OPINION: New Year, new master

Manolo Quezon - The Explainer

Posted at Jan 02 2017 09:35 PM

This editorial cartoon was the very last one published by the Philippines Free Press before it closed its presses with the occupation of Manila by the Japanese.

On December 30, an inauguration was held on Corregidor. There was supposed to be pomp and ceremony in Manila on that day. Instead, it took place outside Malinta Tunnel in Corregidor. 

The next day, a great escape took place in Manila. The S.S. Mactan, a hospital ship, quietly left Manila shortly before midnight. She was carrying a couple of hundred wounded Filipino and American troops evacuated from Manila hospitals lest they fall into the hands of the Japanese. After weeks of adventures, the ship finally made it to Australia.

It was a daring way to end the year. The new one, 1942, would begin with the biggest mass looting of Manila in modern history. 

As American troops left the city, they threw open their warehouses in the Port Area to civilians. There was a mad scramble and it soon turned into a mob that forced open stores in Intramuros and other places. 

Anything that could be carried was taken away. Never mind the hams, or frozen beef, or crates of canned goods. Even pianos and sofas were carried off. Anything that might be useful in the years of shortages to come.

The papers announced the Japanese were expected to enter the city on that day. Many people hoped the arrival of the Japanese would at least stop the looting taking place.

Here is a copy of the front page of one of the leading newspapers of the time, which conveys the looming sense of doom people must have felt in the metropolis.

But the Japanese didn’t arrive. They were delayed because Filipino and American forces, as they retreated to Bataan, blew up bridges. 

And so January 2, 1942 dawned with looting still taking place. At one point, mobs even tried to break open the warehouses of NARIC, the precursor of today’s NFA. They failed because the administrator and staff fired a gun into the air and no one called the administrator’s bluff.

As the front page above shows, the Japanese entered the city later that morning but it took some time before they could be seen on the streets. Looting continued for a third day. Finally, on January 4, the Japanese announced martial law, sentries appeared on more streets, and Filipinos began to experience being slapped if they didn’t bow to the soldiers.

Nick Joaquin wrote of this time that the Filipino psyche underwent such a total shock it was impossible not to leave a lasting mark. He pointed out that between December 26, when Manila was declared an Open City, and January 2, when the Japanese formally entered Manila, the capital had gone from being under the Commonwealth, to one being under the Japanese.

And under the Japanese, Filipinos would first see an Executive Commission composed of high-ranking Commonwealth officials (shown in the photo above, waving little Japanese flags as the Japanese commander smiles at them in January, 1942) transformed, by 1943, into a so-called Second Republic, under the same people. 

The “Preparatory Committee for Philippine Independence” bowing to the Japanese military, with most of the prewar Filipino notables made to bow

Meanwhile, life would go on, as best it could, for everyone. There was a new flag required for everyone to display. Places were renamed. People had to learn how to bow.

And within two years after that, the Commonwealth would return from exile but by 1946, many of those who had served the Japanese would be in the government that had been restored because of the victory of the American and Filipino forces.

The writer Alfonso Aluit once wrote that the wartime years taught Filipinos how to break the rules –because breaking the rules had become a patriotic thing to do. It also taught Filipinos how to be corrupt, because wartime is no time for the meek, the mild, the well-behaved and the law-abiding.

And it taught us to be cynical and bitter because Filipinos had been left to suffer as America put the liberation of Europe first, and when liberation finally came, turned its back on its promise made to our soldiers in Bataan and to the guerrillas who fought on after defeat.

A little over two weeks ago, the US Congress enacted a law awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the tens of thousands of Filipinos who, belonging to the Philippine Army, were inducted into the US armed forces on December 17, 1941 together with Filipinos serving in the Philippine Scouts, a detachment of the US Army. 

Their recognition comes 75 years too late. Seventy of those years have been spent fighting for the pay and recognition that was promised them, only to be short-changed time and again. Now, at least, with this award, America, besides granting more overdue pensions and benefits as it’s been doing over the past few years, has also recognized our soldiers.

So, in this, the start of the New Year, we’ve come a long way to heal old wounds. That, in itself, goes a long way to helping us remember the events of three quarters of a century ago not just with a lump in our throat, but dignity in our hearts. 

Happy New Year.

You can read about the escape of the S.S. Mactan in The Philippine Diary Project. In the same site you can read about life, death, decisions during the Japanese Occupation

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.