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(Published here with the permission of the author. Part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila.)

With MacArthur’s landing in Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945, the wheel of history had come full circle since December 1941.

At that time, he was on the defensive in Manila and it was the Japanese who were invading through Lingayen Gulf. Was the situation in 1945 merely a reversal, a mirror image, of that in 1941, or were there contrasts?

Actually, there were both contrasts and similarities. For one thing, Yamashita had, on Luzon alone, about three times as many troops (275,000) as the USAFFE’s 90,000—odd in 1941.

The Japanese in 1945 had been at war for over three years, were well-armed, had veteran troops, and were mentally conditioned for combat. The USAFFE in 1941 was thrust suddenly into war without adequate material or psychological preparation, with obsolete weapons and supplies, and half-trained troops many of whom had never fired a gun even in practice.

Yamashita in 1944-45 had much more time to prepare a fall back strategy in the face of invasion, a time span running between several weeks and about three months. In 1941, MacArthur had to execute a fall-back maneuver in a matter of days with his raw soldiers.

In some respects, the situation was a complete mirror image. Air superiority was enjoyed by Japan in 1941, and by America in 1945. Likewise, the Japanese had naval superiority in 1941, the Americans in 1945.

Yamashita and his officers prepare a fall-back strategy.
Yamashita and his officers prepare a fall-back strategy.

In another respect, however, the circumstances were different. In 1945, Yamashita, having lost a good number of troops in the vain effort to hold Leyte, decided not to offer combat on the beaches but to concentrate his forces in three mountain redoubts, the main one in the Cordillera and two minor ones in the Zambales mountains and the hills east of Manila. This way, he hoped to tie up large numbers of American troops for a long time and delay the inevitable invasion of the Japanese homeland.

In 1941, MacArthur had initially followed a strategy of fighting on the beaches. With the sudden onset of war and with his half-trained troops, this did not work, and he was compelled to resort to the old War Plan Orange calling for a retreat to Bataan. He has been criticized by military writers for his initial strategy, but to this layman, is it any different from the great German General Rommel’s concept that the Allied invasion of Normandy had to be beaten on the beaches or else the battle was lost?

If there were parallels and contrasts in the military situation, when it came to civilians, the contrasts were predominant. In 1941, thousands of young men eagerly lined up to volunteer to fight. Among them was my Palawan cousin in the Ateneo ROTC, Juan “Nenito” Guardiano. They had to be told by an American officer to go home, because there were no arms for them.

In 1945, the Japanese had to send trucks roaming around to pick men off the streets for forced labor. They even used tonari gumi or neighborhood associations for that purpose. My father’s diary for January 10, 1945, noted: “Japs recruiting pedestrians.” On January 22, he wrote: “Pay 30 pesos for laborer army service.”

I remember the incident. The neighborhood association leader came and told my father that he (the latter) was supposed to render forced labor, but that he could send the houseboy instead. My father blew up. If the work was dangerous, how could he send an employee to face the danger for him? It was then learned it was possible to commute the forced labor service by paying a fee for someone else who might be willing to take it on.

Another contrast between 1941 and 1945 was in the field of transportation. The USAFFE in 1941 commandeered the buses from the transportation companies to move troops to Bataan. In 1945, the Japanese were confiscating all wheeled vehicles including the lowly pushcarts. They went so far as to go to private homes to take over cars that had been laid up since January 1942.

As early as January 15, my father noted that Japanese soldiers wanted to borrow two cars togo to Baguio. The following day, they visited our neighbor Francisco Lopez. While awaiting their return, my father somewhat naughtily removed the distributor cap from our 1937 Ford 60 h.p. V-8 which had been used to take us children to school and my mother to market.

The Japanese finally came on January 27—two young civilians from the Hodobu (Propaganda Corps) with a mechanic who exclaimed in astonishment when he saw the distributor cap missing. My father explained that someone from Toyoda Motors (as Toyota was then known) had come previously and taken it to make sure no one else would make off with the car. The Hodobu people towed it away anyway. The young men spoke some English, and my father engaged them in conversation about the beauties of Japan’s inland sea which he had visited as young man. The Hodobu men gave a handwritten receipt for “one mortar care” (i.e., motor car).

The pickup occurred at noon. At 2 p.m., the Japanese army came wanting the same car, only to find they had been beaten in the race. But more vehicular confiscations followed. On February 2, a Nash car belonging to the brother of my aunt Ramona (Mrs. Alejandro) Legarda was taken from the R. Hidalgo office. The following day, our neighbor Francisco Lopez lost his Buick to the military police, just a few hours before the Americans entered Manila.

One really glaring contrast between 1941 and 1945 was in the food situation. In December 1941, people were well-dressed and well-fed. When the Americans had to leave, they opened the warehouses in the Port Area to the public.

Manila civilians lined up in front of a theater on Rizal Avenue to apply for rice ration from the Philippine Civil Affairs Unit (PCAU) on February 20, 1945.
Manila civilians lined up in front of a theater on Rizal Avenue to apply for rice ration from the Philippine Civil Affairs Unit (PCAU) on February 20, 1945.
Pre-war Manila (Late 1930s)
Pre-war Manila (Late 1930s)

In January 1945, people were dressed shabbily, and there was real hunger. It was a common sight to see people with bodies bloated by beri-beri, dying beside garbage cans in which they had something to eat. Japanese who had food supplies were not giving them away. The military detachment at the Legarda Elementary School was, noted my father on January 17, selling rice at P10,000 a sack.

But the biggest question was, would there be a replay of the climactic event of 1941—the declaration of Manila as an open city? “Would Yamashita repeat MacArthur’s gesture and spare the inhabitants of Manila the horrors of urban warfare? Officials of the Occupation “republic” made vain pleas to him to that effect, but were fobbed off with vague excuses (as recorded in Felipe Buencamino’s war memoirs). He kept about 4,000 army troops in Manila to the very end.

(Published in the January 22, 2005 issue of the Philippine Free Press. Part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila.)