Japanese occupation | Philstar.com
December 27, 2021 | 00h00
With tensions rising in the South China Sea, the possibility of an accidental war between the United States and China is not remote. War game players predict Chinese victory; if so, then we can expect Sino occupation. With 70 percent of the Philippine economy in the hands of ethnic Chinese and many pro-Chinese Filipinos, the Sino occupation is a cinch. If that happens, I hope it won’t be as hard as the Japanese occupation.
I lived through the Japanese occupation; I will now describe what it was.
It is not true as President Duterte says that if we were not an American colony, the Japanese would not have invaded the Philippines. Japan had already occupied Korea, Taiwan, parts of China and Indochina in December 1941 – all of these countries were part of Japan’s empire plan.
We were not ill-prepared for this war. General MacArthur, whom President Quezon asked to help shape the Philippine Army, was already there. Manila had air raid exercises. Although MacArthur was warned eight hours in advance of the Pearl Harbor debacle, he was unprepared for the Japanese airstrike that crippled the US Air Force stationed in Pampanga and Zambales.
Manila was an open city and the Japanese came without a blow. We expected them to be barbaric, but in the first few months they did the right thing and appointed many elite Filipinos to their posts. Several of them refused, including Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, whom they executed.
There was looting on the quays. All the schools were closed, many school buildings were raided and all the so-called strategic areas were cordoned off and sentries were posted there, forcing the Filipinos to bow to the sentries, otherwise they would be slapped in the face.
It goes without saying that almost all Filipinos at the time had this experience of being slapped by Japanese sentries. After the fall of Bataan and the Death March, they became brutal.
Our biggest problem was the food shortage, particularly felt in the cities; the transport system was disrupted, the rice was checked. It was my duty to transport rice from Rosales to Manila, just half a bag that I could carry. A large part of the transport was done by calesas or bullfighting carts because all the buses, with the exception of a few trucks, were sequestered by the army at the start of the war. Only the Japanese and the powerful Filipinos who collaborated with them had cars. Wealthy Filipinos had elaborate calesas called Dokar pulled by racehorses. A few cars appeared fueled by carbon dioxide, a huge contraption in the back of the car that used coconut charcoal.
The soap was made locally. There were no toothbrushes let alone toothpaste, and we used table salt to brush our teeth. Every piece of land available in Manila was planted with camotes and talinum, which was never enough. Soon, malnutrition manifested itself in the emaciated bodies of people. Dried meat and dried fish were difficult to find, and much of the merchandise from the South was brought to Manila by sailboat.
At the start of the war, the Japanese Akibono cigarette was rationed. But soon enough there was no tobacco available except the native variety for cigars, and even that was not available to the public. Very thin paper such as those used in the Bible were made as cigarette wrappers, and the tobacco leaf was actually dried papaya leaves.
People who were sick and needed medicine suffered the most because there were no more imported medicines and doctors had to make do with local herbal medicines. For those who wanted chestnuts which were a common dish during Christmas time, we had roasted coconut meat. Since there was no electricity in the towns or even in the villages, we used coconut oil for lighting.
Cotton was rationed but not enough and soon some very poor Filipinos were carrying canvas bags. For shoes, the local shoe leather was no longer available. I was lucky enough to have a piece of canvas that a cobbler turned into a pair of shoes with rubber tires as heels; it lasted for me until the Liberation.
For so many Filipinos, including women, Filipino ingenuity has created wooden shoes with decor and carving. How I wish some were still made today.
Since there were no more movies, Manila cinemas without air conditioning were showing plays in Tagalog, many of which were adapted from classics and performed by movie stars. The theaters were full. The Japanese occupation led to the flowering of the Tagalog stage.
In 1944 the Colleges in Manila opened and I enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas in Intramuros. We lived in Antipolo Street and it was very rare for me to take the tram, so I walked this distance every day.
We were taking our Japanese lessons that morning, our teacher was a naval lieutenant, when the American planes came roaring very low, just above the acacia trees. They were dark planes with white stripes and stars, and knowing they were American, we started jumping and screaming for joy. It was our last day at school.
At the beginning of November we had no more food, so a cousin, my mother and I walked to Rosales.
There was no more traffic in the streets because the air was dominated by American planes. We slept in the abandoned houses along the road and at night we could hear the Japanese marching in their retreat towards the Cordilleras. It took us seven days to reach Rosales, where we waited for the Americans to arrive.
It was during the Liberation that the Japanese committed their worst atrocities, the massacres of Ermita-Malate in February 1945. Linus Von Plata, graduate student at UP Los Baños, told me that after the dramatic rescue of American prisoners in Los Baños, the Japanese marched on the city and killed thousands of people.
These three catastrophic events in our history – the Revolution of 1896, the Japanese Occupation and Martial Law – were challenges that put us to the test. Our hardiness as a people, our loyalty too. In these civic crises, morality is thrown out the window, as everyone is for himself. A shameful event that happened during the occupation is not only the collaboration of our elites with the Japanese, but the fact that so many Filipinos have been killed by other Filipinos to face all the deaths and for that the guerrillas kill other guerrillas in their battle for supremacy. It is the tragic events in our history that have grieved us and from which we have not yet recovered.