Three weeks after that last peacetime Sunday, Manila is like a deserted city. Enormous black clouds, against
which even the tropical sun is powerless, fill part of the sky. Nothing is left of the church of Santo Domingo but half-burnt walls and the bay is a graveyard of ships, of which only the masts stick out here and there like gigantic crosses. Of the three radio masts silhouetted on the horizon towards Cavite, only two remain. The lawns surrounding the Old Town, which were formerly so green, are yellowed and pitted with large holes, which for three weeks have been used as improvised trenches. Planes fly to and fro very low over the city, darting in and out of the smoke. Their engines emit an unaccustomed whistling noise. On their wings, instead of a star, a big red circle.
The streets are almost deserted. No cars to be seen, except here and there a few half-burnt vehicles. Garbage is piling up in front of the nipa huts whose shell-like windows remain half closed. The orange trams line up empty, one behind the other, at the terminals. Occasionally a carretella [cart] appears, painfully drawn by a little horse that’s constantly under the whip; the cart’s being used for a last minute removal, or by some looter moving his plunder to a place of safety. There’s no longer any army or police. In front of the City Hall, strung across the avenue, a large banner: “Open City. Stay at Home and Keep Calm.” Manila, an open city! The American army evacuated it four days earlier and has completely withdrawn to the mountainous peninsula of Bataan and to Corregidor. This hasn’t stopped Japanese planes, certain of their impunity, from making one more raid during
which they have destroyed one of the city’s most beautiful churches. The American civilians have stayed and now wait. They wait, like the Filipinos and the neutrals. They burn papers, hide what they can, and pour the contents of their whisky bottles down the sink, so that the Japanese, when they come, will stay sober. They wait, telephone each other to get the latest news or give one another other the latest advice, and fear the worst. What
are these Japanese going to do? Kill the men, rape the women, set the place on fire, loot everything? The hours before the invaders’ arrival seem interminable.
Some people, however, don’t lose their heads. The prudent Swiss fix plaques bearing a small Swiss flag to the gates of their houses. Spanish flags emerge here and there, proud to fly in the wind after being hidden for nearly half a century. A few swastikas also appear from goodness knows where. Many women, who only a few days ago declared themselves to be of old American stock, suddenly discover a Russian or Austrian passport. German Jewish refugees, who have just been demonstrating to the American authorities that they were Jews rather than Germans, are preparing to prove that they are Germans rather than Jews. Many French people proclaim their loyalty to Marshal Pétain and proudly sport a tricolor cockade which only a few days before… Belgians bring out a photograph of their king who ordered a ceasefire, and Indians one of Gandhi.
Throughout the silent city, these few days of transition between the departure of the Americans and the arrival of the Japanese are witness to the thousand changes, visible and invisible, that transform consciences and shatter appearances. The inhabitants of this open city, which no longer has a protector and as yet no master, are experiencing the worst of tyrannies — that of fear.
The dock area and Chinatown alone show unusual activity. Like a flock of crows, the city’s underworld descends on the port shops and seizes everything it can find; into trucks, cars and carretellas it crams crates of tinned food, bolts of cloth, refrigerators, and even chests containing new Bank of Indochina banknotes in transit to Manila. The shops of the Chinese are scoured from top to bottom. The time has come for the Chinese
traders to pay the price: they’re paying for having proved themselves more intelligent, cunning and energetic than the Filipinos, for having been thrifty and hardworking. The wooden boards they’ve used to barricade their shops are smashed to pieces, and the Filipinos relish their revenge. The Chinese also wait and are afraid. Since 1937 they have been sending funds regularly to Chiang Kai-shek’s government, organizing anti-Japanese demonstrations and printing nationalist newspapers. Only three weeks ago, they were putting out the flags to celebrate the entry of the United States into the war against Japan. They, too, are burning compromising photographs and burying documents and banknotes.
Emigrated to Anne Balfour’s yesterday afternoon. She telephoned me at midday to tell me that “they” were arriving at four o’clock and to ask me to come and live in the house. Here I am in charge of four women and seven children in this “nipa hut” in Santa Ana. All the Chinese shut up shop yesterday afternoon and disappeared God knows where. I think of how happy they were at the beginning of the war.
No news yesterday evening. Impossible to know if they’re here or not. The fires continued to burn.
This morning took a caramata to go to Paco market. Lots of Filipinos in the streets, with nothing to do and apparently just waiting. Weather cool. The smoke is still so thick that half the sky is black, as if a storm’s coming. At the market, prices have doubled. I find eggs, fish (excellent) and vegetables. A live chicken costs two pesos. On the way back a Filipino tells me his people are sandwiched between Japan and the United States. He seems resigned.
At eleven o’clock a Japanese plane flies over and drops propaganda leaflets. The engine makes a whistling sound like those in Saigon. In the paper we learn that the dock warehouses were set on fire yesterday by Filipinos — with the agreement of the police. The famous Pier 7 is on fire.
This afternoon Filipinos are looting Chinese shops! But pretty calm in our part of the city. No news at all. It’s time order was re-established.