False rumors and false hopes
by Gregorio Borlaza
Sustained a nation in its darkest hour
April 5, 1947–FRANCE fell in about three weeks after the start of the German offensive. Thailand fell in a matter of hours, and Singapore, reputed to be the impregnable Gibraltar of the Far East, fell much sooner than generally expected. But Bataan and Corregidor stood for almost half a year, giving the Allies precious time to prepare Australia as the base for the reconquest of lost Pacific territories and the ultimate defeat of Japan.
What made it possible for this little country, with its small Fil-American army lacking in food and ammunition, totally cut off from the outside world, and completely divested of air and naval protection and support, to stand so long against a huge, fanatical army riding on the crest of sensational, if temporary, victory? Loyalty to American, of course, and devotion to democracy and age-old consecration to the cause of liberty. But, in no small measure, also due to the false rumors and false hopes cleverly conceived and ingeniously spread among the people under the very nose of the enemy.
Shortly before the actual fall of Bataan, for instance, rumor said that the Fil-American soldiers were preparing for a grand victory parade in Manila. Several miles of convoy had been sighted; the ocean was dark with ships of all descriptions as far as the eye could see, and our troops were poised for a grand counter-offensive.
About the end of February, 1942, the people were thrilled by the “news” that General Homma, commander in Chief of the J.I.A. in the Philippines, had committed hara-kiri to atone for the undue concern he had caused His Majesty, the Emperor, by failing to bring the Bataan campaign to a quick decision. A little later, General Yamashita, hero of Singapore, came to take charge of the Philippine campaign, General Yamashita, so the rumor said, was a former classmate of General MacArthur at West Point, and as a welcome gift for his former friend and classmate, the latter (according to the rumor) sent the former a long dagger with the following message: “Should you fail in your mission, the conquest of Bataan—and I know you are going to fail—you may find it necessary to follow the time-honored Japanese tradition of committing hara-kiri. I am therefore sending this dagger with the hope that you will be so kind as to autograph it, use it in the sacred act, and have it sent to me as a souvenir of our friendship.” The Filipino masses actually fell for this and how it bolstered their morale!
During the first week of March 1942, it was bruited about that thousands of Japanese were being electrocuted daily as they attempted to cross into the American lines. It was said that MacArthur was the world’s greatest authority on the construction of electrified fortifications. He had constructed such clever devices that the Japanese instantly died if they leaned against trees, crossed streams, or walked over muddy roads. Fil-American soldiers were so equipped that they were immune to the shocks that were killing Japs like rats. Disgusted Japanese soldiers were quoted as saying, “Kohoy, kurinte; Tubig, kurinte; Putik, kurinte; Nippon sordier, patay kurinte; Bakit Hiripin Amerikan sordier, hindi patay korinte?” (Everything—the trees, the water, and the mud is alive with electricity. Nippon soldiers die because of it. Why not the Filipino and American soldiers, too?)
On March 13, 1942, we heard that Gen. Yamashita was wounded. Two days later, the people of San Pablo City were saying in hushed tones at the marketplace that he was dead! He was riding in an airplane taking a good look at the opposing lines in Bataan, and the plane was hit by anti-aircraft bullets. He was wounded in one arm which later had to be amputated in one of the hospitals in Manila. Hemorrhage followed the amputation, and a series of blood transfusions failed to save his life. This raised fresh hopes for the early reconquest of Manila, but these hopes were toned down one or two days later by a supposed statement of General MacArthur which read, “We can retake Manila in 48 hours just by changing the position of our big guns on Corregidor, but it will be an empty and temporary victory if gained before the arrival of full aid from America which is now on the way to the Philippines.”
By March 16, 1942, the Japanese High Command was rumored to have ordered the shooting of several companies of Japanese soldiers who refused to go to Bataan, afraid to die of electrocution as thousands of their comrades had died. One day, three columns of Japanese were advancing against the Fil-Americans. The middle column, upon reaching a certain point, mysteriously died before the very eyes of the other two columns. They threw their arms in the air, writhing in agony, and after a moment, fell dead. Upon seeing this, the other two columns refused to advance; whereupon, the officers at the rear ordered the soldiers who were behind to shoot those in front; at which the latter turned about and returned the fire. In this way, all the three columns were annihilated that day without our troops having to fire a single shot!
On March 19, Hitler was reported to have fled to Norway because of internal trouble in Germany. Other rumors said he had died, and the Japanese were glum at the prospect of being left alone to face the United nations.
These and many other rumors kept the morale of the Filipinos so high that they were completely unprepared for the blow that was to fall upon them early in April. When the fall of Bataan became inevitable, the masses were so surprised that they openly blamed America for having left their youth—in the flower of manhood—to their fate in the hell of Bataan. “Where are the thousands of planes promised us!” they asked. “Where are the miles of convoys? What will happen to our boys?” There was general consternation and confusion. There was almost a general collapse when Bataan finally fell.
But more rumors eventually rallied the people. Resistance in Bataan was given up to relieve our boys. There was still Corregidor which could stand indefinitely against the enemy. There were, on Corregidor, enough munitions and food supplies to last for ten years. Secret new weapons had been landed by submarines, and our garrison could engage the enemy from the impregnable bastion for an indefinite period of time. Americans had landed somewhere in Japan, according to a “dispatch” received on April 13. On May 3, we heard of big betting in Wall Street, the odds being heavily that Germany would collapse in 60 days. Meanwhile, Corregidor was shooting down a great number of planes daily with anti-aircraft guns so accurate they could draw a circle of fire around an enemy plane before hitting the bulls eye.
But Corregidor, too, was one day to fall, and when it did on May 6, 1942, rumors were no longer capable of raising false hopes in Filipino hearts. But they were no longer necessary. The foundation of the underground resistance movement had been laid. Underground newspapers were beginning to circulate. Nuclei of guerrilla organizations were rising everywhere, and the people looked upon them as the symbol of their new hope.