That was a scene from “Back to Bataan,” where a schoolteacher who won’t haul down the American flag is hanged by the Japanese. Thus did Hollywood paying tribute to the resistance. Last week, we covered the Battle for Manila. Tonight, the guerrilla movement from 1942 to 1945.
I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.
I. Flee or Fight
The Japanese Occupation swept all of our society’s prewar certainties, even arrogance, away; national solidarity, even identity, certainly the economy, was shattered. Our leadership was divided; our political cohesion fractured; our youth decimated; and out of the cracks emerged the violence that has characterized our political life ever since.
On the eve of April 9, a young officer named Felipe Buencamino III, wrote of the conflicted feelings of his fellow soldiers as they got word they would surrender. Explainee, would you like to read part of his diary entry?
…There we were… gathered on the dry bed of a stream…. Not knowing what the morning had in store for us. Would the Japanese kill us? Would they imprison us? Would they free us? We were discussing these questions throughout the night, I was thinking of escaping, thru the mountains of Bagac via Zambalesa. But they said, “Let’s stick together… till the end.”
As Buencamino and his fellow soldiers prepared to surrender, a defiant broadcast was beamed from Corregidor. We have no recording, of it, today, but we have the late Subas Herrero reading it for posterity.
Explainee, let’s pause to listen to the conclusion of Norman Reyes’ famous broadcast, “Bataan Has Fallen”…
We, too, shall rise. After we have paid the full price of our redemption, we shall return to show the scars of sacrifices that all may touch and believe. When the trumpets sound the hour we shall roll aside the stone before the tomb and the tyrant guards shall scatter in confusion. No wall of stone shall then be strong enough to contain us, no human force shall suffice to hold us in subjection, we shall rise in the name of freedom and the East shall be alight with the glory of our liberation.
Until then, people of the Philippines, BE NOT AFRAID.
This was the call for resistance. The guerrilla movement began with soldiers and civilians choosing to disobey Jonathan Wainwright’s order to all Philippine-American troops to lay down their arms. Others, like Buencamino, would surrender, survive the Bataan Death March, but contribute to the Resistance by gathering intelligence in occupied areas.
The guerrilla movement, to this day, suffers from a lack of information: after all, what need was there, at the time, to document a secret resistance effort? The more prominent leaders, and their commands, however, gives us an idea of how widespread the guerrilla movement was.
These maps are from the memoirs of Jesus Villamor, fighter ace and resistance leader. It shows some of the guerrilla Head Quarters:
Some of the names on this map leap out:
Macario Peralta, in Panay. Salvador Abcede in Negros. Among American guerrilla leaders, Walter Cushing and Wendell Fertig.
There were many others, of course: Wenceslao Q. Vinzons in Camarines Norte. Roque Ablan in Ilocos Norte. Bado Dangwa in the Mountain Province. Terry Adevoso and Marcos Agustin in Manila. Luis Taruc and the Hukbalahap in Central Luzon. Ruperto Kangleon in Leyte. Salipada Pendatun and Gumbay Piang in Cotobato. Mohammed Ali Dimaporo in Lanao. And Americans Hugh Straungh, Bernard Anderson, Robert Lapham, Russel Volkmann, and Edwin Ramsey, to name just a few.
These groups had all sorts of names, as this other map from Villamor’s memoirs shows:
[map from p. 176. Villamor]
The Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon, or Hukbalahap; Hunter’s ROTC Guerrillas, Vinzon’s Traveling Guerrillas, President Quezon’s Own Guerrillas, Free Philippines…
You’ll notice that the names of guerrilla leaders include civilian political leaders, not all of whom had joined the reserves before the war. Among the civilian leaders active in the guerrillas in the field were Vinzons in Bicol, Governor Escudero, also in Bicol, Senator-elect Carlos P. Garcia in Bohol, and Governor Tomas Confesor, who wrote a letter famous in its time.
Explainee, would you like to read part of what Governor Confesor wrote?
