Five months into self-quarantine, I now have more time to watch webinars which, pre-COVID, I would normally miss. Two very interesting ones were recently held to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Philippines.
Just to refresh: While Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945 (a day commemorated as VJ Day), it was not until the following day that General Tomoyuki Yamashita emerged from his hideout in Kiangan, Isabela, to give himself up. Just before Yamashita surrendered, the Filipino soldiers, who made up the USAFIP-NL, were breathing down Yamashita’s neck after their last big victory at Bessang Pass. Yamashita was immediately whisked to Baguio City where on September 3, 1945, he signed an Instrument of Surrender at the High Commissioner’s residence in Camp John Hay. Before the year was over, Yamashita was sentenced by a military court to die by hanging. The sentence was carried out a few months thereafter.
The more recent of the two very compelling webinars was held last Wednesday (September 2) – the exact date when Japan surrendered 75 years ago. It featured a virtual tour, conducted by John Silva, of the exhibition at the Ortigas Foundation Library entitled “Occupation and Victory, The Philippines in World War II.”
Watching very graphic pictures of the horrific destruction of important Manila landmarks, Silva’s audience could not help but ask if the destruction of the Pearl of Orient could have been avoided or at least minimized. Who did more damage to the city – the American artillery or the Japanese’s deliberate torching and blowing up of whole sections of the city? Could not Yamashita have declared Manila an Open City as MacArthur did in 1942? As a result of MacArthur’s declaration, the Japanese just rolled into Manila unopposed, with the whole city very much intact. Three years later, after landing in Lingayen Gulf, MacArthur expected to take over an Open City. MacArthur mistakenly ordered his aides to prepare for a victory parade in the main streets of Manila. MacArthur could not have been more wrong. What followed was a Japanese spree of rape, looting, and killing, torching of whole sections of the city, and fierce fighting “street by street, building by building, and floor by floor.”
Also among the visuals presented by Silva were seldom-seen paintings of national artist Fernando Amorsolo. In one, Amorsolo depicted the surroundings of a church somewhere inside Intramuros after the Japanese torched the area. Another showed a mother clutching her baby as she walked among corpses that littered the street. Curiously, the mother’s face did not reflect the horror taking place. If I heard John Silva correctly, Amorsolo probably tried to project hope in the midst of war. A third Amorsolo painting portrayed the trial of Yamashita by a military court.
Another item which caught my interest was a “Philippine Sea Frontier 1945 Christmas Souvenir Map of Manila” showing at least 40 “points of interest,” sites of historical landmarks which had been flattened during the Battle of Manila.
The other webinar, sponsored by Filipinas Heritage Library last August 15, was entitled “Liberation Talks: The Aftermath of World War II.” It featured James Scott, who authored “Rampage” – acclaimed as the most definitive book on the Battle of Manila; 2019 Metrobank Outstanding Filipino awardee Dr. Ricardo Jose, who is considered the Philippine’s foremost World War II historian; and Cecilia Gaerlan, who has made it her life’s work to project the Filipino perspective in our history books of World War II.
The distinguished speakers took turns in describing the aftermath of the war in the Philippines – rehabilitation and relief, the conditions of veterans and guerrillas and the quest for justice. Scott described the “before” – Manila as a well-planned and beautiful city, indeed the Pearl of the Orient, and the “after” – Manila as the second most devastated city in the world, next only to Warsaw, Poland. Dr. Jose described the resiliency of the Filipino and their ability to rise from the ashes. Ms. Gaerlan lamented that up to now the Filipino soldiers have not been fully credited for their contribution in the war effort.
Now, I am eagerly awaiting the online lectures of multi-awarded journalist and historian, Prof. Ambeth Ocampo. As the first event to kick off Ayala Museum Virtual, Ocampo is taking to your living rooms two topics which have defined 2020: 1) Pandemic (to be shown September 18) and 2) Fake News (scheduled October 2). Both will start at 5 p.m. A modest fee will be charged to help fund Ayala Foundation’s Student Online Access Program.
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