Report by Mr. Karl L. Rankin23


Under Japanese military occupation the Philippine Islands have been governed very largely under the same laws and by much the same men as under the Commonwealth. There were two fundamental changes. The first was symbolized by the immediate conversion of the United States High Commissioner’s24 residence into the official Headquarters of the Japanese Commander-in-Chief.25 The second was the abolition, at least temporarily, of the popularly elected legislature. Behind the scenes, of course, Japanese activities and influence affected all phases of Philippine life. But in a governmental sense the outward changes introduced were less striking than the very general continuance of old forms.

It seems probable that the policies pursued by Japan in governing the Philippines were determined well in advance. Subject to such modification as military security might require, there were compelling practical reasons for preserving the machinery of the Commonwealth Government. It had enjoyed popular support, and had functioned efficiently on the whole. The invaders’ immediate purposes were to gain military control and to redirect all economic activity as quickly as possible toward the further prosecution of the war. Practical considerations quite evidently outweighed any ideological objections. Even for the more distant future, it would not much matter what form of government obtained in the Philippines as long as external relations and vital phases of economic life were under Japanese control.

It remained to find a means of taking over the machinery of the Commonwealth Government. This was facilitated at the outset by arrangements made for the surrender of Manila, The High Commissioner and President Quezon were already at Corregidor, and the latter’s Secretary, Jorge B. Vargas, had been left at Malacanan with the unenviable assignment of obtaining the best treatment he could for the city. Communication ceased between the High Commissioner [Page 1109] and his Executive Assistant in Manila, Claude A. Buss, while the President and General MacArthur’s26 Headquarters continued to maintain contact with Vargas as the ostensible representative of whatever authority remained in the capital.27

The invaders were not slow to see the opportunity offered them. Judged by Oriental standards, the Japanese were on their good behavior when the city was occupied. Whether or not this was due in part to leaving Vargas in charge, the fact remains that the United States had abdicated its authority in Manila before the Japanese arrived. “Collaboration”, probable in any case, became inevitable.

The immediate establishment of a Japanese Military Administration in Manila was soon followed by the creation of an Executive Commission, composed of leading Filipino politicians and fulfilling the functions of the former Cabinet. Both of these organizations obviously were transient in character. It is understood that the Commission was told to go ahead and run the country until a permanent form of government could be worked out, but with an admonition not to revive ante-bellum politics. After the emergencies of the first few weeks had been met, the chief end of the Military Administration was to direct the Philippine Executive Commission.

Next came the introduction of the one-party system, in the Japanese form of a National Service Association, followed by preparations for the establishment of a Philippine Republic. The program of creating a puppet state was complete.

[Here follow sections on the Japanese Military Administration, the Philippine Executive Commission, and the Neighborhood and National Service Associations.]


With the work of the Military Administration and the Executive Commission well in hand, with “mopping-up operations in the Philippine Islands practically completed,” according to a Japanese communiqué of December 2, and with the National Service Association one-party idea thoroughly embodied in the new Kalibapi,28 Premier Tojo29 found it opportune in January, 1943, to issue a formal pledge of independence for the Philippines. In the same speech before the Imperial Diet, independence was promised to Burma “within the year” and to the Philippines “at the earliest possible moment.” This [Page 1110] pledge provided a theme for countless political speeches throughout the Philippines, by both Japanese and Filipinos, during the succeeding months. On one hand it was cited as final proof of Japan’s true intentions and the other as implying a threat that independence would not be granted until all guerilla activity had ceased and whole-hearted collaboration had become general.

The Philippines began to receive a series of visits from prominent Japanese. Among these, ex-Ambassador Nomura30 stayed only long enough to predict the eventual defeat of the United States and to evade questions put to him by the press as to American treatment of Japanese internees.31

On May 5, 1943, Premier Tojo arrived in Manila. He appears to have been satisfied with the attitude of the Filipinos,* as voiced by Vargas and others, or at least to have found no reason for further delay in fixing an approximate date for Philippine independence. Greater East Asia Minister Kazuo Aoki, visited Manila a few days after his chief and apparently confirmed his findings. On June 16, not long after his return to Japan, Tojo declared before the Diet that the Philippines would be given independence within the course of the year. In the visitors’ gallery at the time was a group of Filipinos, headed by Mayor Guinto,32 who were enjoying a junket to Japan. Four days later a Preparatory Commission for Philippine Independence, consisting of twenty members headed by José P. Laurel,33 was set up in Manila.

