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May 30, 2020

WWII Batangas: Forced Cotton Planting and Civilian Hunger

Image credit: rushi3030 (talk) - I (Hrushi3030 (talk)) created this work entirely by myself., Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30019883
Image credit: rushi3030 (talk) - I (Hrushi3030 (talk)) created this work entirely by myself., Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30019883.
Among the common themes related to World War II in Batangas found in the so-called “historical data” required by the administration of President Elpidio Quirino in 1951 were those of the forced plantation of cotton by farmers and the consequential hunger among the civilian population.

Most of the references to these cotton plantations were made in passing. However, the “historical data” for the barrio of San Mariano1, now part of San Pascual but still with Bauan in World War II, provided more information about how the Japanese forced the plantation of cotton and how this ultimately resulted in hunger and diseases.

The Japanese, the account said, went to even the remotest barrios and ordered the plantation of cotton in “all tillable soil.” This was not limited to the peasantry alone. Japanese patrols went around the province and required even the wealthy landowners to have no less than one hectare of their lands planted to cotton.



Because of the forced cotton policy, “rice and other food crops were unseasonably harvested due to the fright of the people towards the Japanese soldiers.” These soldiers went from house to house to “urge” compliance with the cotton policy, in fact requiring everyone except children to work in the field to plant cotton and maintain the fields.

The “historical data” described what would become the citizens’ new routine as well as the hunger that ensued:

“They had to go to the fields early in the morning, returned home at noon, back to work after lunch, and went home very late in the afternoon. This lasted for three years. Cotton balls were weighed and a kilo cost thirteen centavos for the producer to sell.

The people of the barrio could hardly earn their living and what was pitiful was the supply of food in the barrio. The people had nothing to eat as they had no palay and had nothing to buy as they had no money.

Besides, the head of the family went to town to buy rice from the Naric2 controlled by the Japanese. He was given a ganta3 of rice, enough for the family for a day and for other days of the week, they depended upon root crops as gabi (taro), ubi (or ube, purple yam) and cassava. The ration was given for every barrio once a week.”

But what was behind this cotton policy of the Japanese?

There were two reasons why the Japanese forced the plantation of cotton not just in Batangas but everywhere else in the Philippines. The first was obvious – textile production. Indeed, textile machineries were brought in by the Japanese for this purpose4.

The second reason was less so – cotton was needed in the manufacture of explosives. Because Japan was in a state of war against the Allied Powers, the production of cotton for the manufacture of ammunition was deemed by the Japanese as of greater strategic necessity than the planting of rice and food crops5.

The cotton policy, it has to be pointed out, would ultimately turn out to be a failure. The seeds that the Japanese brought in were unsuitable to the soil and the climate. Moreover, plantations were frequently disturbed by guerrilla activities6.



The ultimate irony of this policy was described again in the “historical data” for barrio San Mariano, although it goes without saying that the same things happened elsewhere in Batangas. Notwithstanding the fact that they themselves caused civilian hunger and diseases because of their forced plantation of cotton, as liberation approached, the Japanese visited the barrio to ask the teniente del barrio “for palay, corn, pigs, fowls, eggs, and even some leguminous plants.”

The Japanese returned several times, confiscating not only food items but “everything they saw which they thought of value.” Starved as they already were, whatever meager supplies of rice they had, the barrio inhabitants buried underground, away from Japanese eyes.

Because of the frequent looting, many inhabitants eventually evacuated to safer places away from the reach of the Japanese. The silver lining to the cloud that was the Japanese occupation was that Allied Forces would land on the beaches of Nasugbu in late January 1945, and in early March begin the campaign to liberate Batangas from Japanese control.

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Notes and references:
1 “History and Cultural Life of [the] Barrio of San Mariano,” 1953, online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
2 Most likely NARIC, the National Rice and Corn Corporation established during the Philippine Commonwealth. “The Problem of Food and Inflation: a Case Study from the Japanese Occupation,” by Ricardo T. Jose, online at the National Academy of Science and Technology. P. 526.
3 A “ganta” was a measurement of rice equivalent to eight chupas. Wiktionary.
4 “The Philippine Economy During the Japanese Occupation, 1941-1945,” by Gerardo P. Sicat, published 2003 by the University of the Philippines School of Economics.
5 Jose, p. 530, op. cit.
6 “Philippine Cotton Production Under Japanese Rule: 1942-1945,” by Yoshiko Nagano, published 1998 in the “Philippine Studies” journal of the Ateneo de Manila University.

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