A.V. Alepko – The Philippines in the second world war

The history of the Philippines during the Second World War, and especially during the Japanese occupation, is perhaps insufficiently studied in historiography today. And in foreign, mainly in American historiography, prevail tendentious assessments of US military operations in the Philippines, as well as the so-called “outstanding” role of the United States in the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupation [14].

In the assessments of Filipino historians, the opinion also prevails about the important role of the United States in the liberation of the Philippines during the war [9]. Nevertheless, Filipino scientists show some interest in recreating the realities of historical events of this period. A number of Filipino historians, and, in particular, S. Matthiessen, are trying to understand the ideology, goals and objectives of the Japanese government during the occupation of the Philippines [22, p.223-224].

A well-known work in Russian historiography devoted, in particular, to this period is a monograph by Yu. O. Levtonova, published at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1979 [4]. With all due respect to the author of the monograph and the highly professional staff of the aforementioned academic institute, it should be noted that in assessing the events of the period under study, prevail opinions that emphasize the exceptional role of Filipino communists in the guerrilla movement and ensuring the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese militarists. Of course, this is obvious, due to the fact that Marxist-Leninist ideology prevailed in Soviet historical science, and there could be no other alternative assessments.

In connection with the above, as well as the need to preserve the historical memory of the extreme inhumanity of the Japanese militarism regime towards the peoples of the conquered countries, the need to study the stated problem is obvious today.

The Philippines played an important role in the expansionary plans of representatives of Japanese pan-Asiatism that were to enter the so-called “Great East Asian Sphere of Shared Prosperity”, in which they planned to include vast territories of the Far East, Southeast Asia and Oceania. Note that in the 1930s, two main factions formed in the pan-Asian community of Japan: the “exoteric” faction (traditionalists or culturologists) and the “esoteric” faction (rationalists or realists) [22, p.223].

Their perception of Southeast Asia and their assessment the integrating chances of this region into the framework of the so-called “Greater Asia” differed markedly, especially for the Philippines, an archipelago that was culturally specific. In particular, it was the only country in Asia with a predominantly Catholic population. Moreover, the consequences of Spanish and American socio-cultural influence on the islands were extremely significant.

Meanwhile, the “exoteric” pan-Asian faction in Japan was convinced that the Filipinos would automatically appreciate the concept of the “Great East Asian Sphere of Shared Prosperity” because they expected liberation from American colonialism. At the same time, the “esoteric” faction emphasized the significant cultural differences between the Philippines and Japan. Representatives of its ideological center “Seva Kenkyukai” opposed the integration of the Philippines under the auspices of Japan. They believed that the conditions for it did not exist yet. In general, by the time of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, there was no consensus among the pan-Asian community of Japan on the question of the Philippines’ membership in the “Greater Japan” [22, p.224].

At the same time, the pan-Asian treatise developed for the Imperial Japanese Navy did not reflect an “exoteric” approach to the common cultural heritage and racial affinity of Japanese and Filipinos. It was rather formed on the basis of the “esoteric” canon. It paid particular attention to the dominant role of Japan and the limited degree of independence of the Philippines in the aforementioned Pan-Asian project.

Nevertheless, the primary task of the Japanese Ground Forces was to attract both the population and the Government of the Philippines to their side. The Japanese General Staff even shared the hope that the President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon (1878-1944), could be persuaded to side with Japan and cooperate with him in integration.

In 1938-1940, the US government, which exercised a protectorate over the Philippines, failed to negotiate with Japan. The options offered by the Americans for “Far Eastern Munich” were rejected by Japanese militarists who sought to establish Japan’s undivided domination on the Asian continent. As the US-Japanese contradictions escalated, the failure of Japan’s “appeasement policy” became more and more obvious.

To implement the Japanese strategic plan in Southeast Asia, the Southern Expeditionary Group was formed on November 6, 1941 under the command of General Hisaichi Terauchi, who previously served as the Minister of War of Japan. There were four armies under the command of H. Terauchi, consisting of ten divisions and three combined arms brigades. By the autumn of 1941, the Japanese command had concentrated about 500 thousand soldiers and 2.5 thousand aircrafts in the area of the South China Sea [28].

The Japanese invasion of the Philippines pursued three strategic goals: to prevent the Philippines from being used as an advanced base for American troops; to seize a bridgehead and a supply base for operations against the Dutch East Indies; to ensure military and economic communications between the occupied territories in the south and the Japanese Islands [28].

