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Imperial couple take stand for remembrance


Special To The Japan Times

In recent years, the Imperial couple have made an effort to leave behind a meaningful legacy by visiting World War II battlefields. The idea is to ensure that future generations of Japanese do not forget the war and its bitter lessons.

However, until they visited the Philippines two weeks ago their destinations have been places where the casualties were mostly Japanese. In Manila, they commemorated a battle in which the victims were mainly local civilians, 60 percent of whom perished at the hands of Japanese soldiers. Watching the Japanese media tip-toe around this fact was interesting and a little depressing.

The coverage focused on the Emperor and Empress visiting landmarks for fallen Japanese, or meeting with Japanese expatriates and offspring of Japanese-Filipino heritage. In one of his speeches, the Emperor stressed that “innocent” Filipinos were killed in the war, and Asahi Shimbun was one of the few major media outlets to run a feature on the Imperial couple’s appointment with descendants of late Philippine President Elpidio Quirino, who pardoned all Japanese war criminals in 1953. Though Quirino’s act is well-known in the Philippines, it is glossed over in Japan despite the fact that it remains the seminal event in postwar Japan-Philippines relations.

The reason for the omission is obvious: Any discussion of the Quirino pardon would have to mention the crimes that were forgiven. During the New Year’s holiday, NHK rebroadcast a series of documentaries from recent years, and one was about Quirino. Following the broadcast, filmmaker Tatsuya Mori commented that he was not aware of the pardon, and a female announcer added how Japan is always “talking about apologies” for the war, but it’s difficult to form an opinion of such matters when you have no knowledge of the situations that inform them.

The Battle of Manila, the bloodiest urban fighting in the Pacific theater, took place during the month of February 1945. U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, making good on his promise to “return” after abandoning the Commonwealth of the Philippines to invading Japanese forces in December 1941, carried out a brutal bombardment of the city when it became apparent the remaining Japanese forces would not surrender, despite the Americans’ overwhelming fire power and the fact that what was left of the Imperial Japanese Army had retreated to the mountains, leaving behind a poorly armed group of marines who were told to “defend the city to the last man.”

More than 100,000 Filipino civilians died in the fighting. Though a good portion were killed in the American shelling, Japanese soldiers massacred many others, including Quirino’s wife and three of his children, who were gunned down and bayoneted on the street in front of his eyes. In the NHK documentary, other Filipinos talk about witnessing Japanese atrocities.

After the war, the surviving Japanese soldiers were tried as war criminals. About 100 were convicted, with half receiving death sentences. Over the next several years, 14 were hanged. Quirino, who assumed the presidency of the newly independent Philippines in 1948, signed the orders for some of them. At the time he was at odds with the United States, which he felt had reneged on its promise to help his country rebuild. For its part, the U.S. thought Quirino was not doing enough in the new Cold War against world communism.

At the same time, the Philippines wanted reparations from Japan, who asked that Quirino commute the death sentences of the remaining war criminals. These pressures came to a head when Quirino was diagnosed with cancer and he ran for reelection against an opponent backed by the U.S. As his diary and surviving relatives attest, he decided to pardon the Japanese prisoners when he realized that his days were numbered. As a statesman, he knew Japan was a “great country” despite the sins of its military, and understood that cooperation was essential for the Philippines’ future. He allowed the prisoners to return to Japan, where they were held at Sugamo Prison. Two days before the end of his term, he signed a pardon freeing them.

His countrymen were enraged. They wanted the Japanese to pay for what they had done, but over the years the Philippines has come to accept the pardons as not only a nod to diplomatic expedience, but an act of forgiveness that resonates profoundly in this predominantly Catholic society.

And as Satoshi Nakano, a Hitotsubashi University professor who has done extensive research on the Philippines, pointed out on TBS radio Jan. 27, the Japanese who lived through the war appreciated the magnitude of Quirino’s gesture, because while the Japanese military burned its bridges behind it, the Filipino survivors kept detailed records of the massacres, and even before it was over the Americans were documenting the atrocities by talking to survivors, who, unlike a lot of civilian victims of Japanese aggression, were literate and educated. Some, in fact, wrote books about their ordeal.

