On December 16-17, 1941 (around midnight, hence the event straddling two dates), the S.S. Corregidor, an inter-island steamship of the Compañia Maritima, hit a mine off Corregidor Island and sank, resulting in a tremendous loss of life.
There is a very interesting discussion on the disaster, and the question of whether negligence was involved, and if so, who should be assigned blame, in the The Loss of the S.S. Corregidor thread of Corregidor Then and Now Proboards. Within the thread can be found recollections by George Steiger (an officer in Corregidor), Charles Balaza (serving in an artillery detachment on Corregidor) and others.
Here is a dramatic account by one of the survivors of the sinking of the ship, in the memoirs of Jose E. Romero (Not So Long Ago: A Chronicle of My Life, Times, and Contemporaries, Alemar-Phoenix, Quezon City, 1997 reprint):
The S.S. Corregidor Disaster
WAR HAVING BEEN DECLARED, the next day the National Assembly met at the house of Speaker Yulo to pass legislation giving the President powers to be able to cope with emergency. After that the members of Assembly were concerned with the problem of returning home to their provinces and their families. I was very much chagrined that close friends of mine had been able to take passage on the S.S. Legaspi that was making trips to my hometown, Dumaguete, via Cebu, a trip that took two days, without having difficulty from Japanese boats and planes. I was also chagrined to learn that my good friend, the District Engineer of my province who had come to Manila with me a few days previously, had been able to get out of Manila by way of the Bicol provinces and then made it to Samar and Leyte and back to our home province. A few days later, another boat was scheduled to depart for the South, including my hometown of Dumaguete. Passengers, including myself, were aboard when an hour later we were told to disembark by order of the U.S. Army, probably for fear of enemy action.
Inasmuch as the Japanese had already bombed Clark Field, Camp Nichols, Cavite, and Manila itself, particularly the Intendencia building and the Herald building and Santo Domingo Church, I thought it would be safer, being alone in Manila with my houseboys, for me to live in my office in the Legislative building. (The basement at the Legislative building had been sandbagged and was converted into an air-raid shelter.) I immediately arranged with the late Ramon Fernandez, whose boats were making trips to the Visayas, to advise me whenever any of his boats made a trip for the South, but this he never did. I had also arranged with my good friend, Salvador Araneta, who was then one of the principal owners of the FEATI (Far East Aviation Transport Co., Inc.), which owned the planes making trips between Manila, Iloilo, and Bacolod, to advise me whenever there was a chance to get on one of those planes. I was very much worried because, as already stated, I had come to Manila immediately after the election, and being very confident that in case of emergency I could easily return to my province either by a FEATI plane or by boat, I had not made sufficient provision for the maintenance of my family during my absence. In any event we had used up practically all of our financial resources during the political campaign and I had precisely come to Manila, among other things, to make arrangements to meet my immediate financial problems.
Although Mr. Araneta did his best to try to get an accommodation for me on the plane to the South, the man actually running the affairs of the FEATI was so swamped with demands for passage on his planes that even Mr. Araneta’s recommendation could not help me. One night I received a message from Mr. Araneta advising me that if I would go to Batangas that night, I might be able to get a passage on a plane. (The Manila airfield at Nichols had been bombed and was not safe for takeoff and landing of planes.) This was very difficult because the country was then under blackout orders, it was not safe to travel at night, and there was no certainty that I would get on the plane. It was the last trip that the plane made, so I missed this chance.
One day the member of the Assembly were advised that a special train was being reserved for us to go to Sorsogon. From there we could get launches or sailboats for Samar, Leyte, and our respective provinces in the Visayas. At the appointed day and hour many of us gathered at the Paco Station and we were hardly seated in the car when we were asked to come down because the Japanese had landed in Legaspi. A couple of days later, I saw my colleagues who like me had been living in the Legislative building rushing toward the Compañia Maritima office. One of them shouted to me that the S.S. Corregidor was leaving for the South. I immediately packed up the few things that I had and, together with a cousin of mine and his daughter who were living with me in the Legislative building, hied myself to the Compañia Maritima building. It was chaos there, with hundreds of people trying to get into the building to buy a ticket for the trip. A security guard, gun in hand, was at the door trying to prevent people from going into the building. I explained to him that I had an arrangement with Don Ramon Fernandez to get on the first boat going to the south, but he said that he knew nothing about the arrangement and would not let me in. My cousin, his daughter, and I left the building very disappointed when a little farther on we met Don Ramon’s nephew, Carlos, who today is still active with the shipping company. I explained my situation to him and he asked me whether I was really anxious to go on that trip. When I answered in the affirmative, he personally took me inside the office and helped me get a ticket for myself, my cousin, and his daughter. I also bought a ticket for a fellow townsman who wanted to return home but was without funds. But the danger of the trip was made manifest by our being asked to sign a waiver of any responsibility on the part of the shipping company in case a mishap occurred during the trip.
From the Compañia Maritima office and the Muelle de la Industria, we went to the South Harbor where the S.S. Corregidor was docked. There were hundreds of people and it seemed that there were many who got aboard even without tickets. I was delighted to find aboard Senator Villanueva, his recently married son and daughter, and their household help. He told me that he had been trying to contact me repeatedly the last few days, because he was anxious that we should go home together. In times of emergency like this, personal animosities among relatives are forgotten and the old family ties reassert themselves. I also met Captain Calvo of the boat, who had been a longtime friend of mine, with his pretty young wife that he had just married. He told me that I must be anxious to get back home under such conditions of danger. I told him that if he and his wife, my relatives and other people were willing to take the chance, there was no reason why I should not do the same. The boat was being located with ammunition and other military equipment for the South. I was quite nervous and I was told later that he had not wanted to make that trip. This probably partly explains why he was taking his wife along with him. I was also told later that on previous occasions, while passing the mined sections around Corregidor he had been warned that he was passing too close to the mines.
Probably the trip would not have been as risky as it was surmised. The plan was to land at the first port in the South at daybreak and from there the passengers would take sailboats or other means of transportation to the provinces which were still unoccupied by the Japanese. There were many times more passengers than should ordinarily have been allowed aboard. We stayed aboard for several hours and strict blackout was observed. Senator Villanueva and his family and I and my cousin with his daughter seated ourselves directly in front of a lifeboat as we thought we could quickly get on it in case of emergency. We were all furnished life belts and hundreds of other life belts were strewn around the deck. About midnight the boat started to leave in pitch darkness. I was half-asleep but noticed that light signals were being flashed from what I think was Corregidor Island. I was to learn afterward that the signals were to warn the captain of the boat that he was not on the right track. (The passage between Corregidor and the mainland in Manila Bay had been mined.) All of a sudden there was a dull thud and then an explosion. We had hit a mine. The boat shuddered as if mortally wounded. It did not sink immediately and the group already referred to who were seated near a lifeboat got aboard it.
Before the boat left, as already stated, we had been supplied with life belts. My companions were very prudent in having attached the life belts to their bodies, but I only held mine in my hands. A husky Spaniard had been saying that this was a bad joke we were playing with the life belts, but I told him that it was customary, even in peacetime, to have drill aboard the ships and practice the use of life belts. When we hit the mine this husky man grabbed my life belt, since he had not taken the precaution to provide one for himself. I insisted that the life belt was mine, but he claimed that it was his and proposed that we throw the life belt into the water, confident that later on, if we had to struggle for that life belt, as a much huskier man he would have the advantage. But the man from my province, whom I had helped to get a ticket on that trip and for which ticket I had paid, handed me another life belt. Again it was grabbed by another person. This faithful protege of mine handed me another one and still another one, but each time somebody would grab the life belt away from me. Remembering that I was the only one without a life belt and recalling that hundreds of life belts had been scattered on the deck in the early evening, I went down to the deck to see if I could find another life belt. At this moment, there was a second and more terrible explosion. It seemed that it was the boiler that exploded and the boat immediately sank headlong into the water. We were all drawn by the suction and had the water in those parts been deeper, we could not have returned to the surface.
