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.
Very few persons escaped unscathed from the southern xone. There were countless wounded and it was almost impossible to attend to them all in spite of the fact that the doctors and nurses, both Americans and Filipinos, worked beyond their limits. The suicidal and homicidal plan of the Japanese, according to superior orders, was to exterminate the whole population and annihilate themselves. Survivors attributed their survival to a miracle and to a special favor of Providence. Many promises and vows were made and each escapee had his heartrending tragedy to tell.
The savagery displayed by the Imperial Army is as brutal as it was unexpected or, better still, it is doubly brutal for being unexpected. There were fears, and it was expected, that the Japanese would not hand over the city on a silver platter, but we could not believe that their ferocity would reach such a point of diabolic savagery.
The phantom of hunger not only hovers over the people. It holds the people captive in their claws. There is nothing to buy in stores and marketplaces. And where there are goods, there is no money with which to buy them. The occupation money has been reduced to what it is –scratch paper. The new Victory bills which the U.S. Army brought along, are still hardly in circulation. Those fortunate ones who live in the liberated zone have exhausted the supplies of rice and mongo. Parents and friends of escapees from the Japanese hell who were given refuge by those in the north are creating problems of food supply.
The American Red Cross, the PCAU and the soldiers themselves try to assist the hungry people, but there are so many of them and here is just not enough supply for all. I met a number of friends whom I hardly remembered, especially those who escaped from the claws of the Japanese and who had been reduced to skin and bones. There were also those who had been wounded or mutilated. The liberating troops, as they advance step by step, house by house, perform the dual function of combatants and Samaritan, gathering the survivors, assisting them with their own rations and transporting them to the rearguard. The wounded are transported by the Red Cross, the officers of the chaplains to improvised hospitals at the north of the Pasig. The able bodied travel in the way they could, searching for the members of their families who were separated in fleeing from Japanese fire and vandalism. Hungry and thirsty, they roam the streets as souls in agony, broken and ragged, pale and sweating under the heat of the sun, looking for people they know, and recounting their own horrors and those of others.