The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines During WWII BY: Dan Marc Balanag


The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines began on the 8th of December 1941 just nine-ten hours after the attack of Pearl Harbor. Japan then launched an attack on the Philippine Commonwealth using aerial bombardment followed by landings of troops both north and south of Manila, Philippines' Capital. The Philippines was occupied by the Japanese and suffered severely for over three years until the surrender of Japan in 1945.

Japanese Soldiers armed with weapons and the Rising Sun Flag of Japan.

Why and How was the Philippines involved in WWII?

During World War II the Philippine islands were considered territory of the United States due to the 1898 Treaty of Paris. This treaty was a concord created in 1898 which lead all remaining countries of the Empire of Spain that includes Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines relinquished to the United States. As a result, the country was known as The Commonwealth of the Philippines and multiple American Army, Airforce and Navy bases were established in the Filipino archipelago. At the beginning of the Second World War, due to importance the retired Army General, Douglas MacArthur was ordered back in service by US President, Franklin Roosevelt. He was given resources to assemble and organise a Philippine defence in case of the Japanese expansion.

Invasion of the Philippine Islands

In the Territory of Hawaii, at 0800 hours the first Japanese aircraft launched their set of bombardments on the US naval base in Pearl Harbour. As it was too dark for the Japanese offensive operations to continue, the American and Filipino troops had valuable hours to prepare preemptive air forces and strengthened ground defenses. At dawn heavy fog unexpectedly spread over Taiwan which helped obstruct any Japanese airforce operations, in response the opportunity to prepare was forfeited. The Lieutenant General of the US Airforce, Lewis Brereton struggled in sending his aircraft to flight during the preparation for MacArthur's approval in attacking the base of the Japanese in Taiwan or the approaching invasion fleet. Despite the preparations, MacArthur never gave the approval to attack. By 1100 hours, as American aircraft began to land in order to refuel it was not until 20 minutes later that MacArthur gave his approval to attack, but as a result to his delayed response it was too late. Hours later the Japanese Army fighters arrived at the Del Carmen airfield in the western coast of Luzon destroying multiple P-40 fighters in their successful attempt to land. Multiple bombardments of airfields and US army bases continued one after another as destruction spread across the coastline. With air superiority successfully claimed, on the 10th of December 1941, General Masaharu Homma ordered the continuation of the invasion. Starting from December 20th the Japanese army landed in Mindanao and Luzon rapidly conquering more airfields and locations.

What happened during the Japanese occupation?

As the Japanese forces continued their invasion, troops that had landed in Mindanao continued to capture the city of Davao. Between the 22nd and 28th of December 1941, additional Japanese troops arrived at the Lingayan Gulf on the northwest of Luzon. Immediately after the invasion, major cities, airstrips and naval bases were captured and conquered by the Japanese. While the Japanese proceeded to conquer the islands of Luzon, the American-Filipino forces struggled to fight and defend their country. As a result, on the 8th of February 1942, President of the Philippines Manuel Quezon requested the US President to grant the nation their independence to announce the neutrality of the Philippines in hopes of preventing the Japanese operations. President Quezon states:

"After weeks of fighting not even a small amount of aid has reached us from the United attempt has been made to transport anything here...The United States has practically doomed the Philippines to almost total extinction to secure a breathing space"

Despite the sad truth spoken by the Filipino President, US President Roosevelt refused to grant their independence knowing the Japanese would disregard their late statement of neutrality.

General Douglas MacArthur's escape from the Philippines

In the year, 1942, the Japanese invasion continued, General Douglas MacArthur was said to be in discomfort and unable to give commands. In accordance with a pre-war plan, Manila was declared an open city. As a result, MacArthur was compelled to withdraw his American-Filipino troops from Luzon to Bataan and his family and headquarters moved to Corregidor. In fear of sharing the fate of the garrison, under Washington's decision he and his family left the Philippines on the 22nd of February and arrived in Melbourne, Australia in March. Upon his arrival to Australia, MacArthur stated:

"The president of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and procede from corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organising the American offensive against the Japanese, a primary object of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return"

MacArthur's quote "I shall return" became a beacon of hope to the Filipino troops defending the country. During the Battle of Bataan, the American troops had felt as if they had been abandoned by their government to fight the war on their own. With the capital city Manila captured by the Japanese, the American-Filipino defending troops were forced to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula which lead to an unfortunate event.

A map of the Philippines as the Japanese forces continued their invasion.

The Bataan Death March

On the 9th of April, the US and Filipino forces were starving and filled wifh disease, as a result US General Edward King Jr. was compelled to surrender his troop of over 75 000 men at Bataan. The Japanese soon rounded the American and Filipino soldiers forcing them to march over 65 miles from Mariveles, Corregidor to Pampanga, San Fernando and finally a prisoner of war (POW) camp in Capas, Tarlac. This devastating march was known as The Bataan Death March. During this unfortunate event the prisoners of war recieved little or no food or water, they were tortured and beaten constantly. Many of the soldiers died due to the severe physical abuse, some were forced to burn in the intense heat without any form of shelter. Those who begged for water were shot, others who were too weak to continue were also killed. Of the approximate 80 000 POWs who were forced to march, only approximately 54 000 succeeded in arriving at the camp. Those who managed to survive the long and traumatic trek were in horrific conditions but finally arrived at the POW camp only to be welcomed by death through diseases created due to lack of sanitation.

An illustration of the Bataan Death March and the harsh conditions and treatment of the Japanese forces.

The Surrender of the Japanese

General Douglas MacArthur fulfilled his promise of returning to the Philippine islands in October of 1944, with him he brought his knowledge and his army. Within the timespan of the absence of MacArthur, the Japanese had conquered the Philippines and the puppet state "Republic of the Philippines" was established. With the arrival of the American forces, the Japanese needed to prevent them from advancing. The Japanese had sent every available troop, aircraft and naval vessel to defend their newly conquered land, the Kamikaze corps were also created especially to defend the Second Philippine Republic. In the end, the Japanese was defeated and the Philippine Commonwealth was re-established. This was known as the biggest naval battle of WWII and the most bloodshed campaign of the Pacific War.


The Philippines had suffered tremendously, with a great amount of lives lost and destruction evident in the history of the nation. An approximate one million Filipinos and 10 400 Americans were killed, with over 36 500 injured and traumatised during the Japanese Occupation. This event was unforgettable in the eyes of the Filipinos and will forever scar the Philippine nation.

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