Manila, My City at War!

By Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jan 07 2015 09:14 PM | Updated as of Jan 08 2015 05:14 AM

Here is a commemorative event to look forward to early in 2015: the 70th anniversary of the Battle for Manila. February is the month.

If you are an octogenarian, very close to it or way above and living in Manila and its environs in the 1940s, surely, you must remember this. And if you are not, still this must be part of your edification and personhood as a Filipino. Besides, from a therapeutic perspective, it is worth keeping in mind that remembering (and the attempt and effort to remember) is a worthy healthy daily exercise: it shoos dementia away! IMHO, a very helpful “Alz” antidote!

Apt commentary has been made that the Filipino is familiar enough with two major historical events: the Revolution of 1896 and the EDSA of 1986. The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines during World War II, on the other hand, has not yet been able to achieve its rightful place and emphasis in the education of our children. As a matter of fact, cogently expanding the subject, “The Japanese in the Philippines,” from pre-Hispanic times through the events of 1896, their vast ‘agri-commercial’ colony in Davao to the brutal military Occupation, the return of peace and friendship, all ought to possess a prominent level of dedicated classroom hours as to eventually occupy a school term in proportion to those devoted to Spanish and American times.


It is towards these teachable moments and opportunity that the Filipinas Heritage Library (FHL) of the Ayala Foundation in Makati is mounting a month-long exhibit of relevant memorabilia (photographs of Manila in its pre-war glory, the devastation and rehabilitation, as well as war relics and curios--the whole month of February) and a mini-conference/lecture series that is “comprehensive, inclusive and interesting for the youth and students of Philippine History” (Feb. 3, 7, 14 and 21) and, if I might add, for other individuals of similar persuasion and circumstances, whether octogenarians or not.

Conference headings have been labelled as “Strategies of War,” “Rising from the Ruins,” “Memories of Love,” “Memories of War,” “Life Goes On” and “The War On Air.” Several historical documentary films and a book-launching have also been included. The panel of recollecting participants, speakers and moderators include names such as Rosalinda Orosa, Gemma Cruz, Felice Sta. Maria, Juvenal Sanso, Benito Legarda Jr., Juan Jose Rocha, Rico Jose, Meah Ang See, Cid Reyes, Augusto Villalon, Tony Feredo, Elizabeth Enriquez, Nelly Lichauco Fung, Takamichi Serizawa, Arnel Joven, Priscilla Reyes-Pacheco, Von Totanes, Karl Cheng Chua, Raul Navarro, Emmanuel de Ocampo and Jeremy Barns.

A US-based volunteer organization of surviving former prisoners of war (actually, the majority were children during the war years), principally those interned in the Santo Tomas University concentration camp, will also be attending the events. Speak of a truly sentimental journey! There were other concentration camps, in Cabanatuan and in Los Banos. And about all these, every caring Filipino must learn and know. It is just a few finger moves away, actually--through the wonders of Google, for starters.


The book to be launched immediately preceding the opening of the exhibit's opening on February 3 is descriptively titled “Surviving a Japanese Internment Camp: Life and Liberation at Santo Tomas, Manila in World War II.” Heretofore, the most thorough and lengthiest description of the internment experience (The Santo Tomas Story) was by A.V.H. Hartendorp, an internee himself, a long-time Philippine resident of 47 years, starting as a public school teacher and then an editor of the Manila Times and publisher of the Philippine Magazine.

Now, a little personal note about February 3. Not 2015 but 1945. The date is also known as Liberation of Manila. Just before dusk, on February 3, the drone of a distant aircraft engine was audible and became louder as it began to gracefully glide over the Sampaloc and Santa Cruz environs of Santo Tomas. From the window and moments shortly after, from the sidewalk in front of our house (some four blocks away), I saw that aircraft. A cherished moment--I was a jubilant eye-witness, not quite 10 years old. From magazine photos, I was later able to identify the aircraft to be a B-25 Mitchell Bomber. That flyby signaled the entry of the US 1st & 8th Cavalry squadrons into Manila and the ‘Liberation’ of Santo Tomas that same night.

