Not many realize it but this year marks the 70th anniversary of one of the darkest and most devastating chapters in the history of Manila and of the country as a whole, an event we know today as the Battle of Manila in 1945 in which American and Japanese forces fought in a bloody, devastating battle in a bid to liberate Manila from Japanese control that lasted for about a month.
This was the singular event that would change Manila forever as the city once known as the “Pearl of the Orient” became one of the most devastated cities during World War II. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and many of the city’s important infrastructure and landmarks were heavily damaged, if not totally destroyed, many of which would not be rebuilt ever again.
In commemoration of this event, the Urban Roamer will be having a special feature “Manila1945.” From time to time from now until early March, we will be dedicating some entries here to the sites and landmarks that have figured in the Battle of Manila of 1945 in one way or another. I hope that these entries will, in some way, help bring about a better understanding of what happened then and how it has affected Manila and the people since then. And what better way to begin our understanding of these events by a little history lesson of how it began…
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 7/8, 1941, the Japanese launched a series of aerial bombardments and troop landings north and south of the city. In an effort to spare Manila from further destruction and bloodshed, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the United States Army Forces in the Far East, (USAFFE) declared Manila as an open city which meant taking down of defenses and fortifications in the city with the impending arrival of the Japanese. By January 2, 1942, the Japanese effectively took control of the city, occupying it for the next 3 years.
Fast forward to January 1945 as the American forces along with Filipino guerrilla troops were closing in on the capital city from different directions as they aim to take back Manila. By then, the main Japanese forces commanded by Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, AKA the Tiger of Malaya, have retreated up north so they could better hold off the advancing American forces that are after them. Yamashita ordered the remaining forces in Manila to retreat and destroy vital installations like the bridges to slow down the Americans.
However, the Japanese troops under Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi in Manila had other plans. A veteran of the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, Iwabuchi felt humiliated when the Japanese fleet was defeated by the Allied forces. Also, he was committed to the navy ideal of defending the territory to the last man. Thus, he defied Yamashita’s orders and had his men build defense fortifications around the city that will meet the American forces head on with that hope of possibly redeeming the honor he lost at Guadalcanal at the hands of the Americans.
On the American front, MacArthur was eager to get to Manila, even at the expense of defying orders from higher-ups to skip the Philippines and make an attack on Japan. He hoped that the Japanese would declare Manila an open city, or at least with lesser resistance as the Japanese were concentrating their strengths up north. Some have said MacArthur was dreaming of a grand parade in the city that would welcome him and his men in the city to symbolize his triumph and stroke his ego as well.
Unfortunately, what transpired instead was a month of destruction and bloodshed as Japanese troops were frantically killing many innocent civilians who they thought were against them while Americans were frantically bombing almost every part of the city to wipe out or at least ferret out the Japanese who have positioned themselves in the different parts of the city, destroying infrastructure and buildings which ironically the Americans helped build.
The battle brought a deep scar on the city and its people who survived the carnage. A number of them decided to move away from the city and the horrible memories it brought, giving rise to the suburban communities like Quezon City, Makati, Pasig, among others while the City of Manila went on to experience a long, steady decline into an urban mess that we are familiar with today. Many structures and infrastructure in the city were lost in the battle, a number of them were sadly never rebuilt. The battle changed Manila and helped turn it into something else as it was eager to erase the horrors of the past and move on to the future.
But as a Filipino proverb goes, “one cannot move forward if he cannot look back at the past.” Unfortunately Manila did not heed that lesson, thus we have now a city that does not have a sense of identity anymore, a city that seems to no longer value its past and thinks only of modern urbanism as the way to progress. Manila today, sadly, has lost its soul.
For the past 5 years, the Urban Roamer has strived to show its readers the glory Manila once had as a humble effort to somehow make people discover Manila anew and perhaps regain the city’s soul it had lost. Today on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila, the mission continues as we look at some of those landmarks that have either suffered greatly or now lost so we can better appreciate what Manila was before and serve as an inspiration for the city to have a better future.
At the same time, may this series also serve as a lesson at this time in our history to each and every one of us of how horrifying war is and that we should never, ever look at war as an option to get things done. We should never let another community in the country or elsewhere in the world suffer what Manila suffered 70 years ago. As stupidly idealistic as it may be, let us always work for peace in our land and in the world we live in.