said that it was produced under the auspices of the military police. If it was, then the plot provides a good clue as to the No. 1 police suspects in Japan: Filipinos, Chinese, and Christians. It is a far cry from the 1944 box-office sensation, “Shoot Down That Flag” which portrayed the Filipinos in Bataan and Corregidor as oppressed by race-conscious Americans.
One of our students sneaked into a downtown theater to see “Rose of the Sea” the other day. When the lights went on, his neighbor, a Japanese, turned on him suspiciously and asked sharply: “Are you a Filipino?”
He looked so threatening that the poor boy stammered:
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP, would summarize events in three entries in his diary.
On March 17, 1945 he wrote a detailed description of the ruins of Manila:
I made a double round of the devastated city. As I viewed the kilometers of ruins and rubble, innumerable mansions, palaces and hotels burned, blown up or razed, holding back my breath every time the stench of corpses became unbearable, my mind was filled with deeply engraved squadron of gloomy silhouettes, sketches of apocalyptic visions, and the chanting of Jeremiac lamentations. It is impossible to transcribe all these on cold mute and blind paper. Neither Poe with his raven, nor Dumas with his dungeons nor Blasco Ibañez with his horsemen, could capture in words this immense picture of desolation. For one who had not seen this, it is impossible to believe or imagine it. And even if believed and imagined, it could not be reproduced. Everyone, soldier or civilian, who has visited this place, repeated the same refrain: “I never could imagine anything like this. It is horrible.”
Let us trace this sorrowful route which I trekked, pointing out to the imagined tourist these fields of solitude and sadness, as if we were viewing a newly excavated Pompeii or some famous Roman ruins.
To the west of the University, along España and P. Noval, three blocks of houses were burning. Scorched doors revealed the frustrated attempt of the arsonists and their plan of total destruction. The Centro Escolar at Azcarraga and its surroundings had been razed.
I passed by Sampaloc where the two churches, convents and hundreds of houses showed marks of the devastating beasts. I crossed a pontoon bridge across the Pasig near the Rotonda. The whole of Pandacan, which before was covered with gas and oil factories, with warehouses and depots, is now a heap of burned steel and wood. I crossed more bridges across esteros. At the left, I could see what used to be the Paco railroad station, the shoe factories of Hike and Esco. The whole place up to La Concordia and to the south, as far as the eyes could see, are all debris. I proceeded through Herran. At one side, Looban, were the properties of Perez Samanillo. At the other side were the factories and offices of the Tabacalera: burned and busted walls. I cruised along Marques de Comillas and San Marcelino: the church and the seminary of St. Vincent, the St. Theresa’s College, the English Club, houses and more houses, walls and roofs as if eaten up by leprosy. We turned along Concepción. The YMCA was levelled. The Sternberg hospital was demolished. City Hall was battered at its rear portion. As we turned into Taft Avenue, we saw the Legislative and Agriculture buildings reduced to rubble. In front were the Philippine Normal School, the Jai Alai, the Casino Español, the Red Cross, the Philippine Columbian Club with their roofs blown off and their windows exuding tears of smoke and carbon. To the right were the University of the Philippines, the Ateneo, the Assumption, St. Paul, the Bureau of Science, all desecrated. In Baclaran, along Harrison, the eyes revolted and the heart broke at the sight of that sorry mess. Changing sceneries, we proceeded to the Boulevard to watch the protruding — not floating — Japanese fleet which was hinged rather than anchored to the Bay. The merchant and war vessels of the invincible Japanese forces, numbering some one hundred, peeped out of the water, some on their aft, others on their fore and others showing only their mast — all in ridiculous postures hardly worthy of sons of the Mikado. They would be there down on their knees for all eternity, as silent but eloquent witnesses, confronted with the desolation of today and the splendour of tomorrow: the desolation caused by the entrails vomited out from their swollen wombs. It was the navy which entrenched themselves behind the buildings and people of Manila, blowing up and burning both as the liberators hunted them and caught up with them. Among the dead and half-buried boats, the liberating vessels scour the bay, by now cleared of enemies, both visible and invisible.
