Monday, February 12, 2007


Exactly sixty-two years ago this month, the capital of the Philippine Islands was brought to it's knees through fire and sword in a conflict known as the Battle of Manila 1945. Caught in an unfortunate encounter between the United States Armed Forces and the Japanese Imperial Army, Manila, a city once known as the "Pearl of the Orient" was beaten down to a disease ridden wasteland, it's citizens transformed into quivering madmen.

Sadly, every year this month goes by without much fanfare (most Manilenos care more about Valentine's Day and the EDSA Revolution), and every year I come up with assumptions about what the city would have been like should this tragic incident never have happened. For starters, I believe that the genteel residential districts of Ermita and Malate would still be intact and populated by it's original residents, the island of Corregidor would still be operating as a military base, the Tranvia trolley system would still be plying the streets, while the seven churches of Intramuros would still be standing. It would have been a completely different city from what it is today, and I perhaps would be a completely different person because of it.

And now thanks to my friend Butch who sent me this Google Video link called Old Manila, I now have a brief glimpse into what Manila was like before 1945. It's a home movie shot by a Manila visitor and it's a priceless account of what we lost and what we as citizens should aspire to recreate. Be sure to check out the Manila tram system in full operation, the clean canals of Binondo with it's sleepy residents walking along it's banks, and a brief shot of some suburban beach resort (which I might assume is Pasay?) with people actually swimming in the Manila Bay.

Manila is dead. Long Live Manila.

Also, thank you to life partners Te and Lisette for the wonderful post on your blog. So glad to have had you both on the tour.


Paulding said...

just posted "Astonishing 1955 film on Coca-Cola and the Philippines" on my pinoy humor blog. ang ganda ng maynila noon!
pls check it out
salamat po

Angela said...

Hi Carlos,
There is a new documentary out in time to coincide with the Battle of Manila. The title is Manila, 1945: Forgotten Atrocities. Unlike so many other WWII docs made in the US, this one was produced in the Philippines. (To me, that alone makes it a bit of a treasure.) Because, I too, like to imagine what Manila would be like today without the war, one of my favorite things about this movie was the way it contrasted current pictures of Malate/Ermita with narrative about the history of the districts and the ensuing battle that destroyed them… There is a great scene when the narrator, Cesar Montano, is turned away from a club in Malate because he is not Japanese. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out. It is supposed to be available at Solidardad and Ayala Museum… For the squeamish, some of period photographs and footage are pretty gruesome, but I think people really need to see them to understand the absolute horrors and cataclysmic events that took place here and continue to affect Manila to the present…

Take Care,:)
Angela M

Allan L. said...

Wow. So surreal I thought the shots were from the Maltese Falcon. Or one of those other heywood Hollywood flicks. I'm ashamed to say na I don't even know where those places are today.

Euri said...

I love the images in this blog. :)

Anonymous said...

This sounds sappy, pero napaiyak ako. We lost sooooo much during the war: not just infrastucture, but also institutions and morale. Hayup kasing Macarthur: if not for his ego tripping, the Allies would have skipped the Philippines and attacked Taiwan instead. If the Americans had not come to Luzon, the Japs would probably have melted before the Huks and not only would the old Manila have survived; people like Laurel, Roxas, Yulo and other elite collaborationists would have been summarily hanged, perhaps enabling the country to start with a fresh political economy and institute land reform, like Taiwan and Japan did in the 1940s.

tutubi said...

nice movie
old manila really must've rocked!

btw, posted pics of manila viewed from Pasig River on a ferry :)

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous---
Yes-institutions and morale (you mean morality?) were also lost during the war…

But wow "If the Americans had not come to Luzon, the Japs would probably have melted before the Huks"

I think you really need to brush up on your history. The Japanese had no intention of melting before anyone. I am not sure what you base this statement on, but it finds no basis in the historical record. It is not historically accurate to judge the Imperial Army by what you know of Japan today. The Japanese Imperial army saw any sort of surrender as unacceptable. Suicide was preferable. Remember the Rape of Nanking and that the official policy of the Imperial Army had a distinct genocidal intent. Filipinos did not measure up to what the Japanese thought should be "Asian." MacArthur's presence in the Philippines was just a pretext. The comfort women, the mass rapes, random executions, forced food shortages and starvation, the torture and brutality at Fort Santiago... the list could go on on on, these all took place before MacArthur came back.

Yes the collaborationists should have been hanged; in fact many of them were in the Battle for Manila by guerilla groups. MacArthur deserves to be scorned by history for the pardonings. But as for a "fresh political economy and institute land reform, like Taiwan and Japan did in the 1940s" Again brush up on you history. Post- war Japan was controlled by MacArthur’s massive ego; the reforms etc were forced into place by the occupying Allied forces.

I really think your ideas of Japan must be based on the Japan you know today. Because anyone with an inkling of Imperial Japan would know that the reforms you speak so highly of would not have been instituted without outside force. Nor would the beliefs, values and mind set of the Japanese Army permitted a ‘melting away.’ The Japanese Army would have done as much as possible to kill as many ‘non-Asians’ as possibly and frankly were much better armed and prepared than the guerrillas.

Anonymous said...

Manila was destroyed at the beginning of the year of the Rooster.

Allan L. said...

Squabbling on the internet,
on this troubling, troubled topic,
is like weeping over tonic
spilt in high heaven's kitchenette,
where fly angels kind and impish
who do remind us while they tease:
we could be speaking Japanese
as instead we spar in English.

overtureph said...

There is a book that I would like to recommend and the title is THE REMAINS OF WAR Apology and Forgiveness by Jintaro Ishida. The content involves interviews with Japanese soldiers and the Filipino survivors of Japanese atrocities and it is written in a simple manner.