(Revised, April 8, 2017) The Philippine Diary Project includes the diaries of a father and his son: Victor Buencamino, and Felipe Buencamino III. At the outbreak of the war, Victor Buencamino was head of the National Rice and Corn Corporation, precursor of today’s National Food Authority. His published diary covers the period from the arrival of the Japanese in Manila, and the first half of the Japanese Occupation.His diary provides an in-depth look into the dilemma facing government officials who stuck to their posts despite the withdrawal of the Commonwealth Government and the occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese. At certain points, particularly from January-April, 1942, he gets intermittent news about his son (who was, on the other hand, participating in clandestine military intelligence missions, even in Manila).
As for Victor Buencamino’s son, Lt. Felipe Buencamino III, known to his friends as Philip, was a young journalist who became a junior officer in Bataan, assigned to General Simeon de Jesus headed military intelligence. He kept a diary from the time of the retreat of USAFFE forces from the outskirts of Manila to Bataan, and conditions there as well as in Corregidor, which he periodically visited, looming defeat, the eve of surrender, and then the Death March and then wrote a kind of diary-memoir of the ordeal of his fellow prisoners in the Capas Concentration Camp, as well as his classmates. At times, his diary intersects with other diaries, such as the diary of Gen. Basilio J. Valdes, since Philip accompanied the General during one of his visits to the frontlines in Bataan. He resumed his diary, briefly, in September to December, 1944.
His Bataan diary prominently features two close friends: the writer and future diplomat Leon Ma. Guerrero (who would later keep a Tokyo diary covering the last months of World War II in Japan and the first months of the Allied Occupation), and Fred Ruiz Castro, future Judge Advocate General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and who ended his career as Chief Justice of the Philippines.
After the Death March and imprisonment in Camp O’Donnell, Lt. Buencamino would go home and convalesce. His diary resumed in September, 1944, and covers the start of Allied air raids on Manila, and the preparations of Japanese forces for what would be the Battle for Manila.
During Liberation, he became did a stint in the newspaper published by the Allied forces and then joined friends in setting an early post-Liberation paper. He also became a broadcaster.
He left journalism to begin a career in the new Philippine foreign service.
On April 28, 1949, Felipe Buencamino III, together with his mother-in-law, Aurora A. Quezon, sister-in-law, Maria Aurora Quezon, and Ponciano Bernardo (mayor of Quezon City) and others, were killed in an ambush perpetrated by the Hukbalahap
Leon Ma. Guerrero, in writing about Mrs. Quezon and the ambush in which she was killed, in 1951, also wrote about his friend, Philip:
In Bataan I shared the same tent with Philip Buencamino, who was later to marry Nini Quezon. He was the aide of General de Jesus, the chief of military intelligence, to which I had been assigned. I remember distinctly that one of the first things Philip and I ever did was to ride out in the general’s command car along the east coast out of pure curiosity. The enemy’s January offensive was turning the USAFFE flank and all along the highway we met retreating units. Then there was nothing: only the open road, the dry and brittle stubble of the abandoned fields, and in the distance the smoke of a burning town. We turned back hurriedly; we had gone too far. I am afraid we never got any closer to the front lines. Our duties were behind the lines. We were quite close during the entire campaign until I was evacuated to the Corregidor hospital, and I developed a sincere admiration for Philip. He was a passionate nationalist who could not stomach racial discrimination, and I remember him best in a violent quarrel with an American non-commissioned officer whom he considered insolent toward his Filipino superiors.
On April 28, 1949 – 56 years ago, Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon was on her way to Baler. With her eldest daughter, Maria Aurora, whom everyone called “Baby”. And with her son-in-law, Philip Buencamino, who was married to her younger daughter, Zeneida, whom everyone called “Nini”. Nini was at home with their first baby, Felipe IV, whom everyone called “Boom”. And she was pregnant with their second baby “Noni”.
On a rough mountain road, in Bongabong, Nueva Ecija, they were ambushed by gunmen hiding behind the trees on the mountainside. The cars were riddled with bullets. All three of them were killed. Along with several others, among them Mayor Ponciano Bernardo of Quezon City.
Adiong, the Quezon family driver, was spared. Running to the first car, Adiong found Philip lying on the front seat, his side dripping blood. Philip smiled at Adiong and said: “Malakas pa ako. Tingnan mo” — “I am still strong. Look!” And dipping his finger in his own blood, Philip wrote on the backrest of the front seat: “Hope in God”.
When they placed him in another vehicle for Cabanatuan, his bloody hands were fingering his rosary, and his lips were moving in prayer. This was consistent with his whole life. His rosary was always in his pocket. And on his 29th birthday, exactly one month before, on March 28, 1949, at dinner in his father’s home, he said to Raul Manglapus: “Raul, the Blessed Virgin has appeared at Lipa, and has a message for all of us. What are we going to do, to welcome her, and to spread her message?”
He was echoing the thoughts of Doña Aurora, who wanted a national period of prayer to welcome the Virgin and to spread her message of Peace. Years later, the Concerned Women of the Philippines established the Doña Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Awards, choosing the name in honor of this good, quiet, peaceful woman.
The blood stained rosary was brought to Nini, after Philip’s death. Many years later, she wrote down the thoughts that came to her when they gave her the bloody beads:
“We had joined my mother in Baguio for Holy Week, 1949. As we drove down the zigzag, after attending all the Holy Week services, Phil turned to me and said, ‘Nini, if we were to have an accident now, wouldn’t it be the perfect time for us to go?’ I said to him, ‘You may be ready, Phil, but I still have a child to give life to, so I can’t go just yet.’ And not long after this, his life was taken, and mine was spared.”
Her life was spared, but she felt the agony of those three deaths more intensely than anyone else. In that ambush she lost her husband, her mother, and her only sister. The gunmen riddled their bodies with bullets, on that rough mountain road. But miles away, with her one year old baby in her arms, and another baby in her womb, the gunmen left her with a broken heart. The ones she loved went home to God. But she had to carry on.
Another friend of Philip’s, Teodoro M. Locsin, whose wartime diary is also featured in the Philippine Diary Project, wrote about the murder of his friend, in the Philippines Free Press: see One Must Die, May 7, 1949:
I knew Philip slightly before the war. We were together when the Americans entered Manila in February, 1945. We were given a job by Frederic S. Marquardt, chief of the Office of War Information, Southwest Pacific Area, and formerly associate editor of the Free Press. Afterward, Philip would say that he owed his first postwar job to me: I had introduced him to Marquardt.
Philip and I helped put out the first issues of the Free Philippines. We worked together and wrote our stories while shells were going overhead. Philip was never happier; he was in his element. He was at last a newspaperman. He had done some newspaper work before the war, but this was big time. We were covering a city at war. Afterward, we resigned from the OWI, or were fired. Anyway, we went out together.
Meanwhile, we had, with Jose Diokno, the son of Senator Diokno, put out a new paper, the Philippines Press. Diokno was at the desk and more or less kept the paper from going to pieces as it threatened to do every day. I thundered and shrilled; that is, I wrote the editorials. Philip was the objective reporter, the impartial journalist, who gave the paper many a scoop. That was Philip’s particular pride: to give every man, even the devil, his due. While I jumped on a man, Philip would patiently listen to his side…
…As for Philip, he was eager to work, willing to listen, and devoted to the ideals of his craft. He was always smiling—perhaps because he was quite young. He had no enemy in the world—he thought.
After the paper closed up, Philip went to the Manila Post, which suffered a similar fate. Philip went on the radio, as a news commentator. He had a good radio voice; he spoke clearly, forcefully, well. He married the daughter of the late President Manuel L. Quezon, later joined the foreign service. But he never stopped wanting to be again a newspaperman. He would have dropped his work in the government at any time had there been an opening in the press for him.
Philip never spoke ill of Taruc. He saw the movement, of which Taruc was the head, as something he must cover, if given the assignment, and nothing more. Belonging to the landlord class though he did, he did not rave and rant against the Huks.
He had all the advantages, and he had, within the framework of the existing social order, what is called a great future. He was married to a fine girl and all the newspapermen were his friends. They kidded him; they called him Philip Buencamino the Tired, but they all liked him. He wanted so much to be everybody’s friend. he got along with everyone—including myself and Arsenio H. Lacson.
When he returned from Europe to which he had been sent in the foreign service of the Philippines, he was happy, he said, to be home again, and he still wanted to be a newspaperman. His wife was expecting a second child and life was wonderful. Now he is dead, murdered, shot down in cold blood by Taruc’s men.
He was, in the Communist view and in Communist terminology, a representative of feudal landlordism, a bourgeois reactionary, etc. I remember him as a decent young man who tried to be and was a good newspaperman, who used to walk home with me in the afternoon in the early days of Liberation, munching roasted corn and hating no one at all in the world.
Until now, I can’t quite get over Philip’s tragic death. He was first of all, a very close friend of mine. I saw him married, and was one of the best men at his wedding. I also saw him buried, and it is not a pleasant thing to remember.
Philip was such a nice, clean boy, friendly, warm-hearted and generous, so full of life, and laughter, that I learned to love him. Of course he had his faults, but you take your friends as they are, not as you want them to be. And Philip, for all his faults, was quite a man. In all the years that we kept close together, I never knew him to deliberately do a mean thing.
Because he was by nature easy-going and amiable, he exasperated me at time by failing to take things more seriously and using his considerable talents to point out the many evils with which our government is cursed. Actually, he was not wholly indifferent to them. He could on occasions become quite angry over certain injustices, but he had no capacity for sustained indignation, and it was not in him, to fret and worry over the distraceful and scandalous way this country is being run. Life to him was one swell adventure, to be lived and savored to the full, with very little time left for crusades. The world cannot be changed or saved in a day.
And because he was Philip, he would gaily twit me about being afflicted with a messianic itch. Relax, he would say. Take it easy. Things are not as bad as they look. In time, everything would be alright. Perhaps, he had the right answer. I wouldn’t know. But I shudder to think what would happen if all of us adopted a carely and carefree attitude and paraphrasing archie, Don Marquis’ cockroach reporter, say:
no trick nor kick of fate
can raise me from a yell,
serene I sit and wait
for the Philippines to go to hell.
The last time I saw Philip was two days before his death. Linking his arm to mine with a gay laugh, he dragged me to Astoria for a cup of coffee. We joined a boisterous group of newsmen who flung good-natured jibes at Philip when he announced that he was quitting the government foreign service to settle down to a life of a country farmer. Somebody brought up the subject of a certain Malacañan reporter who always made it a point to take a malicious crack at Philip and his influential family connections, and Philip agreed the guy was nasty. It was typical of Philip, however, that when I curtly suggested that he punch the offensive reporter on the nose, he smilingly shook his head saying: “How can I? Every time I get sore, the fellow embraces me and tells me with that silly laugh of his ‘Sport lang, Chief.’ I can’t get mad at him.”
That was Philip. He couldn’t get mad at anyone for long. He liked everybody, even those who, regarding him with envious eyes as a darling Child of Fortune, spoke harshly of him. He was essentially a nice, friendly guy. It was not in him to harm anybody, including those who tried to harm him.
And now he is dead, along with that fine and noble lady who was his mother-in-law, and that vivid, great-hearted, spirited girl who was so much like her great and illustrious father, foully murdered by hunted and persecuted men turned into wild, insensate beasts by grave injustices –men who, in laying ambush for Mr. Quirino and other government officials, brutally and mercilessly struck down innocent victims instead.
Philip Buencamino III had so much to live for: a charming, gracious wife who adored him, a chubby little son who will one day grow up into sturdy manhood with only a dim memory of his father, and another child on the way whom Philip now will never see. Handsome and talented, Philip had his whole future before him. His was a life so full of brilliant promise, and it is a great tragedy that it should have ended soon. He had been a top reporter before he entered the foreign service. With his charm and affability, his personal gifts and family prestige, there was no height he could not have scaled as a diplomat. The pity of it, the futile pitiful waste of it! A nice, clean, promising youngster sacrificed to the warring passions of men who have turned Central Luzon into a charnel house.
On a final note, you can listen to Felipe Buencamino III: He was the emcee for the Malacañan Press Corps, in the first radio press conference of President Roxas broadcast from Malacañan Palace in 1947.
This period is also described in my article, The Road to EDSA. In his article, Triumph of the Will (February 7 1986), Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. described the gathering of political titans that had to be brought into line to support the Cory candidacy:
It is well to remember that the unity she forged was not among dependent and undistinguished clones, like the KBL that Marcos holds in his hand. Doy Laurel, Pepito Laurel, Tañada, Mitra, Pimentel, Adaza, Diokno, Salonga and the handful of others who kept the democratic faith, each in his own fashion, through the long years of martial law, are powerful political leaders in their own right. Each has kept or developed, by sagacity and guts, a wide personal following. Not one thinks himself subordinate to another in what he has contributed to keep alive the democratic faith. As far as Doy is concerned, his compromises had enabled him to kept at least one portion, Batangas, of a misguided country as a territorial example of viable opposition. An example to keep alive the hope that the rest of the country could follow suit and become free in time.
We have forgotten how much strength and hope we derived from the stories of Batangueños guarding the ballot boxes with their lives and Doy’s people keeping, at gunpoint, the Administration’s flying—or was it sailing?—voters from disembarking from the barges in which they had been ferried by the Administration. This is the language Marcos understands, the Laurels seemed to be saying, and we speak it.
