(from the Free Press Century Book)
World War II in the Philippines:
The lasting effect on the Filipino people
By Alfonso J. Aluit
FOR a people without experience of war, World War II came as the crucible for Filipinos, the ultimate test for the individual and the nation, a test of the effectiveness of the institutions of government and religion, a test of faith in truth, justice, and freedom, in fact a test of all the beliefs Filipinos subscribed to.
The Japanese invasion in December 1941 had no precedent in the memory of most Filipinos of that period. The American invasion in 1898 had been a reality only to disparate groups in the country. The Philippine-American War was not of a national character, having been limited to certain areas in Luzon and the Visayas, and was but endemic in nature in Mindanao.
But World War II, which lasted from December 1941 until the last Japanese commander came down from the hills in August 1945, was a national experience the reality of which was felt by every Filipino of every age in every inhabited region of the archipelago.
How did World War II affect the Filipinos, and how have the effects of war influenced Philippine life and civilization in thereafter?
The occupation of the Philippines by Japanese forces in World War II led to at least two conditions that would have a permanent effect on the Filipino people.
First, the occupation of the national territory by unfriendly alien troops ignited the resistance movement, bringing home to the people the obligation to defend their territory, and their acceptance of the need to sacrifice life and fortune to defend both territory and sovereignty.
Second, the shortage of staples and commodities basic to a decent life in turn led to the degradation of the populace and the consequent deterioration of moral and ethical values, providing the foundation for a culture of corruption.
To elaborate on the first condition, the occupation of their native earth by the interloper was a sore spot on the Filipino psyche. The Japanese did not seem to know this when they first stepped ashore, on December 10, 1941, simultaneously in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and Atimonan, Tayabas. They would find out soon enough, obviously, to their everlasting woe, how sore a spot it was.
What may not have been anticipated either by the American allies, was the ferocity and intensity of the Filipino response to the invasion. All through the war years, from the realization of defeat as superior forces overran the country, to the final battle for liberation, the Filipinos waged a guerrilla war against the interloper with the incapacity to come to a truce.
The guerrilla movement took root in every region, in every province of the Philippines, uniting people over differences of language, religion, culture, custom, and tradition. It was truly national in form and substance.
The guerrilla movement had the strategic effect of tying down in the islands scores of Japanese infantry divisions that otherwise would have been used to invade other territory. How the Filipino resistance movement helped win World War II for the Allies has not been fully measured, but doubtless it was crucial to the Allied cause. It may have been decisive to ultimate victory.
How decisive it was for the Filipino mind has not been fully measured either, for the guerrilla fighter became a permanent fixture on the Philippine scene. World War II came to an end, but the guerrilla war in the Philippines has raged to the present, although the fighters may now be fighting for or against certain causes the nature of which might confuse many Filipinos.
The fact remains that the resistance against the Japanese during World War II united the Filipino people as no other factor would. It was the common cause that homogenized the nation as José Rizal could only dream of when he organized the Liga Filipina in 1892. No other cause brought the fragmented archipelago together as the resentment against the interloper did. Mountain dweller and city-bred, society scion and slum bum, Muslim and Christian, from Batanes to Sulu, they presented a united Filipino front, although they may have operated separately and independently of each other.
This was the legacy of the holocaust. It created a new sense of Filipinohood.
As to the second condition cited earlier, by its brutality and rapacity, by the bankruptcy of its values as an occupation force, by the subhuman conduct of its occupying troops, the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II subjected the indigenous people to a moral degradation from which they hardly ever recovered.
Barging into the scene with but poorly rationalized objectives which they failed to explain to the people, without the moral imperatives of the Spanish who vowed to bring Christ to the heathens alongside their armed forces, or the social philosophies of the Americans who purported to bring hygiene to the unwashed, the Japanese identified themselves to the subject peoples as no more than brigands out to rape and pillage, and therefore, clearly and unmistakably, as the enemy.
So malevolent was the Japanese presence in these islands in World War II that the Filipinos devised an incredibly large repertoire of vengeful acts against this presence, ranging from expressions of ridicule and contempt by word or gesture to the unremitting guerrilla warfare that would forever scar the land.
Any anti-Japanese word or deed was patriotic, therefore desirable; in fact, commendable. These acts would, in ordinary times, in their ordinary environment, and in the course of their ordinary lives, arouse opprobrium and censure from the average Filipino. But so mindless and devoid of conscience was the Japanese system, and so unaccommodating was the Filipino response, that those vengeful acts became accepted and, eventually, unhappily, ingrained in the collective morality of the people.
Wartime conditions gave rise to the chronic shortages of basic commodities. The deprivation of physical comforts and the desperation with which the people regarded the situation which did not offer any element of hope, led people to acts that would have been considered reprehensible in any civilized community, but under the conditions many Filipinos now found themselves in, became mandatory, and in fact patriotic.
Thus emerged the phenomenon of the saboteur, the vandal, the looter, and the profiteer who took advantage of scarcity to exact his toll, the squatter who sneered at all titles to property, and worst of all the traitor personified by the makapili who would betray any person and any cause, for lucre. These also became permanent in the Philippines, in business, politics, and every sector of the community.
The enemy ultimately collapsed in defeat and left the territory, but these phenomena would remain.
The ruins caused by bomb and shell may be rebuilt, the harsh memories may dissipate, but the human detritus of a brutal war became part of the Philippine scene.
These, then, are the lasting effects of the Filipino experience of World War II. The war as a political and military story has been adequately discussed by historians and analysts, but the scars of war etched on the national psyche have become part of the Filipino character. The debasement of the public morality and the confusion over questions of what is ethical, and the brave but often unfocused refusal to countenance foreign intrusion, has become part of the Filipino personality. Any effort to gain insight into the Filipino will have to consider these points.