In the summer of 1941, Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) was appointed as commander of the US armed forces in the Far East, whose headquarters was stationed in the Philippines. The Philippine army was included in their composition of the American military forces. By November 30, 1941, the total contingent of American troops in the Philippines was increased to 31 thousand people, including Filipino scouts were about 12 thousand people. The grouping of American troops was divided into the Forces of Northern Luzon under the command of Major General Jonathan Wainwright (1883-1953) and the Forces of Southern Luzon under the command of Brigadier General George Parker Jr. [28].

The military forces of the Visayas and Mindanao regions were commanded by Brigadier General William Sharp. They consisted of three PA infantry divisions, reinforced with the outbreak of war by two newly recruited infantry regiments [28].

The number of aircraft of the American Air Force in the Philippines under the command of Major General Lewis Brereton was 91 serviceable fighters and 34 bombers. Four U.S. Coast Artillery regiments guarded the entrance to Manila Bay, including Corregidor Island, where Fort Mills was located, protected by batteries of four coast artillery regiments. Manila Bay and Subic Bay were mined. However, hasty military preparations proved insufficient to repel the Japanese attack [28].

On December 7, 1941, on the day of a surprise attack by the Japanese navy and aviation on Pearl Harbor, the main Pacific base of the United States, Japanese planes began bombing Manila, and the Philippine government announced that it had entered the war on the side of the United States [27]. By disabling the main part of the US naval forces in the Pacific, the Japanese thereby eliminated the possibility of their transfer for the defense of the Philippine Islands and assistance to British and Dutch troops.

The Japanese armed invasion of the Philippines began on December 8, 1941, simultaneously with the beginning of military operations in Malaya and Singapore. On January 2, 1942, Manila was abandoned without a fight by the American-Filipino troops, declared an open city by D. MacArthur on December 29, 1941.

The military invasion of the Philippines was entrusted to the commander of the Japanese 14th Army, Lieutenant General Masaharu Homme. Air support for ground operations was provided by the 5th Aviation Group under the command of Lieutenant General Hideyoshi Obata. The amphibious operation to capture a bridgehead for the advancing troops was carried out under the command of Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi with the support of the 3rd Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, as well as with the support of aircraft of the 11th Air Fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Nishizo Tsukahara [28].

The aforementioned 14th Army consisted of four infantry divisions, a commandant’s brigade, two tank regiments, five field artillery divisions, five anti-aircraft artillery divisions, a mortar division and four anti-tank companies, a reinforced group of sappers and pontoon bridge units [28].

Poorly trained and equipped divisions of Generals J. Wainwright and J. Parker could neither repel the landing of more than 43 thousand troops of the Japanese army, nor press him to the seashore. By the night of December 23, Japanese troops had advanced 16 km into the interior of the country, and by mid-January, as a result of a rapid offensive, American-Filipino troops blocked the small Baatan Peninsula [28].

The Philippine government (Quezon, Osmenya, a number of other leaders) were urgently evacuated to the United States, where the government of the Philippines was created in forced emigration. D. MacArthur, along with the headquarters of the commander of the US armed forces in the Pacific, on the orders of the US government, left for Australia to implement  further military plans of the American military leadership to conduct hostilities with Japan [27].

Despite some ideological liberalism, in practice, Japanese militarists widely used repressive measures against the population of the Philippines. So after the surrender in April 1942 by the commander of the armed forces of Luzon, Major General E. King, 78 thousand of the American-Filipino group of troops to the Japanese, by order of the Japanese command, all prisoners were sent 97 km off-road [10]. This so-called “Bataan Death March” was accompanied by the unmotivated use of force and the killing of prisoners of war. The Japanese escorts killed the prisoners who had fallen and were unable to move. They beheaded the fallen, cut their throats, shot them, bayoneted them, raped them, ripped open their bellies. Japanese tanks were passing over the fallen. The rest were beaten with butts, they were not allowed to drink or eat. Motorcyclists put rifle bayonets at neck level and drove along the columns of prisoners of war, inflicting fatal cuts on them [10].

The exact number of dead prisoners of war and civilians in the “Bataan Death March” has not been determined. Historians estimate the minimum death toll at 5-6 thousand people. At the same time, documents indicate that only 54 thousand out of 72 thousand prisoners reached their destination [10].