When the boat reached the bottom and there was no more force of suction, I instinctively swam with all my force toward the surface, and when I reached the surface after what seemed an endless effort to reach it, it seemed this was a second life for me. Right in front of me was a life belt and a piece of board just enough for me to lie down on. If ever there are or were miracles, this certainly was one. I had gone into the water without a life belt and here right in front of me was the board of salvation and a life belt. I did not realize it then, but I had ugly cut in the head which must have been caused when the boat touched the bottom and my head hit something hard. I was too weak to tie on my life belt and it was really the board that saved me. I was too weak from loss of blood, so I only hung on to the board which, as I said, was just sufficient to keep my body afloat. Fortunately, it was as long as my body so that my body covered it almost entirely, otherwise other people who were floating around without support might have tried to grab it from me. I just lay over that board semi-conscious for several hours. Fortunately, the sharks that infest these waters must have been kept away by the explosion and by the oil from the sunken ship. About four hours later. I felt as if there were some bright lights. It was one of the P.T. or so-called mosquito boats that had been sent to rescue the survivors. I looked up and one of the American crewmen threw me a life belt which was tied to a rope that he held. I took hold of the life belt and he pulled me toward the boat. I must have looked like a real mess, covered all over with oil from the boat that sank and with the blood of my head over my face. I just lay there on that boat while we were being taken to Corregidor. It was just beginning to dawn when we docked at the harbor of Corregidor. I will never forget, especially after seeing the callousness and cruelty of the Japanese later, seeing one of the American soldiers who had come to the dock to meet the survivors take particular notice of me, saying, “This man is badly hurt.” He immediately ran up the gangplank, took me in his arms, loaded me into the car that he was driving, and then rushed me like mad to the hospital in Malinta Tunnel. The others who were not so badly hurt were taken to Manila. Only about one-third of some one thousand people that were in the S.S. Corregidor were saved. Senator Villanueva and his son, my cousin and his daughter, as well as two of my colleagues, Representatives Ampig and Reyes of Iloilo and Capiz, respectively, perished in the disaster, as did the wife and children of Representative Dominador Tan. Representative Zaldivar, later Justice of the Supreme Court, survived.
In Corregidor Hospital
At the hospital in Malinta Tunnel, which I revisited later, the wound in my scalp was sewn up by a kind American doctor. Fortunately, the wound was only skin-deep and did not fracture my skull. When a Filipino nurse found out who I was, she made a lot of fuss about it and many people were soon coming to see me. (Much later when I was Secretary of Education, on a visit to Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, I was fortunate to see her again with her husband.) Two of the young officers who visited me in Corregidor were from my town and province. A medic or medical assistant, an American, took very kind interest in me. (To anticipate my story, when I left Corregidor Hospital ten days after I entered it, I was to wear his civilian clothes as I had none of my own. I gave him my address and after the war when the House of Representatives, of which I was a member, was reconvened, one day an American came to my office and greeted me joyously. When I could not quite remember him, he said, “I was the one who sewed up your head in Corregidor.” It was a happy reunion. He gave me his address in the U.S. to which he was returning and when I was Ambassador to London, I unfailingly sent him a Christmas card. I did not receive any reply from him, but after the third or fourth time I sent him a card, I got a reply explaining that the reason he did not acknowledge my previous cards was that he did not know the address of the Philippine Embassy in London, not realizing that it would have been sufficient for him just to put the Philippine Embassy as address. He told me that he was working somewhere in the Middle East and was doing pretty well financially.)
I developed a slight case of pneumonia, but thanks to the sulfa drugs that had just recently been discovered, this danger to my health was averted.
To return to my story, next to my bed at the hospital was that of Captain Kelly of the United States Navy, a man made famous by a book written in the United States by American escapee during the War, entitled They Were Expendable—a bestseller. Like many Americans in Corregidor, they were still confident that military aid would come from the United State and that the Philippines would be retaken. But this was not to be for more than three years.
During my ten-day stay in Corregidor, from December 17, the day of the sinking of the Corregidor, until December 27 when we were ordered to evacuate to Manila, many prominent officials went to Corregidor. Among those who visited me were the Commanding General of Corregidor and the U.S. High Commissioner, Francis B. Sayre, Vice-President Osmeña and his family, ex-Speaker Roxas, and Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos. President Quezon and his family, however, who also arrived at Corregidor on Christmas Eve, did not visit me. When casually one night I saw him and Mrs. Quezon, he did not even talk to me. I think he was ill and depressed when he saw me with my bandaged head and, perhaps thinking that I was more badly hurt than I really was, he simply was too depressed to talk to me. However, Mrs. Quezon who was seated next to me while we were seeing a movie just outside the entrance to Manila Tunnel during a lull in the bombing by the Japanese, held my hand and gave me words of comfort. From Vice-President Osmeña, I learned for the first time that my relatives by affinity, ex-Senator Villanueva and his son, had not survived the sinking of S.S. Corregidor, although the ex-Senator’s daughter-in-law, who was expecting a baby (and who is still very much alive), and two maids survived.
Christmas Eve was celebrated in Corregidor, and in my condition, away from my family, it was indeed a sad Christmas Eve for me. The singing of Christmas carols by the American and Filipino nurses and other personnel only added poignancy to my depressed spirit. On December 27 an order was received from General Douglas MacArthur for the evacuation of all civilians in Corregidor to Manila, as the Japanese were fast approaching Manila. The medic who took such interest in me suggested that I ask President Quezon to contact General MacArthur and get him to make an exception in my case by allowing me to stay in Corregidor. I contacted Mr. Roxas, who immediately got in touch with President Quezon and who in turn tried to get in touch with General MacArthur. However, General MacArthur was busy directing the withdrawal of USAFFE troops to Bataan and could not be contacted. Mr. Roxas urged me, however, to go to Manila. He said that I could get better medical treatment there and, besides, the boat leaving for Manila might be the last one that could make the trip as, with the arrival of the Japanese, Manila would be isolated from Corregidor. So I decided to leave.
We left again in pitch darkness, as complete blackout was ordered everywhere. I shall not forget another American soldier who took me in his car to the waiting ship and then removed his overcoat and placed it over me. After my experience on the S.S. Corregidor, to travel again in complete darkness could not but inspire fear in me, but we made the trip uneventfully. Upon arrival in the South Harbor, we were placed in a covered truck where it was also very dark. The driver had to stop at every street corner to find his way, and finally I was deposited at the Philippine General Hospital which was then under the direction of my good friend, the late Dr. Augusto Villalon. I was placed under the direct care of Dr. Santos Cuyugan, who was a specialist in wounds and burns. Because of the infection of my wound, it took about three months to heal, although it was only a superficial one
The Philippine Diary Project contains several points of view discussing the S.S. Corregidor disaster. The earliest one appears in an entry in the diary of Teodoro M. Locsin, December 16, 1941:
Today the inter-island vessel Corregidor struck a mine near the mouth of Manila Bay and sank in a few minutes. The ship was packed to the gunwales with passengers leaving the city for the southern islands, thus reintroducing the “Samarra” theme.
The number of people on board was estimated at from 600 to 1,000. The exact number may never be known. Government officials used their influence to make the ship’s agents issue them and their friends tickets. Many went up the gangplanks just before the boat sailed, thinking to get their tickets from the purser afterward, when the boat was out at sea. Each, in one way or another, properly sealed his fate.
