Color it red not because it is hearts month. February is the bloodiest month in Philippine history.
Mamang and Papang had lived in Manila while raising their young brood of seven. Life had been good for the family until one day, they got separated. The family had to scamper to safety. Papang died while working for the United Press International. Mamang did not know the exact date in February 1945. All she remembered was a terrible dream had awoken her and that Papang was bidding her goodbye. I never saw my stoic grandmother cry, but I caught her off guard remembering Papang one February 14.
The month-long Battle of Manila had begun on 3 February and lasted until 3 March 1945. It was the bloodiest battle in the Asia-Pacific region among Filipino, American and Japanese forces. Incessant pounding of mortars, staccato of gun fire, endless falling bombs from the sky and hand-to-hand combats with bayonets and knives had killed a rough estimate of 100,000 Filipino civilians. The US military forces reported 1,010 American soldiers dead and 5,565 wounded; 6,665 bodies of Japanese soldiers were found in the Intramuros rubbles; more were found in other parts of Manila.
Dead bodies were found under the ruins, left strewn on the streets, floating in the Pasig River, left inside homes to be dumped in scurrying rush in unmarked grounds, or burnt beyond recognition under planks of wooden structures.
Manila as the scene of urban fighting was leveled to the ground. Its death toll and devastation was comparable to US bombing of Hiroshima, political analysts say: its ire and vengeance Japan took against the Philippines, the nearest US colony in the Pacific.
Mamang huddled her small children into a wooden cariton and pushed them with all her might to safety – out of Manila and trekked on foot toward Pangasinan, Papang’s province. Two of her older children, Donald and Estrella, died of hunger, thirst and exhaustion along the way. She buried them wrapped in a banig in a shallow grave she and my father Orlino, her third child, dug in a rice field in Balagtas.
Some 4,000 Filipinos were not as lucky. Back in Manila, they were hostaged inside Intramuros and Fort Santiago from February 23 to 28. Bodies of some 1,000 women and children were found under the Intramuros ruins after the US forces shelled bombs in an attempt to extricate the Japanese forces out and had them surrender. The Japanese preferred to die fighting rather than surrender.
Today, a historical commemoration known as Memorare Manila Monument at the Plaza de Santa Isabel, also known as the Plaza Sinampalukan, located at the corner of General Luna and Anda Streets in Intramuros, Manila reads:
“This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or even never 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 the gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation, February 3 – March 3, 1945. We have not 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 affections.”
Thank you, Mamang and Papang. My daughter and her boyfriend, and my son and his girlfriend, will be celebrating the hearts month in UP Diliman sunken garden on 14 February 2013. (Gloria Esguerra Melencio)