We continued our tour through Malate and Ermita. What used to be luxurious hotels and beautiful mansions now appear denuded, roofless, revealing their interiors, tattered and bleeding. Others which were of stronger materials, appear intact but their internal wounds are so serious that their interiors are torn down, as if abused by seven heavy spirits. Hotels, clubs and official residences which were the last bulwark of the suicidal assassins look like the Egyptian tombs of three hundred years ago. All the warehouses and offices of the Port Area are in ruins. Only the new Customs building is partially usable. I did not even attempt to cast a glance towards Fort Santiago, this dungeon of torture and martyrdom of thousands of heroic souls during the past three ominous years; these infernal dragons which during the month of December and January last, had devoured hundreds of illustrious lives so mysteriously; these crematories where more than two thousand men of Intramuros died of thirst and hunger during the past month. Resolutely, I entered the walled city, with a holy fear and a revolting feeling, thinking about the victims and the henchmen. Heavens! This was the abomination of desolation of the holy city. The lordly ancestral mansion of families belonging to the noblest lineage in the Philippines, the Colleges, convents and churches of three centuries of history, the hospitals and government edifices founded by the first Captains General were nothing more than mounds of dust being blown by the winds — the dust of the centuries.
In the midst of this jungle of corroded and desecrated walls the church of San Agustin still stands. It is providential that this temple, the oldest in the Philippines, the only structure that withstood the earthquakes that rocked the city from 1645 to 1880, the imposing and historical building around which the social and official life and history of the Spanish Philippines evolved since 1606 when it was completed by the Augustinian Antonio Herrera, son or nephew — it is immaterial which was which — of the divine Herrera who was immortalized in the Escorial, tomb of Legazpi and the first captain generals, this artistic monument of times past, remains standing on its feet and that its wounds could easily be healed. It is a drop of balsam in the sea of bitterness which drowns the whole religious and artistic soul.
The Cathedral, the churches and convents of the Franciscans, the Recollects, the Capuchins, the Jesuits, Sta. Clara, which made the City of Legazpi sacred; the hospitals of San Juan de Dios and St. Paul, the College and Abbey of Sta. Isabel, municipal building, the headquarters of Spain, Fort Santiago, and other monuments and relics … fallen leaves shaken by the savage wind. The University of Benavides, with greater destruction than the temple of the Sun, is like the pyramids. The thick walls are like a ring broken into pieces; only a small part remains intact. Its fortresses are in ruins.
Saddened by the tour I made of this sorrowful way, I left the sacred place. I turned my gaze and it pained me to see the skeletal remains with its dented head towering over the ruined fortress. It was Letran.
I crossed the river through one of the pontoon bridges built over the foundations of the former Jones bridge. The zapos, as our Mexican friends called their enemies, did not respect either God or Mammon. The whole of the commercial district from Quezon Boulevard to the sea, and from Azcarraga to the Pasig had been dynamited and burned. I cast my sight through the length of the Escolta, Plaza Cervantes and Dasmariñas, then cruised along Rosario, turned to Rizal Avenue — all a jungle whose cedars and oaks showed their mutilated trunks, burned, blackened and divested of all verdure and foliage, and whose shrubs had been chopped off: such was the view presented by those modern skyscrapers and the old Chinese establishments. The breadth of a giant — a portentous machinery recently imported — was blowing over those pulverized and dislocated bones, charred and smashed, flying all over the vast ossarium, and prophesying, like another Ezekiel — over the numerous skeletons both metaphoric and human. In the manner of a great restorer, it infuses the breadth of life into the remains capable of renovation, reviving what appears to be a recently excavated mausoleum, and collecting the ashes, burying them with glory.
I went into the district north of Azcarraga and I was surprised to see an area of two kilometers, as long and as wide as an airfield or a football field. It was the district of Tondo, burned by the soldiers of Yamashita, Japanese and Filipinos, and levelled by the motorized spades of MacArthur. In the midst of all these, lay the skeletal remains of a Church.
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.