Later in the day, I was shown a wire from a man in Iloilo asking a friend in the city to secure a ticket for his mistress on the Corregidor. The war caught the woman in Manila and the man wanted her with him. The friend, I need not say, got the ticket.
Locsin, then a young newsman in the Philippines Free Press, would have been among the first to receive important news. Others got the day after. Fr. Juan Labrador OP, December 17, 1941 mentions how most other people got the news, and details that shocked the public:
At noontime, an “extra” of the dailies announced the great catastrophe of the vessel “Corregidor”. This was the heaviest and fastest of the boats anchored at the river. It set sail the night before without previous notice. Nevertheless, it was teeming with passengers destined for the Visayas. Around midnight, it hit a mine near the island of Corregidor and in three to five minutes it was swallowed up by the black waters of Manila Bay. It cannot be ascertained how many lives were lost. The Compañía Marítima does not have a list of the passengers. Many had filtered in without paying the fare, or mounted aboard with the idea of paying later on. Only 200 passengers were rescued, and the number of those drowned is estimated at 600 to 800.
Among the passengers were assemblymen, students from the South, and well-known families, including the brothers of the Archbishop of Cebu, one of whom was a professor and secretary of the Faculty of Law of the University of Santo Tomas; the other was a member of the Assembly. The assemblyman drowned, but the faculty member of UST was saved after swimming and floating for six hours. Those who were trapped in the cabins—women and children, for the most part—are forever buried in the bosom of the sea. Even among those who were on deck and had time to jump overboard, many were drowned for lack of lifesavers or for their inabiity to resist the current of the waves.
It was the first great tragedy of the war, and God permit that it be the last.
A young officer in the Philippine Coastal Patrol (the fledgling Philippine Navy) wrote about the tragedy as he received the news from colleagues in the US Navy. See Ramon Alcaraz, December 17, 1941:
By night time, the tragedy was compounded by the sinking of S.S. Corregidor in our own defensive minefields guarding the entrance to Manila Bay west of Corregidor Fortress. S.S. Corregidor is one of the best among our inter-island commercial vessels with civilian and military personnel aboard bound for Visayas and Mindanao.
Loaded also are Artillery pieces, equipment and supplies of the 101st FA, and other Vis-Min Units. From initial scant report I got from my Mistah Alano, ExO of Q-111 that participated in the rescue, he said the ship hit a mine and sunk so fast virtually all passengers went down with the ship including her Captain. There were very few survivors. The mined area is under the responsibility of the Harbor Defense and PT RON 3. I should know more details about this tragedy after I talk with some of my comrades on duty then at PT RON 3.
I also talked with Ens. George Cox, CO PT 41 on duty when S.S. Corregidor sunk five days ago. He said PT 41 was leading the ill fated ship at the channel but suddenly, all at once, the S.S. Corregidor veered course towards the minefields and his efforts to stop her were to no avail. There was a loud explosion after hitting a mine, the ship sank so fast virtually all aboard went with her including the ship captain. There were very few survivors.
The Philippine Diary Project contains diary entries from a leading figure in the Leyte Landing: Major General Basilio J. Valdes. His diary, as encoded, edited, and provided to researchers by the Valdes family, provides an invaluable, first-person account of the entire Pacific War, from the outbreak of hostilities in 1941 to the restoration of the Commonwealth Government in Manila in 1945.
During this period, Valdes, already Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army, became a member of the War Cabinet of President Quezon, accompanying him to Corregidor, and then to the Visayas, Mindanao, Australia and the United States. During that period he underwent further training in Fort Benning, Georgia.
He then served in the Osmeña War Cabinet and in the first regular cabinet established by Osmeña in the Philippines, after which he returned to focusing on the Philippine Army until November 7, 1945. He established a private practice in medicine and served as the head of the Lourdes Hospital after the war.
The Philippine Diary Project has already focused on the early part of World War II in the Philippines, contrasting the eyewitness accounts of officials like Valdes and civilians: see December 24-25, 1941 In Diaries for example.
This period saw the transformation of Valdes from Chief of Staff to a member of the War Cabinet, including the key role Valdes played in the escape of a hospital ship, see The Great Escape of the S.S. Mactan
Valdes’ diary then chronicles the risky, tension-filled hegira of the War Cabinet from Corregidor to the Visayas, then to Mindanao and Australia. From there, the War Cabinet went to the United States to establish a government-in-exile in May, 1942.
This entire period is a topsy-turvy one, and most accounts are confusing because the wartime situation necessarily made record-keeping and the keeping of an official chronology difficult.
This chart, prepared by the Presidential Library and Museum, shows in infographic form, the parallel governments that existed from 1942-1945:
As for the Commonwealth government-in-exile, you will find Valdes mentioned from time to time in the diary of Francis Burton Harrison who served as an Adviser to the government-in-exile. Much of 1943 was spent by Valdes undergoing further training, with expectations growing that the Allied forces would soon be returning to the Philippines.
Valdes seems to have been relatively uninvolved in the intense debate over the succession issue involving the Philippine presidency at this time. For an insight into this, read Frederick Marquardt’s Quezon and Osmeña.
The Philippine Diary Project also allows us to contrast Valdes’ experience with those of civilians in Manila, before, during, and after the return of the Allies to the Philippines. Fr. Juan Labrador, OP, a Spanish Dominican priest, gives us the point of view of a Spaniard sympathetic to the Allies, and who shuttled back and forth between the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and the University of Santo Tomas where Allied civilians had been interned by the Japanese for the duration of the War. The diary entries of Felipe Buencamino III, a veteran of the Bataan campaign (see Bataan, 1942: Views of a Father and his Son), reflects the point of view of young Filipinos anxious for the return of the Allies and the expulsion of the Japanese.
The diary entries of Felipe Buencamino III for October 1, 1944 and October 2, 1944 opens the scene, so to speak, with a description of how life in Manila was breaking down, and anticipation of an Allied invasion was building up.
On October 3, 1944 Gen. Valdes tersely begins his journey home, flying from Washington D.C. to Hamilton Field, California.
October 5, 1944:In preparation for the invasion of the Philippine Islands… United States Navy Admiral Chester Nimitz ordered Admiral William Halsey to strike Japanese airfields at Taiwan, China and Ryukyu Islands, Japan.
On the same day, October 5, 1944, Gen. Valdes, President Osmeña, Col. Alejandro Melchor and Captain Antonio P. Madrigal had arrived in Hawaii and transferred to Kwajalein. By October 7, 1944 they had arrived in Hollandia, where Gen. Valdes shared a bungalow with Gen. Carlos P. Romulo.
October 10, 1944:American aircraft struck Okinawa, Yaeyama, and Miyako Islands, Japan. Okinawan city of Naha was heavily damaged; many of the 548 deaths occurred in Naha, as many of the 698 wounded. 11,451 buildings were destroyed, which included a great number of civilian residences
October 11, 1944:Halsey struck Luzon, and moved on to bombard Taiwan from 12 Oct thru 15 Oct. The attack on Taiwan disabled or destroyed every single one of the 230 fighters that Admiral Shigeru Fukudome had available to him at Taiwan. Other pre-invasion operations included bombing of Hong Kong, Dutch East Indies, and Mindanao.
October 12, 1944:[A] cloudy day, a total of 90 Japanese aircraft were sent to attack Halsey’s carriers off Taiwan, which included Army B6N Tenzan torpedo bombers, Army Ki-49 Donryu horizontal bombers, and Navy P1Y Ginga horizontal bombers.
