THE BATTLE OF MANILA
- MYTH AND FACT

by
Peter C. Parsons

I have been one of the lucky few in American History who has both filed War Correspondent's reports from an active war zone, and who has owned a newspaper.  It was only small , but owning it has earned me the right to hold a deep and abiding contempt for those of the revisionist liberal media hive who prefer to publish falsehoods than truths because they believe themselves the appointed filters of what constitutes history and what is mere fact filler. They have paved a road to hell along which good intentions trump outcomes even when those intentions lead to catastrophe.  To them, the evil of MacArthur is the counterpoint of Yamashita, an honorable man of good intent who should not be sanctioned by history irrespective of the consequences when he turned his back upon 100,000 Manileños.

This is an edited text of paper presented at a Battle of Manila conference at the Ortigas WWII Library on 7 February, 2008 and deals with the truths which my colleague Lucky Guillermo and I embedded in our film documentary, Manila 1945 - The Forgotten Atrocities.

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This is the cover girl for our video. We felt that this image told pretty much the whole story of the innocents.I have stated from the outset, when I was first invited to present a paper here, that I am not an historian. I worked 35 years in California as a newspaper person and printer. I have retired from that to a life of reading and writing. My first writing was fiction--short stories and novels—still my preference if I were not so addicted to history. Some would like to suggest I am still writing fiction.

But the demands of history are very interesting. I do not feel that the restraints of truth are a terrible burden to labor under. . But I have also discovered that truth is as elusive as water in your hand, it wiggles like an eel. My former partner in videos, Morgan Cavett remarked once, after we had two totally contradictory interviews, one with guerrilla Edwin Ramsey, and one with Luis Taruc. Each ended up calling the other a liar (Ramsey added "sonofabitch")( and Taruc added a “disrespectful womanizer”)—Morgan, who was running the camera, said, “Well, that seems to be how history is constructed; our job is just to record what the participants say.”

Trying to find out the truth about my father’s life and work here in the Philippines, for instance, was a wonderful training ground. So many things written about him, and even by him, were untrue: his US Navy biography gives his birth year as 1902. Wrong. No one knew until the late 80’s, just before he died, that he was born in 1900. The only document where he stated his correct birth date was his marriage certificate; this was also the only document wherein my mom’s age was entered incorrectly (probably to make it seem like she was eighteen instead of her real age: 16).

He included in his resume that he had two years of college at the University of Tennessee. And two more years at the University of the Philippines. Wrong again.

 A search of records in Tennessee did not reveal him as a student at any of their campuses.

 And as for UP, I found a letter from the bursar at UP indicating a partial refund of my father’s tuition – at his request – as he was dropping his classes there.[1]

The trail my father left behind was an intellectual boot camp, and led me to the National Archives in both Manila and in the United States, as well as to many military repositories of war documents. And, of course, to many people whom we interviewed because they either knew or had worked with Commander Chick Parsons, or had good stories to tell about him. While we did this, we inadvertently picked up hundreds of hours of wonderful – and now-invaluable oral history – as about 90% of these interviewees have died. I know there are several of you in here tonight and I can only thank God that he has spared you![2]

Now, more to the point of our documentary, Manila 1945, The Forgotten Atrocities.  I will say that I stumbled across these atrocious findings while searching for my father. I acquired nearly all the still pictures as well as the military footage (both American and Japanese) at College Park, Maryland, as well as from local historians such as Ricardo (Rico) Jose and Edgar Krohn and,  Ernie de Pedro at Santo Tomas, and the material to be found at the Lopez, Ayala and Intramuros locations. Videographer Lucky Guillermo, my partner in this film, has a surprising collection of WWII footage.  

            I found that the state of the war crimes papers in Manila was very poor with bundles of papers being tied together with a twine that was cutting into the deteriorating bundles. The photos seem to have disappeared long ago, and the woman whom I asked about them got very surly and uncooperative. This was probably an appropriate reaction to my natural charm.

