When the Japanese occupied Manila in January 1942, they took control of the then-newly established campus of University of Santo Tomas in the city’s Sampaloc district. With such a large tract of property and the large structures there that were already standing by that time, notably the UST Main Building and the old Education Building, (now occupied by the UST Hospital) the Japanese decided to convert the campus into an the Santo Tomas Internment Camp.
The Japanese rounded up about 4,000 foreign individuals, mostly American and British nationals who were deemed as “hostile aliens” by the Japanese and isolated them in the different buildings in the campus, most notably the Main Building. With that, the Santo Tomas Internment Camp was the largest internment camp the Japanese set up during the war; the internees organized themselves as an effort to make do of the situation. At first, the internment wards gave the prisoners some relative freedom so visitors could come and give them needed goods, not to mention some intelligence information, along the way. But as the tide of war was turning against Japan, the prisoners were given harsher treatment which was coupled by a shortening food supply which has resulted into malnourishment, if not death, among the internees. Such were the state of things as February 1945 entered.
LIBERATING SANTO TOMAS
As American troops were preparing to head to Manila, one of the first areas in their itinerary was the UST campus. It was in the utmost urgency for them to get there to rescue the internees in the fear that the Japanese might proceed in executing them. The 1st Cavalry Division headed by Maj. Gen. Verne D. Mudge led the UST assault, accompanied by Filipino guerrillas, notably Captain Manuel Colayco of the United States Army Forces in the Far East who is himself a renowned writer before war broke out and joined the Japanese resistance.
At around 8:40 PM of February 3, the joined American-Filipino forces made their way to the campus and broke through the gates as Colayco and a companion guided the Americans in their way. Unfortunately, Colayco would become the first casualty in the mission, and in the Battle of Manila that would ensue in the month as a whole as a Japanese sniper threw a grenade at his direction which mortally wounded him.
More American troops would arrive in the campus as the Japanese retreated from the Main Building to the old Education Building, taking about 200 internees there as hostages. The Japanese demanded that they would be given safe passage out of the campus in return for the release of the hostages. After much back and forth negotiation between the two parties, with one of the internees acting as an interpreter, the Americans eventually agreed to the demands. Thus, on the morning February 4, 47 Japanese soldiers were escorted outside the campus and were eventually released as the internees celebrated their freedom.
But that was not to say life for the former internees became better after their liberation. As the month ensued, they also felt the effects of the Battle of Manila as the city and its people were laid to ruins.
70 YEARS LATER
As we remember at this time the events of Manila1945, we are fortunate that these landmarks in the University of Santo Tomas campus still stand to serve as silent monuments to what those internees suffered during those years in captivity.
In commemoration, one can check out until March 3 a special exhibit at the UST Main Building which chronicles the wartime years of the campus as an internment camp and its subsequent liberation.
May we never forget the memory of those who suffered and died in this tragic chapter of our history.