Today, 6 May, is a dark date in Philippine history. For 75 years ago – 6 May 1942 – forces of the Japanese Imperial Army overran Corregidor Island (photo) in the mouth of Manila Bay, the last bastion of defence against the Axis Powers in Asia. US and Filipino troops fought hard to repel the attack which came in waves as overwhelming battalions swept from the sea into the fortifications. It was a bloody and grisly battle with heavy losses on both sides.
But just as haunting as the battle itself, has been the lack of recognition for the sacrifice made there by the Filipino forces under US command. And the wounds left by that still linger.
There is other news about today, of course – like yet another ringing endorsement for the government’s economic policies; this time from the Asean+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO). The Singapore-based regional surveillance unit which monitors and analyses the economies of the 10 states which comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus those of China, Japan and South Korea, has declared the Philippines as “the top performer” across the entire region.
Once again, the sound management of the economy by President Rodrigo Duterte’s economics team has been strongly backed, with AMRO chief economist, Hoe Ee Khor proclaiming the Philippines “a very attractive destination for investments”.
Then there’s the news of United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings (EJKs), Left-Liberal, Agnes Callamard, sneaking into the Philippines like a thief in the night – ignoring all diplomatic protocols – to deliver a keynote speech at a University of the Philippines (UP) forum on drug policy. She dismissively opted not to inform the government that she was in the country.
Mz Callamard is already compromised as an impartial reporter as we pointed out in Snide and prejudice. This is the woman who turned down a public debate with Duterte – to discuss the illegal-drugs situation and the alleged EJKs – on the grounds that it would not be consistent with “the code of conduct for special rapporteurs”. We won’t state the obvious.
The UP event was sponsored by the Free Legal Assistance Group (or, FLAG) a group of Duterte-unfriendly human-rights lawyers who are defending former cop and confessed gangland killer, Arturo Lascañas, who claims to have evidence of Duterte’s involvement with a Davao City vigilante group when Duterte was the city’s mayor. So again, we won’t state the obvious about why this was being staged.
But this day, we want to put that all to one side and look back at something which also deserves some coverage.
At 1:30 pm on 6 May 1942, four-star general, Jonathan Mayhew “Skinny” Wainwright IV, Commander of Allied Forces in the Philippines, stationed on Corregidor, sent two of his officers forward to the Japanese line under a white flag to deliver his message of surrender. “There is a limit of human endurance, and that point has long been passed,” Wainwright had earlier told US President Franklin D. Roosevelt by radio after making his decision to concede defeat.
What he also delivered to the Japanese from Corregidor Island though, was 11,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war. Some 4,000 of these were paraded through the streets of the Philippine capital, Manila, en route to the POW camps of Fort Santiago at Intramuros and Bilibid Prison at Muntinlupa. The remaining 7,000 were sent to Japanese prison camps including in Manchuria, the region of Northeast China annexed by the Empire of Japan; others were shipped off to the Japanese islands as slave labour.
That’s roughly the history; but it’s not the end of the story. For while the nations of the Philippines and Japan have put that dark period of their history behind them and produced one of the finest examples of reconciliation the world has ever witnessed – these two countries today’s are inseparable as partners in development – there’s one stain that still remains.
For those who are still around to recall those times – and the families of those who perished, not just at Corregidor but on the Bataan Death March in the previous month, April 1942 – the sacrifice they made remains largely ignored.
Today, there are around 9,000 World War II veterans still alive in the Philippines. That’s all that’s left of the 200,000 Filipinos who fought for America in this theatre. Of those, close to 60,000 died in actions like the one at Corregidor Island. Today, those survivors draw a pension, and have done since they reached the age of 65. That pension, however, is just PHP5,000 a month, which puts them below the national poverty line.
Furthermore, there’s only one veterans hospital in the entire country – the Veterans Memorial Medical Center at North Avenue, Dilman, Quezon City, Metro Manila. But these survivors are now over 90 years of age so getting there from wherever they are would be virtually impossible. And in less than a decade they won’t have any need of this facility – they needed it and others like it in the seven and a half decades leading up to now.
But what this lack of adequate care facilities and lack of financial support really masks is a far deeper wound – betrayal.
In 1941, Roosevelt established the United States Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE), based in the Philippines which was then a US commonwealth. His promise to the Filipinos who enlisted – at the time all US nationals – was full veterans’ benefits, the same as any other American citizen who’s joined up to fight.
But one year after the end of the war in 1945 – four years after the Battle of Corregidor – a new president in Washington, Harry S. Truman, signed the Rescission Act by which all benefits for those young Filipino men who had fought for the USAFFE were annulled.
This is what the Act says: “Service before July 1, 1946, in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, while such forces were in the service of the Armed Forces of the United States pursuant to the military order of the President dated July 26, 1941 … shall not be deemed to have been active military, naval, or air service for the purposes of any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges, or benefits upon any person by reason of the service of such person or the service of any other person in the Armed Forces”.
This, then, was the act of betrayal, and what made it worse was that of the 66 countries that allied with America in the Second World War, this retroactive legislation only applied to the Philippines. Nationals from all the other countries received the promised military benefits.
US general, Douglas MacArthur, Field Marshall of the Philippine Army said in his farewell speech to the US Congress on 19 April 1951: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away”. And they do. But in the case of those Filipino soldiers their hope that one day they’d receive those promised benefits faded first and long ago.
And so today, while the human-rights activists conduct their own war against Duterte as he tries to rid his country of illegal-drugs – an enemy that’s enslaved some 4 million Filipinos – is a good time to reflect on the plight of those 9,000 surviving veterans. Most of these men who’d been prepared to give their own lives to protect their country are now living in squalor. And to remember too their comrades who are no longer here. Their memory should never be allowed to fade.