The triumphant Filipinos (Manila Times Walking History)
By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua
October 10, 2020
THE Fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 was a testament to Filipino valor against all odds taken against the context of most of Southeast Asia falling to the Japanese forces early in the war. But it was painful to see the images of defeat and surrender and thereafter the Filipino-American forces walking the hundred-kilometer Death March for five days under the hot sun and then being incarcerated at the Capas concentration camp. It was followed by the surrender a month later of the Rock, the island of Corregidor, on May 6.
As I said, the Fall of Bataan as the Araw ng Kagitingan holiday should remind Filipinos of our veterans’ valor, but it also denotes how we remember our tragedies more. Worse, the image of US Gen. Douglas MacArthur fulfilling his promise to return on the shores of Leyte Gulf on Oct. 20, 1944 made us think that we owe our liberation only to the Americans.
As one historian said, “[T]he contribution of the Filipino to the war has not been justly recognized.” We must go beyond the Fall of Bataan to see not just our valor but our victory. For we may have lost the battle at Bataan, but not the war.
The Fall of Bataan actually paved the way for a stronger guerrilla resistance movement around the country which actually started even while the Battle of Bataan was already happening in January 1942. People around the country started to band together and form groups like the Hukbalahap, Marking’s Guerrillas, and the Hunter’s ROTC Guerrillas. Even the ethnic Chinese in the Philippines fought with their own guerrilla groups. What they lacked in number and weapons, they compensated with their strategy and claimed many major victories. One victory by the Hunter’s ROTC guerrillas, the Ambush at Pugadlawin, was won by 19 Filipinos against about 200 Japanese.
MacArthur sent the submarine Spyron from Australia with his aide Chick Parsons to roam around and coordinate with guerrilla groups so they could be part of the overall plan to liberate the country. With this, they were able to send MacArthur important intelligence. When the plane bearing Admiral Mineichi Koga, the commander of a combined fleet of the Japanese imperial navy, crashed in the bay near Carcar, Cebu, they were able to intercept a case full of documents pertaining to Japanese plans and positions. Despite the efforts of the Japanese to scare Cebuanos into returning the documents by killing and burning the towns, the guerrillas found a way to transport the Koga papers to Negros through a waterproof mortar case, and from there were eventually brought by submarine to MacArthur.
The Filipinos were also part of the Great Raids that liberated the biggest POW camp in Southeast Asia in Cabanatuan, the biggest civilian internment camp in University of the Philippines Los Baños and the civilian internment camp at the University of Santo Tomas Sulucan campus.
It was not only military valor that was shown during the war, civilians went out of their way to help, sneaking food to soldiers and helping people escape during the Death March. Women like Magdalena Leones also contributed as spies for the Allies. Even society matrons like Josefa Llanes Escoda, Girl Scouts founder, risked their lives to distribute help to people in the concentration camps. Escoda paid heavily for that simple resistance with her life. Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, caretaker of the government, refused to cooperate with the Japanese and was executed in front of his son, telling his son, “Do not cry Pepito, show these people that you are brave, it is an honor to die for one’s country. Not everyone has that chance.” Even the President of the Puppet Republic Jose P. Laurel, made so many interventions and concessions with the Japanese, saving the lives of many and minimizing the impact of the war on the populace.
The brutality of the Japanese occupation in those three years was demonstrated in the Battle of Manila from Feb. 3 to Mar. 3, 1945, where 100,000 civilians were killed as the Japanese defended the city from the liberating Filipino and American forces. The bodies of people, even babies — beheaded, bayoneted and shot — littered the streets, public buildings, even places of worship. The Rape of Manila, the second most-destroyed Allied city in the world, was only a reflection of what happened in many parts of the country.
Finally, on June 14, 1945, the guerrillas of the USAFIP-Northern Luzon defeated the Japanese at Bessang Pass. When they cornered General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the overall commander of the Japanese forces in the Philippines in Kiangan, Ifugao, he chose to surrender to the Americans on Sept. 2, 1945.
In a war, everybody is a loser. Nobody is a winner. But we should also look at how we used our wisdom as a people to help liberate ourselves from the Japanese and see that the triumphant Filipino can overcome even the worst tragedies.