A postscript comes in the form of the last press conference held by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on April 5, 1945, when President Sergio Osmeña went to visit FDR in Warm Springs, GA, to discuss Philippine matters:
Excerpts from the Last Press Conference in Warm Springs, Georgia
April 05, 1945
[Sergio Osmena, President of the Philippine Commonwealth, was present at this conference.]
THE PRESIDENT: President Osmena and I have been having a nice talk, and I thought you could come up and write a story for release when we get back to Washington. It may be in another week or ten days.
The President and I talked about many things, and it so happened that while we were together this morning, the announcement about the fall of the Japanese cabinet came in. It is a piece of very good news. Outside of that, we have been talking about a great many things to do with the Philippines.
President Osmena is just back from the Philippines itself, and he tells me about the terrible destruction in Manila-about three-fourths of the city has been destroyed. We talked first about the military campaign and the possibility of intensifying it. There are still a great many Japs in pockets in a number of places all through the Islands. Eventually, we will get to Mindanao where President Osmena says he has some very good guerrillas fighting. Our joint forces are working up toward the center of the Islands. That is partly Morro country, so there we get a great many Morros working together with the American and Filipino forces.
Then we talked about more current problems, after the Islands are cleared of the Japanese. We are absolutely un changed in our policy of two years ago, for immediate Filipino independence.
That brings up a great many things, like relief, the rebuilding of communications, roads, highways, bridges, and so forth, so as to get civilized life running in a normal way. I am not ready to announce dates yet, because nobody knows when the country as a whole will be ready to go ahead with the distribution of relief without being fired on. The relief probably ought to be undertaken by us on a perfectly definite plan. I put it to President Osmena this morning.
There are certain things which we have a definite responsibility on. It was not the fault of the Filipino people that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but they have been terribly hurt by the result of the war. And in the process of taking the Island back, we obviously ought to restore certain damages like highway bridges, or tunnels, or highways themselves destroyed by the Japanese, and those practical things.
There are other things which are not immediately practical, in one sense. For example, in Manila there is the famous old Cathedral—which is one of the oldest cathedrals in the Far East. I think this country will want, as a gesture of sentimentality, to restore the Cathedral of St. Dominic. Other things, like wrecks and harbors with Jap ships- it certainly is our duty to take those wrecks and blow them up, so commerce at different ports will be able to function again.
Then we discussed all kinds of things on the question of rehabilitation in regard to trade. We have not yet got from the Congress a definite statement as to the tariff question. After 1898, we gave to the Spaniards, who defeated the party at that time, ten years to work out the tariff problem; and we have been under a tariff ever since, which has been fixed from time to time by the Congress of the United States after commissions in those cases have sat. I don’t think we can treat the Filipinos any worse than we did the Spaniards on problems of that kind. My thought is we should maintain the present tariffs between the Philippines and the United States after they get their independence. In their present status, give them a chance to turn around before we get a new tariff, and we ought to consider the economic needs of the Filipinos as a whole.
It seems obvious that we will be more or less responsible for security in all the Pacific waters. As you take a look at the different places captured by us, from Guadalcanal, the north coast of New Guinea, and then the Marianas and other islands gradually to the southern Philippines, and then into Luzon and north to Iwo Jima, it seems obvious the only danger is from Japanese forces; and they must be prevented, in the same way Germany is prevented, from setting up a military force which would start off again on a chapter of aggression.
So that means the main bases have to be taken away from them. They have to be policed externally and internally. And as a part of the western Pacific situation, it is necessary to throw them out of any of their mandated ports, which they immediately violated almost as soon as they were mandated, by fortifying these islands.
And we were talking about what base or bases will be necessary, not for us nationally, but for us in the world, to prevent anything from being built up by the Japanese, and at the same time give us a chance to operate in those waters. The Philippine waters occupy a very large part of the Pacific Ocean, and undoubtedly we accept a mandate to keep security in that part of the world. The Filipinos and ourselves would in propinquity maintain adequate naval and air bases to take care of that section of the Pacific.
