The 1940s remembered
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - November 4, 2019 - 12:00am

A week after Japan surrendered in August 1945, I left the army in the Cordilleras to go to school in Manila. Those eight months in the American military had given me some experience as well as knowledge of the Americans and of the people in the Cordilleras. I had saved a locker-full of American cigarettes which I disposed of quickly in Manila. I had no clothes but my US Army uniforms; they lasted so long I wore them almost throughout my college years.

I enrolled in the pre-med course at the Manila College of Pharmacy and Dentistry in Oroquita, Sta. Cruz. The University of Santo Tomas was still being cleared of the allied internees who had lived there for three years. The following  semester, I moved to the UST campus.

It was not difficult to get a job at the time, and I found a night time job at the piers as a stevedore. Seeing how small and frail I was, the foreman assigned me to the office where I was able to use the typing skills I had learned in high school.

Next to Warsaw, Manila was the most devastated city in World War II. Today, every so often, when I go to Quiapo and the Sta. Cruz area, I recall the few buildings that had survived the war for that whole area had been burned down yet was not as ravaged as Ermita and Malate. One can still see stunted trees in this district with gaping holes and shattered branches.

Power in Manila was limited. In the absence of first-class venues, cultural presentations were held at the University of Santo Tomas gym in España and the Knox chapel in Rizal Avenue. It took some time before the Manila Hotel and the Bayview Hotel were restored. The Manila Hotel particularly was badly damaged for the Japanese defended it floor to floor and tanks had fired point blank into it. 

As before the war, traffic was on the left. Immediately after Liberation, traffic was changed to the right. In the streets there were still calesas but mostly US Army trucks and jeeps and the open trucks that were used as buses. The jeepneys were soon to appear. Khaki for men was almost uniform and some women wore dresses made from parachutes.

There were no real restaurants except Carbungco’s in Sampaloc and, afterwards, New Europe and Alba’s in Ermita and, of course, the restaurants in the Manila Hotel. 

College parties started at 1 p.m. and ended at nightfall. I remember the trends – the skirts of the girls with peplum and the new dances like apalachicola and, of course, the boogie, which came before the war.

Quezon City started to grow. Diliman before the war already had one building, the College of Education. EDSA, which was originally called Highway 54, was built by the US Army engineers to bypass the city. It was an asphalted road whose sides were still farmlands, and Makati was a cogon wilderness.

Ricefields between the Bonifacio monument in Caloocan and Antipolo street in Sta. Cruz started to develop. And Tondo, then a small, crowded slum area, broadened farther to include the reclaimed foreshore land that was supposedly for pier development. 

The Manila Tribune which was taken over by the Japanese during the war was revived as the Manila Times and it became the nation’s largest newspaper. The Lopezes also started the Manila Chronicle. The two outstanding journalists at the time were Arsenio Lacson, who became the Mayor of Manila, and Vicente del Fiero.

I started in journalism almost immediately after the war. I was on the staff of the Varsitarian, the college paper of the University of SantoTomas. I also covered education and labor at the Philippines Commonweal, the national Catholic weekly which became the Sentinel. Every week, I visited the Congress of Labor Organization, which had an office in Azcarraga. It was there that I met Amado Hernandez, Guillermo Capadocia, Alfredo Saulo, and Mariano Baglos, all communist leaders; the CLO was their front organization. 

The Hukbalahap uprising began almost immediately after the war. The Huks were perhaps the best organized guerrilla force in World War II. They were already in Manila’s environs. In those days, to travel from Manila to Northern Luzon required passing through the Huk gauntlet in Central Luzon, and the traffic was organized in convoys, with armoured cars in the front and rear. There were checkpoints in almost every town.

It was during this time, too, that I started travelling all over the country and Southeast Asia and noticing how far advanced we were from all other Asian countries although the Philippines was battered in World War II. But I also saw Mindanao denuded, the logs sent to Japan.

The nationalist movement from the 1940s to the 1960s was co-opted by the Left, and leftism and nationalism were intricately bonded. But there was a very strong reaction to the left. The Right, for instance, wanted to ban the works of Rizal from our schools, and a replica of the committee of un-American activities was formed in Congress. The ultra-right committee on anti-Filipino activities wanted to abolish academic freedom, particularly in the UP, which was the traditional cradle of leftism. In 1949, Mao’s revolution succeeded; he influenced the new left in the Philippines after the weakening of the old Communist Party.

Filipino political development has been very much influenced by the United States, and Filipino nationalism in the 1950s and the 1960s onwards was based on the abolition of the parity rights that the Americans enjoyed and the American bases. The political culture of the times was summed up by former Senate President Jose Avelino when he asked, “What are we in power for?” 

An old scholar friend, Singapore professor Wong Len Ken, said that Asian countries were better governed under colonialism. This undying quote from our first President, Manuel L. Quezon: better a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by the Americans.

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