We have forgotten the sage advice of Pepito Laurel which stopped the endless discussion about how to welcome Ninoy. Every arrangement was objected to because, someone would remark, Marcos can foil that plan by doing this or that. Pepito Laurel said, “Huwag mo nang problemahin ang problema ni Marcos. His problem is how to stop us from giving Ninoy the reception he deserves. Our problem is to give Ninoy that reception. Too much talk going on here!” that broke the paralysis of the meeting.
This is the caliber of men who were approached with a project of unification that entailed the suspension, perhaps forever, of their own ambitions. Cory would be the presidential candidate, and Doy who had spent substance and energy to create ex nihilo a political organization to challenge the Marcos machine must subordinate himself as her running mate. In exchange, the chieftains would get nothing but more work, worse sacrifices and greater perils. Certainly, no promises.
After two attempts, she emerged, largely through her own persuasive power and in spite of some stupid interference, as the presidential candidate of the Opposition, with Doy as her running mate. She had not yielded an inch of her position that all who would join the campaign must do so for no other consideration than the distinction of being in the forefront of the struggle. This should be enough. She had exercised the power of her disdain.
There is a gap in the diary until it resumes with his entry for February 13-17,1986, in which Doy Laurel mentions discussions with foreign diplomats. Then the diary trails off until the EDSA Revolution begins.
(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.
There are reports – fairly reliable – of landings at Nasugbu Batangas 2 days ago and at Subic Bay 3 days ago – Nasugbu is to the South on the West Coast – Subic to the North on the West coast – the Subic landing aims at the capture of Olongapo, the naval repair base, the cutting of the communication of the Japanese forces resisting our advance over the mountains from the Zainbiales Coast, and our advance from Olongapo over the mountains to the East to cut the Japanese retreat into Bataan– The Musugbu landing will aim, of course, at the Cavite naval base, at cutting off a possible Japanese retreat to Teinate [Ternate] & Maic [Naic] & this evacuation to Bataan– And incidentally, after passing the Tagaytay ridge, will turn towards Manila.
Again these landings to the North & South of Manila Bay, the terrific bombings of Corregidor, Cavite Naval base, Fraile Island may be the prelude to an advance by task force into Manila Bay – the mines will have to be cleared and there are many wrecks in the harbor –
Gradually, the Japanese are being forced to decide what to do in the South – In a short time, any troops they have there will not be able to join the Northern forces –
Men are dying from starvation every day and day before yesterday, the Japs put two of our doctors in jail because they refused to change the death certificates from starvation to heart trouble, or some other ailment. Over 3/4 of the people in camp are starving. There are some who have a few cans of food left but even they no longer have enough to eat.
Very heavy explosions in and around Manila all during the day. About 10:30 PM, a series of detonations lasting well over an hour, were heard to the southeast of the compound. The explosions varied in intensity from small ones to big ones, all mixed together. Artillery or destruction of installations? Reverberations from explosions were heard intermittently all during the night. Many of the personnel thinks it’s about over for us – that the Americans will take Manila within the next four days.
The same half-boring, half-scary life. Early in the afternoon Papa, Frank and Nong came home with 3 bayongful of money. (Papa had mortgaged the farm.) We knew that the Americans were near so we decided to spend the Japanese money quickly…
Baby and I spent the night in Frank and Josie’s at Georgia St. It was 9 p.m., but the skies were red and orange and bright like sunset because of the fires. We watched the fires from the porch and then went to bed. But I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake. I was very impatient and homesick. By midnight, we could hear faint machinegunning and shooting. But the sound was so far, far away. The night seemed so long.
Well, looks like the Japs are getting ready to evacuate Manila and suburbs. Lots of fires early this morning — they are destroying supplies and from the looks of things, burning up half of the country in doing it.
It was about 5:30 p.m. when we heard repeated and long bursts of heavy caliber machine gun fire along the North road. There was a deep rumble which sounded like airplanes but as there were no planes in sight, it boiled down to — tanks. Very soon the sound drew nearer and the machine gun fire hotter together with heavy tank guns 2.8″, I believe the caliber is. The boys were meeting with a little Jap resistance; but they soon overcame the weak and surprised opposition of the mighty Imperial Japanese Army and drove on to Bilibid and the Far Eastern University. There at the F.E.U., our boys had quite a fight. Some were killed and quite a number wounded. But they blasted the place all to hell, set fire to it and came on about their business.
At nine o’clock, it was very dark — the moon came about midnight; one big thirty ton tank drove into the front gate and another came through the Seminary road and just took the gate with it. The Japs were caught napping and a bunch of them ran into their quarters in the Education Building.
At dusk, we saw a silent line of Japanese in blue shirts creep from the gate to the front door. They went through the long hall, upstairs, and out on the roof—of all places—with machine gun and bullets, grenades and gasoline. This made us extremely nervous, to put it mildly.
A flame thrower tore through the building next to the men’s barracks just outside the wall, and the building was a seething mass of flame immediately. It made me sick to see how quickly it happened and to wonder if any people might be inside. Fires began to rage in all directions. The sky was ablaze all night. The oil-gray pall has hung over us ever since, some of it a greasy brown color. At sunset, the sun was a copper disk in the sky, as it is during a forest-fire time at home.
Everyone went around talking about whether it was or wasn’t the American army. It wasn’t very long before we were sure. Some of the usual nervy, hardy camp members went up on the roof to see what was going on, and when the tank went by outside our walls, it stopped and they heard a Southern voice drawl, “Okay, Harvey, let’s turn around and go back down this street again.” Another pair of tanks was heard “God damning” each other in the dark. There was no mistake about this language—it was distinctly American soldiers! The Marines and Army were here! And they had caught the Japanese “with their pants down.” There couldn’t have been good communication or the Japanese would have had time to leave.
A fire broke out just behind us to the north, and the flame piled high and bamboo crackled and popped like pistols. I was so excited all night that I almost burst. I would doze off, waken with a jump at some enormous detonation. Win and Jo and little Freddie came down to our cement floor space for the night. I was up most of the night, going from one end of the building to the other to watch new fires that leapt into the sky. Jerry, who was tied to crutches (legs swollen with beriberi) and to his bed, scolded me—“You darn fool, go to bed. You’ll be dead tomorrow if you don’t stop running around.” He was right but I didn’t care and just answered, “I don’t care if I am. This is the biggest night of my life and I’m not going to miss it.”
A very bright-red red letter day! Everything went along as usual, performance of routine duties, exchanging of rumors; evening chow, and then—six American planes flying extremely low and slow passed over the compound. “Tenko” (the Japanese word for roll call) as usual at 6:00 PM. At 6:30 PM, the sound of artillery in the distance. Then heavy machine gun fire. Then the machine guns seemed to come closer and closer and closer. Finally all hell broke loose in the city. Light artillery (or artillery on tanks), heavy machine guns, light machine guns, rifles, pistols –everything– sounded on the north-northeast and east of us. The Americans had come into Manila just before dark. It got dark but not for long. A huge fire was started in or close to the adjoining compound. This illuminated our compound. The buildings on the north and east of us caught fire and blazed up. The electricity went out about 10:30 PM to remain off. Guns and ammunitions dumps went off steadily until the close of Saturday Feb, 3rd, 1945.
With the Americans at the gates of Manila the official Imperial Rule Assistance Association called a “Victory in the Philippines” rally at the Hibiya public hall today. It was piercingly cold even in mid-afternoon and the steep backstairs were slippery with crusted ice. Backstage distinguished visitors were shown into a shabby clingy waiting-room and served the usual tea. Japanese officers and dignitaries arrived in succession, glum and blue with cold, and with a strange and awkward air, half-defiant and half-apologetic. Nobody talked about the war but it was obvious that for the Japanese the news was bad.
After Mass we went to market again. The girls dropped by from home and told us that Emy said that there was news from the Quemas that the Americans arrived last night in Caloocan and were coming towards Rizal Ave. That’s why we heard the machinegunning. It was so hard to believe! The majority of the people heard the good news and rushed to the market. The market was almost empty. There were just hard kernels of yellow corn, a few coconuts and kangkong and talinum…
The Japs look desperate. They were very, very strict with the people. People were slapped more often without knowing why.
About 10 A.M. we saw Carl go out the gate to join Major Wilson in receiving orders and release from Major Ebiko and Yamato, who at last satisfied his correct soul by turning us over with all the proper formality. About noon Carl came back and we were all called into the main corridor. We crowded about the small office space, then someone said, “Gangway.” We all pressed over to one side as the clank of hobnails and sound of heavy feet came from the stairs. The eight soldiers had received their orders to come down from the roof. This was the most dramatic and exciting moment of all. It pictured our release more vividly than anything could. They had been persuaded to withdraw so that our danger would be less. They were giving in that much and were leaving Bilibid. They filed through the narrow lane we left, they and we silent, their faces looking sunk and trapped. The corporal’s fat face was sullen and defeated. One short, beady-eyed, pleasant fellow looked at us with a timid friendly grin—a good sport to the end. With machine-gun bullets and grenades in their hands, they trooped out the door, joining the still jaunty Formosans at the gate. They all went out without a backward look, and the gate stood open behind them. We were alone—and turned toward Carl who read the Release. We cheered and then Carl took the hand-sewn Baguio American flag out of the drawer and held it up high. The crowd broke up and began to move away singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” I went out the front door and around in our door at the side where June was trying to tell Jerry, who had his face in his hands, his head bowed. I put my arm around his shoulders, and the three of us sat there with tears running down our cheeks for quite a long while, not saying anything.
The sound of tanks running, artillery firing, and small arms explosions continued unabated until about 2AM. The fires burned until everything was burned up. Great clouds of saffron colored smoke reflected the light. Finally everything quieted down, except in the distance where heavy artillery was in action. But the Yanks with tanks with steaks and cakes had not come into Bilibid at 7:30 AM. Last night everyone KNEW it was over. This morning there was much talk of last nights activity being just a commando raid. The Japanese guards, most of the morning, appeared to be on the point of leaving. At 11:00 AM, Major Wilson, the Senior Medical Officer, was called to the Japanese office, where he was informed that the Japanese “had been assigned another duty” and were going to release the prisoners of war, also the civilian internees in the upper compound. At 11:45 AM, the Japanese left. We had three meals; all of them heavy. A light plane circled over Bilibid many times during the day. About 6:00PM, a wooden shutter on one of the walls of Bilibid had a hole knocked in it with a rifle butt. The American guard (guards were posted to maintain order and to prevent anyone from trying to get out of or into the compound until American Forces came in) went up to see what was happening. Maybe it was Filipino, maybe Japanese.
But — it was AMERICANS. They had Bilibid completely surrounded and were trying to get in and see what was inside the walls. They said that they had expected Japs and were surprised to see Americans and we were happy to see them. The detail at that particular point, passed cigarettes through the bars, and kept saying, let us in. We’ve come to get you out. After seeing Major Wilson, the officer in charge of the American force surrounding Bilibid, Major Wendt, bivouacked his men and then came into the compound and told us that they had been averaging 20 miles a day on their advance, but that they had only made 15 miles today, that we would no doubt be taken over tomorrow. Later, men from his organization, the 37th Division, Ohio Regiment, came into the compound and visited with the ex- prisoners.
The Japanese left the hospital area about 1:00 P.M., about 1:30 P.M. we locked the front gate with a chain and padlock and put up a red cross flag. Guards were place at sally port, outer compound gate, chapel (guard house) and west wall. I have kept the two compounds from fraternizing because they are not under military jurisdiction, however, I called on them this afternoon and we split stores left us for the Japanese – prorated their 465 to our 810 and gave them sugar, rice, tea and cigarettes to rate of 5 per person in each compound. Met the doctors including Dr. Marshall Welles formerly L.R.C.G.H…
Requested the outer compound to take down an American flag on their building as I felt this was premature.
The advance troops of the liberators entered Manila last night after thirty-seven long months since the remaining troops of the USAFFE retreated to Bataan. We cannot tell how many districts of Manila are already liberated. News dispatches are a little confused. All we are sure of is that the first place recaptured is the University of Santo Tomas with all its residents, priests and internees. We were told that the rest of the city had been turned into a battlefield, won not amidst psalms and cheers but amidst firings and shellings “…that this city and all its people might be protected…”
Got up at 5 a.m. Attended Mass at 6 a.m. Left at 9 a.m. on a B-24 with President Osmeña for Lingayen. Our plane was escorted by four pursuit planes. Arrived at Lingayen 11:30 a.m. Left at 3 p.m. for Hacienda Luisita. Spent the night.
I was awakened by feminine shrieks of delight and men’s cries of “Hooray!” Little Walter came rushing in calling to his mother, “Mummie, come, come! Do you want to see a real live Marine? They are here.” I was too worn down to go out and join the crowd, so I just rested there letting the tears run down and listening to the American boys’ voices—Southern, Western, Eastern accents—with bursts of laughter from our internees—laughter free and joyous with a note in it not heard in three years. I drifted into peaceful oblivion, wakening later amid mosquitoes and perspiration to listen to the rat-a-tat-tats, booms, clatter of shrapnel, explosions of ammunition dumps, seeing scarlet glare in every direction. There is battle all around us right up to the walls; two great armies locked in death grip. Today we watched flames leap and roar over at the Far Eastern University building just two blocks away. It is the Japanese Intelligence and Military Police Headquarters. The building was peppered with bullet holes Sunday morning, and a dead soldier is slumped out half across the window sill of an open window.
