PALH Book Reviews



Review written by Miguel A. Bernad



edition. By Jose Ma. Bonifacio M. Escoda. Giraffe Books,

Quezon City.  2001. xx, 360p., photographs. (15x23 cm.)


“Rape” is a strong word. It implies a brutal physical assault resulting in the physical, moral and psychological violation of the victim. But “rape” is not strong enough to describe what happened in Manila, the piecemeal savage assault that lasted more than two months. The perpetrators were the soldiers of a nation that apparently had not yet emerged from the stage of savagery.


            The book under review (said to be the result of several years of interviews with survivors and of other forms of research) recounts the ordeal of Manila in five parts. Part One is the historical background: the Old Manila; the rise of Japanese imperialism; the invasion of Manchuria and China; the rape of Nanking; the careful preparation for the Japanese 9nvasion of the Philippines, including the entry of thousands of Japanese nationals; the Russo-Japanese neutrality pact; the American response; the attack on the American navy and the beginning of war.


            The important sections of the book are Part Three (the war in the Philippines); Part Four (the end of war); and Part Five (Manila in ruins). The book is illustrated with numerous photographs of persons and buildings.


            The title “Warsaw of Asia” is an allusion to General MacArthur’s comment when he saw Manila after the long battle. He called Manila “the most devastated city in the world, next to Warsaw.”


            The remark (later repeated by Cardinal Spellman) was probably the most accurate summary of what had happened. There were other cities in the world that had been devastated, but their devastation was not a rape. Hiroshima was destroyed in a few minutes by one atomic explosion. It was destroyed “cleanly”—using that term in the sense of the American expression “to cut clean.” Coventry in England and Dresden in Germany were destroyed by one bombing raid from the air. Parts of London, Berlin and Tokyo were destroyed in several raids, each lasting no more than a few hours or even less. Manila, on the other hand, was destroyed piecemeal, building by building, street by street, district by district; a very large part of Manila’s inhabitants were killed, not by one atomic explosion or a few air raids, but individual by individual, group by group, by bayonet or bullet or by being imprisoned in sealed rooms for slow suffocation.


            In that sense, Manila was the most devastated city, perhaps far more than even Warsaw.


            Even before the actual battle of February and March 1945, the killings had already started. It was not the act of unruly subordinates. It was ordered from the top by the highest authority. The commander in chief, General Yamashita, declared that all male Filipinos, 14 years old and up, were “guerillas” and therefore must be killed. The systematic “sonings” of Manila, when a district would be sealed and all the males rounded up and bayoneted, corresponded to similar massacres perpetrated by the Japanese in the provinces, notably Batangas and Laguna.


            But the most frightful killings were in February and March. Houses would be set on fire, and as the inhabitants rushed out, they would be gunned down or bayoneted.


            At La Salle on Taft Avenue, the Brothers (who were Germans and therefore Japanese allies) and the many civilians who had taken refuge in the building were pursued from floor to floor. Many were killed in the chapel. It is said that the Japanese had sexual intercourse with some of the dying women. One woman who tried to protect her child had her fingers and other parts of her body slowly cut up.


            At San Marcelino Street the “Paules” or Vincentian priests (who were Spaniards sympathetic to the Japanese cause and some of whom had preached from the church pulpit urging Filipinos to cooperate with the Japanese whom they considered liberators from American domination) were kept prisoners on the ground floor of their building, and finally were marched out to the edge of the nearby estero and killed. Their bodies floated on the dirty stagnant water for several days.


            In Fort Santiago, hundreds were crowded into sealed rooms to die in slow suffocation.


            If this had happened in Europe, it would be called genocide.


            The Japanese have never admitted their atrocities in the Philippines, just as they have never admitted that there was a month-long rape of Nanking. In their textbooks the claim is made that Japanese troops always behaved correctly.


            Not all the buildings were destroyed by the Japanese and not all the massacres were perpetrated by them. Much destruction and many deaths were caused by American bombings from the air and shelling by artillery. Some of the massacres by American planes had been deliberate. The following incident was recounted by a physician, Dr. Cesar Llaguno M.D. Sensing that Manila was going to become a battlefield, he decided to take his family out of Manila and evacuate to their hometown in the Bicol Penninsula. Thousands of others apparently had the same idea and the family had to sleep in the Tutuban train station for several days before they could get passage on a train, riding not inside the coach but on the roof. “The family reached Naga, Camarines Sur, and witnessed an incident in Naga City public market where American P38s mistook the Filipinos who were waving and cheering at them as Japanese and slaughtered hundreds of civilians.” (p. 100)


            Some mass killings by Americans were apparently due to mistaken aim or misinformation. “But one fateful morning an American pilot may have committed an error. Bombs fell on Maypajo Public Market (near Tondo) and its surroundings. Hundreds of civilians perished while scores of others lost their limbs.” (p. 106)


            It is estimated that over 100,000 persons died in Manila either from Japanese atrocities or from the American bombings.


            The destruction of Manila and other Philippine cities and the loss of many lives might have been averted if the original American plan had been followed, namely after the capture of Guadacanal, the plan was to go straight to Okinawa as a prelude to the attack on Japan. It is said that MacArthur insisted on Philippine landings to fulfill his promise “I shall return.” Such egoism was understandable and many Filipinos accepted it with sympathy: but it exacted a terrible price from the Philippines and its people.


            There are other facets of the war that are mentioned briefly in this book. For instance, “sex slaves.” Or the forms of transport. Some episodes are well narrated in detail, pieced together from the testimony of survivors. For instance, the taking of the Santo Tomas internment camp by the Third Cavalry unit on February 3, and the death of the Filipino hero who led them there, Manuel Colayco.


            Some of those who have read this book have dismissed it with the remark that it is “not well written.” True, it is not a literary masterpiece. The day-to-day, hour-by-hour, place-by-place narration prevents a continuous narrative. But the well-documented information given here is valuable. As a record of the war from the testimony of survivors, this is a valuable book, and Giraffe Books deserves commendation for publishing it.



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