 In Maryland I learned to use white cotton gloves to handle any archival photographic material.  All pictures copied were imprinted with the National Archives permiso and logo – [“Reproduced at the National Archives”]; all textual material was similarly marked as OK. You could stay there from 9:00 a.m. to about 9:00 p.m. And we did. We were carefully inspected as we left. I wanted to live there, I mean inside there.

           

Filipinos learned to move fast – an art that saved many lives during the unpredictable events of the battle.

There are two very basic books on the Battle of Manila, Bibles sort of. One is Alfonso Aluit’s By Sword and Fire published in 1994; the other is a US Army publication of 1963 by Robert Ross Smith called Triumph in the Philippines. There are a lot more, including one I refer to herein published to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the catastrophe. More on this one later. But there is little that can be added to what is written in the first two. The many memoirs and personal stories lend depth and color and horror, and it is recommended to any student or researcher to read them all. There was also an early equivalent of Aluit’s book in Spanish called El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas, by Antonio Perez de Olaguer which was published in Spain in 1947 while the wounds were still open. An abridged version of this--in English--with a new title, a bit more politically acceptable these days, Terror in Manila, February 1945. This was undertaken by the Memorare Manila 1945 Foundation in 2005.  These three books form a deeply and broadly researched platform from which to dive into the subject. I did not know of any of these in the mid-90s. The memories of those times were so dire that many memoirists, like Lourdes Montinola and Elena Lizarraga only dared face their pain after the passage of 50 and more years. [I am batting 500 here; Elena died shortly after our interview, but I am happy to say that Lourdes marches on strongly—though she is not here tonight because she is seeing a doctor.]

            When I came across the War Crimes Investigation report [3]  compiled during February, March, and April of 1945, I nearly swooned. There were dozens of people there that I knew or had known both before and after the war. I never knew that my father’s office manager in Hong Kong had lived on Calle Estrada and that his father, Eustacio Barros, had been wantonly killed by a Japanese soldier when he left his burning house. I read about the massacre at the Perez Rubio home on Vito Cruz, complete with my own father’s testimony. And the simultaneous massacre on the other side of the shared-wall at the home of Lianteng Sy (on Balagtas St.)—whose only surviving family member is a good friend of mine. On and on.

            I also discovered that the massacre and rape of Manila was not owned by a Spanish and mestizo elite.  Here were the names and pictures of Filipino after Filipino, plus Irish, Russians, Germans, Chinese, Spanish, Americans, Jews (of whatever nationality) all being killed indiscriminately. But at heart, it was a Filipino event, a Filipino massacre: a nearly totally forgotten occurrence. And this became what I wanted to portray in our documentary. But at that time my main effort was to discover material about the Philippine resistance movement, the guerrllas, and wherever possible about my father in particular.

            Finally, there was, on pages 33-35, the blazing testimony of Nicanor Roxas, a secretary to President Laurel in the provisional government, telling what he had been told by Pio Duran, the second supreme head of the MAKAPILI, that the Japanese had planned to destroy Manila and the civilian population. He said that the Japanese had located heavy artillery and aimed it at Manila from positions surrounding the city.[4] In the documentary film by David B. Griffin it is said that Yamashita asked for instructions from Tokyo and the destruction of Manila and its population was his answer. I had not come across this brief documentary before doing my own, and I am surprised and gratified that our conclusions are nearly identical.

            At the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, we read guerrilla reports being radioed to MacArthur’s GHQ outlining the build-up of defenses within the city of Manila by the Japanese. These reports[5] were from people like Captain Bartolomeo Cabangbang, who came in by submarine with my father on the east coast of Luzon, and Lt. Edwin Ramsey, leader of the East Central Luzon Guerrillas Area.  This defensive/offensive build-up started immediately after the departure of President Laurel and others of his cabinet to Baguio. The communiqués are replete with locations of pillboxes, ammunition dumps, fortifications, troops, and information about buildings and bridges being prepared for demolition.  This began while Yamashita was still in Manila.[6] The fortification was going on during December and January.There is even one astonishing recommendation from Cabangbang in which he recommends to MacArthur that US planes bomb a certain location on the Escolta where Japanese had stored weapons and explosives.

With a raging fire a block away, these people seem remarkably unconcerned.

   

 

 

 

 

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