At 9:00 PM Bilibid was reported surrounded by fire on three sides and we were ordered to evacuate to the Ang Tibay shoe factory on the outskirts of Manila, where 7th Division Headquarters were located. Members of the 148th Infantry assisted in the evacuation by carrying litter patients, helping the weak to trucks, and seeing that Bilibid was cleared. The litter patients were evacuated in ambulances and jeeps. At 11:35 PM Bilibid was cleared of all personnel, staff 126; patients, 664; total Bilibid Hospital 810; civilians in the upper compound, 494; and the records that could be located in the dark.
At 6:00 AM opened hospital headquarters at the Ang Tibay shoe factory, and awaited orders. Ward surgeons and corpsmen continued to care for the patients who had been under their care at Bilibid. Ordered to return to Bilibid because of better sanitary facilities and quarters. Upon return found Bilibid had been looted, surgical equipment wrecked, typewriters, food and personal possessions, stolen or destroyed. Cases of medicines broken open and looted but the bulk of the Red Cross medicines in Bilibid were intact. Many records were either stolen or inadvertently destroyed by the Filipinos who had been employed to clean up the wreckage. Had our first American chow this AM and it was as good as we thought it would be. Canned ham and eggs, a prepared cereal milk, “K” biscuits, butter, jam, coffee with milk and sugar, cigarettes and matches.
At 6 a.m. left General Head Quarters with Major General R.J. Marshall, Major General Stivers, Colonel Egbert for Manila. Arrived 10 a.m. Fighting still going on. Found five dead Japanese in front of Tata’s house. Many dead Japanese in the street. Went to R. Hidalgo Street. Prayed at Rita’s tomb. Saw my family.
Reorganization of hospital as it was before the evacuation. Water pressure extremely low, finally no water. Rations and water requisitioned from Santo Tomas. Philippine Civilian Affairs unit #2, took over mess and continued cleaning up of Bilibid, employed Filipinos to carry water from 4 wells which the Japanese had had the Americans dig in case of such an occurrence. General MacArthur made a tour through Bilibid, visiting every ward and the civilian area.
Things couldn’t have ‘gone worse if I had. tried this A.M.; clothes dirty, unshaved for 2 days, the hospital littered with debris & in come Gen. MacArthur & Staff. He was very nice- visited all the wards & the internees, shook hands with dozens, talked to a few of his old soldiers etc. – many cried. There was a battery of news cameramen who took pictures of us everywhere as the Gen. & I led the parade.
Hired Filipinos who cleaned up the area, PCAU Units # 1 & 21 were set up to feed us tomorrow. The K rations last thru noon, then B ration which we will cook on our old wood stoves tonight.
The Japanese press has now been allowed to reveal that the United States army entered Manila on the 3rd and that fighting is now going on within the capital.
The news of street-fighting in Manila plunged us all into deep anxiety. “The Filipinos will never forgive for this,” I told one of our interpreters. “The Americans declared Manila an open city in 1942 and withdrew without fighting. Why couldn’t you do the same?”
He was decent enough not to argue about ”blood-letting tactics”; he grew thoughtful and said nothing. Later he came up to me with a Japanese newspaper. Japanese marines, he said apologetically, were doing all the fighting; the army had withdrawn according to plan but the navy had refused to cooperate.
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.
The PCAU Units – Capt. Green & Maj. MacKinsey – fed us from their gasoline ranges this A.M. There is much griping about “seconds” from the pts. They can’t realize that they can’t eat a full messkit of stateside food as they would with rice.
There was much artillery fire on our part the last two nites with same return of it; hence, there has been little sleep & everyone is jumpy. Several psycho cases were hanging on the bars this A.M. like a bunch of monkeys. They started a hunger strike, said the Americans were starving them. I called Col. Allen, surgeon 14th Corps who promised to evacuate them to Tarlac Tomorrow.
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.
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.
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…
Reorganization well under way. Rosters about completed. Records show that on Feb. 6, 88 patients were transferred to Santo Tomas which is better equipped to handle seriously ill patients: 3 patients AWOL. 8 mental patients transferred this date to Tarlac. 11 additional patients to Santo Tomas because of family there or desire to remain in the Philippines.
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?
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.
2 additional patients transferred to Santo Tomas, 1 Medical Department Sgt. Placed on DS at Santo Tomas (wife there). 108 patients not able to make 170 mile ride, transferred to Quezon Institute. Remainder of patients and Staff transferred to 12th Replacement Battalion, APO.Transported by 14th Transport Company. Left Manila at 2:30 PM, arrived 24th Field Hospital, Camp Del Pilar at 5:30 PM and were fed and rested. Left one patient, Pvt. Heather (British Army) there due to inability to continue trip. Arrived 12th Replacement Battalion 1:30 AM. The Bilibid hospital unit ceased to function as a unit upon leaving Bilibid. This report closed out as of midnight Feb 10…
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.”
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.
…The houses all burned immediately whenever a shell hit. Our house, the Hemingway’s, Bagasan’s, Amador’s, were all burning now. It was getting hotter and hotter. Then the smoke came under the house as the Gonzales’ house caught fire too. We crawled to the next house on the left. There was a shallow hole and it was soft and sandy soil so we started digging with our hands just so we could lay flat on our stomachs. We found a mattress which we used to cover our bodies. We stuck out our heads and watched the people passing on Wright st. They were dragging their wounded. Then we saw some of the Amadors walking. We found a bottle with brown sugar and gave the children some. The heat became intense. We had to go. When we came out into the street it was very quiet –not a living body, all were dead. We could not turn right to go to Remedios and Florida as the heat from Amadors’ and Montes’ house made the road like an oven. We turned left. We stumbled and walked nervously holding on to each other, afraid of stepping on parts of dead bodies. We reached Vermont and the Vasquez house but they didn’t let us in because it was a Red Cross headquarters and none of us were wounded. We reached Tennessee st. and turned left. At Georgia st. we saw four Japs and they saw us! We ran fast into a building. We hid a while but were afraid there might be Japs in the building. Then Nong peeped and they were gone. Thank God! We turned left on Georgia and came to Vermont and turned right till we reached the corner of Florida st. at last! Two blocks away was our shelter among the ruins but it was too hot to pass. But if we stood there, the Japs might see us. So Nong thought we’d better dash through the hot street. Irasan was burning. We saw many dead bodies. Most of them we knew. We came near the place where we had our shelter. It was very, very quiet, not a soul. There were dead bodies all over the place. When we came to our place what a mess it was! We came nearer and called Frank, nobody answered. Then we called Chars and Ini and Chito but nobody answered. We approached reluctantly. We saw Ini and Frank but we saw blood. We didn’t know who was wounded. It was Chito! We did not expect it to be him. When they saw us they were so surprised! Most of us cried and cried. They said they saw our house being hit directly and then bursting in flames and they were sure we were all dead. They told us that Chito was sitting and a shrapnel went through his leg, took out a piece of his hand and hit the other leg. When Chito heard that his friend Ding-ding died, he cried and cried.
The shells never stopped one after the other and when they burst the smoke and ashes came under the tables and we were all fainting one by one. There was a man with one arm gone and he was delirious and quarreling with another man under a roof nearby. The judge was drinking and he was desperate and crying. He said his wife and all his other children died. He told us to take his daughter if he dies. Chars ran out to look for medicine and came back with a sleeping tablet from Mrs. Kalaw but the Japs almost saw her on her way back. A man just pulled her back as she was beginning to cross the street. Then the Japs came to the street and we had to stop the children from crying and had to remain very quiet. Again all the shells fell in our vicinity and debris, stones and shrapnels were falling all over. The people were screaming and crying around us. We clung to our medals and prayed and prayed. One shell fell right near us and we choked and coughed and most of us were fainting and we could see figures getting out of our shelter.
Maximo went to get water, it tasted like gunpowder and smelled like the dead. We put a few drops of listerine in it and drank one sip each. The shelling never stopped the whole night.
…Near noon planes came and dropped bombs near the rotonda. We just prayed and prayed “Miraculous medal save us,” over and over again. There were shells again and no more lulls. Just shells and bombs and shrapnels. We were just waiting to die, we thought it was the end of the world! People ran past our place. One man was carrying a turkey and one was dragging a goat. There was an old man with a dying baby in his arms and Nong ran out to baptize the baby. We found a bottle of brandy and we all sipped so we’d stop fainting. Then we saw clothes of the Japanese hanging in poles and we did not know what that meant and we were so afraid. Then the rice was cooked, we ate. The Amadors opened red pimentos and asparagus and even fruit cocktail.
Then there was a lull and we saw people walking with their hands up. They told us that the Americans were on Taft ave. and the guerrillas told them to go there. They told us to go too because this was going to be the battleground. We watched them but couldn’t decide whether to follow or not. Then Niño our neighbor, came to tell us that Taft until Paco was liberated already. Now we really had to go. Joseling told us to leave him as he cried from pain when he was moved. But Niño and Tony carried him into a pushcart. We put a board over the other pushcart loaded with things and put Chito on top. In the other one we put the children. We also brought the mattress on top of the table. There were many guerrillas directing the people… They told us to hurry up. We recognized many of them from Irasan and also the man selling bananas in the market. There were big holes in the streets and electric posts and wires and we had a hard time pushing the pushcarts.
When we reached the corner of Taft and Remedios we thought we saw some Japanese with dark green uniforms and helmets and guns. But they were big and as we approached they weren’t Japanese. They were Americans! Americans! We were so happy! Some people ran to them telling them what happened. The other Americans were in foxholes with their machine guns ready. A Spanish lady ran and kissed the hand of one of the American soldiers. The people thanked them over and over again. Some people gave them bottles of wine. Then we came to a big crater and we could not let the pushcart through. So we just carried the things.
Then we went to the first aid station among the ruins. George and Joseling had been treated and lay on the cement. Then I lined up carrying Cila and holding Pichy. We were way behind the curved line and watched the people being treated. It was very frightening. There was a man with stones and clothes stuck to his back wounds and the doctor had a hard time taking out his stuck shirt and he was in so much pain. The doctor amputated fingers and removed little shrapnels but not the ones way inside that needed an operation. The doctor ran out of medicines and we had to go away without Pichy and Cila being treated. The Philippine Red Cross nurse made soup for the wounded lying among the ruins. We put Pichy in a pushcart and she was crying very much thinking about her parents who died. An American soldier cheered her up a bit. There were several American soldiers and they also carried their wounded and dead. We found the rest of the family in a ruined house where Madre Maria Sausa brought them and gave them corned beef. The American soldiers told us to walk on and we’ll be picked up by trucks.
We walked on and waved at the trucks that passed by but they only picked up those who were wounded. We met a friend who said Chito, Papa, Chars, Nong and Toots were headed for Malacañang. Everyone told us to go to Malacañang cause there were bread and apples there. Then we sat in front of a Pandacan schoolhouse waiting for a truck to take us to Malacañang but it was getting dark so we joined the crowds going to the schoolhouse. It was full of refugees, so we slept under the schoolhouse. We put the mattress on the ground for the children. I slept on top of our bundles of clothes so they wouldn’t be stolen. We opened the can of corned beef but we didn’t care to eat. We were so very tired and sleepy.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
However, From late January to mid-February, 1942, the Commonwealth War Cabinet undertook a great debate on whether to propose the Philippines’ withdrawing from the war, in the hope of neutralizing the country.
The cause of the debate seems to have been concerns over reports of the situation in the provinces, the creation of a Japanese-backed government in Manila, and the apparent lack of any tangible assistance to the Philippines as Filipino and American troops were besieged in Bataan. Here is a sampling of some letters received in Corregidor, from Filipino commanders at the front:
In his diary entry for January 21, 1942, Felipe Buencamino III, in the Intelligence Service in Bataan, visited Corregidor and wrote,
President Manuel Quezon is sick again. He coughed many times while I talked to him. He was in bed when I submitted report of the General regarding political movements in Manila. He did not read it. The President looked pale. Marked change in his countenance since I last had breakfast with his family. The damp air of the tunnel and the poor food in Corregidor were evidently straining his health. He asked me about conditions in Bataan –food, health of boys, intensity of fighting. He was thinking of the hardships being endured by the men in Bataan. He also said he heard reports that some sort of friction exists between Filipinos and American. “How true is that?” The President’s room was just a make-shift affair of six-by-five meters in one of the corridors of the tunnel. He was sharing discomfort of the troops in Corregidor.
