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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Fighting Filipinos

While I bet a small population of the United States knows about this, I would imagine a larger number of its current citizens and its global community of friends do not.

Back in 1934, the Tydings–McDuffie Act - officially known as the Philippine Independence Act was enacted on March 24, 1934. 

It was a federal law that most U.S. citizens hardly blinked an eye at, but it helped establish how the then American-colony--the Philippines--would, after a 10-year period, become its own independent country.

While the country's 1935 Constitution was created under the act in 1935, as was its first elected president, what it also did was establish Filipinos living in the United States to now be considered as aliens.

While the new Philippine Commonwealth Constitution still allowed the United States to draft Filipinos living in the Philippines to protect American interests on the Pacific island, conversely, Filipinos living in the United States were exempt from military service.

It was something that remained in effect until about one month after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

On January 3, 1942, U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a law that revised the Selective Services Act, thereby allowing Filipinos in the U.S. to join the U.S. Armed Forces.

In fact, these men and women were encouraged to volunteer. The U.S. War Department acknowledged that since there was already some 70-100,000 Filipino volunteers ready to help the U.S. take on Japan (and Germany), that it would establish at least one full Filipino fighting force.

On March 4, 1942, the 1st Filipino Battalion was organized, and activated on April 1, 1942 at Camp Luis Obispo, California.

So, why is this such a big deal?

Well, about 10 hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan also began its invasion of the Philippines, on December 8, 1941 (Philippines date & time, relative to Hawaii).

Just like at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese air attack took out the American air force in the Philippines.

After the initial air attack, Japanese ground troops landed north and south of the Philippines capital of Manila. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the Asia Pacific region at that time.

With the naval forces already under steam to Hawaii, and the air force decimated, getting new troops into the Philippines was nigh on impossible.

Under siege, the defensive forces withdrew to the Bataan Peninsula and to the nearby island of Corregidor at the opening of Manila Bay. On January 2, 1942, Manila declared itself an open city to avoid its own destruction, and was then occupied by Japanese troops.

The defense of the Philippines continued until April of 1942 when the Bataan Peninsula was taken, and Corregidor was over run in May. Some 80,000 prisoners of war were taken by the Japanese and forced to walk to a prison camp 105 kilometers to the north. The camp claimed thousands of POWs at the camp, as the Japanese began their notorious mistreatment of prisoners.

I'll Be Back
Then Philippine president Manuel L. Quezon and vice-president Sergio Osmeña Sr. had been with the forced evacuation to Corregidor, but somehow, both escaped the country and ended up in the U.S. setting up a government in exile.

As for U.S. general Douglas MacArthur... I first heard the following line on a Warner Brothers cartoon.

After MacArthur climbed aboard a ship in the Philippines, dodging a Japanese blockade through the dark, he landed in Australia and spoke to the press gathered there in Adelaide. "I came through and I shall return."

He immediately began thinking of ways to liberate the Philippines.

Back in the United States, an inspirational war poster was created - which is what you see at the very top of this blog.

Free of American involvement, the Japanese forces organized a new government in the Philippines. The Japanese had promised the Philippines independence after its occupation, but they decided to maintain control until October of 1943, at which time it was declared an independent republic (of Japan).

A puppet government was set up and was headed by president José P. Laurel. The Japanese also set up and allowed only one political party, the KALIBAPI (Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas) aka the Association for Service to the New Philippines.

Via the puppet government ruled by Japan, the Philippines was officially declared as the Second Philippine Republic on October 14, 1943 under president Laurel and his KALIBAPI government.

The KALIBAPI - was nationalistic in nature, promoting the Tagalog language as the one common language of the Philippines, creating a 1,000-word language to teach to those who did not already know it. (Nowadays, along with English, it is the official language of the Philippines.)

And yet... many Filipino women were forced to act as comfort women to Japanese soldiers.

Confiscated by the Japanese military in 1942, Bahay na Pula, aka the Red House in San Ildefonso, Bulacan, Philippines was a military barracks where the women were forced to engage in sexual acts against their will to please and "comfort" the Japanese invaders.

As a Philippine puppet government under Japan's control, president Laurel still excised some control and refused to give in completely to Japanese control, refusing to declare war against Great Britain or the United States.

To counter this disloyalty, Japan created Makapili in November of 1944 to organize a Philippine-led group that would provide the Philippines with more Japanese military support.

To say that the Filipinos simply rolled over and let the Japanese do whatever they wanted is wrong. Just as in France when the Germans took it over, an underground was set up to disrupt Japanese occupation as much as possible.

By the end of the war, 277 separate guerrilla units made up of some 260,715 individuals, fought in the resistance movement of Japanese occupation in the Philippines.

I've Come Again
True to his word, MacArthur came back with the U.S. army in late in1944... armed with the best weapon of all - information.