Gen. Valdes had spent October 8-12, 1944 at work with American staff officers.On the same day, Felipe Buencamino III recounts in his diary that he suffered a relapse of the Malaria he contracted in Bataan, and that,
A Japanese visited Tio Phil and told him that 700 U.S. ships were sighted north of Luzon including 100 aircraft carriers. I wonder if this is the invasion fleet, cross your fingers.
October 13, 1944: 947 American aircraft struck several Japanese airfields at Taiwan. The Japanese staged a counter attack that achieved little, but inflated reports on damage inflicted on the enemy provided the Japanese leaders the false information that the counter strike sunk one aircraft carrier and one battleship; meanwhile, the Japanese admitted to only two aircraft lost.
On this day, October 13, 1944, Gen. Valdes wrote that the invasion fleet bound for Leyte Gulf set sail from Hollandia:
At 10:40 a.m. we boarded our ship the APH SS John Lang. Captain Graf the skipper, a very charming U.S Navy officer met us. Several cabins belonging to the officers of the ship were prepared for us. I occupy the cabin of Lieutenant John F. Moorehead the navigator, and I am very comfortable. The bay is covered with ships of all kinds — hundreds of them: L.C.V’s, L.C.I’s, L.C.M’s, L.S.T’s, APA Cruisers, Destroyers, Airplane Carriers and P.T. Boats. Airplanes are flying over us continuously. What a magnificent display of force. This wonderful picture shows what the U.S can do when she gets started. The alert has been sounded for 1:30 p.m. In a few hours we will start moving, and then the biggest convoy set for an attack, since the invasion of France, will be on its way. I have talked to several officers and men. The morale is high, the enthusiasm inspiring. They are all happy to go, anxious to meet the foe in a death struggle. I am happy to be with them.
At 2:30 p.m. life belts were distributed and instructions were given to us on how to use them in case of sinking. It is on the same principle as the Mae West life vest used by Aviators. It becomes inflated with carbon dioxide. We were advised to keep it on continuously and not to inflate until after we are in the water, as it would be dangerous to jump overboard with that inflated.
It is warm; sea is calm, perhaps a presage of the “hell” to come. I hope the weather is good when we reach our objective. With the grace of God we cannot fail.
The convoy started on its way at 4 p.m.. 400 ships of all kinds. We travel only at eight knots per hour because the L.C.I’s cannot go faster.
Tribune headlined U.S. raid on Taiwan. They claim that a hundred U.S. planes were shot down. I wonder how much damage was done. Question is now being raised as to whether the U.S. will attack Formosa before the P.I.? Or is the Formosa raid just a diversionary attack? Or will they head for the Japanese mainland immediately?
October 14, 1944: American aircraft struck Taiwan and northern Luzon, Philippine Islands. About 240 Japanese aircraft were lost on this day both in the air and on the ground, including aircraft lost during another failed counter strike. Imperial General Headquarters reported that, once again based on inflated reports from the field, that at least three American carriers, one destroyer, and three unidentified warships were sunk, with another carrier and another warship damaged.
En route. We crossed the equator at 2:30 p.m., and I was made a member of the ‘Order of the Deep’. A card signed by ‘Rex Neptune’ was presented to me. It is very hot. Practically no breeze…
The convoy is magnificent & impressive. It shows the tremendous power of the U.S. ships of all sizes, types and denominations.
In Manila, October 14 was the first anniversary of the Republic established by the Japanese. Fr. Juan Labrador OP wrote about the isolated nature of the official commemoration:
Today is the first anniversary of the Republic. Due to existing conditions—Formosa is under air attack—the celebrations were limited to some ceremonies at Malacañan. The projected parade before the legislative building was suspended. The suspension was attributed to the lack of transportation for the students and employees who were supposed to attend. Only the President’s family and some Japanese officials were invited to Malacañan. The public had never attended such ceremonies, nor is it interested in the welfare of the Republic, which they consider to be moribund and liable to collapse anytime, either violently or by natural death.
Today’s the first anniversary of the Philippine Republic, heh, heh. Puppet Laurel declared: “The first-year of the Republic has been a success”. He forgot to say that during this republic’s first year, the people have had less and less food. The BIBA has distributed rice only three or four times. There has been no peace and order, no….. oh why crab about it.
–adding that the public had been expecting an air-raid.
October 15, 16, and 19, 1944: successive corrections to the reports further increased the number of American ships damaged and/or sunk during the counter strikes at the US 3rd Fleet operating east of Taiwan.
On October 15, 1944, writing in his diary on the progress of the invasion fleet, Gen. Valdes noticed,
At 11:45 a.m. another convoy coming from Manis Island joined us. We are now 600 ships. The hardest part is the total blackout at night.
Hooray, there were here again… this morning. They came at about 10 o’clock, after Mass. Of course, you know who I mean by “they”.
Japanese planes went up this time. People said there were many dogfights around Caloocan. Several civilians were killed.
I saw a heartbreaking sight. An American aviator bailed out. First, he looked like a toy dangling on a white umbrella. Then his figure became more distinct and people started shouting “Parachute, parachute!”. When he was just above the housetops, Japanese soldiers started firing at him. I even heard the rat-a-tat of machine guns. Made my blood boil, this slaughtering of a fellow that’s defenceless. Can’t conceive how the Japanese can interpret such an act as bravery.
No more raids this afternoon…
Several of the boys that came to the house to play basketball believe this is the prelude to invasion.
The Japanese have spread their ammunition dumps all over the city. In front of Hicky’s and Gabaldon’s and the street leading to the house and beyond there are a lot of boxes under the trees. Taft Avenue is exclusively for Army cars and trucks. Streetcars are also for Army and Navy men only. There’s a rumor that cars, dokars and bicycles will be commandeered. That’ll leave us with practically nothing. They’ve taken our food, our shelter and now –transportation.
The Japanese claim they sunk 12 aircraft carriers. “We’ve driven them off,” they boast. “No,” added another, “we sunk them all.” That’s why I’m disappointed. I wanted them to come to make these fellows eat their words.
Tio Phil thinks this was just a diversionary raid. Their main objective is Formosa, he said. They sent a couple of carriers here to mislead the Japs, he opined.
America is still silent about yesterday’s raid. Some say Aparri was terribly bombed. That’s what I think. In my opinion, the air raid over Manila was just a feint. They were after some big game up north.
The diary of Fr. Juan Labrador OP on the same day gives his own eyewitness account of the same air-raid recorded by Buencamino –and his own account of the same Japanese propaganda:
I was reading this dogmatic editorial when the air raid signal no. 1 sounded, and within a few minutes, anti-aircraft shells were exploding above the clouds. The Japanese fighter planes, emboldened by the editorial, were flying confidently overhead when the American bombers came without having learned about the sinking of their aircraft carrier. Bombs exploded so loudly from Nichols that they could be heard in Balintawak, as a giant umbrella rose from the airfield.
Eighteen out of sixty American planes were downed according to Japanese propaganda. Tokyo found the figure too low and increased it to thirty. Both agencies are giving a decisive importance, and as we supposed, a very inflated one at that, to the battle being waged at the east of Formosa. Tokyo radio arrived at fifty-three American ships sunk or damaged, twenty-thousand Americans killed, and one thousand planes shot down. The Manila news agency was more conservative, scattering flying leaflets in the streets and sending out a van through the city with streamers announcing the resounding victory.
On October 17, 1944 Felipe Buencamino III noticed only Japanese planes were flying that day, and recorded that,
Several people were getting disappointed. They are asking: Maybe there is some truth in the Japanese claims of 12 aircraft carriers sunk? Is that why they can’t bomb anymore? Others are angry. They say: “The Americans shouldn’t have bombed at all if they were going to stop like this. It only gave the Japs a chance to spread their dumps into private houses. They should have kept it up, bombed on and on”. Only consoling note is the fact that Formosa is being bombed and rebombed. People say that this is a prelude to the invasion of the Philippines. “They’re neutralizing whatever help Formosa can give to the Japanese here when invasion comes” according to Joe.