The hardships of Filipino soldiers in Bataan –young ROTC cadets had already been turned away when they turned up in recruiting stations in December, 1941, and told to go home (though quite a few would join the retreating USAFFE forces anyway)– was troubling the leadership of the Commonwealth. The troops, too, were beginning to starve. On the same day Buencamino wrote his diary entry, the S.S. Legazpi was dispatched to Capiz Province to try to bring rice to supply the troops:
The next day, this letter would arrive from Mateo Capinpin, stating the lack of food for the troops:
At the same time I am going to open my mind and my heart to you without attempting to hide anything. We are before the bar of history and God only knows if this is the last time that my voice will be heard before going to my grave. My loyalty and the loyalty of the Filipino people to America have been proven beyond question. Now we are ﬁghting by her side under your command, despite overwhelming odds. But, it seems to me questionable whether any government has the right to demand loyalty from its citizens beyond its willingness or ability to render actual protection. This war is not of our making. Those that had dictated the policies of the United States could not have failed to see that this is the weakest point in American territory. From the beginning, they should have tried to build up our defenses. As soon as the prospects looked bad to me, I telegraphed President Roosevelt requesting him to include the Philippines in the American defense program. I was given no satisfactory answer. When I tried to do something to accelerate our defense preparations, I was stopped from doing it. Despite all this we never hesitated for a moment in our stand. We decided to ﬁght by your side and we have done the best we could and we are still doing as much as could be expected from us under the circumstances. But how long are we going to be left alone? Has it already been decided in Washington that the Philippine front is of no importance as far as the ﬁnal result of the war is concerned and that, therefore, no help can be expected here in the immediate future, or at least before our power of resistance is exhausted? If so, I want to know it, because I have my own responsibility to my countrymen whom, as President of the Commonwealth, I have led into a complete war effort. I am greatly concerned as well regarding the soldiers I have called to the colors and who are now manning the ﬁring line. I want to decide in my own mind whether there is justiﬁcation in allowing all these men to be killed, when for the ﬁnal outcome of the war the shedding of their blood may be wholly unnecessary. It seems that Washington does not fully realize our situation nor the feelings which the apparent neglect of our safety and welfare have engendered in the hearts of the people here.
In the same letter, Quezon asked that a proclamation be given the widest possible publicity. Here it is in leaflet version, distributed in the front lines:
I have read with complete understanding your letter to General MacArthur. I realize the depth and sincerity of your sentiments with respect to your inescapable duties to your own people and I assure you that I would be the last to demand of you and them any sacriﬁce which I considered hopeless in the furtherance of the cause for which we are all striving. I want, however, to state with all possible emphasis that the magniﬁcent resistance of the defenders of Bataan is contributing deﬁnitely toward assuring the completeness of our ﬁnal victory in the Far East.
The day after FDR sent his telegram, the front in Bataan stabilized, as Buencamino recorded in his diary on January 31, 1942:
Good news. Troops of Segundo have reentered our new lines. They escaped Jap encirclement by clambering precipices on Western coast for two days and nights. The men looked thin, haggard, half-dead. They all have a new life. Segundo arrived with troops dressed in a private’s uniform. Japs were slow following initial successes. Some boys, unfortunately, fell while clambering through very steep precipices. In some cases, men were stepping in ledge only half-foot wide. Some of the wounded were left to mercy of Japs. Others were carried by companions. I will try to see either Feling Torres or Manny Colayco. They belong to the 1st Regular –if they are still alive.
There seems to be a move to change Gen. Segundo. Col. Berry will replace him, I understand. I don’t think Segundo is at fault. His troops have been fighting since December in Camarines. His men are recruits, volunteers, mostly untrained civilians. His division has not had a bit of rest since campaign in Southern front and when Japs first attacked Bataan front, they chose his sector.
The Philippine Diary Project provides a glimpse into how the telegram from FDR was received. On February 1, 1942, Ramon A. Alcaraz, captain of a Q-Boat, wrote,
Later, I proceeded to the Lateral of the Quezon Family to deliver Maj. Rueda’s pancit molo. Mrs. Quezon was delighted saying it is the favorite soup of her husband. Mrs. Quezon brought me before the Pres. who was with Col. Charles Willoughby G-2. After thanking me for the pancit molo, Quezon resumed his talk with G-2. He seemed upset that no reinforcement was coming. I heard him say that America is giving more priority to England and Europe, reason we have no reinforcement. “Puñeta”, he exclaimed, “how typically American to writhe in anguish over a distant cousin (England) while a daughter (Philippines) is being raped in the backroom”.
The remark quoted above is found in quite a few other books; inactivity and ill-health seemed to be taking its toll on the morale of government officials, while the reality was the Visayas and Mindanao were still unoccupied by the enemy. Furthermore, Corregidor remained in touch with unoccupied areas, and a sample of reports and replies helps put in context the attitude of the Filipino leadership in Corregidor.
On February 2, 1942, Gen. Valdes wrote that the idea of evacuating the Commonwealth Government from Corregidor was raised –in case “forces in Bataan were pushed back by the enemy,” suggesting that holding the line after the last attempted advance by the Japanese still left the weakened defenders uneasy.
Writing in his diary on February 2, 1942, Felipe Buencamino III recounts battle stories of his comrades, and the physical and mental condition of soldiers like himself:
Talked to Tony Perez this morning about penetration in Mt. Natib. He said they walked for two days and nights without stop, clambering cliffs, clinging to vines at times to keep their body steady, in a desperate effort to escape encirclement by the Japs. He said it was a pity some of the weak and wounded were left behind. There were men he said offering all their money to soldiers to “please carry me because I can no longer walk.” He said that he and a friend carried a fellow who had a bullet wound in the leg. “Some of the boys” he said “fell down the precipice because the path was very narrow, in some cases just enough for the toes.” He expressed the opinion that if Japs had followed their gains immediately and emplaced a machine gun near the cliff, they would all have been killed. “It was heart-breaking” he said. “There we were trying to run away from Japs and sometimes we had to stay in the same place for a long time because the cliffs were very irregular, at times flat, at times perpendicular.” He said that most of the men discarded their rifles and revolvers to reduce their load. Most of our artillery pieces were left, he stated. “We were happy,” he recounted, “when night came because it was dark and the Japs would have less chances of spotting us but then that made our climbing doubly difficult because it was hard to see where one was stepping especially when the moon hid behind the clouds.” He opined that the Japs probably never thought that one whole division would be able to escape through those precipices in the same way that we never thought that they would be able to pass through the steep cliffs of Mt. Natib. Fred said he will write a poem entitled “The Cliffs of Bagao” in honor of the Dunkirk-like retreat of the 1st regular division…
Life here is getting harder and harder. I noticed everybody is getting more and more irritable. Nerves, I think. Food is terribly short. Just two handfuls of rice in the morning and the same amount at night with a dash of sardines. Nine out of ten men have malaria. When you get the shivers, you geel like you have ice in your blood. Bombing has become more intensified and more frequent. The General is always hot-headed. Fred and Leonie are often arguing heatedly. Montserrat and Javallera are sore at each other. And I… well, I wanna go home.
Although the U.S. Navy never showed any willingness to use its surface ships to assist the supply of the Philippines, whether for the carriage of cargo or as escorts, that reluctance did not apply to its submarines, but it took direct pressure from the White House to get action. Between mid-January and 3 May, eight U.S. submarines unloaded cargoes at Corregidor. For their return trips, they evacuated a total of 185 personnel together with the treasury of the Philippines as well as vital Army records. The quantity of the cargoes the subs delivered totaled 53 tons of foodstuffs along with various quantities of munitions and diesel oil. In aggregate, this was hardly enough to make a dent in the overall need; nevertheless, it was an asset to the morale of the defenders. The personnel who the submarines evacuated were of considerable import as most of them were essential to the future conduct of the war.
The same paper also discusses efforts to bring much-needed food and supplies to the soldiers in Bataan and Corregidor:
There was, though, one shining moment, and this was the result of a plan put in force by MacArthur’s quartermasters during early January to utilize ships which had been anchored off Corregidor since the evacuation from Manila in late December. Three were used, all being medium-sized Filipino coasters: Legazpi, Kolumbugan, and Bohol II. Between mid January and mid February, each of them made two round trips for a total of six deliveries of foodstuffs to Corregidor from the island of Panay as well as from Looc Cove in Batangas Province. Legazpi and Kolumbugan were victim to enemy interception on what would have been for each of them their third attempt. After those losses, it was decided that to send Bohol II again would have been futile since it was obvious that the Japanese blockade had effectively canceled out any hope of success.
Although the three ships which sailed from Corregidor had a short operational history, they had all told brought in 5,800 tons of rice and other foodstuffs together with 400 head of livestock. It was not enough to stave off surrender, but it must have made the last days
of the siege a bit more bearable.
Three days after the reserves of the Commonwealth were evacuated, however, matters came to a head. On February 5, 1942 General Valdes went to Bataan to inspect the troops and confer with Filipino and American officers. He returned to Corregidor that evening; one can possibly infer he then made a report to the President. What is explicitly recorded in the Diary of Gen. Basilio Valdes, on February 6, 1942 is that the following took place:
The President called a Cabinet Meeting at 9 a.m. He was depressed and talked to us of his impression regarding the war and the situation in Bataan. It was a memorable occasion. The President made remarks that the Vice-President refuted. The discussion became very heated, reaching its climax when the President told the Vice-President that if those were his points of view he could remain behind as President, and that he was not ready to change his opinion. I came to the Presidents defense and made a criticism of the way Washington had pushed us into this conflict and then abandoning us to our own fate. Colonel Roxas dissented from my statement and left the room, apparently disgusted. He was not in accord with the President’s plans. The discussion the became more calm and at the end the President had convinced the Vice-President and the Chief Justice that his attitude was correct. A telegram for President Roosevelt was to be prepared. In the afternoon we were again called for a meeting. We were advised that the President had discussed his plan with General MacArthur and had received his approval.
9 a.m. Another meeting of the Cabinet. The telegram, prepared in draft, was re-read and corrected and shown to the President for final approval. He then passed it to General MacArthur for transmittal to President Roosevelt. The telegram will someday become a historical document of tremendous importance. I hope it will be well received in Washington. As a result of this work and worry the President has developed a fever.
The situation of my country has become so desperate that I feel that positive action is demanded. Militarily it is evident that no help will reach us from the United States in time either to rescue the beleaguered garrison now ﬁghting so gallantly or to prevent the complete overrunning of the entire Philippine Archipelago. My people entered the war with the conﬁdence that the United States would bring such assistance to us as would make it possible to sustain the conﬂict with some chance of success. All our soldiers in the ﬁeld were animated by the belief that help would be forthcoming. This help has not and evidently will not be realized. Our people have suffered death, misery, devastation. After 2 months of war not the slightest assistance has been forthcoming from the United States. Aid and succour have been dispatched to other warring nations such as England, Ireland, Australia, the N. E. I. and perhaps others, but not only has nothing come here, but apparently no effort has been made to bring anything here. The American Fleet and the British Fleet, the two most powerful navies in the world, have apparently adopted an attitude which precludes any effort to reach these islands with assistance. As a result, while enjoying security itself, the United States has in effect condemned the sixteen millions of Filipinos to practical destruction in order to effect a certain delay. You have promised redemption, but what we need is immediate assistance and protection.We are concerned with what is to transpire during the next few months and years as well as with our ultimate destiny. There is not the slightest doubt in our minds that victory will rest with the United States, but the question before us now is : Shall we further sacriﬁce our country and our people in a hopeless ﬁght? I voice the unanimous opinion of my War Cabinet and I am sure the unanimous opinion of all Filipinos that under the circumstances we should take steps to preserve the Philippines and the Filipinos from further destruction.
By the terms of our pledge to the Philippines implicit in our 40 years of conduct towards your people and expressly recognized in the terms of the McDuffie—Tydings Act, we have undertaken to protect you to the uttermost of our power until the time of your ultimate independence had arrived. Our soldiers in the Philippines are now engaged in fulﬁlling that purpose. The honor of the United States is pledged to its fulﬁllment. We propose that it be carried out regardless of its cost. Those Americans who are ﬁghting now will continue to ﬁght until the bitter end. So long as the ﬂag of the United States ﬂies on Filipino soil as a pledge of our duty to your people, it will be defended by our own men to the death. Whatever happens to the present American garrison we shall not relax our eiforts until the forces which we are now marshaling outside the Philippine Islands return to the Philippines and drive the last remnant of the invaders from your soil.
I propose the following program of action: That the Government of the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan recognize the independence of the Philippines; that within a reasonable period of time both armies, American and Japanese, be withdrawn, previous arrangements having been negotiated with the Philippine government; that neither nation maintain bases in the Philippines; that the Philippine Army be at once demobilized, the remaining force to be a Constabulary of moderate size; that at once upon the granting of freedom that trade agreement with other countries become solely a matter to be settled by the Philippines and the nation concerned; that American and Japanese non combatants who so desire be evacuated with their own armies under reciprocal and appropriate stipulations. It is my earnest hope that, moved by the highest considerations of justice and humanity, the two great powers which now exercise control over the Philippines will give their approval in general principle to my proposal. If this is done I further propose, in order to accomplish the details thereof, that an Armistice be declared in the Philippines and that I proceed to Manila at once for necessary consultations with the two governments concerned.
Your message of February tenth evidently crossed mine to you of February ninth. Under our constitutional authority the President of the United States is not empowered to cede or alienate any territory to another nation.
Had a Cabinet Meeting. The reply of President Roosevelt to President Quezon’s radio was received. No, was the reply. It also allowed General MacArthur to surrender Philippine Islands if necessary. General MacArthur said he could not do it. The President said that he would resign in favor of Osmeña. There was no use to dissuade him then. We agreed to work slowly to convince him that this step would not be appropriate.
I wish to thank you for your prompt answer to the proposal which I submitted to you with the unanimous approval of my war cabinet. We fully appreciate the reasons upon which your decision is based and we are abiding by it.
