Briones: Bloody February

WHEN February comes, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is Valentine’s Day.

But how many Filipinos know that this month has another significance? A very tragic one at that.

February marks the start of the month-long battle to retake Manila from Japanese imperial forces in 1945.

And when all the dust settled, the city’s population of one million lost an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 civilians. Many were either felled by American shelling or slaughtered by Japanese forces.

The carnage prompted historian William Manchester to write: “The devastation of Manila was one of the great tragedies of World War II. Of Allied cities in those war years, only Warsaw (Poland) suffered more. Seventy percent of utilities, 75 percent of the factories, 80 percent of the southern residential district and 100 percent of the business district were razed.”

Four years ago, Joan Orendain of the Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote a timeline of bloody events that caused the heart of the once Perla del Mar de Oriente to stop beating.

Warning. It’s not for the fainthearted. Once you start reading, you might discover a knot growing in the pit of your stomach.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Wives and children are ordered to Bayview Hotel where the only water is out of toilet water tanks, and females are wantonly raped. Amid screaming when the building begins the burn, the Cabarruses flee, stepping over bloodied bodies dead and dying. They run to Judge Felix’s house on Arquiza, where 150 refugees have taken cover. His grandmother and baby sister lie on a bed, with the rest on the floor. Shelling, explosions and finally, a cannon shell, flames, screams and smoke. Older sister Maria Ines and he wait in the garden, their mother dashes into the flames for her baby, emerging with the infant whose legs are severed, and head bloodied. She soon expires. An aunt’s head has been blown off, while his grandmother burns to death.”

That period of our history has been relegated to the back shelf of our collective psyche. Perhaps the memory is too painful, too brutal to be rehashed.

A large proportion of Filipino casualties happened during the final months of the war. They survived four harrowing years only to die brutally with victory in sight.

Perhaps, in this case, we need to keep that memory alive.

So when someone mentions World War II, people won’t t just remember General Douglas MacArthur’s landing in Leyte to fulfill his promise to America’s “brown brothers” that he would return, which, ironically, led to the mass slaughter and the utter devastation.

They will also remember all those who perished during one of history’s darkest periods.
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