I don’t know what history books will write about this day. Maybe they’ll put it down as the beginning of the offensive for the reconquest of the Philippines. Or probably they’ll note it as just the 7th day of the naval attack on Taiwan with diversionary raids on the Philippines. To me it’s the day I had a narrow escape. A machine gun bullet struck our shelter, fortunately on the concrete side. If it had hit an inch higher, it would have penetrated the thin wooden panel and I wouldn’t be writing this now.
I don’t know how many U.S. planes raided Manila today. They looked plenty and I didn’t have time to count because AA shrapnel started raining around our garden. By the drone and by the glimpse I had, I judged there were at least a hundred.
October 18 to this tramp means nothing but several hours in the air-raid shelter, Mama nervous about Vic who refused to take cover, Neneng praying the rosary, grandpop smoking a cigar, Dad going in and out of the shelter to take a look and then to hurriedly run in when the earth begins to shake, and the dog trying to squeeze into the shelter.
October 19, 1944:By the time the Imperial General Headquarters released the battle report on 19 Oct, it noted that 11 carriers, 2 battleships, and 7 cruisers and destroyers American ships were sunk. Furious but yet somewhat amused, William Halsey noted to Chester Nimitz that “[a]ll Third Fleet ships recently reported sunk by Radio Tokyo have been salvaged and are retiring at high speed toward the Japanese Fleet”, and Nimitz promptly made that message into a public relations piece. The top ranks of Japanese leadership bought into their own propaganda, with Emperor Showa personally delivered a word of congratulations for the achievement that never took place.
From October 16-19, 1944 Gen. Valdes had nothing to write about except the routine of the invasion fleet’s voyage:
At sea. Nothing unusual. I attended Mass every Morning to receive Communion. It is nice to see a number of boys that attend Mass and receive Communion, about 100 every day
We had a double feast today; great activity in the morning and doubly great in the afternoon. Without previous siren warnings the planes attacked at 7:15 a.m. and caught the sleeping guardians of the city by surprise. Before the anti-aircraft guns could be positioned, the enemies had dropped their loads and spun back to the skies beyond the reach of ground fire. There was not one red marked plane in sight the whole day. It’s either that they were not given the chance to take off or they were discarded for good. Anti-aircrafts barkings were fewer. Only the guns near the bombings were fired, unlike before when the air vibrated with activities and the city was draped in smoke. On the whole, the thunder was still terrific, but there were fewer shelling victims. It’s surprising how there could have been less accidents when people were all out in the streets watching and enjoying the fight in the sky.
I found the internees the best indicators of oncoming raids. They were the first to identify American planes. All I did was watch these internees as they pointed to the skies and applauded noiselessly.
The contrast between the speculation in Manila and the stealthy advance –under cover of air-raids in other places– of the Allies is a striking one.
October 20, 1944: After a two-day naval bombardment, the US Sixth Army landed on the northeastern coast on the island of Leyte on 20 Oct 1944 under the command of General Walter Krueger. The US 7th Fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid provided transport and protection for the 175,000-strong landing force. Against the advice of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo (IGHQ) sent in reinforcements to Leyte from Luzon and as far as China, determining to fight the decisive land battle against the American land forces at Leyte. Landing troops almost whenever they wished, the US forces largely accomplished the goals set for the first day of landing.
After having escaped from the Japanese and in the process fleeing his homeland, one can only image in the emotion felt by himself –and the other Filipinos in the landing party– when, on October 20, 1944, Gen. Valdes finally returned to the Philippines.
His account of the historic Leyte landing is terse:
Entered Leyte Gulf at midnight. Reached our anchorage at 7 a.m. The battleships, cruisers, and destroyers opened fire on the beaches and finished the work begun two days before ‘A Day’ by other U.S Navy units. The boys in my ship where ready at 9:45 a.m. At 10 a.m. sharp they went down the rope on the side of the ship. Their objective was Palo. At 1 p.m. General MacArthur and members of his staff, President Osmeña, myself, General Romulo, and Captain Madrigal left the ship and proceeded on an L.C.M for Red beach. The beach was not good, the landing craft could not make the dry beach and we had to wade through the water beyond our knees. We inspected the area, and at two instances shots were fired by Japanese snipers. General MacArthur and President Osmeña spoke in a broadcast to the U.S. We returned to the ship at 6 p.m. under a torrential rain. We transferred to the Auxiliary cruiser Blue Ridge flagship of Admiral Barbey, as the SS John Land was leaving for Hollandia.
In Manila, Fr. Juan Labrador OP observed there was no air-raid that day, which was just as well as everyone was on edge after the past few day’s bombings:
A bomb fell yesterday near the Legazpi-Urdaneta monument, up an enormous crater, burying alive thirty-one persons who died of asphyxiation. They were in a shelter nearby. At the explosion, mounds of earth and a big uprooted tree covered the entrance.
The Luneta was turned into a forest of anti-aircraft guns. There was such a shower of exploded shells and stray bullets that even those who stayed in light houses could not be protected. If anyone was spared by the metallic fragments, it was someting miraculous. A roof of GI sheets and a wooden floor were as easily pierced as if they were made of paper.
October 21, 1944:US 7th Cavalry Regiment reached Tacloban, the capital of Leyte. Civilians cheered them on as they entered the city, but the Japanese were still well dug-in.
In his diary on October 21, 1944, Gen. Valdes recounted a kamikaze attack on their ship:
At 5:30 a.m. ‘general quarters’ were sounded. All rushed to their respective guns and fired at approaching Japanese planes. The Australian cruiser Australia was about 300 yards from our starboard side. A Japanese plane coming from the stern flew very low strafing the cruiser. He accidentally came too low and hit the wireless and crashed on the forward deck near the bridge killing the Captain and mortally wounding the Commodore, who died six hours later. The cruiser Honolulu was also hit and was beached to save it. The Australia returned to Australia for repairs.
At 5 p.m. some more Japanese planes attacked us and we downed two.
Manila found out about the Leyte landing on this day. Fr. Juan Labrador OP recounts in his diary entry for October 21, 1944, how news spread in the city:
Joy! Joy! The Yanks have arrived. They landed on the same place where Magellan set foot on firm land when he discovered these islands which he called St. Lazarus. The news of the landing in Leyte spread like wildfire. We took the news as probable, without reassuring ourselves of its certainty, but the exultant Filipinos believed it without a shadow of doubt. Tokyo had admitted it, although the local press still refuses to put its stamp of approval.
Gen. MacArthur and Pres. Osmeña were heard delivering messages over the radio. MacArthur announced that he had complied with his promise to return and, God willing, he would proceed with the re-conquest of the Islands. Osmeña declared that the legitimate government has been restored in this country. Reports have it that General Valdés, Soriano, Romulo and a nucleus of the exiled Philippine government has also arrived.
No one—not even the sharpest strategists—predicted where the landing was to be made. Some guessed that it would be in Mindanao, or at some gulf in Luzon, or in some island in the Visayas, but not one of them singled out the place where the landing was actually made. After the fact, everybody admitted that the Bay of Leyte, formed by Leyte and Samar, was the least guarded, least defended and most strategic point for the developing operations. Situated almost in the center of the archipelago, it is one leap from Mindanao, from Luzon, and from almost all the islands of the Visayas.