From then on, the question became where it would be best to continue the operations of the government; and plans were resumed to move the government to unoccupied territory in the Visayas. The sense of an unfolding, unstoppable, tragedy seems to have overcome many involved. From theDiary of Gen. Basilio Valdes, February 12, 1942:
The President had a long conference with General MacArthur. Afterwards he sent for me. He asked me: “If I should decide to leave Corregidor what do you want to do?” “I want to remain with my troops at the front that is my duty” I replied. He stretched his hand and shook my hand “That is a manly decision; I am proud of you” he added and I could see tear in his eyes. “Call General MacArthur” he ordered “I want to inform him of your decision.” I called General MacArthur. While they conferred, I went to USAFFE Headquarters tunnel to confer with General Sutherland. When General MacArthur returned he stretched his hand and shook hands with me and said “I am proud of you Basilio, that is a soldier’s decision.” When I returned to the room of the President, he was with Mrs. Quezon. She stood up and kissed me, and then cried. The affection shown to me by the President & Mrs. Quezon touched me deeply. Then he sent for Manolo Nieto and in our presence, the President told Mrs. Quezon with reference to Manolo, “I am deciding it; I am not leaving it to him. I need him. He has been with me in my most critical moments. When I needed someone to accompany my family to the States, I asked him to do it. When I had to be operated I took him with me; now that need him more then ever, I am a sick man. I made him an officer to make him my aide. He is not like Basilio, a military man by career. Basilio is different, I forced him to accept the position he now had; his duty is with his troops”. Then he asked for Whisky and Gin and asked us to drink. Colonel Roxas and Lieutenant Clemente came in. We drank to his health. He made a toast: “To the Filipino Soldier the pride of our country”, and he could not continue as he began to cry.
On February 15, 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese. That same day, February 15, 1942, General Valdes wrote,
At 9 a.m. the President called a meeting of his war cabinet. The matter of our possible exit from the rock was discussed. It was shown that the President could be of more help to General MacArthur and the general situation outside of the rock. The President conferred after with General MacArthur. He readily saw our point of view, to which was added my frequent report regarding the physical condition of the President. General MacArthur promised to radio asking for a submarine.
The Japanese are shelling Corregidor from the Cavite coast, probably Ternate.
Five days later, the Commonwealth government departed Corregidor to undertake an odyssey that would take it from the Visayas to Mindanao and eventually, Australia and the United States. See Escape from Corregidor by Manuel L. Quezon Jr. See also the diary entries of General Valdes for February 20, 1942, and February 21, 1942.
See also the diary of Felipe Buencamino III, earlier that same day, February 20, 1942:
Accompanied General to Mariveles. Was present in his conference with Col. Roxas. Javallera also attended meeting.
Roxas although colonel was easily the dominant personality of the meeting. He is a fluent, interesting and brilliant speaker.
Roxas explained military situation in Bataan. He said the convoy cannot be expected these days. He pointed out that Jap Navy controls Pacific waters. He stated that very few planes can be placed in Mariveles and Cabcaben airfields, certainly not enough to gain aerial superiority. “And,” he pointed out, “we don’t have fuel here, no ground crews, no spare parts!”
Roxas said Bataan troops must hold out as long as possible to give America, time to recover from initial gains of Japs who will attack Australia after Bataan.
Roxas said that Corregidor questions a lot of our reports.
Roxas said that evacuees are a big problem. They are thousands and they must be fed and they are in a miserable pitiful condition. He is thinking of sending them to Mindoro by boat that wil bring food here from Visayas.
Roxas revealed that thousands of sacks of rice good for a couple of days were brought to Corregidor by Legaspi from Cavite.
Though never publicized (for obvious reasons) by the Americans, the proposal to neutralize the Philippines was viewed important enough by Filipino leaders to merit the effort to ensure the proposal would be kept for the record.
The President called a Cabinet meeting at 3 p.m. Present were the Vice-President, Lieutenant Colonel Soriano, Colonel Nieto and myself. He discussed extensively with us the war situation. The various radiograms he sent to President Roosevelt and those he received were read. All together constitute a valuable document of the stand the President and his War Cabinet has taken during the early part of the war. The meeting was adjourned at 6 p.m.
In the Philippine Diary Project, this account by an unnamed officer to Francis Burton Harrison, recorded in his diary on June 13, 1942, gives an insight into the frame of mind of officers and soldiers at the front even as the debate was going on:
Supplies for besieged armies on Corregidor & Bataan: An officer told me: ‘All through the battle of Bataan we expected relief and reinforcements, though we knew the American Pacific Squadron had been temporarily put out of action at Pearl Harbor. On my first trip back from the front at Bataan to see General Sutherland on Corregidor the boys in the trenches had asked me to bring them food, tobacco and whiskey. This was on February 3rd; on February 18th I was again sent from the front on an errand to Corregidor, and this time all that the boys asked me to bring back was only “good news”–i.e., of relief coming. We all expected help until we heard President Roosevelt’s address on February 22nd. The truth about the sending of supplies is as follows: three convoys started from Australia. The first was diverted to Singapore; the second to the Dutch East Indies, and the third, consisting of three cargo boats started at last for the Philippines. Two of the vessels turned back and went to the West coast of Australia–to Brisbane. One boat, the Moro vessel Doñañate (?) got through to Cebu; it carried 1,000 tons of sugar and 1,000 tons of rice, both commodities we already had in the Visayas, so it was like carrying coals to Newcastle. Very little of this got through to Corregidor and Bataan, because of the blockade. Another vessel went aground near Leyte but the cargo was salvaged. We understood that after Pearl Harbor, the American Navy could not convoy supplies to us. Nor, of course, could they strike directly at the Japanese Navy as had always been the plan.’
Francis Burton Harrison’s diary entry June 12, 1942 and for June 22, 1942 also has a candid account by Quezon of this whole period and his frame of mind during that period.
June 12, 1942:
When we were alone together once more, I asked Quezon why, when he was on Corregidor and refused the Japanese offer of “independence with honor,” he had been so sure in staking the whole future on confidence in a positive victory over Japan. He replied: “It is the intelligence of the average American and the limitless resources of your country which decided me. The Americans are, of course, good soldiers, as they showed in Europe during the last war, but as for courage, all men are equally courageous if equally well led. Merely brave men certainly know how to die–but the world is not run by dead men.” He cited the case of the Spartans and the Athenians. “What became of the Spartans?” And then he added that in making on Corregidor that momentous decision, he “wasn’t sure.”
It seems Harrison was quite interested in this question and on June 22, 1942 he got Quezon to expound on the situation in February at greater length:
Exchange of cables between Quezon in Corregidor and Roosevelt: Quezon advised him that he was in grave doubts as to whether he should encourage his people to further resistance since he was satisfied that the United States could not relieve them; that he did not see why a nation which could not protect them should expect further demonstrations of loyalty from them. Roosevelt in reply, said he understood Quezon’s feelings and expressed his regret that he could not do much at the moment. He said: “go ahead and join them if you feel you must.” This scared MacArthur. Quezon says: “If he had refused, I would have gone back to Manila.” Roosevelt also promised to retake the Philippines and give them their independence and protect it. This was more than the Filipinos had ever had offered them before: a pledge that all the resources and man power of United States were back of this promise of protected independence. So Quezon replied: “I abide by your decision.”
I asked him why he supposed Roosevelt had refused the joint recommendation of himself and MacArthur. He replied that he did not know the President’s reasons. Osmeña and Roxas had said at the time that he would reject it. Roosevelt was not moved by imperialism nor by vested interests, nor by anything of that sort. Probably he was actuated by unwillingness to recognize anything Japan had done by force (vide Manchuria). Quezon thinks that in Washington only the Chief of Staff (General Marshall) who received the message from MacArthur in private code, and Roosevelt himself, knew about this request for immediate independence.
When Quezon finally got to the White House, Roosevelt was chiefly concerned about Quezon’s health. Roosevelt never made any reference to their exchange of cables.
Quezon added that, so far as he was aware, the Japanese had never made a direct offer to the United States Government to guarantee the neutrality of the Philippines, but many times they made such an offer to him personally.
“It was not that I apprehended personally ill treatment from the Japanese” said Quezon; “What made me stand was because I had raised the Philippine Army–a citizen army–I had mobilized them in this war. The question for me was whether having called them, I should go with this army, or stay behind in Manila with my people. I was between the Devil and the deep sea. So I decided that I should go where the army did. That was my hardest decision–my greatest moral torture. I proposed by cable to President Roosevelt that the United States Government should advise the Japanese that they had granted independence to the Philippines. This should have been done before the invasion and immediately after the first Japanese attack by air. The Japanese had repeatedly offered to guarantee the neutrality of an independent Philippines. This was what they thought should be done.” Quezon is going to propose the passage by Congress of a Joint Resolution, as they did in the case of Cuba, that “the Philippines are and of right out to be independent” and that “the United States would use their armed forces to protect them.”
When asked by Shuster to try to describe his own frame of mind when he was told at 5:30 a.m. Dec. 8 of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Quezon said he had never believed that the Japanese would dare to do it; but since they had done so, it was at once evident that they were infinitely more powerful than had been supposed– therefore he immediately perceived that the Philippines were probably doomed.
The question of the not just future, but present, status of the Philippines, particularly in light of the de facto government set up by the Japanese in Manila, led to this entry on February 25, 1943: in his diary, Harrison hears that,
It appears that Justice Frank Murphy presented to Roosevelt the plan for the recent announcement that Roosevelt has already recognized the Philippines as possessing the attributes of an independent nation by putting Quezon on the Pacific War Council and asking him to sign the United Nations declaration.
The United States published some of the documents cited above, and others, in a compendium covering the period from December 12, 1941, to December 12, 1942, which provides an insight into the internal discussions taking place in Washington and between Washington and Corregidor: SeeOfficial US-PH correspondence to open the PDF file of documents as published.
I realize how sometimes you must have felt that you were being abandoned. But once again I want to assure you that the Government and people of the United States have never forgotten their obligations to you. General MacArthur has been constantly asking for more planes, supplies and materials in order that he can carry out his one dream, which is to oust the Japanese from our shores. That not more has been done so far is due to the fact that it was simply a matter of inability to do more up to the present time. The situation has now changed. I have it on good authority that General MacArthur will soon have the men and material he needs for the reconquest of our homeland. I have felt your sufferings so deeply and have constantly shared them with you that I have been a sick man since I arrived in Washington, and for the last five months I have been actually unable to leave my bed. But sick as I was, I have not for a moment failed to do my duty. As a matter of fact the conference which resulted in the message of President Roosevelt was held practically in my bedroom. Nobody knows and feels as intensely as I do your sufferings and your sacrifices, how fiercely the flame of hate and anger against the invader burns in your hearts, how bravely you have accepted the bitter fact of Japanese occupation. I know your hearts are full of sorrow, but I also know your faith is whole. I ask you to keep that faith unimpaired. Freedom is worth all our trials, tears and bloodshed. We are suffering today for our future generations that they may be spared the anguish and the agony of a repetition of what we are now undergoing. We are also building for them from the ruins of today and thus guarantee their economic security. For the freedom, peace, and well-being of our generations yet unborn, we are now paying the price. To our armed forces, who are fighting in the hills, mountains and jungles of the Philippines, my tribute of admiration for your courage and heroism. You are writing with your sacrifices another chapter in the history of the Philippines that, like the epic of Bataan, will live forever in the hearts of lovers of freedom everywhere.
The February 3, 1942 diary entry of Gen. Basilio J. Valdes mentions a “secret and delicate mission:”
At 10 p.m. I was already in bed when the phone rang. It was the Chief Justice telling me to get dressed as we had to go to the vault, to perform a secret and delicate mission. I dressed hurriedly met them at the entrance of the Malinta tunnel and we proceeded by car for the vault. The guards were surprised at our unannounced visit. A few minutes after we arrived, Commander Parker U.S. Navy and some men with two station wagons arrived followed closely to the Staff of the U.S. High Commissioner. We worked incessantly all night. The work was performed with military proficiency, no noise, no conversations. We finished our mission at 4:30 a.m. What a relief! I returned home very tired and exhausted.
This was the transfer of the gold reserves of the Philippine Government from vaults in Corregidor to a U.S. submarine, which brought the reserves to the United States.
The genesis if this article was a meaty exchange with a reader about the prewar gold reserves of the Philippines some years ago. The reader emailed me this query, which I reproduce in full:
Dear Manolo, I’ll go direct to the point. Please help me unravel a mystery that has not only aroused my curiosity but baffled me as well. With your considerable reputation as a historical sleuth, I’m confident you can solve or otherwise clear this up. Whatever will be the outcome will make for a good thriller. Of that I’m sure. The mystery concerns what I call our national treasure consisting of some 20 tons of gold bars. This represents our country’s entire gold reserve at the time and quite possibly the total output of all the gold mines operating in the Philippines. The fabled Yamashita treasure, which in all likelihood is just a figment of the imagination, seems like loose change compared to the enormous value of this real-life treasure which may exceed 20 billion U.S. dollars using the current price of gold per kilo. When Bataan, Corrigedor, Manila and the rest of the Philippines were about to fall to the Japanese in 1942, all the gold bars were removed from the Central bank located then at the port area in Manila and ferried by a navy vessel to Corrigedor. The precious cargo was loaded onboard the U.S. submarine U.S.S. Trout. On February 22, 1942, it left Corrigedor for Guam. Also aboard were President Manuel L. Quezon, his family and a few, select members of his wartime cabinet. President Quezon and his party, however, landed at Cagayan de Oro and then motored to the highlands of Bukidnon where they were flown to Australia. From there, they went to America where President Quezon lived in exile until his death at Lake Saranac in New York in 1944. So much has been written about the harrowing and exciting escapes of Pres. Quezon and General Douglas MacArthur from the “Rock” fortress, the latter by PT boat. Both were highly-secret naval operations to save the two from eventual capture by the enemy. But little, if none at all, is known about the enormous cargo of gold which President Quezon obviously brought with him. It seems this was the bigger secret, and it is not far-fetched to think that the Japanese were also after it. The gold bars reached Guam and were transferred to the heavy Cruiser USS Michigan which sailed on to San Francisco where they were finally off-loaded at the wharf there. This is where my story ends, and the mystery begins. Where did the shipment go from San Francisco? Were the 20 tons of gold all brought to Fort Knox where gold bullions such as these are generally known to be stored for safe-keeping or somewhere else in the United States? Assuming that they were indeed kept at Fort Knox, what happened to them after the war? Were they ever returned to the Philippines? If so, when and by what means? There should be a paper trail in this secret odyssey of our national treasure. The Central Bank should or ought to know the whole story. The time has come to tell this in its entirety. Whether by design or plain oversight, we’ve been kept in the dark for close to 63 years. History abhors a mystery. So do I and, of course, you. I will be vastly relieved if this story has a happy ending; that our national treasure is intact afterall and has not been lost or stolen. Kindly take over where I left off at the wharf in San Francisco and finish the whole drama to its conclusive ending whatever that may be: either good or one more national disgrace.
