Manila: December 1941From Guerrilla Memoirs - A Novel by Dominador Ilio. Quezon City 1993. Reprinted with permission.
BOMBS FIRST FELL INSIDE MANILA ON THE twenty third of December. In the previous days since Purisima Concepcion, only the whir of high- flying aircrafts, usually in the early mornings and late afternoons, drove the city residents to scamper into air raid shelters and dugouts. And during those two weeks of fearing and trembling many of the city folks somehow got inured to the routine and often were reluctant to crawl into the dark and dank caverns. It seemed that the city was spared from air attacks even as Camp Nichols was just off the southern outskirts. And since the Christmas Holiday season was just days away, people hoped that they could at least go to the churches as had been customary. Radio broadcasts told that the invading ground troops were being challenged in both the Lingayen gulf area and the Mauban sector in Tayabas province.
And so it was quite unexpected when scarcely an hour before noon of December 23 a horde of Jap aircrafts swooped down unopposed toward the center of the city targetting the ships in the bay and in the Pasig river and the port facilities of Port Area. Intramuros which adjoins the target areas was mercilessly strafed and several governmentment buildings and installations including the treasury building were hits by the bombs.
The harrowing experience of some people who happened to be in the vicinities of points where the bombs fell were recounted over and over afterwards, especially the rumored kuwentong kutsero. This particular story was however not the usual idle narration by a kutsero but of a kutsero who, unfortunately and fortunately, was cruising his calesa just past the Anda Monument along Malecon Drive when the air raid sirens started to sound the alarm signals. As he steered his horse toward the tree-shaded Plaza de la Reina, the bombs started falling and among the first buildings hit in Intramuros was the Intendencia which was just off the south bank of the Pasig river. People in that building streamed out in panic and when a second wave of planes started strafing the area, the people were out of the streets in no time.
The poor kutsero who had been dragged by his frightened horse into the dim-lit vestibule of the bombed building noticed some paper money flapping on the cobblestone pavement. And picking up a few despite his terror of the moment came upon several bundles of newly minted bills which he shakingly stowed under the seat of his calesa.
There were many versions of this yarn about a calesa driver who chanced upon big money during the first bombing of Manila. Whether the story is true or just ordinary kuwentong kutsero, it was not verified. However, it had also been bruited about that an untutored provinciano of a kutsero in Gagalangin suddenly moved his family out of their lowly lodgings to a pretentious house in Grace Park. And that this same provinciano has been seen afterwards to be better dressed and was smoking Tabacalera cigars instead of his usual La Insular itim.
This year (1995) marks the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. Filipinos seem not to remember what that war did to us. Among Asian countries, we had the highest death toll - about a million - after China and Japan, and the brutality was, in large part, due to our being so closely identified with the United States.
Memories are short, because we do not want to remember. We must forgive, but not forget.
MINIMUM DEATH TOLL (in thousands) Military Civilian Total
Soviet Union 8,000 16,000 24,000
Poland 123 5,600 5,803
China 1,300 3,000 4,300
Germany 3,500 780 4,280
Japan 1,300 800 1,105
Philippines not known not known 1,000
France 213 350 563
Romania 300 200 500
Hungary 200 290 490
Greece 88 325 413
Italy 242 153 395
Britain 254 93 347
United States 292 6 298
Holland 16 234 250
Malay(si)a not known 150 150
Indonesia not known 100 100
Finland 82 11 93
Belgium 12 76 88
Canada 45 45
India 36 36
New Zealand 34 34
Others 500 1,500 2,000
Source: The Economist, May 6, 1995 and Health Alert, Issue 183.
In this page is a collection of pictures taken during the height of World War II I have gathered from various sources.