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World War II in the Philippines

World War II in the Philippines:

The lasting effect on the Filipino people
By Alfonso J. Aluit
FOR a people without experience of war, World War II came as the crucible for Filipinos, the ultimate
test for the individual and the nation, a test of the effectiveness of the institutions of government and
religion, a test of faith in truth, justice, and freedom, in fact a test of all the beliefs Filipinos subscribed
The Japanese invasion in December 1941 had no precedent in the memory of most Filipinos of that
period. The American invasion in 1898 had been a reality only to disparate groups in the country.
The Philippine-American War was not of a national character, having been limited to certain areas in
Luzon and the Visayas, and was but endemic in nature in Mindanao.
But World War II, which lasted from December 1941 until the last Japanese commander came down
from the hills in August 1945, was a national experience the reality of which was felt by every Filipino
of every age in every inhabited region of the archipelago.
How did World War II affect the Filipinos, and how have the effects of war influenced Philippine life
and civilization in thereafter?
The occupation of the Philippines by Japanese forces in World War II led to at least two conditions
that would have a permanent effect on the Filipino people.
First, the occupation of the national territory by unfriendly alien troops ignited the resistance
movement, bringing home to the people the obligation to defend their territory, and their acceptance
of the need to sacrifice life and fortune to defend both territory and sovereignty.
Second, the shortage of staples and commodities basic to a decent life in turn led to the degradation
of the populace and the consequent deterioration of moral and ethical values, providing the
foundation for a culture of corruption.
To elaborate on the first condition, the occupation of their native earth by the interloper was a sore
spot on the Filipino psyche. The Japanese did not seem to know this when they first stepped ashore,
on December 10, 1941, simultaneously in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and Atimonan, Tayabas. They would
find out soon enough, obviously, to their everlasting woe, how sore a spot it was.

What may not have been anticipated either by the American allies, was the ferocity and intensity of
the Filipino response to the invasion. All through the war years, from the realization of defeat as
superior forces overran the country, to the final battle for liberation, the Filipinos waged a guerrilla
war against the interloper with the incapacity to come to a truce.
The guerrilla movement took root in every region, in every province of the Philippines, uniting people
over differences of language, religion, culture, custom, and tradition. It was truly national in form and
The guerrilla movement had the strategic effect of tying down in the islands scores of Japanese
infantry divisions that otherwise would have been used to invade other territory. How the Filipino
resistance movement helped win World War II for the Allies has not been fully measured, but
doubtless it was crucial to the Allied cause. It may have been decisive to ultimate victory.
How decisive it was for the Filipino mind has not been fully measured either, for the guerrilla fighter
became a permanent fixture on the Philippine scene. World War II came to an end, but the guerrilla
war in the Philippines has raged to the present, although the fighters may now be fighting for or
against certain causes the nature of which might confuse many Filipinos.
The fact remains that the resistance against the Japanese during World War II united the Filipino
people as no other factor would. It was the common cause that homogenized the nation as Jos
Rizal could only dream of when he organized the Liga Filipina in 1892. No other cause brought the
fragmented archipelago together as the resentment against the interloper did. Mountain dweller and
city-bred, society scion and slum bum, Muslim and Christian, from Batanes to Sulu, they presented a
united Filipino front, although they may have operated separately and independently of each other.
This was the legacy of the holocaust. It created a new sense of Filipinohood.
As to the second condition cited earlier, by its brutality and rapacity, by the bankruptcy of its values
as an occupation force, by the subhuman conduct of its occupying troops, the Japanese in the
Philippines during World War II subjected the indigenous people to a moral degradation from which
they hardly ever recovered.
Barging into the scene with but poorly rationalized objectives which they failed to explain to the
people, without the moral imperatives of the Spanish who vowed to bring Christ to the heathens
alongside their armed forces, or the social philosophies of the Americans who purported to bring
hygiene to the unwashed, the Japanese identified themselves to the subject peoples as no more
than brigands out to rape and pillage, and therefore, clearly and unmistakably, as the enemy.
So malevolent was the Japanese presence in these islands in World War II that the Filipinos devised
an incredibly large repertoire of vengeful acts against this presence, ranging from expressions of
ridicule and contempt by word or gesture to the unremitting guerrilla warfare that would forever scar
the land.

Any anti-Japanese word or deed was patriotic, therefore desirable; in fact, commendable. These acts
would, in ordinary times, in their ordinary environment, and in the course of their ordinary lives,
arouse opprobrium and censure from the average Filipino. But so mindless and devoid of conscience
was the Japanese system, and so unaccommodating was the Filipino response, that those vengeful
acts became accepted and, eventually, unhappily, ingrained in the collective morality of the people.
Wartime conditions gave rise to the chronic shortages of basic commodities. The deprivation of
physical comforts and the desperation with which the people regarded the situation which did not
offer any element of hope, led people to acts that would have been considered reprehensible in any
civilized community, but under the conditions many Filipinos now found themselves in, became
mandatory, and in fact patriotic.
Thus emerged the phenomenon of the saboteur, the vandal, the looter, and the profiteer who took
advantage of scarcity to exact his toll, the squatter who sneered at all titles to property, and worst of
all the traitor personified by the makapili who would betray any person and any cause, for lucre.
These also became permanent in the Philippines, in business, politics, and every sector of the
The enemy ultimately collapsed in defeat and left the territory, but these phenomena would remain.
The ruins caused by bomb and shell may be rebuilt, the harsh memories may dissipate, but the
human detritus of a brutal war became part of the Philippine scene.
These, then, are the lasting effects of the Filipino experience of World War II. The war as a political
and military story has been adequately discussed by historians and analysts, but the scars of war
etched on the national psyche have become part of the Filipino character. The debasement of the
public morality and the confusion over questions of what is ethical, and the brave but often
unfocused refusal to countenance foreign intrusion, has become part of the Filipino personality. Any
effort to gain insight into the Filipino will have to consider these points.

