“As commander in chief of the forces of liberation, I publicly acknowledge and pay tribute to the great spiritual power that has made possible these notable and glorious achievements—achievements which find few counterparts in military history. Those great patriots, Filipino and American, both living and dead, upon whose valiant shoulders have rested the leadership and responsibility for the indomitable movement in the past critical period shall, when their identities can be known, find a lasting place on the scroll of heroes of both nations—heroes who have selflessly and defiantly subordinated all to the cause of human liberty. Their names and their deeds shall ever be enshrined in the hearts of our two peoples in whose darkest hours they have waged relentless war against the forces of evil that sought, through ruthless brutality, the enslavement of the Filipino people.”
–-Gen. Douglas MacArthur, 25 October 1944
On March 26, 1945, American and Filipino forces landed on the beaches of Talisay to complete the defeat of the once mighty Japanese Imperial Army deployed in the Province of Cebu.
But like many important events that happened to us in the past, this one seem to have receded fast into the fringes of the collective memories of generations, remembered only in snatches by those who felt they must.And yet the landing, taken in the context of that period, was more than just another footnote in our province’s proud history in that it was a culmination of that one period when a people was victimized by the brutalities of war.
Its memory and the subsequent reassessment of its place in our history would have given Cebuanos something to be proud of and to learn.
Much of the blame in this seeming amnesia can be heaped on a culture that is a product of our colonial past, one that considers as superior ideas and things other than our own.
Indeed, the heroism of the Cebuanos who valiantly fought the Japanese juggernaut has been largely left untold and, by the succeeding generations, largely unrecognized.
A big chunk of our knowledge of the Japanese occupation of Cebu and the province’s liberation has been provided by people that refused to be tied to the prevalent system of historical scholarship.
Among the more popular were those of World War II veterans like Col. Manuel F. Segura, who has written two books on the guerilla movement here, “Tabunan” and “The Koga Papers.”
Academicians and journalists also did their share in popularizing stories about the war, producing files whose content spans 50 years after liberation.
There is, however, not much attempt to systematize this knowledge to be able to tear the straitjacket on history used by writers whose thinking are biased in favor of the so-called “Imperial Manila.”
Thus, textbooks in schools provide but a glimpse of the Cebuanos’ saga and largely concentrate on stories, although still heroic, on those who fought in and endured the war against the Japanese in Luzon.
Dr. Resil mojares, head of the Cebuano Studies Center and a respected professor and writer, also pointed out two flaws in the writing about the second World War here.
One, that much of what was told were culled from articles presented mainly from the foreigners’ point of view—the Japanese and the Americans.
Two, that there were limitations in Cebuano writing on the topic, as it dealt mostly on the military aspect, notably the resistance movement and the subsequent war of liberation, thus failing to tackle such important matters as governance and the economy.
The resistance against the Japanese, for example, had it been placed in a wider perspective, like say the understanding of its role in the anti-fascist struggle in the country and the world, would have become more noteworthy in the telling.
Why was the country sucked into the whirlpool that was World War II?
This is a question whose answers have been myriad simply because historians interpret events using the prism of their own personal biases and the mode of thinking prevailing in their time.
The Philippines invaded by the Japanese was already in the fourth decade of American rule, something that shaped the Filipino people’s actions during the war years.
Historian and critic Renato Constantino Sr., in his book, “The Philippines: A Past Revisited,” described the colonization process prevailing than as “the re-creation of Philippine society in the image of its conqueror.”
This American tutelage in all aspects—economic, political, cultural and social—had matured in the early 1940s so much so that Philippine society already bore the imprint of the institutions, values and outlook of the colonizing power.
The problem was that the Filipino people became too dependent on the protective mantle of the Americans that complacency relative to the expansionist tendencies of imperial Japan set in.
Many belittled the Japanese military, convinced as they were of the invincibility of American firepower on Philippine soil. The subsequent Japanese invasion, however, proved that the only firepower that the Filipinos could depend on was their very own.
Without the complacency, it would have been easy to see the designs of Japan, a latecomer among imperialist states during that time, in Asia and the Pacific.
Japan’s economy was dependent on export, which in turn created a fundamental pressure for expansion. Moreover, that country was poor in terms of economic resources and desperately needed raw materials for its industries.
Thus, it went to battle against China in 1894, against Russia in 1905. It seized more Chinese territory in Wrold War I and was able to build its own empire with the establishment of Manchukuo in 1932.
When World War II broke out, Japan was already desperately trying to gain parity with the advanced economies of the West. But its expansionist ambitions in Asia was blocked by the United States, which already held the Philippines, and Great Britain, which had Singapore and Hong Kong.
Thus did Japan join in 1940 the Italian-German military pact to become one of the Axis Powers that fought the Allies led by the US and Britain.
But while the Filipinos pinned their hopes on the Americans in the event of a Japanese invasion, US contingency plans code-named War Plan Orange as early as 1925 envisioned only the defense of Manila and the island of Corregidor for six months until the garrison could be reinforced or relieved.
The result was that the US did nothing to improve the Philippines’ defenses. The official policy in 1934 with regards to military concerns was “no improvements, no reinforcements and no withdrawal.” In short, American military presence would be retained but without the needed logistics for a build up.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who became the military adviser of the administration of President Manuel L. Quezon, did nothing much to change this US defense orientation although he laid down his own plan that called for a large reserve force of “citizen-soldiers to supllement a small professional army.”
MacArthur contradicted War Plan Orange and envisioned a defense of the entire archipelago.
But the measly amount of P16 million a year he asked for was not enough to fund a regular force of 11,000 men, the training of 40,000 reserves for five and a half months each year and the acquisition and maintenance of 50 torpedo boats and 250 planes.
This was aggravated by the power play between Quezon and MacArthur, which resulted in the cutting back of the defense budget, first in 1940, then in 1941, when the number of trainees were cut in half and military constructions and armament acquisitions were disallowed.
In July of that year, The Philippine Army was mobilized for war and integrated into the US Army under the US Armed Forces in the Far East or USAFFE. MacArthur, who became its commander, received a new war plan code-named Rainbow 5 in October.
But like War Plan Orange, Rainbow 5 had no intention of holding on to the Philippines and envisioned a defense of only the entrances to Manila and Subic bays. MacArthur protested and insisted on his plan to defend the entire archipelago.
He came up with a report that stated that the strength of the forces in the Philippines totalled 101,550 men—22,550 regular American and Filipino officers and men, and ten Filipino reserve divisions consisting of 76,000.
Unfortunately, the report did not say that the reserve divisions for the most part existed only on paper.
(Next: The War in Cebu: Accounts)
–By Candido O. Wenceslao (The article came out in the March 16, 1995 issue of The Freeman)