#neveragain | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back


A friend recently posted on his Facebook profile a few pages from the “Report on the Destruction of Manila and Japanese Atrocities, February 1945,” which made for some very painful reading. I searched on the Net and found the complete report built on affidavits from civil, Church and military people who witnessed or experienced firsthand the Battle of Manila in 1945. After reading the text describing the massacre of civilians at De La Salle College, I was reminded of a column I wrote many years ago. In that column, I pointed to the seeming historical amnesia of De La Salle University officials who situated the Yuchengco Center for Japanese Studies in the same building where the massacre took place in 1945.

The search on the Internet also led me to two primary source documents on the La Salle massacre: one from a person who was reporting on the testimony of Fr. Francis J. Cosgrave, on March 6, 1945; the other, the actual detailed affidavit itself of the priest.

Father Cosgrave was a Redemptorist invited to live in La Salle to serve as chaplain after the Japanese took over his house and church in Baclaran. Father Cosgrave estimated that there were about 70 people who had taken refuge in La Salle. They included 30 women and children, 15 brothers, one priest, 12 male servants, and the male members of the Vazquez-Prada, Carlos and Cojuangco families.


Father Cosgrave said that on Feb. 7, 1945, a well-dressed Filipino guided Japanese soldiers into the college who dragged away our college director, Brother Egbert Xavier, and Judge Jose Carlos. The two were never seen or heard from again. Father Cosgrave’s account was based on what he saw firsthand and on stories he had heard from others but had not actually witnessed. Father Cosgrave and others were in the southern side of La Salle College when:


“On Monday, Feb. 12, 1945, just after noon, all were gathered at the foot of the staircase in the southern wing because shelling was going on at the time. A Japanese officer, accompanied by an estimated 20 Japanese soldiers, took away two of the muchachos (boy servants). Five minutes later the two boys were brought back badly wounded. Then the officer gave a command and at once the soldiers began bayoneting all the women and children alike. Those who resisted were shot and the officer cut some with his sword. Among the brothers who were bayoneted, most of them were German. One was Hungarian, one a Czeck, and one an Irishman. One of the brothers said the word ‘Deutscher,’ but he was bayoneted the same as were the rest.

“Some of the brothers managed to escape up the stairs, but were overtaken at the top of the stairs and there wounded; others reached the chapel and were there struck down. If anyone resisted the officer would fire at them with his pistol or cut at them with his sword. As a result, several, in addition to bayonet wounds, were otherwise badly wounded. Some of the children were only 2 or 3 years old, a few were even younger, were given the same treatment as their elders. When the Japanese had finished bayoneting us, they pulled and dragged the bodies and threw them in a heap at the foot of the stairs, the dead being thrown upon the living. Not many were killed outright by the bayoneting, a few died within one or two hours, the rest slowly bled to death.

“The personal effects of the dead and wounded were then looted or stolen. Father Cosgrave was of the opinion that those doing the looting were Filipino; he lost all of his personal belongings [including sacred vessels]. Frequently during the afternoon, the soldiers came in to watch them and mock at their sufferings. They remained there all afternoon during which time many of those who were wounded died.

“About 10 o’clock that evening, Father Cosgrave was able to raise himself to administer the last consolations of religion to some who were dying. He then crawled up the stairs and found many people dead or dying at the top of the stairs. One boy who had been an invalid for two or three months was lying dead outside the door of his room. This was the son of Doctor Cojuangco. The survivors remained there until Thursday afternoon, February 15th, about four o’clock, when the Americans entered the building.”

Father Cosgrave was found, and the two thrusts on his chest from bayonet stabs were treated in a clinic in Santa Ana. With Father Cosgrave were the following survivors: the son of Sevillano Aquino, the son of Dr. Antonio Cojuangco, Lourdes Cojuangco, the two Carlos girls, Jose Carlos Jr., Brother Anthony and three or four servants.

One has to read the actual affidavit to see the horrendous details left out of the retelling. For example: “Sometimes Japanese soldiers came in and tried to violate the young girls who were actually dying.”


There is something about firsthand accounts—primary source documents historians call them—that hit us in the gut. When people blame history teachers and history textbooks for the lack of national memory in the youth, one has to realize that textbook history, monuments and memorials have a way of desensitizing people into forgetting. Requiring students to read more primary sources, or more gripping stories, like that woven into Gilda Cordero Fernando’s  classic “People in the War,” will teach them that the hashtag #neveragain is not just for the martial law years but for anything in our history that we wish we will never forget nor repeat.


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TAGS: Battle of Manila, De La Salle University, Japanese Occupation, World War II

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