Very truly yours,
FERNANDO A. ALMEDA, JR.
President Surigaonon Heritage Center
Parola Boulevard, Surigao City
My response was as follows:
Thank you for your letter. The disposition of the Philippine Treasury (its transfer from Manila to Corregidor, and the transfer of a large portion of it to the United States) was accomplished by a committee presided over by Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos (in his capacity as Secretary of Justice and Finance in the War Cabinet) and included Manuel Roxas. Treasury certificates and paper currency were burned after being itemized and notarized in a list. Coinage was dumped in the sea (where some of it was salvaged by the japanese, the majority of the coinage, however, being salvaged by the US Navy after the war). President Quezon did not leave on the same submarine on which the Philippine bullion reserves was transported. The submarine you mentioned, the USS Trout, was not the submarine he traveled on, the USS Swordfish. Neither did Philippine officials leave on the same date as the shipment of Philippine gold reserves to the USA.
You will find descriptions of this process in the published biography of Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos by Justice Ramon Aquino:
Part of Abad Santos’s work on Corregidor as secretary of finance was the custody and disbursement of government funds. With [Vice President] Sergio Osmena, [Philippine Army Chief of Staff] Basilio Valdes, Jr., [Colonel] Manuel Nieto, and members of the American High Commissioner’s staff, he checked the gold bullions and silver coins deposited in Corregidor. He supervised the shipment of these by submarine to the United States. He superintended the burning of about forty million pesos in paper bills.
Justice Aquino’s sources are the Philippines Free Press February 17, 1951 and Carlos P. Romulo’s I saw the Philippines fall. Indeed in most histories of this period the transfer of government funds from Manila to Corregidor and then to the USA is mentioned, and the care with which this was done, noted. As early as 1942, in the book Serpent of the Seas, by Commander Harley Cope, USN, you will find this (pp.222-225):
Another of our asiatic submarines had a unique assignment. Lieutenant Commander Frank W. “Mike” Fenno was given the job of evacuating the precious metal belonging to the Treasury of the Philippines and the banks from the Islands before the Japanese got their hands on it. This tall, sloping shouldered ex-captain of a champion Naval Academy baseball team –and who pitched our Asiatic Submarine baseball team to a Fleet victory when I was out there in the s-40– had been currently bringing in ammunition for the anti-aircraft guns on Corregidor. The shells were also worth their weight in gold. The Japanese knew of course that there was a large amount of gold stored on Corregidor and in the bank vaults of Manila. Needless to say they were most desirous to obtain it. Efforts to prevent the Japanese from getting the gold were under way immediately after the war begun. American and Filipino stevedores worked day and night collecting metals, currency and securities belonging to the Philippine Commonwealth, to banks and mines and individuals. On the night of February 4th, Captain Ferino brought his submarine into the harbor on the south hook of Corregidor, unloaded his precious cargo of much-needed anti-aircraft ammunition and took on gold and silver. Before the morning’s early light could expose the submarine to the eyes of Japanese patrolling planes it had slid out of the harbor and remained submerged during the day. After nightfall it was again alongside the dock and ton after ton of gold and silver was loaded aboard. This task was completed about 4 a.m. -too late to carry out the next assignment. The next night the submarine kept a rendesvous with an auxiliary vessel carrying the securities that were to be evacuated. Mr. Woodbury Willoughby, former financial adviser to Mr. Francis B. Sayre, Philippine [High] Commissioner, to whom the Navy gave much credit for collecting the wealth of the Philippines, was on the auxiliary vessel and described the submarine’s appearance in the dark. ‘When nightfall came,’ related Mr. Willoughby, ‘the auxiliary vessel sailed from Corregidor to the rendezvous with her load of securities. The submarine did not make her appearance immediately. But, after a while, the dark hulk of the submarine pushed through the surface. ‘It took about 20 minutes to transfer the securities. Then Commander Fenno made a remark I’ll never forget. His crew had gone below and he was standing by the conning tower preparatory to giving the order to submerge. ‘Any passengers?’ hr asked cheerfully. Any of us would have been glad to get aboard that submarine but it was not for us to leave. We had to tell him no.’ During the long trip from Manila to Pearl Harbor several Japanese ships came within range of the American submarine and Captain Fenno lost no time in sending them to the bottom. The mere presence of tons of gold aboard could not keep my good friend ‘Mike’ out of a fight. On March 20 Commander Fenno was awared the Distinguished [Navy] Cross for his entire crew of six officers and sixty-four men received Silver Stars for the feat of spiriting out a vast treasure of gold and silver from Corregidor right under the nose of the Japanese forces, and then sinking three of their ships.
“BULLION AND CURRENCY HELD BY COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT ON CORREGIDOR
“In addition to the valuables taken to Corregidor by the Office of the High Commissioner, a large amount of gold, silver, and paper currency was held there by the Commonwealth Government and was never turned over to the Office of the High Commissioner for safekeeping. Ther gold and sliver, which served as currency reserves, were on Corregidor, in the Philippine Treasury Reservations on that Island, before the war started. The gold comrpised 269 bars with an indicated weight of 1,343,493.95 grams and was derived from the melting of $805,410 face value of United States gold coins held by the Commonwealth Government at the time of the devaluation of the dollar in 1933. The silver was in the form of 1-peso coins an aggregate face value of P16,422.000. There were several small pieces of gold and silver in addition to the above. All of the gold and a large amount of 1-peso coins were loaded under the supervision of Commonwealth officials, headed by Vice President Osmena, and were sent to the United States as ballast on the same submarine which carried the gold held by the High Commissioner.
“It Is believed that the Philippine paper money in the Treasury reservation was brought to Corregidor by the Commonwealth officials who accompanied President Quezon when he was evacuated from Manila. It appears from the records supplied by the Commowealth government that there was, early in Jaunary 1942, P78,261,825 in Philippine paper currency of various denominations held by the Commonwealth in its vaults on the Treasury reservation. This was subsequently increased by P19,900,000 clearing house funds, as noted above, making a total of P98,161,825.
“Twenty million pesos, all in Philippine Treasury certificates of P500 denomination, are reported to have been burned on January 19 and 20, 1942, on Corregidor by a committee designated by the President of the Philippines [footnote 17: The committee consisted of Messrs. Sergio Osmena, Vice President of the Philippines, Jose Abad Santos, Acting Secretary of Finance; E.D. Hester, Economic Adviser of the High Commissioner; and Col. H.F. Smith, United States Army). On January 21, 1942, it is reported that P500,000 were withdrawn from the Treasury Reservation and placed at the disposal of Mr. S.D. Canceran, special disbursing officer, Office of the President of the Philippines, to be disbursed by him for the purpose of paying of salaries and wages of officers, employees, and laborers of the Government, and for such other purposes as might legally be authorized. A message received from Corregidor in April  indicates that prior to the capitulation of the fortress P50,097,925 in Philippine paper currency which was in the Treasury vaults was destroyed as well as P1,000,000 which was in a safe of the former Office of the President of the Philippines at Fort Mills, Corregidor.”
On pp. 118-119 the same report gives a full accounting of Philippine government funds in the United States; the gold is listed on a table on p. 118, in US dollars, at $1,360,621.08 and on p. 119:
“Currency Reserves in the United States. -When the Philippines are reoccupied it will almost certainly be necessary to adopt a new currency system. The Commonwealth government will be fortunate in having at its disposal for this purpose ample reserves now held in the United States. There were on deposit on June 30, 1942, in the United States Treasury $133,813,902.59, representing reserves of the Philippine currency. In addition, there was a small amount ($355,831.44) of currency reserves on deposit with a private bank in the United States and the United States Treasury is holding for the Commonwealth gold bullion valued at $1,360,621.08 [footnote 40: This gold was brought to the United States by submarine after the war with Japan started as described in the section of the report entitled”Program for the safekeeping of currency, gold, securities, and other valuables.” Its value has been computed at $35 an ounce. See pp. 46-57 of this report]. The total of these items is well in excess of the largest circulation of currency that there ever was in the Philippines. As has been noted earlier in this report, ther greatest circulation of which we have record was P200,445,432, equivalent to $100,222,716, on September 30, 1941. “The Commonwealth Government also has in storage in the United States a large number of silver 1 peso coins which were brought to the United States by submarine after the war started (see p. 57 above) After reoccupation of the Philippines it will be possible either to reissue these coins or melt and remint them.”
As for the disposition of government funds from 1942-45, the relevant executive issuances are in Executive Orders of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Manila, Bureau of Printing 1945 I hope this answers your inquiry to your satisfaction. There was no mystery surrounding the transfer of treasury funds as they were the currency reserves of the country. It was against the value of this gold that emergency wartime currency was issued by the guerrillas.
In response to the above, I was highly gratified to receive the following response:
Thank you likewise for your very kind, comprehensive and scholarly reply to my query. I’m completely satisfied that we have a happy ending here. Obviously, those were the times (perhaps just a golden memory) when public servants can be trusted with million of pesos of the people’s money. You’re absolutely right. President Quezon and party did not leave onboard the submarine USS Trout but the USS Swordfish. I assumed that he did so because the date of his departure was Feb. 22, 1942, about the same as the ETD of USS Trout. ThatÃ’s what I got for dealing with scanty and segmented data. Sorry. There’s no mystery about the great wartime of our national treasure NOW. That’s because you’ve cleared that. How many students of history know what you’ve just narrated? I’m not sure if this event was discussed at all in our history classes with the length and clarity you just did which has amply justified my description of you as a historical sleuth. And what about the technical documents and process by which the gold reserve and other funds were removed from the Central Bank and our country. That certainly is something we didn’t know before. Now we know better. Thanks to you. The lesson here seems to be: We should study our history more thoroughly and seriously. We can’t simply rely on you and a few other scholars to do so for us. Your narrative was gripping, accurate and thrilling – and worth the reading. I said that earlier. I’m not disappointed that the whole episode had a happy ending. And I’m relieved.
Fernando A. Almeda Jr.
As was I, as I didn’t know the answer in full until Atty. Almeda made me look into it!
On a final note, the compensation given to the Philippines due to the devaluation of the US dollar, which Romero mentioned in the first extract in this entry, was officially quantified in the High Commissioner’s report quoted in turn, above.
Additional documents I’ve encountered, concerning the disposition of currency notes, can be gleaned from the papers of President Quezon and of Andres Soriano, Acting Treasurer of the Philippines and then Secretary of Finance in the War Cabinet. They trace the story of the disposition of treasury funds during the hectic opening months of the war.
The situation faced by the Philippine government was threefold:
Preventing Philippine government assets from falling into the hands of the Japanese.
Safeguarding and accounting for the assets transferred to, or located in, Corregidor and brought ought for safekeeping in the United States or use in the field;
Authorizing the continued expenses of the government in areas free from enemy control. This was done by virtue of the Emergency Powers granted the president.
The complexity of this can be gleaned from this selection of documents:
December 26, 1942: Memorandum from National Treasurer Serafin Marabut on currency notes and certificates, and inventory for purposes of destruction to prevent capture by the enemy. Part 1, part 2, part 3.
December 31, 1941: Jorge B. Vargas writes from Manila about moving as much as possible from Manila to Corregidor before the arrival of the Japanese: part 1, part 2.
In regard to emergency and guerrilla currency, we asked in Washington for the speediest determination by the War Department of its share of the obligation incurred. As soon as this determinati6n is made, we shall enter into negotiations with the United States looking forward to the redemption of this money or of such a percentage of it as will be fair and equitable to those who received it in payment for goods or services. Meanwhile I will recommend to the Congress, if it proves necessary, steps to prevent the further drift of this currency into the hands of speculators and profiteers. I issue this warning now: That we will take every precaution against the realization of even a cent of profit by those whohave purchased for speculative purposes the currency which helped gain the victory.
The matter of guerrilla currency is not our only problem involving currency. It is necessary that this nation, when it becomes independent, have an entirely new currency as soon as practicable, replacing both the pre-war currency and the present victory money. We entered into negotiations with Treasury Department officials in Washington and have made tentative arrangements for the printing of a new issue of money by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. Special legislation will be required to authorize the issue.