October 22, 1944:US 8th Cavalry Regiment secured the high ground around Tacloban, slowing strangling any remaining resistance in the area. At this stage, the American troops at Tacloban realized their mission became as much a humanitarian one as a combat one, for that many thousands of Tacloban residents were in dire need of food and shelter; some of the soldiers offered the little rations they had, while others opened up Japanese warehouses and distributed whatever they thought could help.
The day was spent quietly as far as Gen. Valdes was concerned: his diary entry for October 22, 1944 recounts sending radio messages and dinner on board another ship with American officers.
For his part, writing in Manila on October 22, 1944, Fr. Juan Labrador OP recounted how the Japanese finally confirmed the Leyte landing had taken place (and how Filipinos were responding to the return of the Allies):
Tokyo radio, in announcing the landings in Leyte, added that the Filipino and Japanese defenses furiously counter-attacked the invaders. This reports, however, were not repeated in the Philippines for lack of any semblance of truth. What appear credible to us, however, are the rumors that the Constabulary strongholds are passing over to the invaders. We were told that the insular police of different towns, with their rifles and baggages, have taken to the mountains to join the guerillas. In Calamba, the Constables have gone into hiding in the mountain thickness, a pattern which we had observed at other times. The guerillas are becoming active, mobilizing ex-USAFFE officers and chaplains.
With the first attack, whole towns have moved to the mountains. In some districts and provinces, the guerillas are in command. They cannot do so, however, in Manila, where it is risky for them to come out in the open.
October 23, 1944:As soon as Tacloban [was] secured, MacArthur restored Osmeña’s government there as the ruling body of the Philippines. “On behalf of my government,” MacArthur announced, “I restore to you a constitutional administration by countrymen of your confidence and choice.” [At sea: Battle of Leyte Gulf, Oct. 23-26, 1944]
In his diary, Gen. Basilio Valdes (October 23, 1944)once again has a terse account of a history-laden event:
Disembarked and went ashore to Tacloban. In front of the Capitol of the province, General MacArthur read the proclamation declaring null and void all laws promulgated by the Japanese and the puppet republic, and replacing those of the Commonwealth. His proclamation was followed by a speech by President Osmeña. At 2 p.m. I returned to the ship on a PT boat to get my luggage and return to Tacloban at 5 p.m. I was going to stay in the house occupied by the Japanese commanding general, which was made available for the President, but due to lack of space I accepted the invitation of Mrs. Losa to live in her home.
It’s only on this day, October 23, 1944, that Felipe Buencamino III is able to catch up with his diary, recounting the news of the Leyte landing and the excitement that swept the city:
Well, first there’s the landing in Leyte. The consensus was that they would land in Mindanao or perhaps Luzon so Leyte was quite a surprise. The Japs have admitted the landing but they’re trying to belittle it. Its been placed in a small corner of the front page. A lot of emphasis is being placed on the Taiwan affair. They’re tooting their horn about the aircraft carriers sunk, which to me is plain baloney. It seems they even had a sort of victory parade in Tokyo. People here think the Jap leaders are pulling the wool over the eyes of the Japs and that ought to be easy because they’re chinky-eyed.
Buencamino then catches up with the latest news –even in Manila, they’re getting news practically in real time by this point:
What really was a great surprise was the res-establishment of the Commonwealth Gov’t on Philippine soil. I’m not a very sentimental guy, but when I heard Osmeña and Romulo and Valdes and the rest were already in the Philippines, I wept like a kid. And when I repeated the story of how Mac landed to Dad, his eyes got moisty.
Everybody is jubilant these days. When you walk the streets, people greet you with “Have you heard? They’re here.”
The question now is when will they land in Luzon?
He also waxes nostalgic for President Quezon:
Quite anxious to see Baby and Nini. Gee, I wish their old man pulled through. Sometimes I think he’s still alive.
Yes, men like him, never die. He is the greatest man I’ve met.
The October 24, 1944 diary entry of Gen. Valdes features a close call with Japanese bombs:
5:20 a.m. I woke up with the sound of two airplanes flying low over our house. I thought “It’s nice to have our planes patrolling”. A few seconds later I was startled by two explosions nearby. The concussion blew away my mosquito net. I jumped out of bed. I took a quick bath, as I was wet with perspiration, dressed and went to the place where the bombs had exploded. The first one fell over a nipa house killing the whole family who were asleep. A woman and six children. The husband was out working for the U.S. troops unloading. When he returned home he found his home destroyed and all his family killed. Poor man. The second bomb fell about 60 yards from the house occupied by the other members of the Presidential party. The President slept elsewhere. Some small shell fragments went through the house.
In Manila, the story is of Allied air-raids. His October 24, 1944 entry has Fr. Juan Labrador OP writing,
Some twenty planes made a thunderous attack over Nichols, catching the guardians of the city unaware. They did not hit as accurately as on the first day.
In San Pedro, Makati, bombs were dropped off-target. A boat in Manila Bay was bombed several times but it remained firmly afloat.
A Japanese official attributed this poor hitting precision to the fact that the pilots were Canadians, not Americans. That was a consolation for the Imperial Air Force which had already lost supremacy of the air in the Philippines since the first day.
A good part of the Japanese officialdom is gradually being convinced, not only of the possibility of losing the war, but also of the improbability of winning it.
There are bombers flying. Nope, they’re pursuit planes, plenty of them, about fifty. They’re up too early, I think. Ben’s looking at them and he says they’re Japs. Yes, I think he is right. I can hear that familiar metallic roar… Vic is opening the radio to verify. Now, its not a raid. They’re playing a boogie number, “In the Mood” I think. Wait… I think that was an AA I just heard. Yes, siree, the guns are firing at something. It’s a raid, and the Japs have been surprised again. The radio is still playing “In the Mood”. Wow, I can see U.S. planes right here from the porch where I am typing. There goes five, ten, twenty, wow… so many…. heading for the Bay area. Now the house is shaking but they’re bombing the other side of Manila so I can still type. I want to give you a blow by blow description of this thing. Nope, change my mind. It’s getting too close. This blow-by-blow story might end up with this bum blowing up too.
The radio announcer is excited. “There is an air-raid,” he says. There goes the siren giving the air-raid alarm. Caught asleep again, heh, heh.
October 25, 1944:[A]ll initial goals had been met, with slightly lighter casualties than expected. [At sea: Battle of Surigao Strait].
His diary entry for October 25-28, 1944 has Gen. Valdes recounting the success of U.S. fighter planes. On October 26, 1944, Juan Labrador OP was writing about the Japanese commandeering all forms of transportation:
The soldiers are commandeering horses, calesas, bicycles and push carts, and the people are forced to hide them. As a consequence, there is an even greater lack of transportation in Manila. This is a sign that the Japanese are running short of motorized vehicles. The trucks which they had confiscated at the start of the war are reduced to junk. They are now willing to pay ₱200,000.00 for an automobile of a reputable brand in running condition, and ₱400,000.00 for a good truck. The only cars moving about are those which are being used by the officers and ministers. There are many other cars, but their owners have dismantled them, hoping to drive them around again when the Leyte invaders arrive.
At 9 a.m. left for Palo with Major Lambert 1st C.A.D., to inspect the post-office there. The town was full of soldiers, trucks, and tanks etc. The First Cavalry Division has a Squadron bivouac in Palo. The Church is being used as a hospital where army as well as civilian casualties are treated. Met Lew Ayers who is doing excellent work. Called on Bishop Manuel Mascariñas of Palo. He received me very cordially. He has accommodated civilian refugees in his convent and he himself at times sleeps in a chair.
