the month of February again, the month in 1945 when the Japanese chose
to turn our fair city into a battleground and killing ground, as
Ambassador Juan José Rocha has said, leading to the death of some
100,000 noncombatant civilians, the destruction of irreparable heritage,
and the near-obliteration of public utilities.
to be reminded of these events due to our notorious historical amnesia.
also misconceptions about the Battle for the Liberation of Manila that
distort our recollections of that tragedy.
is the notion that the barbarities were committed by Koreans, not
Japanese. This appears to be Japanese propaganda aiming to shift
responsibility for the atrocities to others.
T. José, our leading authority on World War II, says this cannot have been
the case, as there were no Korean combat units in Manila. The only
divisions recruited in Korea, which very likely consisted of Japanese
residents there, were sent to Mindanao and the Cordillera, not Manila.
Koreans in Manila were waterfront laborers or prison-camp guards, as were
the Taiwanese, and they surrendered without fighting.
were a few Taiwanese incorporated into Japanese units, and a few survivors
appeared in the rather distorted NHK film where the killings of civilians
were portrayed as antiguerrilla actions. Women, children, nuns, priests,
foreigners—all guerrillas? Ridiculous, of course.
second misconception is the comparative number of casualties between
Japanese massacres and American shelling. Someone has gone so far to say
that the shelling killed more than the massacres did.
sober estimates tilt it the other way. Gen. Ramon Farolan estimates that
60 percent were killed by the Japanese. Memorare Manila 1945 Foundation
sent out a questionnaire to survivors in 1995, and came up with an
estimate of 70 percent killed by the Japanese.
statistical sample of sorts can be culled from Antonio Perez de Olaguer’s
early postwar book, translated into English as “Terror in Manila—February
1945.” This contains a list of about 250 Spanish nationals killed during
the Battle for Manila, giving the cause of death, and the resulting figure
is 85 percent killed by the Japanese.
not to minimize the seriousness of the often excessive and indiscriminate
American shellfire. The mother of Memorare president Rocha was killed by
an American shell, as were my Spanish teacher Doña Laura Felix, sister of
Justice Alfonso Felix Sr.; and my high-school teacher, Ricardo Pimentel,
Ultimately the fundamental issue is not about comparative casualty
figures, but the moral responsibility for making Manila a combat zone,
thus necessitating the use of artillery. Clearly this was the sole
responsibility of the Japanese.
misconception, assiduously promoted by revisionist historians, is that
Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, overall commander of Japanese Forces in the
Philippines, was not guilty of the killing and destruction in Manila.
with a book by his defense counsel, Frank Reel, which is more of a defense
brief than a balanced narrative, it has been claimed that he had lost
contact with the combat units (highly unlikely in the age of radio
communication), that the army troops he left behind were there only to
destroy or evacuate military supplies, and that he had ordered a pull-out
of units from Manila, which was disobeyed (by Admiral Iwabuchi, who was
of the matter is, Yamashita denied the pleas of Filipino officials to
declare Manila an open city, as MacArthur had done in 1941. This clearly
showed he intended to make Manila a battleground.
than pulling out military units and supplies, Manila was bristling with
artillery, and six months’ worth of supplies were stored in the Finance
Building, bespeaking a deliberate plan to endure a long siege. Several
strong structures were fortified. Having gone to all this trouble, why
would he order a pull-out?
also hard to comprehend why, if the remaining troops were simply to
evacuate or destroy supplies, it was taking them weeks to do what
MacArthur had done in a few hours in 1941. The Pandacan oil depots were
blown up in an hour on New Year’s Eve in 1941, and supplies not taken to
Bataan were made available to the public when the warehouses in the Port
Area were thrown open.
Yamashita not do the same thing if he really wanted to spare Manila?
Obviously he did not want to. Yamashita already had a track record of
massacre with the killing of thousands of Chinese after the fall of
Singapore in 1942.
doubtful premise that Yamashita wished to avoid combat in Manila, he could
have known very early on that fighting was, in fact, going on, from Domei
News dispatches reaching him.
Ambassador Miguel Perez Rubio, President Aquino’s protocol officer, was in
a Kempeitai jail in Baguio at that time and saw these Domei dispatches.
Unknown to him, his whole family in Manila was being massacred.
Americans did not completely encircle the Manila garrison, consisting of
over 12,000 Marines and nearly 4,000 Army troops, until Feb. 12, so they
had nine whole days to get out if they really wanted to. Did they?
Marines committed most of the atrocities, it was the Army troops along the
Pasig who did the initial burning and demolition of residential and
business areas and the killing of civilians in Sta. Cruz and Tondo, even
before the Americans were firmly established in Manila.
testimony at war-crimes trials is shadowed by the well-founded presumption
Toshimi Kumai narrates instructions given to fellow POWS by Yamashita’s
chief of staff, Gen. Akira Muto: “You should never say, for the sake of
Japan, for the sake of the Japanese Army, that anyone who graduated from
the Imperial Military Academy had ever ordered killing of noncombatants…
The high-ranking officers meticulously followed this policy…” (The Blood
and Mud in the Philippines: Anti-Guerrilla Warfare on Panay Island,” p.
126; Iloilo City, Malones Publishing House, 2009).
lie for the honor of your Army and your country.
American lawyer William Quasha, when I asked him about the Yamashita
trial, bluntly told me that Yamashita was a damned liar.