Prior to the scrapping of the 1935 Constitution, presidents would deliver their State of the Nation Address in January, at the Legislative Building in Manila.
On January 26, 1970, President Marcos, who had been inaugurated for an unprecedented full second term less than a month earlier, on December 30, 1969 (see Pete Lacaba’s satirical account, Second Mandate: January 10, 1970), was set to deliver his fifth message to the nation.
And there, is of course, the view of Ferdinand E. Marcos himself.
January 23, 1970 and January 24, 1970 were mainly about keeping an eye out on coup plots and the opposition, as well as reshuffling the top brass of the armed forces and picking a new Secretary of National Defense.
January 25, 1970 was about expressing his ire over the behavior of student leaders.
After the State of the Nation address, which was perhaps my best so far, and we were going down the front stairs, the bottles, placard handles, stones and other missiles started dropping all around us on the driveway to the tune of a “Marcos, Puppet” chant.
Marcos then noted,
Some advisors are quietly recommending sterner measures against the Kabataang Makabayan. We must get the emergency plan polished up.
January 27, 1970 and January 28, 1970 were spent housekeeping –talking to police generals– and warning the U.S. Embassy they had better not get involved. Marcos began to further flesh out the rationale for his forthcoming emergency rule:
If we do not prepare measures of counter-action, they will not only succeed in assassinating me but in taking over the government. So we must perfect our emergency plan.
I have several options. One of them is to abort the subversive plan now by the sudden arrest of the plotters. But this would not be accepted by the people. Nor could we get the Huks, their legal cadres and support. Nor the MIM and other subversive [or front] organizations, nor those underground. We could allow the situation to develop naturally then after massive terrorism, wanton killings and an attempt at my assassination and a coup d’etat, then declare martial law or suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus – and arrest all including the legal cadres. Right now I am inclined towards the latter.
On January 29, 1970 Marcos rather angrily recounted receiving a delegation of faculty from his alma mater, the University of the Philippines; and reports in his diary that a very big student protest is due the next day.
The next day would prove to be even more explosive than the day of Marcos’ State of the Nation Address: the attack on Malacañan Palace by student protesters. Marcos writes about it in his January 30, 1970 diary entry:
…the Metrocom under Col. Ordoñez and Aguilar after reinforcement by one company of the PC under Gen. Raval arrived have pushed up to Mendiola near San Beda where the MPD were held in reserve. I hear shooting and I am told that the MPD have been firing in the air.
The rioters have been able to breach Gate 4 and I had difficulty to stop the guards from shooting the rioters down. Specially as when Gate 3 was threatened also. I received a call from Maj. Ramos for permission to fire and my answer was “Permission granted to fire your water hoses.”
The next day, January 31, 1972, Marcos further fleshed out his version of the student attack on the Palace, and begins enumerating more people to keep an eye on –politicians, media people; he also mentions the need to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus –eventually.
For an overview of the First Quarter Storm, see also Manuel L. Quezon III’s The Defiant Era, January 30, 2010.
Photo above:recently offered for sale on eBay, a Baltimore Sun wirephoto of wounded soldiers aboard the S.S. Mactan.
Late at night, on December 31, 1941, an old ship prepared to weigh anchor to escape Manila. Its destination was Sydney, Australia. On board, were 224 wounded USAFFE soldiers (134 of them Americans and 90 of whom were Filipinos); 67 crew members, all Filipino, and 25 medical and Red Cross personnel, all Filipino except for one American nurse, and some others.
The ship was the S.S. Mactan. Its journey represents one of the great escapes of World War 2.
On the morning of December 24, some twenty Red Cross volunteer women were in the official residence of Francis B. Sayre, High Commissioner to the Philippines, packing Christmas gifts for soldiers and sailors in hospitals in and around Manila. Mrs. Sayre was in charge of the group.
Suddenly, at eleven o’clock, Mrs. Sayre looked up from her task at the tables to see her husband standing in the patio doorway beck- oning to her. She slipped quietly out of the room and stood in the patio. “I have an urgent message from General MacArthur,” said Mr. Sayre in a low voice. “The city may fall, and we must be ready to leave for Corregidor at one-thirty!”
Mrs. Sayre was stunned. “But we must finish these bags. They’re the only Christmas our boys will have.”
“Pack as quickly as you can,” he said and left hurriedly. Mrs. Sayre went back to the tables. The women worked quickly, and in silence, to complete their task before the daily noon Japanese air raid over Manila.
The treasure bags, as they were called, made hundreds of American and Filipino soldiers and sailors happier in their hospital wards that dark Christmas Day. Irving Williams helped Gray Ladies make the distribution in the Sternberg General Hospital. The work was under the direction of Miss Catherine L. Nau, of Pittsburgh assistant field director at the hospital, who later was to distinguish herself for her work among the troops on Bataan and Corregidor, before the Japanese interned her.
Of the gift distribution at Sternberg General Hospital, Irving Williams said, “I shall never forget the boys’ beaming faces and delighted eyes as we went from ward to ward. The simple comfort articles meant so much to these boys, who had lost all of their possessions on the field of battle.”
The Philippine Diary Project contains General Basilio J. Valdes’ diary entry for December 24, 1941, giving the Filipino side of that day’s hectic events.
The Red Cross book continues with Gen. Valdes returning to Manila to contact the Red Cross:
Not until three days later December 28 did Williams know that these same boys would be entrusted to his care on one of the most hazardous missions of the war. Major General Basilio Valdes, then commanding general of the Filipino Army, came straight from MacArthur’s headquarters on Corregidor with the urgent request that the American Red Cross undertake to transport all serious casualties from the Sternberg General Hospital to Australia. President Manuel Quezon of the Philippine Commonwealth helped the Red Cross locate the Mactan.
The Commonwealth Government had, of course, by this time, withdrawn to Corregidor, and Manila had been declared an Open City. Sending Gen. Valdes to Manila was therefore rather risky.
The Philippine Diary Project contains Gen. Valdes’ entries about this mission, which began on December 28, 1941:
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.
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…
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.
Here, the Red Cross book continues the story on page 16:
Late in the afternoon of December 31, 1941, Army ambulances came clanging down Manila’s Pier 1 and halted alongside the American Red Cross hospital ship Mactan moored there.
They were followed by others, and for three hours an unending line of stretchers bearing seriously wounded American and Filipino soldiers streamed up the Mactan’s gangplank. Men with bandaged heads, with legs in casts, with arms in slings, and with hidden shrapnel wounds were borne aloft by Filipino doctors, nurses, and crew.
Their faces pallid and eyes expressionless, they had no idea where they were being taken. They did not seem to care, except that the large red crosses on the ship’s sides were a reassuring sign that they were in friendly hands.
There were 224 officers and enlisted men in the group of wounded young boys of the new Philippine Army, youthful American airmen, grizzled veterans of the Philippine Scouts (an arm of the United States Army), and gray-haired American soldiers with many years’ service in the Far East. All had been wounded fighting the Japanese invaders during the bloody weeks preceding the historic stand on Bataan.
These casualties had been left behind in the Sternberg General Hospital when General Douglas MacArthur withdrew his forces to Bataan. Anxious, however, to save them from the rapidly advancing Japanese armies, he had requested the American Red Cross to transport them to Darwin, Australia, in a ship chartered, controlled, staffed, and fully equipped by the Red Cross. The only military personnel aboard, apart from the patients, would be an Army surgeon, Colonel Percy J. Carroll, of St. Louis, Missouri, and an Army nurse, Lieutenant Floramund Ann Fellmeth, of Chicago.
Aboard the Mactan, berthed at Manila’s only pier to survive constant Japanese air attacks, Irving Williams, of Patchogue, Long Island, lanky Red Cross field director, observed the three-hour procession of wounded up the gangplank. From now on until the ship reached Australia an estimated ten-day passage if things went well responsibility for them was in his hands.
The book on page 16 continues by explaining how the Mactan ended up the chosen ship for this mission:
Only forty-eight hours had elapsed since the Mactan had been brought from Corregidor where she was unloading military stores for the United States Army. A 2,000-ton, decrepit old Philippine inter-island steamer, she was the only ship available at the time when everything in Manila Bay had been sunk or scuttled or had scampered off to sea.
Working under threat of Manila’s imminent occupation by Japanese troops, Williams and his Red Cross associates, and the crews under them, performed a miracle of speed in outfitting the Mactan as a hospital ship. Simultaneously, steps were taken to fulfill the obligations of international law governing hospital ships: The Mactan was painted white with a red band around the vessel and large red crosses on her sides and top decks; a charter agreement was made between the American Red Cross and the ship’s owners; the ship was commissioned in the name of the President of the United States; in accordance with cabled instructions from Chairman Norman H. Davis in the name of the American Red Cross, the Japanese Government was apprized of the ship’s description and course; all contraband was dumped overboard; and the Swiss Consul, after a diligent inspection as the representative of United States interests, gave his official blessings.
The Mactan, lacking charts to navigate the mine-infested waters of Manila Bay, set steam late in the evening of December 31, 1941. The Philippine Diary Project has Gen. Basilio J. Valdes solving the problem of the charts (involving the charts of the presidential yacht, Casiana, recently sunk off Corregidor), in his entry for December 31, 1941:
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 Gonzales 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.
The Red Cross book describes the ship’s departure as follows om p. 19:
Off the breakwater, the Mactan dropped anchor to await the Don Esteban.
As the hours passed, a little group joined Julian C. Tamayo, the Mactan’s skipper, on the bridge for a last look at Manila’s skyline. Besides Williams, there were Father Shanahan, Colonel Carroll, and Chief Nurse Ann Fellmeth.
Having been declared an open city, Manila once again was ablaze. The incandescent lights, however, were dimmed by the curtains of bright flame hanging over the city. The Army was dynamiting gasoline storage tanks at its base in Pandacan and its installations on Engineer Island to prevent their use by the enemy. The docks were burning, and over smoldering Cavite Navy Yard, devastated by heavy Japanese air attacks, intermittent flashes of fire reddened the sky.
As if by design, promptly at midnight the last of the Pandacen gasoline tanks blew up with a terrific explosion, throwing up masses of flame which seemed to envelop the whole city. A new year was ushered in, but the little group on the Mactan’s bridge was in no mood for celebration.
The charts brought by the Don Estebarfs master were not the ones Captain Tamayo had asked for. They were too general.
“Do you think you can sail without detailed charts?” askedWilliams.
“I think so,” replied the swarthy, pug-nosed little skipper with characteristic confidence.Once again, the Mactan weighed anchor. The moon was high in the sky as the ship approached Corregidor for a last-minute rendezvous with a United States naval vessel. From the shadow of The Rock sped a corvette, a gray wraith floodlighted by the moon, to lead the Mactan through the maze of mine fields. The corvette led the lumbering Mactan a merry chase; highly maneuverable, the former made the various turns at sharp angles, while the latter would reach the apex of a triangle and extend beyond it before making a turn.
A 26 year old American nurse, Floramund Fellmeth Difford, who ended up on board after being given a daring assignment, has her own version of events:
While the other nurses stationed in Manila were evacuated to Bataan and Corregidor, Difford was chosen for a special assignment because of her surgical nurse experience. A plan was devised to evacuate as many of the hospitalized soldiers as possible to Australia aboard an inter-island coconut husk steamer called the Mactan, under the auspices of the International Red Cross. It would be the largest single humanitarian evacuation of military personnel to date. And it was a suicide mission.
Col. Percy J. Carroll, the commanding officer of the Manila Hospital Center, told Difford the secret assignment was voluntary and risky. There was no guarantee the ship, which was barely seaworthy, would make it to its destination, but for the wounded, staying in Manila meant certain death. “It never really entered my mind to refuse, as we were accustomed to following orders,” Difford related in her book.
While the Japanese were on the outskirts of Manila, Difford awaited word to board the Mactan. She carried with her a note that explained that she was a noncombatant, but with the Japanese closing in, she prepared herself to become a prisoner. On Dec. 31, 1941, the order finally came. The Mactan, newly painted white with red crosses on its sides and decks so planes would recognize it as a “mercy ship,” was loaded with 224 wounded soldiers (134 Americans and 90 Filipinos); 67 crew members, all Filipino; and 25 medical and Red Cross personnel, all Filipino except Difford, who was the chief nurse, Col. Carroll, and a Catholic priest from Connecticut, the Rev. Thomas Shanahan, the ship’s chaplain.
Although the Red Cross was given clearance for the ship to leave by a Japanese commander, this was the first hospital ship to transport wounded soldiers in a war that the United States had just entered. There was great concern that the ship would be attacked by air or torpedo. Those aboard the ship rang in New Year’s Day 1942 to the sight of Manila in flames as the Americans blew up gasoline storage tanks to keep the supplies out of enemy hands.
The journey was fraught with peril. The ship had to zigzag through a maze of mines just to leave Manila Bay, following a Navy ship for guidance, and had a close call when it made a wrong turn in the darkness. The ship was infested with cockroaches, red ants, and copra beetles. Violent storms tossed the ship and drenched the patients on their cots on the decks, sheltered only by canvas. There was a fire in the engine room, and for a time those aboard prepared to abandon ship. Two wounded soldiers died from their injuries during the crossing, and a depressed Filipino soldier committed suicide by jumping overboard.