For his part, after recounting there had been no Allied air-raids for four days, Felipe Buencamino III reported another Allied air-raid:
The Japs are in a happy mood. Their Propaganda Corps has been telling them for the last four days of great naval victories in Sulu Sea. Our Jap neighbors were drinking and feasting last night and shouting “Banzai! Banzai!”. Right now I can hear the radio saying something about outstanding victories in the waters east of the Philippines and that the American fleet is almost entirely crippled. Now he is boasting that MacArthur’s troops are stranded on Leyte. (Wait, I hear the roar of planes, many planes)
I can’t see them but I’m sure there are planes above. Maybe they are Japanese. There have been no raids these last four days. Some people are quite disappointed though many say that its just the lull before the storm. I’ve been trying to take bets that there will be landings in Luzon before the 7th or 15th and no one wants to call. The Japanese however interpret this lull as proof of the sinking of many aircraft carriers in Philippine waters. In fact, I can hear the radio saying this very thing right now. “The complete absence of raids in Manila for the last four days is proof,” he says, “of the crippling of the American Navy in the waters of…..” (Wow. That sounded like a bomb. More bombs. Yes, I can see planes diving at Nichols Field. Yes, that’s the direction of Nichols Field. There are hundreds of planes, Papa and Mama and Neneng are running to the shelter. My gosh… The Japs have been surprised again. Now the siren is giving the air-raid alarm, late again. The poor commentator has to eat his words. Now the AA guns are barking. But the planes don’t seem to mind. They keep on attacking the airfields and the Pier areas. Now I can hear machine guns, strafing probably. There’s not a single Jap plane intercepting. The Japs in the next house are now very silent. I can see them crouching in their foxholes. The Filipino boys in the fields behind the house are watching the planes and they are smiling. I got to leave now, AA shrapnels are falling nearer and nearer the house. I think I heard several drop on the cement pavement near the garage. Yes, Ma is calling for me. She gets nervous if all her chickens aren’t around her. I can hear more strafing. And there goes a big bomb. It shook the whole house. This is a pretty long raid. There goes another bomb and another…… Wish I could tell that radio commentator “So you’ve sunk all their carriers?”
By October 29, 1944, Juan Labrador OP would be writing about the increasing absurdity of Japanese propaganda:
The press proclaimed in bold lines: “American Bombing in Leyte Ceases”.
“In the face of a terrific Japanese attack, the American fleet had abandoned the landing troops which are facing complete annihilation. American forces in the Pacific have been completely destroyed and Manila is going to be spared attacks for a long time.”
I was reading these lines this morning when, without previous warning, American planes came within visible altitude, dropping their bombs on their targets on Manila Bay. The people who are getting to be more hopeful are comparing what the Japanese are claiming and what is actually happening. Obviously, what was annihilated was the Japanese fleet, and the Imperial Air Force has been left without wings.
Today is Sunday, and the UST Chapel was full of devotees. The sermon started just when the bomb explosions were loudest, the pounding of anti-aircraft shots was most resounding and the gloomy staccato of machine guns was most frightening. Many of the faithful were feeling uneasy, glancing towards the door with one foot forward. The preacher, calmly and cooly, exhorted the people to stay in their seats as they were safe within that sacred place. The Mass—a High Mass—went on and the choir continued singing to the accompaniment of the Celestial concert outside.
Later, everybody ridiculed the Tribune editorial which promised peace and a sky free from attacks. It was a known fact that when the newspapers predicted a pleasant time, based on Japanese victories, the American planes—which were supposed to have fled or been destroyed—came attacking with greater intensity.
There are many planes flying but they’re Japs. You can tell by the metallic desynchronized roar of the engines. There’s one plane flying very low. It passed directly on top of the house. There was a time –just after Bataan when I would dive on the floor when I hear a plane. I must’ve been bomb-shocked but I didn’t realize it…
The Tribune says the Americans are shelling Lamon Bay. That’s about 60 miles from Manila in a straight line. Why don’t they hurry up because this waiting and waiting is killing me? Somebody told me the suspense is like waiting for the bride to appear in Church. Saw Emilio on my way home. He was looking at the map.
I can hear the sound of blasting somewhere in the direction of McKinley. I’ m afraid the Japs are planting mines.
Heard the G8s have been tipped to expect landings on either the 3rd or 4th.
Listened to broadcasts from Leyte to America by the different newspapermen there. Liked Cliff Roberts’ “personal report”. Time had a good story on the naval battle off Leyte Bay. Courtney had a good report on the rehabilitation work in Leyte.
Heard that Romulo gave a nationwide instruction to the Filipino people. It was short, dramatic: WORK OR FIGHT!
But there would be months more of fighting before the Allies even reached Manila –and then the death agony of the capital city would take place. See The Battle of Manila, Feb. 3-March 3, 1945 for eyewitness accounts of the Battle for Manila. During that period, on February 25, 1945, Valdes took on the Health portfolio; soon after that, he would leave the Cabinet altogether to wrap up his work as Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army.
In October, 2013, the country will mark the 70th anniversary of the so-called Second Republic established under Japanese auspices.
In anticipation of that event, the project aims to complete the publication of the Iwahig Prison Diary of Antonio de las Alas, a prominent prewar political and business figure, and member of the Laurel government. His diary, written while he was detained by Allied forces awaiting trial for collaboration, gives a thorough account of the dilemmas and choices made by officials who served during the Japanese Occupation, including their motivations and justifications for remaining in the government.
The diary of de las Alas goes backward and forward in time: starting on April 29, 1945 he details the tedium and petty bickering of prison life, he also gives an insight into politics and society during the Liberation Era, while extensively recounting his experiences during the Japanese Occupation.
His account bears comparison with the conversations recorded by Francis Burton Harrison, prewar adviser to President Quezon, who again served as an adviser during World War II, when the Philippine government went into exile in Washington D.C. His entries covering the government-in-exile begin on May 30, 1942, and come to an end on May 31, 1944.
In the Philippine Diary project, other diarists put forward different facets of life in the Philippines during the Japanese Occupation.
Charles Gordon Mock, an American originally imprisoned together with other Allied civilians in the University of Santo Tomas, details his experiences as a prisoner-of-war transferred to Los Baños on May 14, 1943.
The experiences of soldiers and guerrillas are captured in the diary entries of Ramon Alcaraz –his entries chronicle the transformation of a prisoner-of-war into a soldier serving in the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Constabulary: and how he used his Constabulary postings for guerrilla activities (the progression of this development can be gleaned from a sampling of entries: June 30, 1942; August 3, 1942; August 30, 1942; February 20, 1943).
The diary of Felipe Buencamino III ends with his first few weeks as a prisoner-of-war in the concentration camps established by the Japanese; but he resumes his diary on September 21 1944, at the tail end of the Japanese Occupation (see October 2, 1944 for an example of the growing anticipation of the end of the Occupation): in fact, his diary ends just at the moment of Liberation.
His father, Victor Buencamino, chronicles the frustrations, fears, and tedium of being a mid-level official still serving in the government, not so highly-placed as to be ignorant of public opinion, but also, trapped between public opinion and his own problems as someone in government. His diary serves as a counterpoint to the diaries of soldiers and officers in the field, and to the other diaries describing life during the Occupation.
Two other diaries remain to be uploaded extensively, namely the Sugamo Prison diary of Jorge B. Vargas, onetime Chairman of the Philippine Executive Commission, and Laurel’s wartime ambassador to Japan, and the diary of Fr. Juan Labrador, O.P, a Spanish Dominican who kept a diary during the Japanese Occupation. But perhaps these will have to wait for future anniversaries.
You can browse the entries of the diarists mentioned above by clicking these links to view their entries in reverse chronological order:
(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.
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.
IT WAS 1,246 days ago today when I started scribbling the first page of this notebook. It has since then become my inseparable companion, my vade mecum since that treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor which started the conflagration in the Pacific. After three years and five months, I am closing it today, bidding it goodbye more with nostalgia than with joy, as a friend who is leaving.