War came unexpectedly to the Philippines.

Japan openned a surprise attack on the
Philippines on December 8, 1941, when
Japan attacked without warning, just ten
hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Japanese troops attacked the islands in
many places and launched a pincer drive
on Manila. Aerial bombardment was
followed by landings of ground troops in
Luzon. The defending Philippine and United
States troops were under the command of
General Douglas MacArthur. Under the
pressure of superior numbers, the
defending forces (about 80,000 troops, four
fifths of them Filipinos) withdrew to
the Bataan Peninsula and to the island of
Corregidor at the entrance to Manila Bay
where they entrenched and tried to hold
until the arrival of reinforcements,
meanwhile guarding the entrance to Manila
Bay and denying that important harbor to
the Japanese. But no reinforcements were
forthcoming. Manila, declared an open city
to stop its destruction, was occupied by the
Japanese on January 2, 1942. The
Philippine defense continued until the final
surrender of United States-Philippine forces
on the Bataan Peninsula in April 1942 and
on Corregidor in May. Most of the 80,000 prisoners of war captured by the Japanese
at Bataan were forced to undertake the notorious Bataan Death March to a prison camp 105
kilometers to the north. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 men died before reaching their
Quezon and Osmea had accompanied the troops to Corregidor and later left for the United
States, where they set up a government in exile. MacArthur was ordered out by President
Roosevelt and left for Australia on Mar. 11, where he started to plan for a return to
the Philippines;
The besieged U.S.-Filipino army on Bataan finally fell down on Apr. 9, 1942. Wainwright fought
on from Corregidor with a barracks of about 11,000 men; he was overwhelmed on May 6, 1942.
After his surrender, the Japanese forced the surrender of all remaining defending units in the
islands by threatening to use the capturedBataan and Corregidor troops as hostages. Many
individual soldiers refused to surrender, however, and guerrilla resistance, organized and
coordinated by U.S. and Philippine army officers, continued throughout the Japanese

The Japanese military authorities immediately began organizing a new government structure in
the Philippines. They initially organized a Council of State through which they directed civil
affairs until October 1943, when they declared the Philippines an independent republic. The
Japanese-sponsored republic headed by President Jos P. Laurel proved to be unpopular.
Japanese occupation of the Philippines was opposed by large-scale underground and guerrilla
activity. The Philippine Army continued to fight the Japanese in a guerrilla war and was
considered a back up unit of the United States Army. Their effectiveness was such that by the
end of the war, Japan controlled only twelve of the forty-eight provinces. The major element of
resistance in the Central Luzon area was furnished by the Hukbalahap (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban
sa mga Hapon - "People's Army Against the Japanese"), which armed some 30,000 people and
Japans efforts to win Filipino loyalty found expression in the establishment (Oct. 14, 1943) of a
Philippine Republic, with Jos P. Laurel, former Supreme Court justice, as president. But the
people suffered greatly from Japanese brutality, and the puppet government added little
support. Meanwhile, President Quezon, who had escaped with other high officials before the
country fell, set up a government-in-exile in Washington. When he died (Aug., 1944), Vice
President Sergio Osmea became president. Osmea returned to the Philippines with the first
liberation forces, which surprised the Japanese by landing (Oct. 20, 1944) at Leyte, in the heart
of the islands, after months of U.S. air strikes against Mindanao. The Philippine government
MacArthur's Allied forces landed on Leyte on October 20, 1944. Landings in other parts of the
country followed, and the Associates pushed toward Manila. The landing was followed (Oct. 23
26) by the greatest navalengagement in history, called variously the battle of Leyte Gulf and the
second battle of the Philippine Sea. A great U.S. victory, it effectively destroyed the Japanese
navy and opened the way for the recovery of all the islands. Luzon was invaded (Jan., 1945),
and Manila was taken in February. On July 5, 1945, MacArthur announced All the Philippines
are now liberated. The Japanese had suffered over 425,000 dead in the Philippines. Fighting
continued until Japan's formal surrender on September 2, 1945. The Philippines suffered great
loss of life and monstrous physical destruction by the time the war was over. An estimated 1
extensively damaged.
The Philippine congress met on June 9, 1945, for the first time since its election in 1941. It faced
huge problems. The land was destroyed by war, the economy destroyed, the country torn by
political warfare and guerrilla violence. Osmeas leadership was challenged (Jan., 1946) when
one wing (now the Liberal party) of the Nationalist party nominated for president Manuel Roxas,
who defeated Osmea in Apr