MANILA – Survivors and descendants of the victims of the 1945 Battle of Manila are pressing Japan to apologize for atrocities committed by its forces that left tens of thousands dead.
Juan Jose Rocha, head of the Memorare-Manila 1945 Foundation, a group of survivors and descendants of noncombatant victims of the battle, said during a memorial ceremony Saturday that an apology by Japan “is long overdue.”
“The purpose of our group is not to recriminate, nor to seek compensation, but just to commemorate and request Japan to recognize what they did here,” Rocha said at the ceremony held in front of a monument erected by his group 20 years ago. The monument memorializes the approximately 100,000 civilians who died during the Battle of Manila, which lasted from Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945, toward the end of World War II.
According to Rocha, around 70,000 of the civilians who died were “victims of heinous crimes or massacres” perpetrated by Japanese forces. The remaining 30,000 died in crossfire between U.S.-led Allied and Japanese forces.
The battle ended nearly three years of Japanese military occupation of the Philippines.
Rocha, who was 7 at the time, said among the civilian victims were his mother and 13 other relatives. “The war is over. We are close friends now with Japan, as we should be. But history is history,” Rocha said. “We ask Japan: Please stop trying to rewrite history. Come to terms with your past.”
In his remarks during the ceremony, Kazuya Asakawa of the Japanese nonprofit organization Bridge For Peace lamented that most Japanese remain unaware of the Battle of Manila’s human tragedies. “Learning history is the first step. But it’s not enough. For more than 10 years, Bridge for Peace has been interviewing survivors, Japanese veterans, former Japanese soldiers, and victims of the massacres,” Asakawa said.
He urged the next generation of Filipinos and Japanese to hold further dialogue and said the friendship of the two nations “will make the future.”
Ricardo Jose, a history professor at the University of the Philippines, said the push to remember the 1945 battle is not intended to rekindle feelings of anger but to give value and meaning to the lives that were lost. “In looking back at the past, at what happened 70 years ago, we also look towards the future so that these tragedies will never ever be repeated,” he said.
Speaking at the ceremony, former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos noted that over 1.1 million Filipinos died during the war and irreparable damage was inflicted on the country’s cultural heritage, especially in Manila. “It was an excessively high price to pay for our freedom. But it was a price that was paid valiantly,” said Ramos, a retired general who served as president from 1992 to 1996.
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