Thanks to the underground in the Philippines, the Filipinos helped themselves by delivering key data to the Americans.

MacArthur was only slightly exaggerating when he said he knew what every Japanese lieutenant ate for breakfast and where he had his hair cut.

But no one expected the Japanese to roll over easily.

Japan, by late 1944 already knew that it was feeling the pinch and decided to try and make the Philippines the place where it would hold back the Allied forces on their own advance to Japan.

Japan sent what forces they had left - airplanes, ships, tanks, soldiers to the Philippines... and even created the suicide squadron known as the Kamikaze just for defense of the Philippines.

This was the infamous Battle of Leyte Gulf. Here's a comic book version of it in three parts: #1 and #2 and #3.

The battle was the biggest naval battle of WWII, and was the biggest disaster for the Japanese. The whole battle to re-take the Philippines was the bloodiest of the Pacific.

Thanks to the guerrillas fighting in the Philippines, the Allied attack had learned of Japanese general Yamashita Tomoyuki's (surname first) plan to trap MacArthur and his forces.

Yamashita, who thanks to his invasion and takeover of both Malaya and Singapore in 70 days led to British prime minister Winston Churchill calling it the "worst disaster" and "worst capitulation" in British military history. It led to Yamashita earning the nickname as the "tiger of Malaya". (Hope it doesn't spoil the story, but when the war ended, Yamashita was hung on February 23, 1946 for his leadership of his troops and their misconduct during the invasion and occupation of the Philippines.)

MacArthur's Allied forces successfully landed on the island of Leyte on October 20, 1944... along with the former real vice-president of the Philippines - Sergio Osmeña Sr - who was now president after the death of Quezon earlier on August 1 of 1944.

After more landings on the island of Mindoro and Lingayen Gulf, Allied forces began their push towards Manila.

The Japanese troops were eventually pushed out of Manila to the mountain of Luzon, and where they went balls to the walls in a last-ditch effort to survive the Allied attacks.

The former Philippine Commonwealth troops marched together with guerilla fighters and the Allied forces against the Japanese forces.

Not really all that into the Japanese occupation of its country, loyal Filipino civilians helped in the recapture of the country as the forces moved through the towns and villages.

The battle for the Philippines continued until September 2, 1945... still killing each other even though the second atomic bomb - the Nagasaki bomb supposedly had the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945.

Still... the battles raged here until September 2, 1945 when the surrender was made official.

During WWII, it is guessed that one-million Filipinos died during the conflict. 131,028 of those were killed directly because of 72 specific Japanese war crimes.

The U.S. saw 10,380 dead. Japan had 255,795 dead.

I did not write this blog to help people dredge up the past or to relive it... I did so "lest we forget".

Well... I also did as an homage to my childhood buddies Alfred and BenJohn Galvez, and to my adult buddy FFF and with respect for her father.

Andrew Joseph
PS: I just wanted to do a blog today that showed off that cool Fighting Filipino WWII poster from the U.S. Then I realized there was no context... and the next thing I know I'm writing a chapter on WWII. I just can't help myself. 


  1. Thank you for showing off that awesome vintage poster. You're right, it wouldn't have been as good without the context. You made it much better and I learned a lot. Appreciate it.

    1. Thank-you very much! I appreciate your feedback!

  2. The old man turned 93 this year. He's still living independently ... although quite deaf from all the years working as a radio signal/communications officer (including his days as a guerrilla).

    I'm old enough to have heard many first hand accounts of things that happened to my family during WWII. So your historical account is wonderful! Thank you.

    I'm going to be traveling back to the homeland with the old man and my 17-year old next month. In age, I am exactly half way between those two. And, it's been 35 years since I've needed to show a passport. Should be an interesting trip. Just so happens, I connect through Narita.

    1. I'm the only guy of Indian heritage who can't do the math - but I recall you telling me something about being two years ahead of me.
      I'm happy to hear about your trip - it should be an experience and a half! I don't get to do cool things like that - anymore.
      Narita is a nice airport - you'll enjoy it ;)
      Aside from seeing the old homeland, are you guys visiting family there?

    2. We're going on a tour with my brother and sister and their spouses. Then we'll visit my mom's hometown. There are a few cousins left who still know us. (Most of my Mom's family immigrated here.) Plus I get to share some stories about my mom with my son (he was 9 when she died but they were close). Last but not least, my dad has some business to settle.

      Both my brother's married Filipinas, so they have been back many more times than me (and my sisters). I don't speak the language so it's uncomfortable because people don't believe me when I tell them so. (I look Filipino so I should speak the language, right? Umm, nope.) I understand a few words, but neither one of my parents is from Manila and their native dialects are as different as German and Italian. Really. They met and married in Bangkok while working for different branches of the UN, so English was common ground for them and thus for us kids.

      I always say the point of a family trip is to make memories, so that's what I hope to do with my son. Give him a different perspective.