From February 3 to March 3, 1945, the Japanese military used many of Manila’s most prominent buildings to defend their position from the Americans as they retreated from the Philippine capital to Baguio City.
Despite this, many of the pre-World War II structures managed to survive the fighting and are still being used today as schools, churches, hospitals or government institutions.
Here are 5 landmarks where crucial events occurred during the Liberation of Manila.
1. University of Santo Tomas
The UST Main Building today. Photo by Coconuts Manila
When the Japanese military took over Manila on January 3, 1942, they needed a place to lock up American prisoners of wars and members of the American and British expat community. Manila’s two-hectare Bilibid Prison on Calle Azcarraga (now the Manila City Jail on Claro M. Recto Avenue) quickly filled up, so they used the 21.5-hectare UST as prison camp.
By 1945, it held around 3,700 American and European civilian prisoners; freeing them was the top priority of the US 1st Cavalry Division.
On the evening of February 3, some 100 American soldiers entered from the rear by scaling the university walls, while five tanks entered the school ground from the front gate and crashed into the lobby of the main building.
Some of the Japanese soldiers managed to gather some of the prisoners and held them hostage in the Education building. This led to a brief exchange of gunfire followed by negotiations to release the hostages.
The US troops inside the campus released the Japanese troops who wanted to rejoin their army, but they were eventually killed by soldiers in another part of the city.
2. Malacañan Palace
Malacañan Palace today. Photo by Coconuts Manila
Aware that they were losing the war, the Japanese military authority ordered Philippine President Jose P. Laurel to join them as they made their retreat to Baguio City. Laurel's wife decided to stay behind in the palace, passing the time by baking bread and cookies. When the American tanks crashed through the palace gates on the eve of February 3, she was ready to greet the soldiers with freshly baked goods and mugs of brewed coffee.
After securing Malacañang, the American troops rushed to retake Quezon Bridge, the only bridge not yet blown by the Japanese, but they were met by snipers and machine guns and the wounded soldiers were brought back to the palace. Geronima Pecson, the unofficial housekeeper at that time, with her staff quickly set up a 30-bed field hospital at the palace’s East Wing. They came prepared with a complete set of surgical instruments, ample bed linens and surgical dressings.
Even if the Americans had successfully recaptured the presidential palace, the fight was far from over. Realizing that their time was running out, the Japanese troops began venting their frustration on hapless civilians caught in the crossfire.
3. De La Salle University
La Salle Taft's LS Building today. Photo by Coconuts Manila
On February 12, 20 Japanese soldiers entered the college on Taft Avenue supposedly to search for snipers hiding inside the school building. They then detained three servants and two priests for questioning. When the men returned from their interrogation, it was obvious that they had been tortured.
As the Japanese officers were barking orders, one of the priests who understood Japanese realized the troops were being ordered to kill them all. Immediately he asked the collage chaplain, Father Francis Cosgrave, to say the Act of Contrition. As he did, the soldiers began shooting and bayoneting the 70 people that were inside the college at that time. Among the casualties were 12 German nationals.
Most of the victims did not die immediately. They slowly bled to death over the next three days. Father Cosgrave and nine other hid behind the main altar. They tried to remain calm as the Japanese effort to burn down the college. The American forces did not arrive at the college to free the survivors until the late afternoon of February 15.
4. Philippine General Hospital
The PGH today. Photo by Coconuts Manila
According to international laws relating to armed conflicts, hospitals are not supposed to be fired upon. But that is not what happened during the Battle of Manila as the Philippine General Hospital was bombarded by American artilleries in an effort to get rid of the Japanese troops inside.
What made the situation more perilous was that, aside from patients and hospital staff, there were 7,000 civilians who seeking refuge. Even with shortage of medical supplies and incessant bombings, the hospital's staff carried on with their work the best they could.
One of the hospital’s surgeons, Victor Reyes, treated one patient after another for 20 hours straight. The hospital director, Antonio Sison, went as far as protecting the identity of a Japanese civilian patient who was in a coma. When the Americans finally freed the hospital on February 17, there were 150 dead and 1,000 injured.
5. Rizal Stadium
Rizal Memorial Stadium today. Photo by Coconuts Manila
Built in 1934 for the Far Eastern Olympics, the sport complex was where the Japanese military sorted and documented Manila’s expat community before sending them to UST.
By 1945, the stadium was used as a food and ammunition depot. The US 5th Cavalry began its attempt to recapture the stadium on February 15. They approached the stadium from Pasay via Dewey Boulevard (Roxas Boulevard today). They then encountered fierce resistance upon reaching the vicinity of Harrison Park (Harrison Plaza today).
As the American wore down the enemy's defenses, Japanese soldiers began retreating into the stadium. Fighting ended on February 18, when American tanks broke through the remaining Japanese defense at the baseball stadium.
See the historical photos of these five landmarks in the original story published on the Coconuts Manila website.