It was taboo to talk about the American bombing, so the country’s anger was directed at the Japanese war criminals, even though some may not have actually committed any crimes. The Japanese postwar government understood the situation, and while they couldn’t pay as much in reparations as Quirino demanded, the amount they did pay was the largest given to any country that Japan had invaded. “They felt it was not such a large sum if the Philippines absolved us,” Nakano explained.

So unlike China and South Korea, which still demand apologies, the Philippines as a nation has moved beyond its resentment, even though, as Nakano says, they understand that Japanese persons under the age of 60 probably know nothing about the Battle of Manila, since there is no system in Japan to pass on these memories. The Japanese media sheepishly played down the Emperor’s gesture, but it was certainly intended to impress on the Japanese people that they must remember these things, because that is the only way to avoid repeating them.

  • 151E

    “Japanese persons under the age of 60 probably know nothing about the Battle of Manila, since there is no system in Japan to pass on these memories.” – Brilliant line that. It’s funny because it’s true.

  • jam awns

    I know Imperial Japanese did wrong in Philippine. I also know the U.S. did not supported Philippine independence and massacred with “only good Indian is a dead Indian” mentality in Philippine.
    (1) Overthrown First Philippine Republic 1899-1901, Moro Rebellion 1899-1913
    (2) U.S. Carpet bombing killing 1.8 million Philippine citizens during Second Philippine Republic 1943-1945)

  • jam awns

    Shall we view Philippine-Japan relationship regarding the war with multiple aspect from Filipino words. I have no intention to justify something nor distort something.
    (1)José Paciano Laurel as the third President of the Philippines and the first president of the Second Philippine Republic under Japan occurred on October 14, 1943.
    “Philippine was ruled by Spain for 300 years and governed by the U.S. for 40 years, but the numerous ardent brave men who died for our country had elaborately continued straggles to achieve such a difficult liberation by dedicating with their own blood during the period of both for war and peace. It is the fair and proper consequence in human history by the eastern great fellow that Philippine has regained the freedom which was lost for a long term. Imperial Nippon, by accomplishing this holy war and following her mission to liberate discriminated races, eliminated western predominant in Philippine, made Philippine nation recognize preparatory committee to become independent for achieving the freedom we had aspired for a long time, let us adopt constitution as a independent country, and provided necessary full powers to take actions to establish the Philippine Republic. We believe that we are honored with this independence from sacrifices of our fathers and brothers who dedicated in various battle fields.”
    (2)Letizia R. Constantino, Historian in Philippine
    “Japan’s advance toward Eastasia wielded the liberal force in various meanings. Quickness that Imperial Japanese military penetrated Imperial western fortresses such as Hong Kong, Burma, Indochina and India surprised various races who had thought that white was invincible. — Without any thinking of the win battles in the early stages of a war by Japanese military, other imperial nations would be acquitted”.
    (3)Daniel H. Dizon, historian, artist and founder of Kamikaze Memorial Society of Philippines
    “During the war, I had been taught that Japanese military was invader, and that Japan ruled Philippine and only exploited anything they want. However, I could not think that Japan simply started the war for killing people, for invading other nations and for expanding her territories. Therefore, I thought such had much deeper meanings and I studied for years the reason why Japan had begun the war. Then, I had reached a conclusion. Such was because of deep greedy White. White surely performed terrorism against Asia. Asia was peaceful world before White invaded. In those days Asian nations had relationship one another. — However, when White came to Asia, its state was completely changed, thrown into confusion and broken. — Every Asian people became to protect herself and Japan did the same. This is the reason why Japan had to start the war. In conclusion, that was not for offensive invasion purpose but for self-defensive one.”

  • jam awns

    Did you know? From 1967 to 2008, the Philippine received at least $20.560 Billion worth of official development Assistance from Japan. The country is among the top recipient Japanese government did.