Great attention was given in the press to the activities of the Preparatory Commission, which included all of the members of the Philippine Executive Commission. Interesting additions included Vicente Madrigal, the shipping magnate, Manuel A. Roxas, who had thus far refused to collaborate in any way and had spent some time in Fort Santiago as a result, and Alaoya Alonto Sultan Sa Ramain, the sole representative of the Mohammedan Moros. As their work progressed, Laurel announced that the Commission had agreed upon a republican form of government as best suited to the Philippines. At a plenary session of the Commission on September 3, 1943, the new constitution§ was adopted.

[Page 1111]

Laurel is credited with most of the redrafting of the Commonwealth Constitution to meet the new conditions imposed by Japanese conquest. In the preamble the Filipino people “proclaim their independence.” In fact the constitution contains no reference either to Japan or to the Co-Prosperity Sphere. The most striking feature, however, is the virtually dictatorial power given to the President of the Republic. Elected by a majority of all the members of the unicameral National Assembly for a term of six years, he appoints not only the Cabinet Ministers and Vice-Ministers, Ambassadors, bureau heads, the higher officers of the armed forces and the advisory Council of State, but also all judges, provincial governors, city and municipal mayors and all other officers of the government whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by law.

The full significance of the presidential appointive powers becomes apparent when it is noted that the approval of the legislature is in no case required, and that one-half of the National Assembly itself is made up of presidential appointees, the provincial governors and mayors of chartered cities being members ex-officio. The remaining half of the Assembly is to be elected in a manner that “shall be prescribed by law, which shall not be subject to change or modification during the Great East Asia War.” It appears that such “elections” are to be in Kalibapi hands, and it will be recalled that the governors and mayors who are members of the legislature also head the local branches of the Kalibapi. Directly or indirectly, therefore, the entire membership of the National Assembly will be made up of presidential appointees.

With the Assembly so completely under presidential control, the concurrence of the required majority of all its members in concluding treaties should not be difficult to obtain. Even this requirement is dispensed with in the case of executive agreements with a foreign nation for the utilization of natural resources and the operation of public utilities for the duration of the Greater East Asia War. The veto power of the President is made all but final by a provision that he may disapprove a bill for the second time, if repassed over his veto by a two-thirds vote, and that in such case the Assembly may not during the same session reconsider the measure. A unanimous vote of the Supreme Court is required to declare unconstitutional a law, executive order, ordinance or regulation.

After incorporating most of the provisions of the Commonwealth Constitution, such as a bill of rights and the requirement that 60 percent of the capital of a corporation exploiting natural resources must belong to citizens of the Philippines, the new document ends with several transitory provisions. The new constitution was to be “ratified by the people” in a manner to be provided by law. The departments of the Executive Commission were to become ministries [Page 1112] of the Republic automatically, while existing courts and laws were to be taken over and continued in force except where inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution. All property rights and privileges acquired since the outbreak of the war were made subject to adjustment and settlement at the termination of hostilities. Finally, within one year after the end of the war, the National Assembly is required to provide for the election by popular suffrage of delegates to a constitutional convention which shall formulate a new constitution to be submitted to the people “at a plebiscite.”

In making public the text of the constitution, Laurel stated that it did not agree in all respects with Japanese ideas, but that the Preparatory Commission had been given a free hand in the drafting. Some days later the constitution was ratified by a Kalibapi Convention in Manila, presumably as provided by law in the form of an order issued by Chairman Vargas. On September 15, the various Kalibapi chapters selected their delegates to the new National Assembly. Within two weeks the Assembly had convened and elected José P. Laurel President of the Republic of the Philippines, permitting him to leave at once for Tokyo accompanied by Vargas and Aquino.34 Laurel was expected to sign treaties providing for the continuance of Japanese military occupation and the regularizing of various economic questions. Vargas would open the first Philippine Embassy in Tokyo. Laurel and Aquino would return to Manila, where they would obtain the National Assembly’s approval of the new treaties with Japan and take part in the formal inauguration of the Philippine Republic on October 15, 1943.

