The Philippines “Pearl Of The Orient”
I am a Filipino. My country is the Philippines. It is an archipelago of 7,107 islands stretching from the south of China to Northern tip of Borneo. Three prominent bodies of water surround the Philippines: The Pacific Ocean on the east, the south China Sea on the west and north, and the Celebes Sea on the south. Visitors to Manila, the capital, commonly see the Philippines as the most westernized of Asian countries with a rich Malay culture beneath Spanish and American heritage.
Historically, the Filipinos have embraced two of the great religions of the world- Islam and Christianity. Islam was introduced during the 14th century shortly after the expansion of Arab commercial ventures in Southeast Asia. Today, it is limited to the southern region of the country. Christianity was introduced as early as the 16th century with the coming of the Spaniards led by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. The Spanish conquistadores established a colonial government in Cebu in 1565. They transferred the seat of government to Manila in 1571 and proceed to colonize the country.
The Filipinos resisted and waged Asia’s first nationalist revolution in 1896. On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines independent from Spain and proclaimed himself president. Our June 12, l898 independence from Spain was cut short by the Spanish-American war where Filipinos fought along with their American allies. The then U.S. President William McKinley announced a desire to educate the Filipinos, uplift and civilize and Christianize them as fellowmen and put the Philippines on the map of the United States. There they were and stayed while McKinley was president.
The United States emerged the victor of the Spanish-American war. As a world power, she needed places for her ships in Manila, the Ladrones and Caroline islands. With the annexation of Hawaii, they realized that a cable line could be connected from Hawaii to the Philippines. Manila, after 13 August 1898, was in the hands of the Americans and though they did not control the rest of the archipelago, the U.S. felt that by having the capital from which the entire archipelago was governed, the Philippines was theirs by right of conquest. The U.S. after acquisition of Hawaii, had an enormous advantage on the Pacific Ocean. The Philippines would make it possible for America to build up a commercial merchant marine on the Pacific coast and convert the Pacific Ocean into an “American lake” as the Atlantic Ocean is Great Britain’s.
Spain stalled and bargained to keep the Philippines. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, the Spanish Empire surrendered the Pearl of the Orient (the Philippines) to the U.S. for 20 million dollars.
By 1941, Japanese military expansion in the Asia-Pacific region had made confrontation and war with the U.S. increasingly certain. In preparation for war, on July 26, 1941, General Douglas MacArthur brought the 12,000 strong Philippine Scouts under his command with the 16,000 American soldiers stationed in the Philippines. The attack on the Philippines started on December 8, l941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor the American aircraft were entirely destroyed on the ground. Lacking air cover the American Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines withdrew to Java on December 12, 1941.
Japanese troops landed at Lingayen Gulf on December 22, 1941 and advanced across central Luzon towards Manila. On the advice of President Quezon, General MacArthur declared Manila an open city on December 5, 1941 and removed the Commonwealth Government to Corregidor. The Japanese occupied Manila on June 2, 1942.
MacArthur concentrated his troops on the Bataan peninsula to await the relief of reinforcements from the U.S. that, after the destruction of Pearl Harbor would never come. The Japanese succeeded in penetrating Bataan’s first line of defense and, from Corregidor, MacArthurthur had no alternative but to organize a slow and desperate retreat down the peninsula. President Quezon and Vice-president Osmena left Corregidor by submarine to form a government in exile in the U.S. Genera MacArthur escaped Corregidor on the night of March 11, 1942 in PT-41 bound for Australia, 4,000 km. away through Japanese controlled waters.
The 76,000 starving and sick American and Filipino defenders in Bataan surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. The Japanese led their captives on a cruel and criminal Death March on which 7,000 – 10,000 died or were murdered before arriving at the interment camps ten days later. The 13,000 survivors on Corregidor surrendered on May 6, 1942.
General MacArthur discharged his promised to return to the Philippines on October 20, 1944. Landings on the island of Leyte was accomplished massively with an amphibious force of 700 vessels and 174,000 army and navy servicemen. Through December 1944, the islands of Leyte and Mindanao were cleared of Japanese. On January 9, l945 the Americans landed unopposed at the Lingayen Gulf in Luzon and closed on Manila. The Japanese fought desperately, street by street, to hold the city. From January 3 to 23, its liberation took almost a month. When at last the fighting ended in the Old Spanish citadel of Intramuros, Manila was in ruins.
Even after the capture of Manila, the Japanese fought on to the bitter end. The Americans made landings to remove Japanese garrisons on Palawan, Mindanao, Panay and Cebu. The Japanese made their last stand entrenched in Northern Luzon. General Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya, did not surrender in Baguio until September 2, 1945; the same day as General Umezu surrendered formally for Japan on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
The liberations of the Philippines was costly. In the Philippines alone, the Americans lost 60,628 men and the Japanese an estimated 300,000. Filipino casualties was estimated at over a million and, sadly, these occurred mainly in the lasts months of the war when the final outcome had long been decided in any event.
The most serious long term consequence of World War II on the Philippines was to aggravate and embitter its internal social division. Prior to his departure for exile in the U.S. President Quezon had advised Dr. Jose P. Laurel to stay behind and cooperate in the civil administration of the Japanese occupation. Whether it was good advice or not, President Quezon had hoped that with the cooperation of Filipinos, the occupation might be less severe. Following Laurel’s unpopular example, the Philippine elite, with few exceptions, collaborated with the Japanese in their harsh exploitation of the country. President Laurel and his wartime government was despised.
On the contrary, the great majority of the Philippine people mounted a remarkably effective resistance to the Japanese occupation. Investigations after the war showed that 260,000 Filipinos had been actively engaged in guerilla organizations and an even larger number operated covertly in the anti-Japanese underground. By the end of the war, the Japanese had effective control in only twelve of the country’s forty eight provinces.
The largest guerilla organization was the Hukbalahap (People’s Anti-Japanese Army) led by Luis Taruc. He had armed some 30,000 guerillas who controlled most of Luzon. By war’s end, the members of the resistance firmly believed that the widespread collaboration and corruption of the well-to-do had discredited the ruling elite and that they had thereby forfeited any moral authority to govern.
The U.S. intended to restore the pre-war Commonwealth government. Luis Taruc and the Huks had well known socialist sympathies and communist associations. Despite their political affiliations, the Huks fully expected the American forces to treat them as allies and war heroes in recognition of their resistance and contributions to war effort. Instead, the U.S. military police set out to disarm them as dangerous insurgents. MacArthur had Taruc arrested and jailed.
On July 4, 1946, the Third Philippine Republic was inaugurated at the Luneta in Manila. Hundred of thousands of Filipinos and some Americans and Foreign dignitaries witnessed the ceremonies. Among the distinguished American guests were General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme commander of the Allied Power in Japan; General Millard Tydings, co-sponsor of the Philippine Independence Act; and former Governor-General F.B.Harrison, the most beloved American governor-general in the Philippines.
The most meaningful and solemn moment of the independence ceremonies was the raising of the Philippine flag by President Roxas and the lowering of the American flag by Ambassador McNutt to the accompaniment of the national anthems of the two nations. At this significant moment in the history of the Filipino nation, church bells throughout the Philippines were rang to announce the freedom of the Philippines.