Remembering the end of World War II
History turns on a 46-year cycle. That is what the late Benito J. Legarda Jr. tells us in the conclusion to “The Hills of Sampaloc” (Bookmark, 2001), a short, illustrated study that debunked the received tradition that the first shot in the Philippine-American War was fired on a bridge in San Juan. Legarda had a personal interest in the issue having grown up in the Sampaloc-Santa Mesa area, a site that saw other historic events that we cannot see or connect without hindsight. Legarda was 94 when he passed away last year, and for us who may not live that long, we get hindsight from reading history.
Legarda’s 46-year historical cycles are made up of the first shot in the Philippine-American War on Feb. 4, 1899; the close of World War II in the Philippines when the Americans liberated Malacañang and the University of Santo Tomas internment camp on Feb. 3, 1945, followed by US and Filipino soldiers being welcomed along what is now the Welcome Rotonda in Quezon City on Feb. 5, 1945; and the 1991 Philippine Senate’s refusal to renew the stay of US military bases in the Philippines.
In all three, the United States is intertwined in our history, and we cannot tell if it will remain so in 2037. While history does not repeat itself in 46-year cycles as in Legarda’s reckoning, the real historical lesson is that history tends to be seen in pieces, often seen independent of rather than in connection with each other.
Commemorating the outbreak of the Philippine-American War in 1899 obscures the Battle for Manila in 1945, and remembering the “Liberation of Manila” in 1945 tends to make us forget that this took a month of untold suffering. While one side of Greater Manila was “liberated” early in February, the Japanese dug in for a last stand on another side of the city, leaving over 100,000 dead and Manila in ruins. What we should remember is the one month that the Japanese went on a rampage, killing anyone in sight—men, women, children, even the old and infirm.
Women suffered twice over because many were raped and tortured first, sometimes in front of their husbands and children, before being killed. The most powerful firsthand accounts of those bloody days are by women who survived the carnage and wrote about it decades later: Lourdes Reyes Montinola’s “Breaking the Silence: A War Memoir” (1996); Pacita Pestaño Jacinto’s “Living with the Enemy: A Diary of the Japanese Occupation” (2002); and Carmen Guerrero Cruz Nakpil’s “Myself, Elsewhere” (2006). Even Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s harrowing short story “People in the War,” anthologized in many college literature textbooks, is a composite of many accounts she heard during the war and its aftermath.
It is a pity that bronze historical markers that dot many places in the archipelago are passed over by Filipinos who see but do not notice them. Some markers are faded and illegible, while others may be legible but with text too long for harried pedestrians to make time for. In the 1990s, historical markers were installed to commemorate the end of World War II, but unlike other matter-of-fact markers, these carried a strong bias, insisting in forceful language that war should never happen again. In the Malacañang area on Plaza Aviles is a marker installed in 1995, and another in Intramuros installed in 1996, that remind us that the liberation of Manila on March 3, 1945, came at the cost of over 100,000 civilian lives lost in the most unspeakable of ways.
The Aviles marker concludes: “After the gruesome carnage of civilians numbering about 100,000 and the costly physical devastation to the city, the Battle of Manila ended on March 3, 1945. To all these innocent victims of World War II. The most important legacy they bequeathed to us is the real meaning of Peace and Freedom.”
The Intramuros marker reads: “Memorare—Manila 1945. This monument is erected in memory of the more than 100,000 defenseless civilians who were killed during the Battle for the Liberation of Manila between February 3 and March 3, 1945. They were mainly victims of heinous acts perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Forces and the casualties of the heavy military barrage by the American forces. The Battle for Manila at the end of World War II was one of the most brutal episodes in the history of Asia and the Pacific. That tragic battle will remain forever in the hearts and minds of the Filipino People.”
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