Remembering the Rape of Manila
Seventy-five years ago today saw the destruction of Manila, and with it thousands of civilians murdered by Japanese soldiers who, facing sure death or capture, decided to drag everyone down into hell with them. No one was spared: the old, the infirm, women, children, and even defenseless infants. Spaniards and Germans, whose countries were allied with Japan, were not exempt: They were killed seeking refuge in the Spanish Consulate, the Casino Español, and the German Club.
Memories of survivors now grow dim and have been mixed with fake news about Yamashita wanting to declare Manila an open city to spare it and its inhabitants from destruction. If Yamashita didn’t order the actual massacre, he at least knew what was going on and made no attempt to stop it. Then there is the fake news that the massacres were actually committed by Koreans rather than Japanese. Make no mistake—it was the Japanese forces that blasted the bridges and buildings in Manila to make these unusable to the Americans. It was the Japanese who entered the Red Cross and killed patients, doctors, and nurses. They even lured people into a place planted with a Red Cross flag, promising safety but dealing out death by beheading, shooting, stabbing, or burning. Many women were raped before they were killed; some were violated even if they were already dead.
I asked Dr. Rico Jose, authority on the Japanese Occupation, what made the Japanese act in this terrible way. His reply: “War makes humans inhuman.” The Chinese have not forgotten what is now remembered as the “Rape of Nanjing,” unlike Filipinos who have yet to even call what happened 75 years ago the “Rape of Manila, 1945.” In the course of my research on the excesses of the Philippine Revolution and the atrocities committed by the enemy during the Philippine-American War, I am left horrified by the primary sources. But nothing comes close to the forgotten civilians sacrificed in what we now remember as the “Liberation of Manila,” or for some the “Battle for Manila.”
Gen. Douglas MacArthur fulfilled his promise to return, only to find death and destruction waiting for him. He was so outraged by the carnage that he ordered an immediate investigation and the collection of sworn testimonies, which were later used to pin down General Yamashita and guarantee his execution. One of thousands of pages of documents is a “Report on the Destruction of Manila and Japanese Atrocities, 1945” that sums up the matter bluntly after a brief chronology and sequence of events: “The direct responsibility for this crime rests with the Japanese High Command and the Government of Japan [in Tokyo], represented by the Emperor, while the people of Japan itself cannot ultimately escape the awful weight of moral participation and moral guilt.”
Declaring Manila an open city was not part of the plan. The Japanese had prepared to fight to the death; they laid mines on the streets and traps in buildings, and prepared for a drawn-out battle with the Americans. All civilians were deemed hostile and were to be disposed of as well. Japanese forces were told to choose death over capture and eventual trial, so those who did not die in battle were ordered to commit suicide.
More than 90 percent of churches or religious buildings in the city were destroyed, even if these held no military purpose and were filled with refugees. Religious casualties of the battle were listed and named, and their numbers were: 14 Augustinians, 10 Franciscans (half of whom were senior citizens), six Recollects, nine Capuchins, two Jesuits, 16 De La Salle Brothers, etc. The massacre at the De La Salle campus on Taft Avenue makes for terrifying reading, and one of the eyewitnesses was the superior of the Redemptorist Fathers, who recounted the events of Feb. 12, 1945, when most of them were bayoneted. Then everyone was dragged into one place and piled up in a heap, both the dead and some who slowly bled to death later. They remained this way for a day, with the Japanese peeking in to laugh at the dying; worse, some Japanese soldiers “tried to violate the young girls who were actually dying.” Filipino collaborators later came in to loot. The victims were liberated when the Americans took over the building in the afternoon of Feb. 15.
Do we really have short memories, or do we simply refuse to remember?
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