A slight diversion but I believe to be truly apropos and significant, let me cite as a testament to the affinity and amity between America and the Philippines that for Filipinos, the war’s end is referred to as “Liberation.” Whereas, elsewhere in South East Asia, in the colonies under the Dutch, British and the French, war’s end is referred to as “re-occupation” by the returning colonial powers.


The Filipinas Heritage Library ( is calling its February event: Manila, My City at War! At this point, let me take advantage of the opportunity to share some information about Filipinas Heritage Library, a division of the Ayala Foundation. The facility is described as “a one-stop electronic research center on the Philippines.” The Library has over 13,000 volumes on history, art, language, religion and the social sciences, and over 2,000 rare books (many of them on microfiche), and maps plus an extensive library of slides and photographs.

Ayala Foundation, Inc. was established in 1961 by its benefactors-- Col. And Mrs. Joseph R. McMicking (nee, Mercedes Zobel), then Ayala Corporation’s principal stockholders. It was originally named Filipinas Foundation, Inc. until 1990, when with the consent of the McMickings to the name change, Ayala Corporation was ready and desired to be directly identified with and to signify its continuing commitment to national development in the Philippines via tangible expressions of corporate social responsibility. The gift of the McMickings through Filipinas Foundation Inc. has since grown and developed, as Ayala Foundation, into a major force in meaningful, resonant and long lasting philantrophy in the Philippines.


There is now very scant knowledge and very much less appreciation of the fact that the Manila-born and bred Joseph R. McMicking [son of an Ilonggo father, Jose McMicking, who was the first Filipino sheriff of Manila while, in turn, Jose’s mother was a Cebuana mestiza married to a Scotsman, McMicking, doing business in late 19th century Iloilo.] is the visionary who built Makati to be what it is and thus revived the fortunes of Ayala to become the highly respected financial colossus that it is today.

Like many other Philippine businesses, Ayala was devastated during WWII and the liberation of Manila, the entire period of which Joe McMicking was away at war. He was the only Filipino member of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s officer staff, recruited from the Philippines’ fledgling Army Air Corps where he was a pilot and flight instructor at the outset of World War II. Joe McMicking returned to the Philippines along with the MacArthur Leyte landing party on October 20, 1944. It was to be a tragic return to the city of his birth.

It is therefore with a great amount of sensitivity that I approach the subject of Manila’s Liberation in the context of Filipinas Heritage Library’s sponsorship of Manila, My City at War! because Joe McMicking’s entire family in the Philippines all perished in that holocaust. His mother, Dona Angelina, sisters Mrs. Consuelo Hall and Helen, and brother Alfred who earlier survived the Bataan Death March were all arrested and executed in late January 1945 by the Japanese Imperial Army along with hundreds in that infamous massacre in Malate.


N.B. It is heartwarming to know that two of Mrs. Consuelo M. Hall’s Manila-born children, Mrs. Consuelo M.H. McHugh and Mr. Rod Hall, are both involved with the Manila, My City at War! project. Their father, Alistair ‘Shorty’ Hall (he was 6’4”), a Manila stockbroker before the war, was a Santo Tomas internee and survived the war. Rod Hall’s personal collection of books, monographs, photographs and memorabilia have been donated to FHL and is known as “The Roderick Hall Collection on World War II in the Philippines.”

[Disclosure: I spent 25 years of my earlier life with the Ayala Group (1958 to 1983) and served, among others, as the first executive operating head of Filipinas Foundation, Inc. until my secondment to Ayala’s HongKong companies in early 1973 , as a consequence of Martial Law. As such, I was an ardent and loyal acolyte of the late Col J.R. McMicking--a very outstanding and extraordinary Manileno, about whom very much has yet to be told. Memories of the many ‘tutorials’ and conversations I have had withthis admirable and great person are cherished.]

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