Feb 02, 2023

A Monumental Failure of Memory

Jan 28, 2023 12:00 am


MONUMENTS are tributes to people who have done us great good. Historical markers are attached to structures to remind us of decisive events that occurred in a certain place, like a mountain pass where a gallant battle was fought, the birthplaces of heroes, or where they gloriously offered their lives for love of country. Monuments and historical markers should honor those who tried to save us, but never those who wanted to destroy us.

That preamble brings to my mind certain monuments in the Philippines which I feel should be pulverized and demolished. These are monuments built to commemorate Japan's "honored dead." There is a glaringly offensive monument in Mabalacat, Pampanga dedicated to the memory of Kamikaze pilots. What did they do for the Philippines? They were Japanese pilots who swore to give their lives for the Japanese emperor by serving as human bombs. They were "suicide pilots" who deliberately crashed their Mitsubishi or Nissan manufactured fighter planes into battleships carrying American soldiers bound for the eventual liberation of the Philippines.

Behind the Mabalacat statue of a kamikaze, there are two flags: one is the flag of the Philippine puppet republic, established at the insistence of the Japanese occupying forces, and the other, a Japanese military flag showing a sun with 16 rays, which dates back to the 19th century. The flag was adopted by the Japanese militarists and is oftentimes the subject of protest by other countries when it is displayed in their territory.

The Kamikaze pilot displayed in Mabalacat is a replica of a similar monument at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan. The Yasukuni Shrine or Yasukuni Jinja was established in 1869 in Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration. It honors and worships all those who died for the Japanese homeland. It houses Shinto priests who constantly pray for the Japanese war dead. There is a room with an endless display of pictures of Japanese who died in various wars, mostly of conquest. There is also a gallery full of weapons used by the Japanese in WW 2 which includes an engineless, cigar-shaped suicide aircraft called an Oka.

To add insult to injury, the Kamikaze monument is found in the province of Pampanga where the Death March passed through and where that infamous Red House of Candaba is located. Hardly anything remains of that two-story wooden villa which was transformed into a comfort women station where young Filipinas were continuously raped at the point of bayonets during the Japanese occupation. The plight of Filipino "comfort women" became public as late as 1992 when some survivors began to relate that terrible experience.

A bronze statue of a blindfolded "comfort woman" once stood along Manila Bay. It served to remind us of the Filipino comfort women who were sexually exploited by thousands of Japanese troops that occupied the Philippines between 1942 and 1945. However, the Embassy of Japan strongly protested against the "comfort woman" statue so it was unceremoniously removed one dark night in 2017. The Department of Public Works and Highways said the monument had to be transferred due to defective drainage along Roxas Boulevard. The sculptor declared it was returned then purloined from his atelier. At least that is the story.

There is another monument in Los Baños, Laguna situated near the magnetic hill in Mount Makiling which honors Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the "Tiger of Malaya," who was responsible for the numerous massacres in the Philippines, Malaya and Singapore, and other Asian countries trodden by the Japanese boot. There is a marker written in Japanese without an English translation. When I saw it, I imagined that the marker said: "It is too bad for Yamashita, he did not finish the job for our beloved emperor." A few yards away from the monument is a small stone marker commemorating the spot where Gen. Masaharu Homma was shot after being sentenced to death for his role in the Japanese Occupation. It said, among other things, that Homma died for world peace. Huh? That guy commanded the Japanese invasion force that placed the Philippines under the Japanese occupation and was responsible for the mopping up operations directed against Filipino and American troops in the Visayas and Mindanao. He was responsible for the Bataan Death March during which thousands of Filipino and American troops perished. To honor Homma's death with a stone marker specifically in a place like Los Baños, Laguna where thousands of Filipinos were rounded up and killed during the waning days of the Occupation does not speak well of our national values.

When will the concerned government agencies remedy this shameful situation? When will the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, the Department of National Defense and the Philippine Veterans remove monuments glorifying war criminals like Yamashita and Homma? When will they resurrect that comfort woman statue?

Perhaps we should ask anti-militarist and peace-loving Japanese organizations, active in the Philippines, like the Soka Gakkai International for a small corner in their headquarters in Japan where we can erect monuments to the Filipinos who suffered and died because of the Japanese Occupation so that Filipino tourists in turn can visit the site to honor our glorious dead.

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