I agree with you when you say our people are “experiencing unspeakable hardships and sufferings” because of these hostilities; but you should realize that our people are bearing these burdens cheerfully because they know that they are doing it for a good and noble cause. They know why we are resisting Japan. They are aware that Japan is trying to force us to accept her system of government and way of life, which are unacceptable to us…
That was his reply to an appeal by a Dr. Caram, for him to surrender to spare the civilian population the pain of Japanese reprisals. Other Filipino leaders had no love for Japan, either, though some did, but most felt it was unfair to invite Japanese hostility when no one knew how long the war would last.
This attitude justified collaboration and particularly the young, felt it was less about prudence and more about moral cowardice.
As early as December 29, 1941, Teodoro M. Locsin, Sr. had observed the stresses Philippine society was experiencing in the war. Explainee, would you like to read what he wrote in his diary?
The war freshly illumines a paradox:
One may be casual about one’s life but rarely over one’s property.
In high good humor the people are compiling a list of dishonor. With infinite malice they treasure each new story of how their lords and masters have disgraced themselves.
The “lords and masters” were our officials who themselves had to decide what the rest of the population had to decide. Resist, or reconcile to Japanese rule? And if one chose either path, to what degree and extent would you choose? Should you live, or die, for your country?
In the end, each guerrilla organization decided this on its own. In some cases, prewar vendettas ended up being settled under the pretext of patriotic action; in other cases, those who collaborated became the targets of guerrilla reprisals: Marking’s guerrillas, for one, almost succeeded in assassinating Jose P. Laurel.
When we return, the perils of guerrilla life and what they achieved.
III. The fighting Filipinos
That was a scene from “They Were Expendable,” where American servicemen sing an old colonial song that today we would frankly consider racist. And yet this was Hollywood’s tribute to the Philippine-American alliance and resistance.
The truth is, not all guerrillas got along, and sometimes the tensions were between Americans and Filipinos.
This map from Jesus Villamor’s memoirs shows how MacArthur’s command divided the Philippines into military districts.
Now some groups didn’t get along, because of personality issues among leaders or fights over territory.
In some cases, there was resentment due to what Filipinos felt was the high-handed colonial behavior of some Americans. Villamor himself was frustrated by what he perceived to be an effort on the part of these bigoted officers to impede efforts by Filipino guerrillas to explain the situation as it really was in the occupied Philippines. Villamor managed to escape from the country and was brought to Washington.
Villamor, during one of his meetings with members of the government-in-exile, recounted hearing this remark (about the bigoted Americans in MacArthur’s staff in particular): “Puñeta! They think we’re their little brown brothers . The condescending bastards.”
But in the end, Villamor, the war hero, wrote in his memoirs, and I’d like you to read his words, Explainee:
Filipinos had suffered under racial discrimination, as practiced by some Americans, but in the face of inhumane treatment by the Japanese they were yearning again for the rule of individualistic America. Not even dogs or carabaos should be treated the way the Japanese were treating us.
Some guerrillas became legendary: Commander Chick Parsons, contemporaries recall, bicycled around Manila dressed as a priest, and obtained intelligence from Filipinos. We’re happy to have the chance to show you some clips from the documentary, “Secret War in the Pacific.”
The first clip discussed how relations between Filipinos and Americans overcame the obstacles we discussed:
As we saw, Parsons hopped back and forth from island to island and even to Australia that one writer said he turned the US submarine service into his own private taxi company.
Resistance, we shouldn’t forget, had its price, regardless of one’s social status. Here’s the son of Senator Jose Ozamis recounting what happened to his father:
Other guerrillas engaged in morale-boosting efforts. My favorite examples are two.
In late 1942 the Japanese promised “the honor of independence” and a puppet republic was inaugurated in October, 1943. Here’s a picture of that Republic’s, officially our second, inaugural parade.