Public Opinion

In its general conception the Japanese plan for winning over the people of the conquered Philippines scarcely could have been improved. It was of the same high order as the strategy of their general staff during the first six months of the war. Yet despite their important initial success in gaining the collaboration of so many Filipino leaders, the plan as a whole has been a failure. The people referred scornfully to independence “made in Japan,” and to the “peace of the carabao” which Japanese military protection would afford them. Leading Filipino collaborationists were spoken of as “military objectives.” The United States was never more popular among the people of the Philippines than at the moment Japan was giving them independence.

What were the causes of Japanese political failure in the Philippines? The first was the impossibility of persuading any important number of Filipinos that the United States could lose the war. Certain victory was the central theme of Japanese propaganda, and [Page 1113] it was well presented on the whole. That it did not succeed in the Philippines was the fruit of 43 years of intimate contact with Americans. The attitude of the average Filipino with some education differs in no important way from that of the average American as regards the issues of the war. He is just as certain that the Axis is in the wrong, just as sure of a United Nations’ victory. In agreement with certain American radio commentators, the Filipino is inclined to be over-optimistic as to the time required to defeat Japan, despite the overwhelming Japanese military successes of which he was an eyewitness. If the war does not last too long, it appears improbable that the Japanese will make much headway in changing his opinion.

The second cause of Japan’s political failure in the Philippines may be found in the repetition of the worst mistakes made by Americans. At his best the invader was condescending and patronizing to the Filipino; at his worst he was grasping and brutal. In the beginning Japanese propaganda laid emphasis on the disappearance of the color line which Americans and British had drawn. It was a good point and worth following up. But the Filipinos found that in actual practice the Japanese soon monopolized the best clubs, hotels and apartments to a greater extent than the Americans had ever done. They demanded and got the best of everything. Equally objectionable to many was the Japanese assumption of superiority in medicine and other professions where Filipinos take legitimate pride in their own accomplishments.

And the Japanese were unnecessarily brutal. It has been mentioned that they were on their good behavior when Manila was occupied, judged by Oriental standards. This was less true in the provinces, where executions and looting are reported to have been much more general. The Filipino knows the meaning of martial law, and when taking part in a guerrilla raid he realizes the risk involved. But after nearly half a century of American rule he was not accustomed to torture. Certainly he was not used to seeing innocent men tortured simply for the purpose of extracting information.

The Filipino did not care for public floggings or the dislocating and breaking of limbs in punishment for minor offences. Americans were rough at times, particularly in the early days, but such cases were exceptional and did not represent a policy. With the Japanese it was a simple routine; they evidently considered that they were being very easy with the troublesome Filipinos. Certainly they were much harder on the Chinese in the Philippines, from the Consul-General in Manila,35 who appears to have been executed, to the simple junk man who was beaten up by a guard at the Consular Internment Camp, apparently just to show off.

[Page 1114]

What then was the attitude of the typical Filipino toward the native collaborationist government? It followed the same pattern as that of the average American citizen in the Philippines: almost no one really approved of collaboration, but beyond that opinions varied widely. At one extreme, many felt that shooting was too good for men who played the Japanese game to the extent indicated in their speeches. Others felt that in an exposed position, such as that of Vargas, there was no alternative to collaboration. In between there was support for a policy of reserving judgment until after the war when all the facts would be known. There promised to be strong opposition to any proposal for a general amnesty. The extremists will be out for blood, while many of the so-called collaborationists will prefer an opportunity to clear themselves in a public investigation.

It is a common belief in the Philippines that if President Quezon and Vice President Osmeña had remained behind they too would have been compelled to collaborate. Certainly the Japanese would have put forth extraordinary efforts to bring this about. On December 30, 1941, three days before the occupation of Manila, General Homma addressed a persuasive letter to President Quezon,|| calling upon him to collaborate. A year later the Japanese were still dealing gently with him, as illustrated by an editorial in the Manila Tribune of December 15, 1942 on Mr. Quezon’s “tragedy”. His subsequent radio speeches, however, appear to have gotten under Japanese skin, and in the same newspaper, on August 25, 1943, the semi-official “Commentator” expressed himself in no uncertain terms on President Quezon’s hyprocrisy, threatening him and other Filipino refugees with charges of high treason.**

