[Battle of Manila Essay]

By Raphael Benedict Galapin
3rd Prize Winner, Battle of Manila Essay Writing Contest 2019


My first true encounter with The Battle of Manila just happened in college. For my history class in UP, we made a diorama on how the Battle of Manila raged on in our very own Rizal Hall, and how dozens of Japanese troops sung and then committed ritual suicide during the last night of the fighting in campus. I knew about other brutal stories such as the Bahay na Pula in Bulacan, but they all blurred into one big bloody picture of ‘42-’45. 

My grandfather’s childhood memories of post-war Manila were of playing in the rubble of the PGH and the Ateneo de Manila University and of collecting bullet casings and dogtags to trade with other children. “That’s just how the war hit the Philippines,” he would say. 80 year-old Lolo Onie, who lived just across the narrow street from the house I am lodging in in Manila told me stories about his late father when I confided with him the difficulties of losing my father as well. “My father was a hero,” he would say. “He left to fight in Bataan and he never came back. He died a hero.” Lolo Onie would never talk about the Battle of Manila, though. To him, the war meant losing his father.

James Scott’s lecture about the Battle of Manila gave me my first real glimpse into the horrors of the first and only urban battle in MacArthur’s campaign against Japan. Before the lecture, I imagined that the civilian deaths came from rampaging Japanese troops who went berserk over the fact that they were stuck in Manila to die, and from the massive American shelling of the city which many Manileños today know to be the major reason why The Pearl of the Orient was a Manila that only existed before the battle, never again to be seen. I’ve since then unearthed stories of how people fell in line as they awaited their beheading or bayonetting inside churches or houses, crowds being burned alive, and women and children being raped by groups of soldiers while being herded inside hotels or homes. Death squads went house to house just to kill, burn, rape, and loot. Almost a quarter of a million people died in such conditions. The images sickened me, which prompted me to visit Intramuros and the Memorare-Manila ‘45 monument where people have been killed and made to suffer, seemingly with little purpose. My girlfriend and I offered some prayers.

How much worse would my grandfather’s parents have witnessed in Malate? How about Lolo Onie? How about the thousands of survivors, who by now are 80 years old or older? I would understand why many of them are reluctant to share their stories and just resign to being discussed as a footnote in the larger story of the occupation. But, does this do justice to the thousands slain in the battle of liberation? These untold stories leave our current generation blind to such a nightmare which, in our ignorance, we might allow to happen again.

Which the Filipinos do allow. I joined a fraternity in UP. I was taught to avoid heated confrontations with other fraternities because it could lead to violence between our groups. My senior brothers tell me that it’s because the Battle of Manila planted a seed of violence among the people, and it perpetuates in tradition-upholding societies such as fraternities. Hazing-related deaths also soared post-war. It would seem that the Filipinos had to deal with trauma as a
society. It breaks my heart, which is why I enjoin my fraternity brothers and sisters in efforts to foster peace and understanding among the various Greek organizations within UP. We could still stop the endless cycle of senseless violence, even elsewhere. 

I know that the Battle of Manila had to be fought. The people were starving, and the Americans had no guarantee that Iwabuchi’s marines wouldn’t slaughter the people if the Americans instead headed North towards Yamashita. The seat of government had to be liberated as soon as possible. Did it have to be met with such sheer violence and destruction? Could it have been done any other way? If Yamashita and his troops had been more cohesive, could the Japanese have just left Manila undefended as originally envisioned? These are questions that I now ask after knowing a little bit more about the battle. What is clear was that the liberation of Manila was not paid for in terms of ammunition spent, rubble destroyed, or fuel burned. Filipino blood flowed freely in the streets back in 1945 to pay the price for our freedom. The foundations of the newly independent Republic of the Philippines had to be set on the rubble which crushed many Filipino souls, the state further being handicapped by the loss of thousands of lives worth of human capital necessary to erect a stable society with a strong democratic government.

Manila, after having experienced such a violent event of such magnitude in such a short span of time, continues to be a place of crime, violence, and injustice. Many people still starve. Murder rates are on the rise. Our nationalism and willingness to defend the country is being challenged. Filipinos turn on Filipinos. Are we doomed to perpetuate the cycle of senseless violence? Or perhaps we are simply unaware that we have been turning wheels all along?

It is a sin for enlightened people to close their eyes. When these painful stories about the past of Manila and the Philippines are finally unleashed for the country’s youth to behold, our country can finally stand up and walk away from the shackles that force us to repeat the mistakes of the past. We could advance as a society. We could then truly rebuild the Manila of our hearts and the memory of the thousands of Filipinos slain would be the wind on our backs as we sail to true freedom. Maybe that’s the purpose their souls seek, and then they could finally rest in peace.

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