On Jan. 27, 1942, the Mactan arrived in Sydney Harbor to much fanfare, especially after newspapers had falsely reported that the ship had been attacked multiple times. Despite the primitive conditions aboard the vessel, the wounded soldiers arrived in very good condition and were quickly taken to a hospital on land. The Mactan’s voyage made headlines in the United States. Difford was cited for bravery by Gen. Douglas MacArthur and was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1942, among other awards. She and other military nurses were belatedly awarded the Bronze Star Medal for their service in 1993.
At the end of the voyage, the soldiers who’d been saved, all signed the document:
S. S. Mactan, Red Cross Hospital Ship
At Sea, January 12, 1942
American Red Cross
Washington, D. C.
We, the undersigned officers and enlisted men of the USAFFE, in grateful appreciation of the services rendered by the Philippine Chapter of the American Red Cross under the supervision of Mr. Irving Williams, Field Director, wish by this letter to express our gratitude.
The evacuation of the wounded soldiers from Manila by the Red Cross prior to its occupation by the enemy was instrumental in preserving the lives and health of the undersigned.
The document bore the signatures, rank, and home addresses of 210 of the Mactan’s patients all of them except those who had died or were too sick even to write their names. The addresses represented almost every state in the Union and every province in the Philippines.
December 24, 1941: Philippine Army Chief of Staff and Secretary of National Defense, Secretary of Public Works and Communications and Secretary of Labor Basilio J. Valdes, and Executive Secretary Jorge B. Vargas, watch as President Manuel L. Quezon administers the oath of office to Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, who also became Acting Secretary of Justice & Acting Secretary of Finance; witnessed by Jose P. Laurel and Benigno S. Aquino, in the Social Hall of Malacañan Palace. A few hours later the government evacuated to Corregidor, where the seat of government was transferred. Behind Quezon can be seen the Rest House (now Bahay Pangarap) across the river in Malacañang Park.
The Philippine Diary Project has several entries for this and the next day, covering different facets of life:
Fr. Juan Labrador, OP, a Spanish Dominican, tries to piece together the information he has in UST for December 24, 1941. He is better informed than most.
Teodoro M. Locsin: as a civilian, December 24, 1941 was, for him, about the effects of air-raids in Manila. With nothing to do on December 25, 1941, Locsin observes life around him, and the isolation war brings.
Felipe Buencamino III: writing as a young lieutenant in Tagaytay, rounds off December 24, 1941 among the diarists.
6:00AM–Early morning, government forces took over and occupied the ARMM facilities and other buildings and premises in Maguindanao province. Armed elements loyal to the Ampatuans were taken by surprise and gave up their firearms without resistance.
I was nervous a bit but confident. The “what if” scenarios kept popping up in my mind. I motored to the 601stbrigade for the final briefings. The choppers would pick me up from there. Gen Ferrer and I watched as more newly arrived troops were jumping off towards designated areas.
9:00AM – I was informed that something went wrong with the Huey helicopters coming from Cotabato . The Davao choppers were instead dispatched but would not be able to arrive by 10AM.
9:55AM – I got a call from Col Geslani whom we tasked to liaison with the Ampatuans that they were requesting for a little time as they were waiting for their lawyer who was still on the road to arrive. That was a break I needed. The 2 choppers arrived. We discussed with the pilot and crew contingencies and procedures.
10:45AM, we were ready to jump off upon cue from Col Geslani. It would be a short 35 minute hop from the brigade to Shariff Aguak. My staff Cecil said she’s getting nervous but insisted on joining. My assistant, Yo was busy texting. But wait, another problem suddenly cropped up. As we were boarding, one the 2 PNP officers tasked to escort the suspect said they could not use the handcuff on Ampatuan as the KEY WAS MISSING! What about the other handcuff with your buddy, I asked. “Ganon din po sir”, he replied. “Sh_t!” I almost fell from my seat!.(”Sarap sapakin!”) But there was no more time. We then agreed that he would be strapped with the seat belt and the policemen would firmly clasp the buckles to prevent any unexpected situation while airborne. (When I was asked later by reporters why Ampatuan was not handcuffed, I had a ready curt answer with a straight face: “He is adequately restrained!”. Sec Agnes promptly responded with the same line when she was asked upon landing in Manila. )
11:20AM Two Hueys landed on the Maguindanao province capitol grounds. The Huey engines were not shut off as agreed in case a sudden exit maneuver was necessary. I waited for 20 minutes on the ground. I was getting worried. Finally, I saw my staff Ollie with his thumbs up sign. Col Geslani signalled, they were on their way. My “what if” scare disappeared. The capitol gates opened. The Ampatuan family arrived on board vehicles from another location nearby. Gov Zaldy clasping my hand said: “Ipaubaya ni amah si Datu Unsay sayo” and turned over Datu Unsay to me. We boarded the aircraft with Atty. Cynthia , insisting she had to ride with him.
11:40AM, Helis took off enroute Gen Santos City where Sec. Agnes and her crew were waiting for an inquest proceeding. But again something happened. About a few minutes airborne and while still climbing and gaining altitude, I first noticed some flapping sound outside. I thought, maybe some loose parts of the chopper. The noise kept coming, intermittent. I looked down and maybe I saw flashes but I was not sure. Suddenly the Huey banked sharply to the right and simultaneously, several short bursts from our two Huey gunners at the back. The bursts startled all of us. The evasive maneuver by the pilot also jarred us. All of us kept our heads low as the Huey steeply climbed. My staff Jerry and Col Mac who were seated beside the open Huey doors ducked. The soldier at the back shouted, “ground fire, sir”. We still climbed. The flapping sound from outside could not be heard anymore. The gunners later told me ground fire sounded like flapping from the air.
The evasive action and the machinegun bursts were SOP. At 2,000 feet altitude, we cruised. That’s when I saw on the Huey floor an empty shell from the bursts of the M-60 machinegun on board.
I picked up the empty shell, then pocketed it for good luck.
At the Gensan airport, I called the Boss: “Mission accomplished, Mrs. President.”
D-DAY, Nov. 26 (Thursday)
Before daybreak, without warning, government forces as planned took over and occupied the ARMM facilities in Cotabato City including other buildings and premises in Maguindanao province. Armed elements loyal to the Ampatuans were taken by surprise and gave up their firearms without resistance.
8:00AM—I had little sleep and it was already 8 o’clock but my body refused to rise immediately. I was nervous a bit but confident. The “what if” scenarios kept popping up in my mind. I motored to the 601st Brigade for the final briefings. Two military choppers from Awang, Cotabato would pick me up from there in time for the agreed 10 a.m. pickup. In between sips of coffee and some final points, Gen Ferrer and I watched from the grounds as more newly arrived troops from Samar with armor and all were jumping off towards designated areas.
9:00AM – I was informed that something went wrong with the Huey helicopters from Cotabato. The Davao choppers were instead dispatched but would not be able to arrive by 10AM. It was a full hour flight from Davao airport to my location. I was worried. I would not want the Ampatuans to abort the pickup and blame my failure to come at the agreed time.
9:55AM – About 5 minutes to pickup time in Shariff Aguak but my choppers from Davao had not arrived yet. But a good break came. I got a call from Col Geslani to whom we gave the task to liaison with the Ampatuans that they were requesting for a little time as they were waiting for their lawyer who was still on the road to arrive. It was a great relief! They were the ones asking for more time.
10:45AM — The helicopters finally arrived. We were ready to jump off but we were waiting for word from Col Geslani when to take off. We reviewed again with the helicopter crews the exit procedures and the abort or trouble scenarios, like landing and taking off avoiding low elevation approach and departure due to reports of possible ground fire, etc. It would be a short 35-minute hop from the brigade to Shariff Aguak. My staff Cecil Desisto said she’s getting nervous but insisted on joining. My assistant, Yo Montenegro was busy texting, perhaps reassuring lady love Venus everything was okay. But another problem suddenly cropped up. As we were boarding, one the 2 PNP officers tasked to escort the suspect said they could not use the handcuff on Ampatuan as the KEY WAS MISSING! What about the other handcuff with your buddy, I asked. “Ganon din po sir”, he replied. I almost fell from my seat! I jumped out of the helicopter and looked for something to use to “restrain” the suspect. I found a fighting cock nearby and started removing its string – to the cock’s great resistance. But there was no more time. We then agreed that Unsay would instead be strapped with the seat belt and the two policemen on his sides would firmly clasp the seat belt buckles to prevent any unexpected situation while airborne.
When I was asked later by reporters why Ampatuan was not handcuffed, it would be a long story and I was too embarrassed to disclose why. But I had a ready curt answer with a straight face: “He is adequately restrained!” I reckoned Sec Agnes promptly responded with the same line when she was asked upon landing in Manila about the absence of handcuffs. Of course, the critics went to town saying it was one indication that Ampatuan was getting VIP treatment. Cool!
11:20 AM — Two Hueys landed on the Maguindanao province capitol grounds. I saw that friendly troops were already in control of the area. The Huey engines were not shut off as agreed in case a sudden exit maneuver was necessary. I waited for 20 minutes on the ground. I was getting worried. We were there in center field, Hueys’ propellers whirling noisily and a crowd watching with anxiety, most of them media crews covering and documenting every move. Finally, I saw my staff Ollie Dagala with his thumbs up sign. Col Geslani who was with the Ampatuans in another building outside the capitol grounds signaled on his cellphone that they were on their way. Suddenly, my “what if” scare disappeared. The capitol gates opened. The Ampatuan family arrived on board vehicles from another location nearby. I stood and waited for Gov Zaldy who approached me and while clasping my hand said: “Ipanapaubaya ni amah si Datu Unsay sayo” and turned over Datu Unsay to me. I walked him towards the helicopter and then suddenly hell broke loose. Ampatuan relatives and supporters, as a parting gesture started wailing and some were clutching on Unsay seemingly preventing him from boarding the aircraft. Others tried to clamber aboard the helis. We boarded the aircraft with Atty. Cynthia , insisting she had to ride with him. We had to eject my aide Nonoy Orgo and he joined another aide, Enu Domingo, in the 2nd chopper.
11:40AM — Helis took off. We were heading for Gen Santos City where Sec. Agnes and her crew were waiting for an inquest proceeding. The original plan was to hold the inquest in Manila but Sec. Agnes decided to do it at the Gensan airport so the complaining parties could be present in the “confrontation”. Unsay was looking relaxed. The Huey seats were rearranged so I was facing him. As we were gaining altitude, he motioned forward towards me and to my surprise asked: “Sec Jess, saang hotel ako e-check-in sa Manila? Para mapahabol ko pamilya ko”. I suppressed any reaction to that question and simply told him that I had no idea where he would be eventually brought but all I knew was that we would go to Gensan and I would turn him over to Sec. Agnes. From there, I would have no more role to play as the DOJ would take over. But I would escort him up to Manila as I committed to his family to see to it that nothing untoward would happen to him during the trip, I assured him.
Again, something happened. About a few minutes airborne and while still climbing and gaining altitude, I first noticed some flapping sound outside. I thought, maybe some loose parts of the chopper hitting the underbelly. The noise kept coming, intermittent. I looked down and maybe I saw flashes but I was not sure. Suddenly the Huey banked sharply to the right and simultaneously, several short bursts from our two Huey gunners at the back. The bursts from our own gunners startled all of us. The evasive maneuver by the pilot also jarred us. Atty. Cynthia was close to hysterics. All of us kept our heads low as the Huey steeply climbed. My staff Jerry Dureza and Col Macario who were seated beside the open Huey doors moved their bodies inward and ducked. The soldier at the back shouted, “Ground fire, sir”. We still climbed. The flapping sound from outside could not be heard anymore. The gunners later told me ground fire sounded like flapping from the air. At 2,000 feet safe elevation, we cruised. That’s when I saw on the Huey floor an empty shell (not slug, as some quarters said ) from the bursts of the M-60 machinegun on board.
I picked up the empty SHELL, then pocketed it for good luck . I now recall some doubting Thomases saying my story about the aerial firing was hard to believe. Picking up on the heli floor a SLUG from the ground fire would indeed be a tall tale. But it was an empty shell -not a slug, not from the ground fire but from our own gunner at the back firing a few bursts to ward off hostile fire, a standard operating procedure. On hindsight, my assessment was that it was not hostile fire from the ground. I surmised some Unsay followers fired their firearms to bid him goodbye.
We landed at the Gensan airport and I handed over Datu Unsay to Sec. Agnes Devenadera. Another problem surfaced. The inquest could not proceed unless Atty. Fortun, the Ampatuan lawyer was present. A quick check showed that Atty Fortun was actually at Awang Airport by that time ready to fly by commercial flight from Cotabato back to Manila where he thought the proceeding would take place. I had to ask the Air Force station chief to fly the lawyer to Gensan on board a small Layanglayang bomber plane. It was so small and “shaking all over” that Atty. Fortun swore he would not take a similar flight ever in the future.
By sundown, we were seated aboard an Air Force plane en route to Manila with Sec. Agnes with Unsay and some companions, including some PNP officers and men who were taken into custody.
Upon disembarking at Villamor air base, media crews and reporters who were cordoned off went into action. I sported a smirk lest someone again would spot an out-of-place smile. Then I heard someone shouting out a question: “Why is he getting VIP treatment. He is not handcuffed?” I turned to Sec Agnes. She murmured something. Then and there, I could not suppress a smile. I even laughed.
From Villamor Airbase, we motored to the NBI detention area. It was there that Datu Unsay was “billeted”. Not in some hotel where he thought he would be checked in. Or to Malacanang where that bribery witness falsely accused me of promising the Ampatuans.