After nearly two years of Japanese occupation the spirit of the Filipino people remained high. Despite the one-sided military campaign, which cost the lives of some 30,000 of their sons and for which the help promised by America never arrived, they are loyal to the United States. American civilians interned in the Philippines were all but unanimous in praising the extraordinary solicitude shown them by Filipinos at every opportunity. The red armband, prescribed for Americans and other United Nations nationals when they went outside of an internment camp for any reason, was a badge of honor not of disgrace in Filipino eyes. A strange Filipino greeted an American on the street soon after the armbands were introduced. “That’s a good idea,” he said, “now we know whom we can talk to safely.”

[Page 1115]

When thousands of American prisoners were marched through the streets of Manila after the fall of Corregidor, the Japanese hoped that it would impress the Filipinos as final evidence of the downfall of American power in the Far East. But the reaction was simply one of sorrow and of sympathy for the men who had endured five months of hell on “The Rock” and were so obviously in a state of exhaustion. Cigarettes and food were handed to them whenever the attention of the guards relaxed. Much later several hundred American prisoners appear to have been taken through the streets barefooted, many of them dressed only in makeshift g-strings. Again all Manila was talking, not of Japan’s triumph but of Japan’s inhumanity. Then in the summer of 1943 a propaganda picture, “Down with the Stars and Stripes,” was being filmed in Manila, with American prisoners and tanks in one of the shots. Some Filipino and Spanish girls among the onlookers are reported to have used the occasion to throw cigarettes to the Americans and were taken to Fort Santiago as a result.

A political evaluation of the Philippines under Japanese rule necessitates at least brief reference to guerrilla activities. A traditional avocation of many Filipinos, it received new emphasis with the hatred engendered by Japanese occupation and ruthlessness. It is easy to exaggerate the military importance of guerrillas, but as an expression of public opinion they are decidedly significant in the Philippines. Outside the chief military centers, mostly in Luzon, the Islands were lightly held by the Japanese. In many regions the so-called guerrillas were all but supreme. Some units were headed by USAFFE36 officers, American and Filipino, while in at least two cases they were being led by former provincial governors.‡‡ There were reports almost every week of the killing of Japanese soldiers within the city limits of Manila, and they were forbidden to go out singly at night. Leading collaborationists realized that the guerrillas regarded them as military objectives and took what precautions they could. The attempt on Laurel’s life was only the most spectacular of a series. Great efforts were made to conceal such occurrences in most cases, but a number of rather prominent Filipinos are known to have been assassinated. In parallel action, the Chinese in Manila disposed of one of their well known businessmen for cooperating with the Japanese.

Guerrilla activity in the provinces was a major factor in increasing the population of Manila to a point where housing, food and unemployment problems, difficult enough in any case, added fuel to Filipino [Page 1116] hatred of the Japanese. Local stocks of textiles and clothing were virtually exhausted at the end of the first year. The invaders did not concern themselves with supplying manufactured articles to the Philippines; probably they had neither goods to spare nor ships to carry them. The urban Filipino found that he could buy almost nothing except food, which rose continuously in price, while the farmer gradually lost interest in supplying the city markets in return for paper money which would no longer obtain for him even the few items he was accustomed to buy. Rationing and price control measures in general did not work smoothly and the cost of living rose to unprecedented heights. Business was all but stagnant. The public made no mistake in blaming everything on the invaders, and their opinion was not diverted by the enforced observance of Japanese holidays, with parades, homage to the Imperial Palace and free street-car rides.

Japan has failed to win Filipino support and sympathy. Even the idea of independence, prostituted by the Japanese, has lost its appeal for the time being. “We would rather be slaves under the Americans,” a prominent Filipino insisted. But signs of discouragement were beginning to appear, particularly in the provinces where American radio news is less generally heard than in the cities. Also it is just possible that after the granting of nominal independence to the Philippines the invaders may try to mend their ways. Many of them appear to like the Filipino; they secretly admire his Occidental accomplishments, his good English. But the Japanese seem not to realize that an Oriental differs in outlook and reactions from an Occidental only in so far as his cultural inheritance has been different, and that in most respects an educated Filipino is more like an American or a Spaniard than a Japanese. If the invaders should become aware of this fact, resulting in a more intelligent approach to winning Filipino friendship, and if the war should last long enough, the enthusiasm of the Filipino people for America might well become blunted.

