WWII Stories: Remembering the Abomination that was the Battle of Manila

[Photo Credit: Malacanang Website]
[Photo Credit: Malacanang Website]


[Photo Credit: Malacanang Website]
[Photo Credit: Malacanang Website]
On February 15 some seventy years ago, many lost their lives during the notorious Battle of Manila — the war waged between the American forces and the Japanese soldiers to gain control of Manila, Philippines’ capital city, during the Second World War. The Battle of Manila lasted for a month — from February 3 to March 3, 1945.

The Battle of Manila, also known as the Battle for Manila started on the day American General Douglas MacArthur led his forces, composed of American and Filipino soldiers, and set free about 4,000 American and British civilians who were imprisoned at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila between the years 1942 and 1945.

The Japanese forces in the Philippines were already lacking in food, ammunition, weapons and other supplies when 1945 rolled in. It was also that time that General MacArthur made true of his famous one-line promise “I shall return” to the country after he was ordered to flee to Australia in 1942 at the height of Japanese invasion.

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Santo Tomas Internment Camp [STIC] was commemorated earlier this month. It was during this event that one American historian spoke out about how saving the internees of the said prison camp was MacArthur’s top priority when the Americans reclaimed Manila from the Japs.

According to James Zobel, US-based MacArthur Library’s executive director, MacArthur had received reports that the internees in the said prison camp were in grave danger. The Japanese forces were planning to massacre them just like what they did in Puerto Princesa in the Philippine island of Palawan in December 1944 — they doused about  150 POWs in the said island with gasoline then burned them to death.

One of the main tactics of the Japanese Imperial Army in their invasion and occupation of the Philippines and its cities was to kill innocent civilians. And they really did this especially during the Battle of Manila.

Let us go back into history and know the abomination that was the Battle of Manila.

The Battle of Manila exhibit at UST.
The Battle of Manila exhibit at UST.

Some of WWII’s most inhumane atrocities were committed during the Battle of Manila.

In a Sydney Morning Herald report dated April 13, 1945, it said that “Officially investigated and legally attested reports of Japanese atrocities in the Philippines prepared for the US War Crimes Authority at Washington show that Nazi death camps in Europe can show nothing to compare with the horrors of Manila’s torture chambers and houses, and massacre fields and plazas.”

As Jose Antonio Custodio, a military analyst and historian, put it, instead of fleeing from Manila when the American forces came, the Japs stayed and killed as many innocent people as they could. They regarded everyone – may they be men, women or even children – as part of the guerrilla movement which is equivalent to the resistance organizations in European nations.

Additionally, Custodio said, they burned down houses and edifices shooting down everyone who tried to escape. They also buried people alive and threw live babies in the air and bayoneted them before they could hit the ground.

Not being able to bow in respect to Japanese soldiers made one susceptible to slapping, reprimanding and even death.

It was not just in Manila that these atrocities occurred. The Japs also committed these barbarities in other areas within the country as well — people were killed in thousands.

“Following the end of the Battle, General [Tomoyuki] Yamashita was tried and later found guilty for the massacre of countless Filipinos. He was hung for War Crimes on February 3, 1946 at Los Baños. Survivors of the Battle felt intense hatred for the Japanese whose method of inflicting violence had been both brutal and deeply personal,” states the Malacañang Palace website.

An estimated number of one hundred thousand people died during the Battle of Manila.

Life became more difficult for some of the internees of the UST prison camp after the liberation.

Professor Rupert Wilkinson, one of the internees in the UST prison camp, recounted in his book  “Surviving a Japanese Internment Camp” how and other American children were used by the Japanese soldiers as human shields as they were trying to leave prison camp on February 3 of 1945. Wilkinson remembered how, as they slept at night, one Japanese soldier would stay near them with a grenade in hand. Fortunately, the children were able to escape unscathed.

Dr. Ricardo Jose, Director of the Third World Studies Center at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, also said that there were a number of internees who survived prison camp life for three years only to be killed as the Japanese soldiers attempted to escape during the first day of the Battle of Manila.

Furthermore, there were twenty-one internees who were killed and many others injured when the Japs bombarded the main building of UST with artillery shellfire.

The very first 1,000 Peso bill came out during the Second World War as the prices of the goods were unnaturally very high.

If a piece of pandesal [bread best eaten hot during breakfasts] today costs about 2 to 3.50 Philippine pesos depending on its size, it was not the case during WWII. Dr. Jose states that a piece of the said bread costed 55 Philippine pesos during those times.

Mass rape of women and girls by the Japanese forces were common during the Battle of Manila and throughout the Japanese occupation.

“On 23 February 1945, Mrs. Agido Upson was brought by an American ambulance to the Psychopathic Hospital, Welfareville Manila. She had been bayoneted in the breasts by soldiers of the Japanese Army after having been tied and carried away by seven Japanese including an officer, to an open field where they wanted to assault or rape her. They had previously attempted to assault her. Upon her husband’s refusal to let them, they were both bayoneted.” – a US Inspector General’s report dated April 9, 1945.

This was not an isolated case but a common one. A certain Esther Garcia Moras from Ermita, Manila, also testified about Japanese soldiers segregating women and then taking those they have chosen into a hotel allowing them to eat and drink before soldiers came in to rape them.

Japanese soldiers also rounded up the men and beheaded them.

“On 11 February 1945, at about 6:00 p.m., just after Mr. Lim Kinnog Tiang, Chinese, age 23, a grocer, had closed his store, the Japanese came and brought over one hundred Fllipinos and Chinese who were all tied up. The Japanese covered the eyes of the men by taking strips of cloth and blindfolded them. The victims were then taken in groups of ten upstairs and had their heads cut off. The bodies were dumped into the basement.” – as stated in the Inspector General’s report.

People were also machine gunned by large groups.

Japanese soldiers, according to witnesses and those who were subjected to the acts but were not killed, rounded up civilians in large numbers, lined them up, ordered them to sit down before proceeding to machine gun them.

Even the Red Cross was not spared by the wrath of the Japs.

According to the Inspector General’s report, on 10 February 1945, Japanese soldiers went inside the building housing the Philippine Red Cross and started shooting and bayoneting everyone they saw inside.

Countless other atrocities were committed by the Japanese forces during their occupation of the country and the infamous Battle of Manila. Right now, though the country has friendly ties with Japan, it is still important, especially for the younger Filipino generations, to remember their history.

Only through this knowledge will they be able to know how to resist and fight future injustices which may happen to their homeland.


Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE