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Philippines in the Pacific War

From the outset the policy of the United States was to slowly groom the Philippines for eventual self-rule. The United States set up a colonial government that instituted provincial governors and a national legislature. With the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Law, the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines was established on 15 November, 1935, with Manuel L. Quezon as the first president. The Commonwealth provided the Philippines a ten-year transition period before the assumption of full independence in 1945. One of the government’s first proclamations was the Commonwealth Act No.1, otherwise known as the National Defense Act of the Philippines. This Actmandated the creation of a defense system supported by a citizen army of 10,000 active and 400,000 reserve personnel. It also intended to establish both a Philippine Navy (PN) and an Air Force (PAF).

Japan launched a surprise attack on the Philippines on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Initial aerial bombardment was followed by landings of ground troops both north and south of Manila. The defending Philippine and United States troops were under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, who had been recalled to active duty in the United States Army earlier in the year and was designated commander of the United States Armed Forces in the Asia-Pacific region. The aircraft of his command were destroyed; the naval forces were ordered to leave; and because of the circumstances in the Pacific region, reinforcement and resupply of his ground forces were impossible. Under the pressure of superior numbers, the defending forces withdrew to the Bataan Peninsula and to the island of Corregidor at the entrance to Manila Bay.

With the Japanese forces advancing to Manila, General MacArthur, instructed President Quezon on 20 December 1941 to be ready to evacuate to Corregidor. Originally Quezon wanted Jose Laurel to go with him but on 23 December 1942 Quezon changed his mind. In the words of Buenafe, Quezon ordered Laurel to stay behind because of his Japanese connections which it was hoped, and rightly, might serve the country in goodstead. Quezon appointed Laurel Secretary of Justice, amd acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; he also instructed him “to help Mr. Vargas,” who had been appointed mayor of greater Manila. To Laurel’s argument that the Japanese might require or compel those who remain to do many things which might be inimical to the government, Quezon replied after consulting MacArthur that Laurel should do what the Japanese asked him to do exceptone thing — to take an oath of allegiance to Japan.

Manila, declared an open city to prevent its destruction, was occupied by the Japanese on January 2, 1942. The Philippine defense continued until the final surrender of United States-Philippine forces on the Bataan Peninsula in April 1942 and on Corregidor in May. Most of the 80,000 prisoners of war captured by the Japanese at Bataan were forced to undertake the infamous "Death March" to a prison camp 105 kilometers to the north. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 men, weakened by disease and malnutrition and treated harshly by their captors, died before reaching their destination. Quezon and Osmeña had accompanied the troops to Corregidor and later left for the United States, where they set up a government in exile. MacArthur was ordered to Australia, where he started to plan for a return to the Philippines.

The Japanese military authorities immediately began organizing a new government structure in the Philippines. Although the Japanese had promised independence for the islands after occupation, they initially organized a Council of State through which they directed civil affairs. Jose Vargas became the chairman of the executive commission and the high command of the Japanese Army selected Laurel as Commissioner of Justice. The interference of the Japanese military incourt affairs prompted Laurel to issue a circular prohibiting dismissal of cases pending trial or investigation except in due course of legal procedure. This led to his detention at Fort Santiago for three hours.

Benigno Aquino Sr., grandfather of Liberal Party candidate Sen. Benigno Aquino III, was a Japanese collaborator and a member of the Philippine puppet government during World War II. When Benigno Aquino, Sr., then Commissioner of the Interior, was made the Vice President and Director-General of the Kapisanan Sa Paglilingkod Sa Bagong Pilipinas (KALIBAPI - Association for Service to the New Philippines) - the only political organization allowed at that time - Laurel was removed from the Department of Justice and appointed Commissioner of the Interior by the Japanese High Command.

Japan sought to win increased Filipino cooperation by setting up an independent government under the presidency of Jose P. Laurel. During US colonial administration Manuel Roxas, a close associate of Gen. McArthur, was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a senator & a member of Quezon cabinet. In June of 1943, Roxas was the principal author of the "puppet" constitution & worked in the Laurel cabinet as Minister Without Portfolio. On 25 September 1943, Laurel was unanimously elected President of the Republic by assembly delegates. While in Tokyo, upon the invitation of the Japanese government, Laurel was requested to declare war against Great Britain and the United States. But Laurel refused, saying that the Filipino people would not approve of it, that he could not carry out the order, and that he himself had never been a popular leader.

In October 1943 the Japanese declared the Philippines an independent republic. The National Assembly elected Benigno Aquino Sr. as its speaker. A treaty of alliance concluded simultaneously with the inauguration of the new government provided for close political, economic and military cooperation "for the successful prosecution of the Greater East Asia War" and was supplemented by attached "Terms of Understanding" which stipulated: "The principal modality of the close military cooperation for the successful prosecution of the Greater East Asia War shall be that the Philippines will afford all kinds of facilities for the military actions to be undertaken by Japan, and that both Japan and the Philippines will closely cooperate with each other in order to safeguard the territorial integrity and independence of the Philippines." In accordance with these provisions, the Laurel Government promulgated orders to ensure cooperation with local Japanese military commanders, and steps were taken through local administrative agencies to recruit Filipino labor for use in carrying out the airfield construction program and the improvement of defense installations.

Most of the Philippine elite, with a few notable exceptions, served under the Japanese. Makapili, – the much-hated Japanese collaborators during World War II who wore bayongs (woven buri bags) over their heads when identifying Filipino freedom fighters and their supporters. Filipino collaborators with Imperial Japan, included Emilio Aguinaldo, Jose P. Laurel, Jorge B. Vargas, Benigno Ramos, and Artemio Ricarte. Emilio Aguinaldo (1869–1964)led a rebellion against Spanish rule in 1896 and assisted the United States during the Spanish-American War in 1898. He subsequently resisted American occupation of the newly independent republic. Despite modest military abilities, Aguinaldo embodied the Philippines’ struggle for independence; and his capture in 1901, while not ending the rebellion, certainly helped weaken it. After taking an oath of allegiance to the United States, Aguinaldo spent the next thirty years as a farmer. When Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941, he participated in the Japanese puppet government. The Japanese used Aguinaldo as an anti-American tool. They caused him to make speeches, to sign articles, and to address a radio appeal to Gen. Douglas MacArthur on Corregidor to surrender in order to spare the flower of Filipino youth.

Born on 9 March 1891 in Tanauan, Batangas, Jose Paciano Laurel spent his childhood swimmingin the Tanauan river and the Taal lake, hiking in the woods, and playing on a guitar or a violin. The death of his father, Sotero, in 1902, a victim of an American concentration camp, left the responsibility of bringing up the children to his mother, Jacoba. Jose P.Laurel was Secretary of the Interior during the administration of Governor General Leonard Wood when he resigned in protest against Wood’s administration of the country. The resulting Cabinet Crisis of 1923 signalled to the American colonial authorities that they had to respect Filipino internal affairs. Elected delegate to the 1934 Constitutional Convention, President Laurel served the convention with distinction. He was one of the “Seven Wise Men’’ of the convention. He sponsored the Bill of Rights provisions of the 1935 Constitution. While serving as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, President Laurel penned the decision on the famous Nalundasan case (October 22, 1940). Justice Laurel granted Ferdinand E. Marcos acquittal after finding the prosecution's case contradictory.

President Laurel’s government faced multifarious problems of scarcity of food, growing uneasiness of the people and distrust in government, increasing brutalities of the Occupation forces and the pressure the Japanese officials bore on him. His task was a delicate balancing act to tide his people over to better times. While serving as President of the Philippines during the enemy occupation, President Laurel etched his name in the annals of the country. He stressed the “Philippines for the Filipino’’ policy. “Nobody can profess to love the Filipino," he repeatedly stated, “more than the Filipino people themselves." A strong, united, and truly independent nation with economic security and strong moral foundation was President Laurel’s vision for the Philippines. During the Japanese occupation, President Laurel saved many lives from the Kempetai, including that of Manuel A. Roxas. His encounter with Colonel Akira Nagahama, Chief of the Kempetai, is well-known. Colonel Nagahama came to Malacañang and demanded that President Laurel surrender Manuel A. Roxas to him. President Laurel told Colonel Nagahama: “If you are going to kill Roxas, kill me first.”

Philippine collaboration in Japanese-sponsored political institutions -- which later became a major domestic political issue -- was motivated by several considerations. Among them was the effort to protect the people from the harshness of Japanese rule (an effort that Quezon himself had advocated), protection of family and personal interests, and a belief that Philippine nationalism would be advanced by solidarity with fellow Asians. Many collaborated to pass information to the Allies. The Japanese-sponsored republic headed by President José P. Laurel proved to be unpopular. As General MacArthur's forces steadily forged ahead toward the Philippines in the spring of 1944, cooperation with the Japanese armed forces gradually broke down, giving way to sabotage and active hostility.

Anti-Japanese feeling and discontent were heightened by food shortages. Prior to the war a substantial volume of food products had been imported, but as the intensification of enemy submarine warfare cut down shipping traffic, these imports almost ceased. Commodity prices soared to inflation levels, and Filipino farmers refused to deliver their prescribed food quotas to government purchasing agencies. Allied short-wave propaganda broadcasts effectively played upon this unrest by emphasizing Allied economic and military superiority and the certainty of Filipino liberation.

Japanese occupation of the Philippines was opposed by increasingly effective underground and guerrilla activity that ultimately reached large-scale proportions. Postwar investigations showed that about 260,000 people were in guerrilla organizations and that members of the anti-Japanese underground were even more numerous. Their effectiveness was such that by the end of the war, Japan controlled only twelve of the forty-eight provinces. The major element of resistance in the Central Luzon area was furnished by the Huks [Hukbalahap] or the People's Anti-Japanese Army organized in early 1942 under the leadership of Luis Taruc, a communist party member since 1939. The Huks armed some 30,000 people and extended their control over much of Luzon. Other guerrilla units were attached to the United States Armed Forces Far East. The claims by Ferdinand Marcos to being an important leader in the Filipino guerrilla resistance movement were a central factor in his later political success, but US government archives revealed that he actually played little or no part in anti-Japanese activities during 1942-45.

When the tide of war shifted in favor of the allied forces in 1944, Laurel and his cabinet, after a thorough discussion of alternatives, decided on compliance with Japan’s request for a declaration of war, formally declaring that a state of war existed between theRepublic of the Philippines and the United States and Great Britain. On 26 September 1944, Laurel explained this particular declaration in a radio broadcast “to render every aid and assistance to the Imperial Japanese Government, short ofconscription of Filipino manhood for active military service.”

One of the thorniest problems of strategic planning for the war against Japan was to decide whether the principal objective of drives that had brought the Allies into the western Pacific should be Luzon or Formosa. The Joint Chiefs of Staff foresaw that intensive aerial bombardment of the Japanese home islands would be prerequisite to invasion, and that such bombardment would have to be co-ordinated with combined air, surface, and submarine operations aimed at cutting Japan's overwater lines of communication to the rich territories she had seized in the Netherlands Indies and southeastern Asia. The Joint Chiefs believed that the Allies could best undertake the necessary bombardment of Japan from airfields in eastern China. They decided that to secure and develop adequate air bases in China, Allied forces would have to seize at least one major port on the south China coast. The Allies would have to secure air bases in the southern or central Philippines from which to neutralize Japanese air power on Luzon.

Allied air and naval forces could sever the Japanese lines of communication to the south much more effectively from Formosa than from either Luzon or the south China coast alone. Furthermore, from fields in northern Formosa, the Army Air Forces' new B-29's could carry heavier bomb loads against Japan than from more distant Luzon. Many planners considered Formosa such a valuable strategic prize that they devoted considerable attention to the possibility of bypassing all the Philippines in favor of a direct descent upon Formosa.

Discussion of this proposal waxed and waned in Washington during much of 1943 and 1944. General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff and Army member of the Joint Chiefs, played a relatively inactive part in the debate until late 1944, but at one time at least seemed inclined toward bypassing both the Philippines and Formosa in favor of a direct invasion of Kyushu in southern Japan. Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations and Navy member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a leading advocate of plans to bypass the Philippines. General MacArthur stood adamant against bypassing any part of the Philippines, a stand in which he had the support of most other ranking Army officers in the Pacific. Nimitz and MacArthur both declared that the next major step in the Pacific after the advance to the Palaus-Morotai line would have to be the seizure of air bases in the southern or central Philippines.

The reoccupation of the entire Philippine Archipelago as quickly and early as possible, was, MacArthur said, a national obligation and political necessity. To bypass any or all the islands, he declared, would destroy American honor and prestige throughout the Far East, if not in the rest of the world as well. In addition, MacArthur considered that bypassing part of the Philippines would have the "sinister implication" of imposing a food blockade upon unoccupied portions of the archipelago. Were the Philippines lost, the already contracted Japanese supply lines over which flowed the fuel and other resources essential to continued prosecution of the war would be completely severed, and all of Japan's southern armies from Burma to the islands north of Australia would be cut off from the homeland.

MacArthur's Allied forces landed on the island of Leyte on October 20, 1944, accompanied by Osmeña, who had succeeded to the commonwealth presidency upon the death of Quezon on August 1, 1944. Landings then followed on the island of Mindoro and around the Lingayen Gulf on the west side of Luzon, and the push toward Manila was initiated. Fighting was fierce, particularly in the mountains of northern Luzon, where Japanese troops had retreated, and in Manila, where they put up a last-ditch resistance. Guerrilla forces rose up everywhere for the final offensive.

The Japanese C-in-C in the Philippines (Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita) received radio instructions from Tokyo on 20 August as to cessation of hostilities. He thereupon issued a General Order to that affect. Due to his dispersed command it took some time to get the information around. There appears to have been nothing in the Tokyo message as tosurrender. Fighting continued until Japan's formal surrender on September 2, 1945. The Philippines had suffered great loss of life and tremendous physical destruction by the time the war was over. An estimated 1 million Filipinos had been killed, a large proportion during the final months of the war, and Manila was extensively damaged.

On July 4, 1946, the United States formally declared the independence of the Philippines. On that same day the Republic of the Philippines and the United States signed two agreements that were the basis for all future Philippine-American relations: the 1946 Philippine-American Treaty on General Relations and the 1946 Philippine American Trade Act. Within eight months two more agreements were signed: on 14 March 1947 the Philippine-American Military Bases Agreement (MBA) and on 21 March 1947 the Philippine-American Assistance Pact.

On 23 August 1945 José P. Laurel, President of the pro-Japan Philippine Government during Japanese occupation, resigned. He had taken refuge in Japan. On 15 September 1945 he was arrested by American authorities near Nara, Japan. He was to be sent to Manila for trial. In July 1946 he was charged with 132 counts of treason, but was never brought to trial.

During World War II Manuel Roxas served in the pro-Japanese government of Jose Laurel by acquiring supplies of rice for the Japanese Army. Although a court was established after the war to try collaborators, Roxas was defended by his friend General Douglas McArthur. Roxas was elected president of the commonwealth in 1946 as the nominee of the liberal wing of the Nacionalista Party (which became the Liberal Party), and when independence was declared on July 4 he became the first president of the new republic. On 28 January 1948, President Manuel Roxas issued a proclamation granting amnesty to all collaborators. Charged as a collaborator after the war, Emilio Aguinaldo was soon pardoned. Having lived through three colonial administrations, he finally witnessed the birth of a free and independent Philippines in July 1946. He died in 1964 at the age of 95.

As the Nationalist Party's nominee for the presidency of the Philippines in 1949, José P. Laurel was narrowly defeated by the incumbent president, Elpidio Quirino, nominee of the Liberal Party. Elected to the Senate in 1951, Laurel helped to persuade Ramon Magsaysay, then secretary of defense, to desert the Liberals and join the Nationalist. When Magsaysay became president, Laurel headed an economic mission that in 1955 negotiated an agreement to improve economic relations with the United States. He retired from public life in 1957. When President Laurel died on November 6, 1959, President Carlos P. Garcia declared “President Laurel was an indefatigable fighter all his life for the cause of freedom, and in his heart and mind was present always the interests of his country and people.”

The son of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Sr., Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., was an opposition leader against the deposed Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos during the martial law years in the Philippines. Ninoy Aquino was shot dead at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983 when he came home from the United States. His widow, Corazon Aquino, become the unified opposition's candidate for the presidency when Ferdinand Marcos unexpectedly called for presidential election in February 1986. Corazon "Cory" Aquino, the first woman to become president of the Philippines. Her son Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Cojuangco Aquino III became the 11th President of the Republic of the Philippines on June 30, 2010.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:24:15 ZULU