Web Banner_Battle of Manila_150203-02

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


In the Galas district of Quezon City, near the Manila city boundary, there is a street named Liberation. It had another name previously but the present one was given to celebrate the end of the nightmarish Japanese Occupation. In Mandaluyong City, there is an important street named 9 de Febrero commemorating the date of the liberation of that city in 1945.

A friend of my youth in Balic-balic (adjacent to Galas), Isagani A. Cruz who later rose to Associate justice in the Supreme Court, recalls his feeling of “exhilaration” at the time of liberation.

I mention these things as there seems to be a tendency among latter-day writers to limit the term “liberation” to the freeing of Allied internees at Santo Tomas. The British writers Connaughton, Pimlott and Anderson observe: “Historians have argued that the Santo Tomas operation was an American operation to save American lives. No nation could have been expected to have done otherwise, yet it bears repeating that the relief of Santo Tomas was but one of three goals, two of which were satisfactorily achieved” (The Battle for Manila). The other goals were Malacañang, which was taken ahead of Santo Tomas, and the Legislative Building, which was not, owing to fierce Japanese resistance at the approaches to Quezon bridge, later blown up.

With a demolished Quezon bridge in the foreground, a portion of Manila, south of the Pasig, lay in ruins. (Photo courtesy of the Occupation: The Later Years by Dr. Benito J. Legarda Jr.)
With a demolished Quezon bridge in the foreground, a portion of Manila, south of the Pasig, lay in ruins. (Photo courtesy of the Occupation: The Later Years by Dr. Benito J. Legarda Jr.)
Photo of Nagtahan Bridge from Correos Filipinas tumblr, February 1945
Photo of Nagtahan Bridge from Correos Filipinas tumblr, February 1945.

For the people in Galas, Balic-balic, Mandaluyong and many other areas, liberation was a reality, not just “so-called.” Many of those who survived the holocaust in southern Manila also felt liberated. I remember pedaling past the northern approaches to the then provisional Nagtahan bridge as dazed and destitute refugees streamed in from the zone of battle. I overheard a young wife tell her husband, “Salamat at bagong buhay.” For them it was more than liberation, it was a new life.

A ceremony at Manila’s City Hall on February 3 commemorated the 58th anniversary of the Battle for Manila, a change in terminology from previous observances of the Liberation of Manila—“mere” liberation, as some would say. In my view, liberation was the end, the battle was the means, and I am not sure what is gained by shifting the focus from the end to the means. Both are inseparable. Good Friday, after all, leads to Easter Sunday, and we do not refer to the latter as a “mere” Resurrection.

I myself have generally used the longer term “Battle for the Liberation of Manila,” to make clear which battle for Manila one is talking about, there having been at least four others down through the centuries.

I am completely in accord with Chairman Ambeth Ocampo of the National Historical Institute when he says in a recent column that “we should really look into this terrible page in our history, not only to blame the criminals, but also to bring closure to our lives.”

We need to do this because most of the survivors for half a century preferred to black out the unbearable memories of their hellish experiences and only started to unburden themselves on the 50th anniversary of the liberation in 1995. But one consequence of this long silence was that succeeding generations grew up in ignorance of what had happened, hence the necessity for a detailed account of actual events.

We are still discovering little-known sequels to well-known massacres. One of them relates to the De La Salle College slaughter of February 12, 1945. Fr. Ganzenwinkel, a German priest at Christ the King seminary on España Extension, was called to the Chinese cemetery to bless some bodies from the De La Salle atrocity before they were interred. While he was giving his benediction, he heard a moaning and found a young man, still barely alive.

He was 20-year-old Servillano “Billy” Aquino, one of Ninoy’s elder half-brothers. The priest had often played tennis at the Aquinos’ court when they lived in New Manila. He moved Billy to another place and notified the stepmother, Dona Aurora, who lived on San Rafael St., half a block from La Consolacion College, then converted into an army hospital.

Dona Aurora requested a jeep and a GI escort, retrieved Billy and brought him home to San Rafael, where U.S. Army doctors from the nearby hospital treated him and gave him plasma.

He had been at De La Salle with his 18-year-old bride Trinidad Cojuangco when the killing started. Since he thought he was going to die anyway, he decided to go down fighting, and took 32 bayonet wounds. His wife was killed along with 40 others, but by a quirk of fate, he survived.

There are many such untold incidents that deserve to be recorded, and historians who heed Professor Ocampo’s injunction to make detailed studies of our travails leading to the liberation will be helping to fill the lamentable gap in the modern generation’s knowledge of that time.

But I am not optimistic that Prof. Ocampo’s desire for closure can be easily attained—not while 1,068 World War II criminals, including Gen. Hideki Tojo who started the Pacific War, are enshrined in Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, continuing symbols of an unregenerate militarism.


(Published in the March 1, 2003 issue of the Philippines Free Press. Part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila.)