Then we talked about American technical assistance. There will be a special mission to keep us in touch, with all of this being predicated on the permanent setting up of a Philippine independent government. We talked about the time, but nothing was decided as to dates. It all depends on how soon the Japanese are cleared in the Islands. We hope it will be by this autumn, which would be prior to the date of July, 1946, set by the Congress. . . .
After Roosevelt’s death, many of his policies were retained by his successor. But control of Congress would be lost, and President Harry S. Truman until his election bid in 1948, wouldn’t have the momentum, which meant pledges to the Philippines by FDR remained unfulfilled, particularly it terms of extending full benefits to Filipinos veterans of World War II.
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.
I also discovered that the massacre and rape of Manila was not owned by a Spanish and mestizo elite. Here were the names and pictures of Filipino after Filipino, plus Irish, Russians, Germans, Chinese, Spanish, Americans, Jews (of whatever nationality) all being killed indiscriminately. But at heart, it was a Filipino event, a Filipino massacre: a nearly totally forgotten occurrence…
Finally, there was… the blazing testimony of Nicanor Roxas, a secretary to President Laurel…, telling what he had been told by Pio Duran, the second supreme head of the MAKAPILI, that the Japanese had planned to destroy Manila and the civilian population. He said that the Japanese had located heavy artillery and aimed it at Manila from positions surrounding the city. In the documentary film by David B. Griffin it is said that Yamashita asked for instructions from Tokyo and the destruction of Manila and its population was his answer. I had not come across this brief documentary before doing my own, and I am surprised and gratified that our conclusions are nearly identical.
At the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, we read guerrilla reports being radioed to MacArthur’s GHQ outlining the build-up of defenses within the city of Manila by the Japanese. These reports were from people like Captain Bartolomeo Cabangbang, who came in by submarine with my father on the east coast of Luzon, and Lt. Edwin Ramsey, leader of the East Central Luzon Guerrillas Area. This defensive/offensive build-up started immediately after the departure of President Laurel and others of his cabinet to Baguio. The communiqués are replete with locations of pillboxes, ammunition dumps, fortifications, troops, and information about buildings and bridges being prepared for demolition. This began while Yamashita was still in Manila. The fortification was going on during December and January.There is even one astonishing recommendation from Cabangbang in which he recommends to MacArthur that US planes bomb a certain location on the Escolta where Japanese had stored weapons and explosives.
That President Laurel was told by General Yamashita that Manila would be declared an Open City may have been true. Even the guerrilla messages confirm this. But his words were belied by the heavy fortification of key points and intersections throughout the city, especially south of the Pasig River, and the setting of explosive charges in the important buildings and bridges. The Japanese Military Dispositions map which you will see in the video (albeit briefly) shows at least 15 manned fortifications throughout Manila during February 1945. A radio message to MacArthur on January 13, 1945, from Cabangbang, tells of Yamashitas reneging on his promise of an open city. His logic now was that “the complete demilitarization of the city would lay it open to a possible paratroop invasion from Mindoro.” The General’s reasoning is baffling, especially in view of the further observation in the same report that “As of January 7 [Japanese troops] have constructed foxholes and pillboxes on practically all street corners.”
Does this sound like anyone is thinking “open city?”
In the video you will hear testimony from one woman, Lita Rocha Clearsky, who was warned by a Japanese officer to get out of Manila, to take everything and leave because Manila would be “no good.” And Ramsey’s agents reported that four German nationals in Manila received a circular from Japanese High Command to evacuate the city. It was known to the Japanese officers that Manila and its civilian population were going to suffer horribly; some were good enough to tell people to leave. Charo Manzano, who had spent months in Ft. Santiago after the disappearance of her army/guerrilla husband Narciso, told me that she was continually being warned by Japanese to move; they moved and they survived. Japanese planned out their neighborhood killings and knew about them in advance. There was for the most part not much randomness about these attacks on civilians. Some people were lucky enough to be forewarned.
A haunting afterword of sorts is The Present Past, a feature in the Official Gazette websute contrasting photos from 1945 and contemporary locations.