Keeping the history and legacy of World War II in the Philippines alive

Keeping the history and legacy of World War II in the Philippines alive

In its goal to continue educating people — both young and old, Filipinos and Americans — about World War II in the Philippines, Bataan Legacy Historical Society (BLHS), Memorare Manila 1945 and the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program of the University of San Francisco will present the Third Conference on WWII in the Philippines on Saturday, September 9, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 4PM, at the University of San Francisco’s McLaren Conference Center at 2130 Fulton St., San Francisco, CA.  Doors will open at 9:30 a.m.

Topics for this year’s panels include:

• The WWII in the Philippines lesson plans to help implement California’s U.S. history curriculum framework for Grade 11 (approved July 14, 2016)

• The Role of the Guerrillas during the Liberation of the Philippines

• Hell Ships

• War Crimes in the Philippines

Experts and survivors from the Philippines, Canada and the United States will participate in these panels.  Panel members include Col. John Haramalis, an expert on war crimes who led a NATO Multinational Task Force against the last six internationally indicted fugitive war criminals in Bosnia; James Erickson, the leading expert on the Hell Ships; and Bernard Karganilla, a professor from the University of the Philippines, who has done extensive research on the guerrillas for the last 35 years.

Also included in the program are Maj. General (Ret.) Antonio Taguba, who will speak about the Congressional Medal of Honor for the WWII Filipino veterans, and Maj. General (Ret.) Eldon Regua, a member of California Governor Jerry Brown’s military council.


When President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war against Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, the ravages of war did not reach the continental United States.  Instead, the war was fought in the Philippines, its colony from 1898 to 1946, where thousands of Filipino and American soldiers died and approximately one million civilians perished.

In many ways, it is just as important if not even more significant than Pearl Harbor.  But because of the stigma of defeat, this event is not commemorated in the United States nor is it taught in schools.  The Fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 is only remembered today as the largest single surrender in U.S. military history.  What is not remembered is its greater significance.  The U.S. Army Forces of the Far East (consisted of 12,000 Philippine Scouts, 19,000 Americans and 118,000 Philippine Commonwealth troops) were able to disrupt the timetable of the Imperial Japanese Army and prevented them from reaching Australia.  This delay enabled the United States and its Allied Forces to harness the necessary resources to turn the tide of war which led to their ultimate victory.  Without Bataan, the war would have lasted much longer or worse, our political landscape today could even be different.

But this sacrifice by the Filipino and American troops came at a high price.  Because the United States could not fight a war in two fronts, the troops were abandoned in Bataan.   The defenders of Bataan and the Filipino nation were unaware that President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill had met in Washington, DC between December 22, 1941 and January 14, 1942 (Code Name Arcadia) and agreed to save Europe first.  Meanwhile, the defenders of Bataan fought without any air or naval support as they were destroyed during the early days of the war.   Despite promises that food, reinforcement and ammunition were on the way, no help ever came.

Two weeks into the war, the troops subsisted on half rations.  Quinine (cure for malaria) and other medication were no longer distributed in February and 500 men a day became victims of malaria and dysentery.  By March, they were subsisting on quarter rations so that by beginning of April, there were no longer any reserve troops and combat efficiency was down to zero.  By the time of the surrender on April 9, 1942, most of the men were suffering from massive disease and starvation.  They were forced to march some 60 miles in searing tropical heat with no provisions for food, water or shelter.  Those who could no longer go on were either beaten, bayoneted or even left to die.  There were some who were even beheaded.  And those civilians who tried to help were dealt with in the same manner.  This became known as the infamous Bataan Death March.  Approximately 10,000 Filipino and 650 American troops died during the march.  Once inside their prison camp at Camp O’Donnell, another 25,000 died consisting mainly of Filipinos.

During the liberation of the Philippines in 1945, the Filipino people paid a heavy price.  Manila, once called the Pearl of the Orient, became the second most devastated city in the world after Warsaw.  Approximately 100,000 civilians died in Manila between February and March, 1945.  By the end of the war, approximately 1,000,000 Filipino civilians perished.

And yet today, the Filipino soldiers’ role during WWII and the suffering of the entire Filipino nation are not mentioned in U.S. history books.  Furthermore, five months after the war ended, President Truman signed the First Surplus Rescission Act in February 1946, which deemed the service of the Filipino soldiers as not full-time, thereby disqualifying them from receiving their rightful benefits.  Many have died without receiving their benefits.  A handful are still waiting.   There are only a few of them left and with each passing goes a piece of this history.  Once they are all gone, this seminal point in history will be forever lost.

Correcting the past

But on July 14, 2016, this mostly forgotten part of U.S. history was brought back to life when the California State Board of Education approved the inclusion of World War II in the Philippines in the revised history curriculum framework for the state.  This seminal part of WWII history is now included in the Grade 11 U.S. history (Chapter 16) curriculum framework.  The approval is the culmination of many years of hard work from the Filipino community with the support of different organizations across the country.  In 2011, AB199 (sponsored by Ma and Yee) was passed by the California legislature which “encourages for the inclusion of the role of the Filipinos during WWII in the history/social sciences curriculum for Grades 7-12.”   In 2014, BLHS started working with the Instructional Quality Commission of the California Department of Education to implement AB199.  With the support of State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, BLHS was able to expand the scope of the proposed curriculum framework to include World War II in the Philippines.

Chapter 16 of the Grade 11 U.S. History will include the following:  The Philippine Commonwealth; the creation of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) comprised of Americans and a majority of Filipinos; the Battle of Bataan and the disruption of the timetable of the Imperial Japanese Army by the USAFFE Forces despite suffering from massive disease and starvation and fighting without any air support; the Bataan Death March and the thousands of casualties; the role of the Filipino and American guerrillas during the liberation; the American soldiers who were transported in hell ships to labor camps in Asia;  the Battles of Leyte Gulf and the destruction of Manila.

BLHS worked successfully with the California Department of Education to include WWII in the Philippines in the U.S. history curriculum framework for Grade 11 in California.   It is now working with Bay Area high school teachers to create the WWII in the Philippines lesson plans in order to help with the implementation.  For more information go to

The conference is open to the public and admission is free.  However, pre-registration is strongly recommended through Eventbrite at (AJPress)

*All photos from the National Archives and Records Administration (

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