A City At War: Remembering the Battle for Manila

K. Montinola (The Philippine Star) - February 4, 2015 - 4:27pm

Seventy years ago, a battle took place that virtually ended the Japanese Occupation and resulted in the liberation of Manila. Manila was not won, however, without horrifying effects, a traumatic trail of devastation that stayed locked in the memories of its survivors for a long time.

“It was a fire-bath,” said Roderick Hall, speaking at the opening of Manila, My City At War! to an audience of historians, museum patrons and war survivors. “The city was almost totally destroyed.” Mr Hall was one of a few speakers who gave a few words for the commemorative event by the Filipinas Heritage Library, an exhibit and conference at the Ayala Museum.

Running every Saturday from February 3 to March 3, the event matches the official dates of the Battle of Manila’s duration, with an exhibit of World War II artefacts as donated or lent by various sources. A range of topics surrounding the period is to be presented by academics, cultural advocates, and war survivors. Mr Hall was one of the opening day’s speakers, which included Robin Pettyfer (speaking for his late uncle Rupert Wilkinson, who authored Surviving a Japanese Internment Camp); Uro dela Cruz, discussing the life and pre-war work of the lesser known “Father of Philippine Photography” Teodulo Protomartir; and Colonel Emmanuel de Ocampo, a veteran of the Battle of Manila.

Mr. Hall went on to speak about his parents’ generation, who he said after the war “had to pick themselves up, build a home, build a life, find food for their families and their children — and create and build this nation.” They had no time to process what had happened to them, he said, no time to deal with post-traumatic stress.

“My father never spoke about the war,” said Mr Hall. “Our generation didn’t speak about the war either. I went to university in America after graduating from the American school here. I wanted to be like all the others in my class. I didn’t want them to know that I had gone through the war, and lived in Manila during the liberation era. None of us did. We wanted to be like everyone else, so we were silent.”

It was only 50 years later that Mr. Hall found himself, along with a few others who had survived the war, taking steps to ensure that the history would not be lost. Mr. Hall does not know himself what exactly became of his family, because he and his brother were dismissed from internment. They never saw their relatives again. Years later, he acquired a document that stated his family had been executed at Fort Santiago.

“I don’t know what the real story is,” he said, “But there are documents in Washington, and elsewhere, and by building collections, collecting data, we will add to the story.” He recalled that as the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Manila had drawn near, he became more interested in other people’s experience. Now 20 years on, he encourages everyone to look to their families to find what can be added to the growing archive.

“If we don’t collect and if we don’t preserve,” said Mr Hall, “this information, and this window that remains for us, we’ll find it’s gone forever… I encourage you to see what you have that can become a part of history for future generations.”

[The Manila, My City At War! Exhibit can be viewed at the 2F of Ayala Museum, and the full schedule of the conference found at the museum website.]

Excerpts from the speech by Col. Emmanuel de Ocampo

As spoken to an audience at the Ayala Museum, on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila, as part of the Manila, My City At War! Exhibit and conference running from February 3 to March 3, 2015.

My friends. My co-Filipinos, and citizens of this country. I will talk to you about something that maybe you already know. They whispered to me, ‘talk to them about the Battle of Manila.’ Well… the truth is there was no battle in Manila.


The city of Manila was defended by a small Japanese force. But there was a big force in Fort William McKinley, they called them the Sakura Heiei. It was a big force. This was composed of marines and people they withdrew from the battles of New Guinea. So Sakura Heiei, at Fort McKinley, was very strong force.


Friends, I will not tell you about the whole history, but when we tell you about the Second World War, we talk about young Filipinos. This I must mention. Students of universities, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen-year-olds. Because there was only a very small Philippine Army. Because the country was poor. We had a very small army, and besides we were not totally independent of foreign powers.

So we had a very small army which had to fight an enemy who had conquered most of China and who was conquering parts south of China and the Philippines had no trained army. Again I must tell you this — you know what our army was composed of? Mostly young people who were given five and half months training. Fed twice a day. In fact, in the training, they were only given five rounds. Five rounds. The whole training, they were given five rounds to make target practice. I don’t know if that will make you a sharpshooter or not. But that was the Philippine Army.


Naturally, we lost. In many places we lost… finally we lost Bataan and Corregidor. And of course they came to Manila. But here is one thing I want to tell you: the spirit of the Filipino people was not lost. Many of the Philippine Army, including the cadets of the Philippine Military Academy, did not surrender.

Against the orders — in fact this was used against them — against the orders, they went to the mountains brought whatever weapons they had… No relatives, no food, no trails, no houses, nothing. Their only companions were the mosquitoes.


These young people that I am talking to you about did not even know how to fight.


What was the Battle for Manila? It was symbolic. What is Manila? Houses? Small garrison troops? But it was the headquarters of the Japanese Imperial force. And outside Manila was Fort Willliam McKinley, which the Japanese called Sakura Heiei. Who would believe this? Young boys, twenty-one years old, twenty years old. People you would not think would fight in the war… these are young boys leading companies to fight, and they never had any experience at all.  Fighting in the Battle of Manila, capturing strongholds from the enemy… who were veterans of China and New Guinea.


I am trying to emphasize the fact — the fact — that the Filipino, you and I, will never agree, to the domination of this country by a foreign power.

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