The people of the Philippines are still convinced that the Americans will come back and give them real independence. But they may be more modest than in earlier years. They know now that complete independence is possible only for the strongest nations, perhaps no longer even for them. Protection against future aggression they must have. In return they must be ready to accept some degree of American or international supervision over their foreign relations, and perhaps over their handling of minorities. But as the most advanced of the southern Oriental peoples their sensibilities must be respected. The Americans returning to Manila after the war must not expect to find things as they were. The “white man’s” privileges, symbolized by the exclusiveness of the Army and Navy Club, must be a thing of the past. Modesty will become Americans as well as Filipinos. In [Page 1117] Bataan they went down to defeat together and under Japanese rule the people of the Philippines remained the faithful friends of Americans in adversity. They will be partners in victory.

[In a letter of December 13 to the Chairman of the House Committee on Insular Affairs (811B.50/39), the Secretary of State indicated the Department’s “sympathy with the general purpose of the resolution to create a joint United States–Philippine Commission to investigate and make recommendations concerning the post-war economy, trade, finance, economic stability, and rehabilitation of the Philippine Islands.” The resolution was H. J. Res. 183, introduced in the House of Representatives on November 4. Legislation establishing the Filipino Rehabilitation Commission was enacted as Public Law 381, approved June 29, 1944; 58 Stat. 626.]

  1. Prepared aboard M. S. Gripsholm in response to the Department’s unnumbered instructions of August 25 and 27 to the former Consul at Manila (Steintorf); approved by Nathaniel P. Davis, Foreign Service Inspector. Mr. Rankin was a Foreign Service Officer temporarily detailed at Manila. In an introductory note, he states that “No documents or notes of use in preparing the report were brought out of the Philippines by the writer. It is based upon the memories of a few individuals plus odd newspapers brought along by non-official repatriates.” The Gripsholm was used in exchange of persons between the United States and Japan. For correspondence on exchange agreement with Japan, see Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. i, pp. 377 ff.
  2. Francis B. Sayre.
  3. Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma.
  4. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Commanding General of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East.
  5. Marginal notation by unidentified person: “H[igh] C[ommissioner] was in communication with Buss up to evening of Dec. 31st. I believe Pres Com[mon]wealth was not in communication w/Vargas after Jan. 1.”
  6. Authorized abbreviation of “Kapisanan Paglilingkod Sa Bagong Pilipinas,” or Association for Service to the New Philippines, created by an executive order issued on December 4, 1942, by the Commander in Chief of the Imperial Japanese Forces in the Philippines.
  7. Of Japan.
  8. Adm. Kichisaburo Nomura, Japanese Ambassador in the United States, February to December 1941.
  9. For correspondence on this subject, see pp. 953 ff., passim.
  10. See enclosure no. 3 for text of Tojo’s statement. [Footnote in the original; enclosure not printed.]
  11. See enclosure no. 4 for text of Vargas’ statement. [Footnote in the original; enclosure not printed.]
  12. Leon G. Guinto, Mayor of Manila.
  13. First Commissioner of Justice in the Philippine Executive Commission; he became Commissioner of the Interior in December 1942.
  14. See enclosure no. 7 for a typical editorial of this period. [Footnote in the original; enclosure not printed.]
  15. See enclosure no. 8 for the text of the constitution and membership of the Commission, all of whom signed it. [Footnote in the original; enclosure not printed.]
  16. Benigno S. Aquino, Director-General of the Kalibapi.
  17. Yang Kuang-sheng.
  18. See enclosure no. 1 for text of letter. [Footnote in the original; enclosure not printed.]
  19. See enclosure no. 2 for text of editorial. [Footnote in the original; enclosure not printed.]
  20. See enclosure no. 3 for text of “Commentator’s” remarks. [Footnote in the original; enclosure not printed.]
  21. United States Army Forces in the Far East.
  22. See copy of letter of Governor T[h]omas A. Confessor attached to report of November 29, 1943, entitled “Japanese Military Activities in the Philippines,” from Vice Consul Peter K. Constan. [Footnote in the original; letter and report not printed.]