Since 1942, a unit of the bacteriological detachment 9420 (“OKA”), operating as part of the Southern Expeditionary Group of the Armies of Japan, has been operating in the occupied territory of the Philippines. The OKA detachment was subordinate to the Department of Special Research Detachments of the Imperial Japanese Army, created at the request of the famous Japanese war criminal Doctor of Medicine Shiro Ishii [26].

Yoshio Hareyama was appointed as a head of the organized bacteriological detachment 9420, but at the end of 1942 he was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel of the medical service Naito Ryoichi, one of the most trusted colleagues of S. Ishii [26]. Until 1945, about 150 doctors and scientists worked under the leadership of N. Reiti, who annually produced a huge number of pathogens, working with typhus and plague bacteria, as well as pesticides.

The main experimental unit of the above-mentioned Japanese army was located in Singapore. Detachment 9420 consisted of two divisions: the UMEOKA department, specializing in the removal of plague bacteria, and  the KONO department, which carried out the removal of malaria bacteria. Special units that were located in other countries of Southeast Asia were subordinate to the detachment [26]. They specialized in the study and cultivation of strains of unknown epidemic diseases detected in specially captured rats.

Regional management of the activities of the OKA detachment was carried out by the head of the medical Service of the Southern Expeditionary Group of the Armies of Japan, Major General Kitagawa Masataka. His headquarters were located in the south of Malaysia in Permai Hospital, 13 km from Johor Bahru [26].

With the beginning of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, when it became obvious that “exoteric” plans could not be implemented, the Japanese government sent a research commission headed by an influential member of the “Seva Kenkyukai” Royama Masamichi to the country [25]. It should be noted that most of the staff of the propaganda corps of militaristic Japan did not have a deep knowledge of the Philippines and relied only on the experience of a few pro-Japanese Filipinos. The result of the Royama Masamichi Commission work, in particular, was the adoption by the Japanese Government of its proposal for the Catholic Church reform and the education sector in the Philippines [22, p.224].

It should be noted that the Japanese militarists found support at the top of Filipino society. They were outspoken collaborators who betrayed the interests of the motherland. Among them were those who known for their pro-Japanese views, who were mistaken about the possibility of obtaining independence from Japan (A. Ricarte, B. Ramos) [4, p.168]. Nevertheless, among the propertied and educated elite of Filipino society there were also patriots who hoped to use Japan’s victory in the interests of the Philippines liberation from the oppression of American colonialism and to achieve national independence (Claro Recto and Jose Laurel) [19; 24].

The only permitted political party in the country was the pro-Japanese KALIBAPI (Association for the Service of the New Philippines – author’s translation), the “right hand” of the Japanese administration. This party was created with the aim of “mental education, moral revival, physical recovery and economic recovery of the Philippines under the leadership of the Japanese military administration.” Her task was to establish close cooperation with the Japanese, which would contribute to the rise of the “great Eastern race” [23].

On May 6, 1943, Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo promised to establish the Republic of the Philippines during a visit to the Philippines. This promise prompted the KALIBAPI leaders to convene a congress on June 19, 1943. Twenty delegates of the congress were elected to the Preparatory Commission for drafting the Constitution of the Philippine Republic. Jose Laurel was elected as its chairman (1891-1959) [19; 23;24].

On September 4, 1943, the commission submitted a draft Constitution, and three days later the KALIBAPI General Assembly ratified it. On September 20, 1943, the KALIBAPI branches in the provinces and cities of the country elected 54 members of the National Assembly of the Philippines consisting of 54 governors and mayors of cities. Three days later, Benigno Aquino Sr. was elected the first Speaker of the National Assembly, and Jose Laurel was elected President of the newly created Philippine Republic.

After its proclamation on October 14, 1943, a pact of union was signed between the new Philippine Republic and the Government of Japan, which was ratified by the National Assembly two days later. The newly created, in fact, puppet Philippine Republic was immediately recognized by Japan, and in the following days and months by Germany, Thailand, Manchukuo, Burma, Croatia and Italy. Neutral Spain sent only its “greetings” [24].

The first act adopted by the National Assembly and the Administration of X. Laurel, was the creation on December 3, 1943 of the Department of Food Administration, which united all existing food control agencies. Nevertheless, when distributing basic foodstuffs, the new administration barely coped with the shortage of food in the country, preferring the direction of products in favor of the Japanese occupation forces. So in 1943-1944, most of the Philippine rice was confiscated by Japanese soldiers [23].

