FFE Magazine

Philippine hiStory Today: The War comes to the Philippines

The Philippine Campaign


The main Japanese attack wave comprising of 43,000 soldiers, artillery and around 90 tanks landed on Lingayen Gulf (off Pangasinan) on 22 December. Due to unpreparedness, the American response was to retreat to Bataan and apply a delay and defend tactic against the invading forces.


When the exodus from Manila started, widespread terror spread across Manila. These were the days of Christmas, and while shops and Manileños who decided to stay mustered what courage they had left to try to bring in the holiday cheer, everyone felt the dread of war.


Since the American main military base and the Philippine government was moved to Bataan, the Japanese was free to take over Manila with little resistance. Nineteen days after the attack on Clark Field, Manila was declared an Open City on 27 December 2013.


A sign in front of the Manila City Hall declaring Manila as an Open City

A sign in front of the Manila City Hall declaring Manila as an Open City


In the language of war, this means that the city is defenseless and that the invading army is expected not to bomb the city. But historians say MacArthur never notified the Japanese army of America’s intent to declare Manila an Open City. As a result, bombs were dropped in Manila before the army marched in.

Japanese tanks and soldiers on their way to Manila

Japanese tanks and soldiers on their way to Manila


The occupation of Manila and the Philippines by the Japanese has been called as some of the most appalling years in Philippine history. Filipinos everywhere had experienced first-hand atrocity in the hands of the invading army. By the time general MacArthur returned and successfully liberated the Philippines from Japanese control in 1945, Manila was left in ruins.


Japanese ships docked in Manila Bay bombarded from above

Japanese ships docked in Manila Bay bombarded from above


Manila on fire

Manila on fire


American tanks entering Manila

American tanks entering Manila


Japanese prisoners of war

Japanese prisoners of war

Clock tower of the Manila City Hall

Clock tower of the Manila City Hall


The Battle of Manila between the Japanese and the Americans in 1945 resulted in the death of approximately 1,010 Americans, 16,000 Japanese and 100,000 Filipino civilians. Because of the heavy shelling between the two sides, Manila is considered second worldwide behind Warsaw, Poland in terms of the extent of damage and scale of deaths as a consequence of the war.


The Americans stayed for many months after the war, funding and leading rehabilitation projects in Manila and around the country.


However, the Americans never healed the wounds of the war and could never bring back the lost lives. This may have been 70 years ago, but many families are still hurting today because of what happened then. Manila has certainly and visibly moved on from that day. But time cannot erase what has passed, and it part of our responsibility to learn from the experience to prevent this from happening again.


In this season of giving and sharing, let us remember that whenever we are in grave need there will always be unlikely allies who will be ready to fight our fights alongside us. Wars are definitely unnecessary, but they reveal things we would never have believed could exist in strangers: anger, defiance, bravery, generosity… charity.



If there is something we can pick up from the sad story of the war in the Philippines, it’s that our friends helped us pick up the pieces and stand up again. Why don’t we do the same thing, right here, right now? There are many chances where we can display our capacity to care. Charity begins at home, as they say, and in the Visayas many are still in want of the basic necessities needed in order to start a new life. After the war, many Filipinos were pretty much in the same condition as the survivors of the typhoon. They managed because of the help given to them, so I think it is just right that we should share our Christmas with them.


Nobody deserves a sad Christmas in the Philippines anyway.


What did you think about this week’s date with history? How can we turn a sad chapter in history to a positive one? What can you do to honour those who have given up their lives for the war? What do you plan to do to share your Christmas to the disadvantaged? Comment and share your thoughts below!



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