Today, after five years, eight months and six days, Germany surrendered. The war in Europe has ended. Technically, the war in the Philippines has also come to an end. The Imperial Army, destroyed and disunited, is no longer an organized army but scattered groups of desperate people running amuck. The liberating forces are landing without opposition at all important points in this archipelago and are pinning down with their pincers the remaining members of the “invincible” Japanese Army who are nested in caves and crests of the mountain ranges. The mopping up would be a task more or less tiresome but the danger has subsided.
As I look back on the days past—writers commonly preface their work by referring to their achievements as mountain tops and as valleys what they left behind—I had to force myself into fighting the temptation of moralizing, into which many new writers fall.
There is one point I want to emphasize, now that it can be discussed clearly and intelligently. During the Japanese domination, speaking and writing were risky. Spiritually, morally and culturally, we were suppressed. We were separated from the Japanese by an impenetrable, unscalable wall. They never associated with us. We never succeeded in understanding them, being intimate with them, or having an interchange of opinion, sentiments, ideas and ideals. When we chanced upon one of them who seemed to be different, one who seemed to have unveiled for us something of the Japanese mysterious, inscrutable character, we would feel we had made a marvelous discovery, having found a rare breed. We told our friends about it. And these friends skeptically warned us:
“Watch out. Don’t be too sure. There is no telling what that Japanese is up to.”
Or perhaps another would say, “A Japanese said that? I don’t believe it.”
And the wall of separation became taller and thicker.
On the other hand, prudence or caution prevented us from speaking out openly before our neighbors if they were not of our trust. We would rather keep quiet. They could be spies who could denounce us. The shadow of the Kem Pei Tai or the thought of Fort Santiago cast fear even among the most courageous.
I confess I am not among these. I was writing my notes daily or weekly with fear and trembling. Now that I can speak and write in any way I want before the army and civilians, before friends and foes alike, these fears appear ridiculous and unfounded. The fact is that many have started their diaries but never closed them. To start it is an implicit indication of sympathy; to continue with it, a confirmation of pro-Americanism; and to finish it, an open profession of faith.
Several times, I had been at the point of relegating these innocent creatures to the waste can or to the fire. Whenever the curiosity of the police dogs seemed to direct its obstinate sniffings towards my room, the fear of endangering myself and my companions placed me on the verge of making an act of faith. Providence which saved me and my brothers in many occasions from the hands of bloody Herod—from the dungeons of Intramuros and the prison chains of Baguio, among others—also saved these people from a painful and hardly spirited death.
The moral chain which bound my conscience or my subconscience according to the degree of the threat of danger, did not permit me to be as outspoken as I wanted to be. Unconsciously, I tended to tone down my statements, glide along the surface of these rugged events and cloak the interpretation which might seem subversive against the new order which was nothing more than an old disorder.
No matter how hard I tried to assume the stoic position of an independent observer and outwardly tried to play the role of an impartial chronicler, convincing myself of foolhardy thought that this would lessen the danger, actually neither was the risk diminished nor did I succeed in maintaining a balanced and neutral attitude.
Such is the texture of the individual and collective spirit, such is the nature of events and experience, that only a statue can remain indifferent. I was either for the Japanese or against them. There were neutralities which killed. There were positions which were impossible to maintain throughout the three years.
The sphinx-like temperament is reserved for certain people. Neither our western Christian education nor the profession which we pursue permitted us to feel one thing and say another without blushing. The art of cunning or the masked trick of covering a dangerous intention with honeyed or high sounding phrases, are monopolized by certain conquerors who feel an achievement in the conquest of land rather than of the spirit. The noble warrior who has the conscience overflowing with the bounty of his cause and of his resources, manages arms and souls with as much skill as with frankness. Never does he employ deceit and cunning.
During the three years of Japanese occupation, we witnessed innumerable cases of hypocrisy, Machiavellian in some cases, infantile in others. We did not have any direct proofs that the Americans fought like gentlemen and that they played it clean, isolated as we were within the Sphere. But we could sense it. We felt that we had known them well enough not to believe the atrocities and hypocrisies attributed to them by their enemies. During these past three months with them, our intuition had been transformed into a full vision, verified by personal experiences.
Is this a defense? An allegation? It is nothing more than a soliloquy exploding out sentiments suppressed for so long under the Sphere.
We end with the hope that the Philippines get speedily rehabilitated physically, economically, morally, and spiritually.
The events are developing kaleidoscopically. The Philippine government, reduced to the bare minimum, that is, to the members of the Cabinet—the multitude of government employees are without work to do, just idling—has been moved to Baguio by General Yamashita. As we are only few, we will have a grand time of it. They are coming as political detainees so as to be nearer to Formosa. At least so they believe. The official force is being sugar-coated by the phrase “preventive protection”, which does not, however, succeed in deceiving even the unsuspecting. More than a month ago, two guards were placed at each of the houses of the ministers in the guise of Japanese police. Only Speaker Aquino had the guts to dispose of them. Angrily and firmly he told them to leave the house or he would leave them, together with all the responsibilities on their shoulders. He hit the cord at its strongest point and the guardians left. The President, with his Filipino guard, settled down at the Mansion House. Yamashita, likewise, installed his headquarters in this mountain retreat.
Manila has lost to Baguio as the capital of the Philippines. Could it be that they intend to declare this an open city as General MacArthur did three years ago today? This is the speculation of the optimists, with no other basis than their valid imagination. Or could it be that they shall convert this dead end alley into another Bataan? This is what some Japanese, who showed us proof that Baguio is being reinforced with 150,000 soldiers, are circulating. Could they be planning a semblance of defense, and if it turns out bad, they would escape to the north and, if they could do it which surely they couldn’t—they would make a run for it across the channel separating us from Formosa? This seems to be the more sensible opinion, or so it sounds, although what sounds in the meantime, are the cannons, the bombs, the mortars and all the heavy hammers of war.
For seven days now we are without radio, and consequently, without news. The press is ashamed to circulate outside the capital, out of respect for the guerrillas of the air raid siren sounds—at most for ten hours. Its week-long silence means that the bombing of Manila must have been uninterrupted.
We learned from the people who escaped from that hell that from 4:00 in the morning of the 14th to 6:00 in the morning of the 17th, there was a continuous wave of bombers with only a six-hour respite. During this dark night, the Americans landed in Palawan, and in Mindoro, the latter being less than two hundred kilometers from the Mecca of their aspirations.
To give us an idea of the hunger and terror reigning in the capital, we were told that a member of the Cabinet was having only a meal a day, consisting of porridge.
Deaths from bombs and from hunger plague the streets and many houses. Caravans of rugged and hungry people are abandoning the city on foot, carrying the few belongings they can load on their shoulders. All sorts of locomotion, including carts, have been confiscated by the Imperial Army. Manila is suffering more than the most punished Sodom of this war. May God cut short the rain of fire and sulphur, if only in consideration of the many who are just.
The alarm sounded yesterday, but the skies of Manila were clear of planes. The raids were made over Clark Field and Legazpi. However, we were kept alert by the raid today from 8:00 in the morning to 5:30 in the afternoon. In the morning a plane was shot down and the pilot parachuted down. A short raid was made in the afternoon over Manila Bay. Official sources said that Clark Field was raided anew, simultaneously with Aparri, Cebu and Leyte, although the press reported very light damage.
A new reporter wrote: “Our first impulse upon learning about the destructive attacks of the immense enemy forces was to be thankful we are spared from the air attack. At least for this year.” But we knew that the American Fleet was still afloat and continues to inch in, entering by the Lingayen Gulf from where it pounds on the coastal defenses.