Seventy-seven years after the Battle of Manila and the liberation of the Santo Tomas Internment Camp, the University of Santo Tomas, with the City Government of Manila through the Department of Tourism, Culture, and Arts of Manila (DTCAM), hosted the commemoration on February 3, 2022. A solemn wreath-laying ceremony and 21-gun salute were held in the Plaza Mayor followed by a reception program at the Benavides Garden.
Gracing the event were foreign diplomats, namely, Her Majesty’s Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Her Excellency Laure Stephanie Beaufils; the Ambassador of Canada His Excellency James Peter MacArthur; the Ambassador of Australia His Excellency Steven James Robinson, AO; the Ambassador of Japan His Excellency Koshikawa Kazuhiro; and Acting Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the United States of America Mr. David “Chip” Gamble, Jr.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Vice Commander MGen. Nestor Herico, PN(M); National Historical Commission of the Philippines Chairman Dr. Rene Escalante; Manila City Mayor Hon. Francisco Domagoso and Vice Mayor Hon. Maria Sheilah Lacuna-Pangan, M.D., also took part in the ceremonies. Along with the diplomats, they offered wreaths at the façade of the Main Building as a sign of respect and remembrance.
UST Rector Very Rev. Fr. Richard G. Ang, O.P., Ph.D., in his speech, bid the audience to focus on remembrance.
“We remember the courage of nameless civilians and the unimaginable suffering of those who experience the desolation of war. Remembering is part of healing; we can only make sense of the past by our ability to retell the story and acknowledge the pain inflicted. We cannot bring back the lives sacrificed during this period of history, but through this memorial we continue to honor their exceptional courage and valor,” emphasized the Father Rector.
It is through remembrance that historical events such as this are preserved in the collective memory for posterity, shared Fr. Ang. He added that the gathering was not only a celebration of history, identity, community, and friendship, but an enabling of peace.
Vice Mayor Hon. Maria Sheilah Lacuna-Pangan, M.D., who obtained her undergraduate pre-medical degree in Biology from UST, highlighted the lessons of heroism learned from the Battle of Manila, likening it to the current challenge of the pandemic.
“No weapons of war are needed, but great heroic challenges remain for the heroes of the present times. As we commemorate the Battle of Manila, we also honor the heroism of the medical health workers,” said Lacuna-Pangan, who continued to thank all who were involved in aiding Filipinos as they weathered the pandemic.
Manila City Mayor Hon. Francisco Domagoso, in his message, extolled the virtues of patriotism and love of one’s own country. In the modern context, these virtues can also manifest in the valor of medical frontliners protecting people from COVID-19.
“We are now in the middle of a conflict with a virus that left no one unaffected. Just as the brave soldiers whom we relied upon the armed battle; we have our courageous frontliners who never turned their back on us when we needed them the most. Our country’s medical professionals live truthfully to their Hippocratic Oath as they display their selflessness,” Mayor Domagoso concluded.
UST became the largest internment camp in the Philippines after the Japanese forces occupied Manila in December 1941. For 37 months in captivity, around 7000 people were kept inside, with a few thousand being transferred to Los Baños Internment Camp. Although the internees were initially allowed to continue schooling and to keep a vegetable garden, they suffered an increasingly brutal treatment and prolonged deprivation of food and medicine as the Japanese continued to lose World War II.
On February 3, 1945, the Cavalry Division reached Manila and began the liberation of less than 4000 internees, of which 3000 were Americans, through the guidance of Captain Manuel Colayco – a UST faculty member and a guerilla intelligence officer – who was mortally wounded in the attempt. Colayco Park in UST would later be named after him. The internment camp was finally emptied in September 1945.
Since then, the University of Santo Tomas has hosted previous anniversary commemorations of this historical event, such as the 50th, 60th, 70th, and the 75th.
For this year, the Manila Public Information Office livestreamed the event through their Facebook page, where it remains available for public viewing.