At the same time, the Japanese administration maintained a strict economic regime over the Philippines, controlling the prices of goods and services and taking control of private assets. The Japanese government has placed the National Bank of the Philippines under strict control. At the same time, enterprises that had contracts with the Japanese administration acquired key positions in the sectors of the Philippine economy [23].

It is obvious that Japan’s economic policy was aimed at appropriating the national wealth of the Philippines, establishing unlimited control of Japanese monopolies over the production of mineral and agricultural raw materials. The Japanese reduced the area of sugar cane and tobacco plantations, planning to grow cotton and expand the production of abaca. Sugar refineries were being rebuilt to produce alcohol. In general, this plan of the Japanese was not realized. The production of sugar and tobacco has been reduced tenfold, but the creation of more than 1 million acres of cotton plantations remained unfulfilled [4, p.169].

Under the occupation, only speculators and the top of the intermediary bourgeoisie, which served Japanese monopolies, continued to enrich themselves. There was a sharp decline in living standards in the country. There was not enough food, as the acreage under rice decreased by almost 1 million hectares. Everywhere there was a shortage of food, clothing, oil and other goods. Inflation flourished, reaching enormous proportions, and prices for basic necessities rose. Various forms of forced labor (the creation of labor battalions, etc.) were widely practiced in industrial enterprises. The workers were put under police control of the so-called “Central Workers’ Union”, established by the occupiers [4, p.169].

At the same time, the Japanese intended to weaken the influence of the Catholic Church on Filipino society. However, they met fierce resistance from the population when they tried to undermine the authority of the Catholic Church by arresting 500 Christian missionaries. They also removed clergy from teaching positions in private schools and continued the secularization of the episcopate of the Philippine Catholic Church, which began under American rule. Of course, the anti-Catholic policy was a long-term goal, since it was quite obvious to the Japanese authorities that they could not eliminate Catholicism overnight [15; 22, p.234].

Philippine newspapers and media were heavily censored. The Japanese tried to transform schools by cultivating the Japanese language in them. “New” pro-Japanese schools were opened, in which up to 300 thousand students were studying by 1944 [13; 24].

Throughout the entire period of occupation, a strong Japanese military presence remained in the country. Military control over transport and communications was carried out.

Nevertheless, the difficult economic situation in the country contributed to the widespread activation of anti-Japanese sentiment among the bulk of the country’s population. Many residents became participants in the armed resistance to the Japanese invaders. Numerous disparate underground groups and partisan detachments operated on the territory of the archipelago.

The anti-Japanese Resistance movement consisted of up to 1 million people. A significant number of anti-Japanese organizations were led by representatives of the patriotic bourgeois intelligentsia. The organizations “Free Philippines”, “Blue Eagle”, “National Liberation League” were active in Manila. There were several guerrilla groups operating in Southern Luzon, including a large unit under the command of an American officer Anderson. Guerrilla detachments were also on the islands of Panay, Negros, Cebu, Leyte and Samara [4, p.171].

On the island of Mindanao, guerrilla detachments, as a rule, were created by the American and Filipino military, who refused to comply with the surrender order (24 thousand Filipino and 200 American soldiers). There were 38,000 guerrillas in the mountains and jungles of Mindanao, united under the command of American Colonel Wendell Fertig. By 1945, there were about 277 separate guerrilla detachments in the Philippines, consisting of 260,715 people who resisted the Japanese occupation [7].

An anti-Japanese movement also emerged among the Muslim population of Southwestern Mindanao and the Sulu Islands, led by pro-American Datos. Nevertheless, there were many cases when the Moro Muslim detachments turned their weapons not against the Japanese invaders, but against the Christian Filipino guerrillas.

A special role in the guerrilla struggle against the Japanese invaders belonged to the Filipino Communists.  In 1942, the Japanese occupiers arrested and imprisoned the well-known leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Crisanto Evangelista and Pedro Santos [12; 13]. On February 25, 1942 (according to other sources, June 2, 1943) K. Evangelista was executed for organizing anti-Japanese resistance [8; 13], and P.A. Santos was imprisoned until 1944, and was subsequently released due to poor health and died in January 1945 [1; 2]. The Communist Party leadership turned out to have second-tier communist leaders such as the Vicente brothers, Jose (Peping) and Jesus (Jesus) Lava, as well as the brothers Luis and Peregrino Taruki [20].