In the parade, one account has it, a band paraded past the reviewing stand where sat President Laurel and Japanese generals. The crowd had been pretty silent but upon hearing what the band was playing, began to cheer wildly. The Japanese were pleased. “What tune is that?” one Japanese general reportedly asked a Filipino official. The Filipino pretended not to know. Explainee, do you know this march?
It’s title is “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Another account by Antonio Molina of the Laurel inauguration says that as the crowd dispersed, leaflets from guerrillas were handed around –and as the crowd parted, it revealed a huge American flag hanging on a tree.
It may seem ironic to us today, that resistance should be so identified with America, but Filipinos thrilling to American tunes were no different from the French, Dutch, Poles, Norwegians, Danes, who all resisted Axis occupation. Neither did the Thais, who had their own government-in-exile, the Indonesians, or Vietnamese bear any love for Japanese occupiers.
It’s hard to quantify what the guerrillas did –for them, resistance was enough. Some examples of their contribution to the war effort will have to suffice. Countless raids on Japanese detachments, including ambushing the Japanese commander-in-chief for the Philippines, in Panay, nearly killing him and putting him out of action. The capture of Japanese naval war plans in Cebu, so that in the battle of the Philippine Sea, Admiral Spruance had the Japanese plans.
One thing is sure. The guerrilla movement for the generation that joined it, and for three decades after the war, meant that leadership could be determined based on who fought the Japanese and who didn’t.
In 1965, for example, all three presidential candidates –incumbent Diosdado Macapagal, and opponents Ferdinand Marcos and Raul Manglapus- claimed they were part of the resistance against the Japanese. The journalist Hernando Abaya said Macapagal was more interested in winning medals in academic contests sponsored by the Japanese. Marcos said Manglapus spent more time writing manifestos than in actually killing the Japanese. Macapagal and Manglapus said Marcos exaggerated his guerrilla activities…
But in the end, Marcos’s claims to bravery trumped the other two, and it would trump his opponent, Sergio Osmena, Jr. in 1969 again. Yet Marcos’s fall would be signaled by Bonifacio Gillego’s and historian Al McCoy’s exposes on the bogus nature of some of Marcos’ valor awards.
In the end, our guerrillas got a raw deal. To this day, many of them remain unrecognized by their American allies. The Recession Act of 1946 stripped Filipino veterans of eligibility for American veterans benefits. And guerrillas and collaborators alike obtained a bittersweet independence.
Alfonso Aluit, writing for the Philippines Free Press, penned this summary of the bitter lessons of the war. Explainee, would you like to read it?
Thus emerged the phenomenon of the saboteur, the vandal, the looter, and the profiteer who took advantage of scarcity to exact his toll, the squatter who sneered at all titles to property, and worst of all the traitor personified by the makapili who would betray any person and any cause, for lucre. These also became permanent in the Philippines, in business, politics, and every sector of the community.
When we return, our discussion with the documentary maker behind “Secret War in the Pacific,” and veterans of the resistance.
The guerrilla generation reached a high point with the Magsaysay administration; but that era, along with Magsaysay’s leadership, was short-lived. The younger generation of guerilleros who catapulted him to power, in a vote of protest against their elders, were left politically orphaned with his death in 1957; and sooner than they could imagine, they, who were once the young and idealistic, found themselves challenged by their own children, who no longer looked to Jefferson but instead turned to Mao.
In a commentary that came out in the Manila Standard-Today, Jay Ureta writes that of the quarter million Filipinos who fought in World War II, only about 22,000 are still alive. 16,000 live here at home. 6,000 live in the USA. They are dying at the rate of about 10 a day.
Many are impoverished. Most have been denied, for 60 years, benefits they deserve, not only from the US government, but our own. They risked life and limb asking nothing in return –but in return, have gotten nothing. So wherever you may, the least you can do is write your congressman, to support pending legislation to give our veterans their due. In the USA, that means demanding support for the Filipino Veteran’s Act. Here at home, it means keeping funding going for the Veteran’s Hospital, and for our government agencies to release the funds promised our soldiers and guerrillas.