Bloody liberation of Manila during WWII recalled
Historian Ricardo Jose on Saturday called on his Filipinos to keep alive the lessons learned from the battle to liberate Manila 67 years ago, as he lamented that the generations that followed had taken for granted the 100,000 innocent lives lost as Allied forces mounted the offensive to free the country’s capital from Japanese occupation.
At Saturday’s commemoration of Manila’s liberation at the Plazuela de Sta. Isabel in Intramuros, Jose, director of the Memorare-Manila 1945 Foundation, said in closing remarks that generations who were born after World War II could never fully grasp the sense of loss, pain and suffering that those who lived during the war experienced.
“We never felt the fear during the Japanese occupation. We cannot conceive that our friends or relatives were so brutally and senselessly killed,” he said. “For this we can only be thankful that we were spared those moments of anguish.”
But, he noted, the survivors had not forgotten the grief caused by the carnage and devastation.
“There is too much we take for granted… As the years pass, so the survivors grow fewer… The lessons we learned from the battle of Manila must be kept alive, if only to remind us of the inhumanity that can beset man,” Jose said.
One such survivor is Justo Ortiz, 82, who said on Saturday that he believed that an important lesson from the war had not been absorbed because violence, injustice and poverty still prevailed worldwide.
He described the battle for Manila as “one of the devastating events of World War II” and “a horrendous human experience in our recorded history.”
Ortiz, who led the invocation in Saturday’s rites, said that when he was 15 years old, a garden fountain in Intramuros shielded and saved his family from the artillery bombardment of the walled city.
“In October 1944, Japanese soldiers took our house in Intramuros. We moved to Ermita. There is a street there called Gonzales, on which was the only house we could find. The next year in February, we moved to the Swiss house along General Luna Street in Ermita because bridges were being blown up (by the Japanese army) and our house was burned down,” he told the Inquirer.
His parents decided to again seek another shelter, to a garden fountain. The decision proved to be well-timed because none of the occupants of the Swiss house survived the battle.
“We had thought that the house would never be attacked because the Swiss were neutral in the war. But it was not spared. Had we stayed in that house, I would not be here. Not a single man was left alive.”
The Ortiz family, along with the Ruiz-Jimenez family, took refuge at the fountain from Feb. 4 to 13, 1945. He said that they piled up whatever mattresses, grills and other building materials they could scrounge from the ruins of Intramuros on top of the fountain to build a makeshift bomb shelter.
At the time, the walled city suffered a barrage of aerial bombardments and artillery fire as the liberation and Japanese forces clashed, reducing buildings to rubble.
He said that amid the bombs and gunfire, he and his family continuously prayed a novena to the Virgin of Peñafrancia. “I read up to ten novenas and the Americans came,” he said.
The five members of the Ortiz family were saved on Feb. 13 and escorted across Nagtahan Bridge to safety by American soldiers.
The battle for the liberation of Manila continued until March 3, 1945, killing 100,000 noncombatants, most of them victims of atrocities committed by angry and frustrated soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army. The month-long struggle ended almost three years of Japanese military occupation in the country.
A monument, the “Memorare-Manila 1945,” has stood since 1995 at the center of Intramuros at Plazuela de Sta. Isabel at the corner of General Luna and Anda Streets as a testament to the martyrdom of the residents of the country’s capital.
At the center of the monument, rendered by sculptor Peter Guzman, is a hooded woman crying for a dead child she cradles in her arms. Six other anguished and tormented figures, innocent casualties of war, are immortalized on the monument.
The inscription penned by National Artist Nick Joaquin goes: “This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or never even knew a grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rubble of ruins.
“Let this monument be a gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation, Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945. We have never forgotten them. Nor shall we ever forget. May they rest in peace as part now of the sacred ground of this city: The Manila of our affection. February 18, 1995.”
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