The new leadership of the Communist Party, headed by the elected Secretary General Vicente Lava (1894-1947), tried to reduce the struggle against the Japanese occupiers to a course of so-called “defensive retreat” [18]. It pursued a policy of turning partisan detachments into sabotage teams consisting of 3-5 people and avoiding major armed clashes with the enemy. This course was announced after the Japanese attacked the main base of the guerrillas at the foot of the Arayat volcano in Central Luzon [5].

Nevertheless, on March 29, 1942, at the initiative of the majority of the CPF Central Committee members, the People’s Anti–Japanese Army (NAA) – the “Hukbalahap” – was formed from scattered partisan detachments [16]. The commander-in-chief of the army was appointed an associate of P.A. Santos, the communist Luis Taruk (1913-2005) [20], and his deputy was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Communist Party, the communist Castro Alejandrino (1911-2005). At the same time, L. Taruk was elected as chairman of the Military Committee of the Communist Party, and K. Alejandrino was his deputy [11].

According to some sources, L. Taruk had connections with the Communist Party of China (CPC), from which, in particular, he received financial assistance [3]. The Hukbalahap units were staffed mainly by Filipino peasants, who had broad support. Anti-imperialist slogans and a call to fight against the occupying forces of Japan found sympathy among the soldiers of the army.

By December 1942, the so-called “red guerrillas” had liberated a significant part of the central and southern provinces of Luzon, the largest island of the Philippine Archipelago, and occupied posts in local authorities [4, p.216]. The number of the NAA by this time was about 10 thousand regular fighters and up to 30 thousand people who were part of the partisan reserve [15]. The leadership of the Communist Party, thanks to well-established political work, managed to achieve high discipline of personnel and effective combat capability of the army. In addition, held in September 1944 the party conference declared the “defensive retreat” politically erroneous, and V. Lava was removed from the post of general secretary of the Communist Party [5].

During the period of hostilities against the Japanese invaders, about 25 thousand Japanese soldiers and officers were destroyed by the forces of the “Hukbalahap” [16]. It should be noted that the victims of the partisans of the NAA were not only soldiers of the Japanese army, but also 20 thousand Filipino policemen, collaborators, landowners and entrepreneurs, representatives of political groups hostile to the Communists [3].

The actions of the “Hukbalahap” in the rear of the Japanese occupiers greatly facilitated the landing of American troops on the island of Luzon in January 1945 and played role in the defeat of the Japanese army in the Philippines. However, the great popularity of the “Hukbalahap” caused concern to the American military command. After the troops landed on the island of Luzon, they made arrests among the leadership of the NAA, liquidated its self-governing bodies in a number of places and issued an order to disarm the Philippine guerrillas [4, pp.219-220].

This was also facilitated by the fact that the former socialist leader V. Lava, who remained in the politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, pursued a course of greeting the American occupation authorities, searching for open and legal participation of the united Party of the left in the semi-colonial and semi-feudal political structure of the Philippines. He pursued the idea of liquidating the NAA and transforming it into an veterans organization.

By the spring of 1945, Japan controlled only 12 of the 48 provinces. Fighting with Japanese troops in the Philippine jungle continued until the official surrender of Japan in September 1945.

After the Japanese occupation, the Philippines suffered great human losses and enormous destruction. In 1942-1945, more than 1 million Filipinos died. Losses in the United States amounted to 10,380 people killed . Japan lost 255,795 people [7].

After the Japanese occupation, 2 million Filipinos were left homeless. The country’s direct losses from military operations alone amounted to $1 billion 250 million. Huge damage was caused to agriculture, the main industries were almost completely destroyed, mines, railways, and power plants were put out of operation.

The capital of the Philippines, Manila, was subjected to monstrous destruction, which was turned into ruins. Leaving Manila, the Japanese destroyed up to 2 thousand inhabitants, including women and children.  Most of the old Spanish buildings were destroyed as a result of intense bombing during the fighting between the forces of Japan and the United States. The most popular attraction of the Philippines, the Intramuros Fortress, the oldest district of Manila, was destroyed. In it, the Church of Santo Domingo, the oldest campus of the University of Santo Tomas, two of the eight gates were destroyed. The explosions leveled most of Intramuros, leaving only 5% of the city buildings; the walls were destroyed by 40% [17]. Today, among its restored objects is the Church of St. Augustine, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993 [6]. However, many of the unique structures of Intramuros have not been restored so far.

Translated: T. Avershina

Source: Вестник ЦИМО в АТР. № 6. 2021

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