Bataan has fallen | Inquirer Opinion

Bataan has fallen

The Battle of Bataan was fought on Jan. 7-April 9, 1942, or 74 years ago, by the Usaffe (US Armed Forces in the Far East) commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It was the most intense phase of Japan’s invasion of Filipinas during World War II.

Japan’s annihilation of the US naval fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8, 1941, left Bataan and Corregidor the only Allied strongholds in the region amid MacArthur’s failed plan: total defense of the islands by stopping the enemy on the beaches. Sadly, his “paper” army never had Washington’s approval from the very start due to his ambition to run as US president versus Franklin Roosevelt.


On April 3, Good Friday, the 65th “Summer” Brigade of Lt. Gen. Akira Nara led the mopping-up campaign in Bataan, coinciding with the death anniversary of Japan’s first emperor, Jimmu. The neophyte unit had astrength of 7,500 mostly overage soldiers seeing battle for the first time. Arrayed against it were mountains it had never explored, jungles it had no maps of, and the Usaffe composed of 65,000 Filipinos, 15,000 Americans, and 10,000 soldiers of the US Army and the Philippine Constabulary. There goes the myth of Japan’s superior forces in Bataan, after Nara captured Mt. Limay, facing the northern slope of Mt. Samat on April 9, the defense ironically led by Gen. Vicente Lim, his classmate at Fort Benning Infantry School in 1928.

Greatly humiliated, Maj. Gen. Edward King Jr. unconditionally surrendered the Usaffe to Col. Motoo Nakayoma, stressing that he represented only himself. It was the greatest capitulation in US history since the Civil War in the Battle of Harpers Ferry in 1862.


On May 9, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainright surrendered 10,000 troops in Corregidor to Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma “with broken heart and head bowed with sadness, but not in shame.”

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It’s time to debunk the fancy myths about sacrifice against “overwhelming odds,” if we are to adhere to a people’s view of our history. John Toland’s “But not in Shame” bared it all—a prodigious and painstaking research on the six months after Pearl Harbor (Signet Books, 1961).

Unknown to MacArthur, the Pensacola convoy bound for Manila with planes and men were diverted to Fiji on Dec. 8. Troopships President Johnson, Bliss, Etolin and President Garfield were ordered back to San Francisco. In Manila, by nightfall, two destroyers undergoing repair in Cavite, to include supply ships, left port (pp. 73-74).

Washington’s order to turn back was prompted by the fear of losing more men and ships after Pearl Harbor. But Wake had not fallen, Guam still stood, and the Pacific was still American water and could have been kept with a little display of nerve. With the Pacific open, supplies would pour into Filipinas and Allied bastions in the Far East, like the Atlantic was kept open throughout the war despite zealous German U-boots (p. 215). But Washington took no risk, made no effort to send supplies, gave up the Pacific on the first day of the war—hence Bataan fell!

Unknown also to MacArthur was a secret British-American military pact concluded long before Pearl Harbor: Adolf Hitler was the threat to the democracies and all supplies and men must go to Europe. It was agreed by the high commands of both that the main strategy in the Far East would be defensive. Paradoxically, America declared war against Japan but forthwith fought the Germans.

Thus, when Manila was about to fall on a Christmas week, Roosevelt had a tayo-tayo lang conference with Winston Churchill, during which they agreed that Europeans in peril from Hitler had the priority over Orientals in peril from Hideki Tojo. The colonies in Asia could wait.


Angered by the US sellout, President Manuel L. Quezon proposed to Roosevelt the grant of immediate independence, a neutral Philippines, withdrawal of the armies of US and Japan, and that neither should occupy bases on the islands. Roosevelt rejected the proposal.

Dismayed, Quezon resigned and sent a savage letter to Roosevelt on Jan. 31: “This war is not of our making. We decided to fight by your side and we have done the best we could and we are still doing as much under the circumstances. But how long are we going to be left alone? … I want to decide in my own mind whether there is justification for allowing all these men to be killed when for the final outcome of the war the shedding of their blood may be wholly unnecessary” (p. 178).

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War Plan Orange-3 (WPO-3) was effected on Dec. 22, after MacArthur’s 11th and 71st Divisions were routed by the advancing Japanese: a last-resort measure in case of a successful enemy invasion to retreat to Bataan and Corregidor and keep Manila Bay open for reinforcements by the US navy for six months (p. 134).

Did the authors of WPO-3 have definite word from Washington that the navy could be expected, or at least some effort would be made to send help within six months? If none, and all indications were that Washington had been very discreet and coy, then Bataan was a bureaucratic crime—the use of a plan with utter disregard for its intention or the conditions it presupposed. Filipinos fought in Bataan for a plan—to fight until ships came. They fought and died because none came, and none was ever coming in the first place.

There is no evidence that the horrors of the Death March were planned by Homma and his staff. They planned a quick and orderly transfer from Bataan to Capas of the prisoners of war—to be gathered in Balanga then carried on trucks to San Fernando—whom they estimated to number only 25,000-35,000 at the end of the fighting (p. 341).

Organization collapsed on how to transport over 70,000 prisoners on only 200 trucks. So they were marched by Japanese soldiers wearied by battle, vexed by the chore, and despising those who had surrendered. The Japanese manual reads: “To be captured not only means disgracing the army, but your parents and  family will never be able to hold up their heads again. Always save the last round for yourself” (p. 361).

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We boast that our holdout in Bataan for three months fatally upset Japan’s war timetable. Absolute nonsense. Homma expected to take Bataan in six  months; he did it in three. The Japanese advanced according to schedule all over Southeast Asia, spilled over its extreme limits into the shore of Australia by the first week of May, swept up the whole of the East Indies, and annihilated the Allies’ Pacific fleets in the process.

Bataan had no military value except as propaganda, and its conquest was a matter of pride. Homma belonged to the antiwar, pro-West faction in Japan and was an archenemy of Tojo (p. 111), who wanted him to fail—with poor maps, bad intelligence reports, and taunted for delay in the mopping-up operation (p. 208). But he chose to win and was hanged by the victors for proving himself a better general than MacArthur.

Today, there will be the usual rhetoric on Bataan as a symbol and inspiration of the free man’s readiness to fight for his liberties to the end. But how? Thousands of its defenders were still alive to surrender! It can be an inspiration only to dupes, and should be an old warning to this nation that cries, “Put not your trust in foreign princes”—especially under a US-sponsored Edca recently upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional.

Reynaldo V. Silvestre, a retired Army colonel, bemedaled officer and multiawarded writer, belongs to Class 1968 of the Vanguard in UP Diliman, and was teaching political theory at UP Manila when called to active duty as first lieutenant in 1975.

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TAGS: Bataan, Douglas MacArthur, Japanese rule, Manuel L. Quezon, Pearl Harbor, US Armed Forces in the Far East, Usaffe, War Plan Orange-3, World War II
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