March 18, 2018

Atrocities in Batangas Cited during General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s Trial for War Crimes after WWII

The Yamashita trial. Image source:  Presidential Museum and Library PH on Flickr.
The Yamashita trial. Image source:  Presidential Museum and Library PH on Flickr.
Mention the name Yamashita in the context of the Second World War and in most likelihood the first thing that comes to most Filipinos’ minds would be the legendary treasures that up to the present day are believed to be stashed away in some still to be discovered hiding place. Tomoyuki Yamashita himself, i.e. the Japanese general who was alleged to have plundered the loot from around Southeast Asia1, likely remains for all intents and purposes unknown to most.

Yamashita, remembered in History as the “Tiger of Malaya” for leading the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942 to victory over the British in the Malayan Peninsula despite numerical disadvantage. That same year, he was reassigned to Manchukuo in Northeastern China where he was effectively a non-participant in the Pacific War.

It was not until 1944 that he was thrust back into action with an assignment in the Philippines. He was placed in charge of about 260,000 troops and three defensive groups, including the Shinbu group which was charged with the defense of Manila and Southern Luzon, including Batangas2.

In the Philippines, he was given the nickname “Gopher of Luzon3” because of “the cunning with which his troops burrowed into the hills while they were being chased from Manila to the mountains in the vicinity of Keangan.” It was unfortunate, at least from Yamashita’s point of view, that he was sent back to action at a time when the Japanese position in the Philippines was fast becoming untenable in the face of the American advance.

In October 1945, after Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers, Yamashita was charged and tried before a military tribunal in Manila for “alleged crimes against humanity.” The evidences to substantiate these charges were contained in a Bill of Particulars containing a lengthy list of “evidences” of atrocities committed by soldiers under Yamashita’s command.

This being a Batangas-oriented web site, we take a look at but a few of the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers under the province which were included in the Bill of Particulars. These we cite verbatim from the primary source document for this article:

¤ “November 1944, in the town of Lipa, eleven American prisoners of war were murdered by members of the Imperial Japanese Army. Evidence shows that the “Gigo Force” was responsible for this atrocity.

¤ “10 February 1945, in Tanauan, five hundred Filipinos, all civilians, were murdered by members of the Imperial Japanese Army.

¤ “11 February 1945, in Santo Tomas (not the Santo Tomas Prison in the City of Manila), three hundred and fifty Filipino civilians were killed by Japanese soldiers.

¤ “28 February 1945, in the town of Bauan, 328 Filipino civilians were murdered by being placed in a building which was then dynamited and burned. Japanese soldiers led by a Captain Hogino, Commanding Officer of the Bauan garrison, were responsible.

¤ “February 1945, in the town of Manbug4, 50 Filipino civilians were murdered by members of the Imperial Japanese Army.

¤ “26 March 1945, 120 Filipino civilians were murdered in the town of Sulac5. A unit designated as a Motor Transportation Platoon, Supply Company, 86th Airfield Battalion, was responsible. Lieutenant Furusawa Giichi was the Company Commander and Warrant Officer Sato Tamotsu was of the same company. Sergeant Misichita Sochei, of the 3rd Squad of this same platoon, was identified as being a participant in this massacre. He is now a prisoner of war awaiting trial.

¤ “10 April 1945, in the town of Sulac, 70 Filipino civilians were killed by members of the Japanese Army. This massacre was perpetrated by the same soldiers who were responsible for the massacre on 26 March 1945.

¤ “27 April 1945, again in Sulac, 40 additional Filipino civilians were killed by these same soldiers.”



Apart from these inhumane acts committed in Batangas, also included in the Bill of Particulars were atrocities in the Mountain Province, Bukidnon, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Laguna, Leyte, Negros Occidental, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, Palawan, Pampanga, Rizal, Surigao, Tarlac and the Greater Manila Area.

In addition, the military tribunal heard testimonies from witnesses who bravely came forward. About those pertaining to atrocities committed in Batangas, again we cite verbatim from the primary source document:
“One Filipino woman from the Taal Lake region of Batangas Province testified that she had been held by two Japanese soldiers while two other Japanese soldiers cut out her husband’s tongue because he was unable to give them information, which he did not possess, regarding Filipino guerrillas who had been operating in that neighborhood.

“Numerous women testified that their nursing babies had been torn from their arms, tossed high into the air, and, when falling, were caught upon the up-thrust bayonets of Japanese soldiers nearby.

“Five Filipino men and women testified they had seen more than 400 men women and children herded into a churchyard in the village of Taal, Batangas. The men were sorted in groups of 50, marched to the edge of a well, and there were bayoneted, shot and thrown into the well until it was filled to overflowing with their bodies.

“More than 20 witnesses, men, women and children, testified that during the period from 16 February to 19 March 1945, more than 20,000 persons, mostly Filipinos, were executed by members of the Imperial Japanese armed forces in the city of Lipa.”
Obviously, given the frequency and how widespread these atrocities were being committed by soldiers under his command, it was doubtful that Yamashita had personal knowledge or had instructed any of them to perform these. In fact, in the earlier campaign in the Malayan Peninsula, he was supposed to have given specific instructions that there “would be no looting, rape or arson” and held accountable soldiers who did not heed these.

His “exile” to Manchukuo, it was said in his defense, was partly because the Japanese military hierarchy was not impressed by the soft stand he took vis-a-vis the conquered people in the Malayan campaign. Nonetheless, despite his apparent ignorance of the acts of barbarism committed by those under his command, he took a philosophical approach and was supposed to have said,
“…any army, regardless from what country it comes – England, France or the United States – is bound to have a certain percentage of bad men in it, ones that are difficult to control in ordinary times; but an army in defeat – men who know they have but a few hours, at most a few days, to live, without leaders to lead them and with no thoughts whatsoever of earthly punishment by their own superiors – might easily resort to their primitive urges. I feel the actions of these men did not reflect the lack of morality of their leaders…”
On 7 December 1945, coincidentally the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, before a packed gathering, the military tribunal passed its verdict on Yamashita: death by hanging. The verdict was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court, but not by a unanimous vote. Even in the American press, there were those who felt that Yamashita was a necessary scapegoat given the high emotions of the era, but privately doubted if he was, indeed, guilty of the crimes of which he was charged.

Early in the morning of 23 February 1946, at the rehabilitation camp in Los Baños in Laguna, the sentence was carried out. His last wish before the noose was adjusted around this neck was to be allowed to bow in the direction of the Japanese Emperor’s palace.

Notes and references:
1Yamashita’s gold,” Wikipedia.
2Tomoyuki Yamashita,” Wikipedia.
3 Most of the major details of this article were taken from “The Tiger of Malaya: the Story of General Tomoyuki Yamashita and ‘Death March’ General Masaharu Homma,” by Lt. Col. Aubrey Saint Kenworthy, published 1953.
4 Manbug must have been a barrio in Batangas, although I am unable to find any references to it over the Internet.
5 Sulac was actually “Sulok” (corner), a barrio in Santo Tomas officially named Santa Cruz in the present day.

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