MANILA - The Philippines on Tuesday kicked off activities commemorating the Battle of Manila during World War II 70 years ago, with officials, historians and survivors reiterating that present and future generations must not forget the lessons of that part of history.
"We take time today to commemorate this occasion to remind us of the horrors of war, that the world may always remember that in war, there may be victors and vanquished, but in the end, nobody wins," Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said in a speech at City Hall, where he led a ceremony attended by survivors, students, and foreign diplomats.
"According to some accounts, Manila was the most devastated city in the world next to Warsaw in Poland in the aftermath of World War II. We join hands here together this morning to honor the courage of those who fought here so that democracy and freedom may be redeemed in our country and in the world," he added.
The Battle of Manila, part of the war in the Pacific, lasted from Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945, as U.S. and Philippine forces sought to regain control of Manila from the Japanese.
The fierce, month-long battle ended with Manila being finally liberated after three years of Japanese occupation, but not without reducing it to ruins and at the cost of over 100,000 civilian lives.
In the latter part of 1945, Japan would be defeated by the U.S.-led Allied Forces.
"We honor here the many innocent civilians who lost their lives, who lost their loved ones, who lost their homes and livelihood," said Estrada, a survivor himself of the war.
Juan Jose Rocha of Memorare Manila 1945 Foundation, a group of Battle of Manila survivors and descendants of non-combatant victims, said even though the Philippines has long restored its relations with Japan, "we should not forget our past" and called on Japan to apologize "for what they did to us."
Rocha, who witnessed the Battle of Manila at the age of 7, lost 14 relatives, including his mother. "All were civilians, and 13 of them were massacre victims," he said.
At the University of Sto. Tomas campus a few kilometers away from City Hall, lectures, film screenings and an exhibit related to the Battle of Manila were held ahead of other activities scheduled in the upcoming days.
The university was turned into a prison camp for Americans and other nationals of allied countries during the Japanese occupation, holding up to around 4,000 internees.
Sascha Jansen, 81, an American survivor of the camp, attended the activities at the campus Tuesday and narrated her "difficult" life there starting at the age of 9 until she regained her freedom on March 16, 1945.
"I had polio. I had braces. I could not walk very well. But I had outgrown my shoes (while inside the camp). Then, I lost my braces and I had no shoes. And we could not eat. They (Japanese soldiers) withheld our food. That was a difficult thing because if you don't have food, your body cannot grow," she said.
"I want to tell the young people that it's so important to be aware of your surroundings, and you need to be aware of your history," she said, lamenting how some Japanese people remain ignorant of the abuses committed by their wartime soldiers.
Other events related to the 70th anniversary include mini-conferences, lectures and exhibits at the Filipinas Heritage Library at the Ayala Museum, which will run until March.
"The sacrifices of those who fought for us should not be forgotten. They should be given importance and value because they gave us freedom," Ludovico Badoy of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines told Kyodo News.
"So, today, we commemorate the liberation or the battle for Manila, and honor those who died for us, for our country, just to be able to get that freedom and independence that until today, we are enjoying," he said.