General Carlos P. Romulo
Philippine Resident Commissioner to the United States
Before the House of Representatives of the United States Congress
[Delivered on December 7, 1944]
THE LIBERATION OF THE PHILIPPINES—A REPORT TO CONGRESS FROM THE FRONT LINES OF DEMOCRACY.
Mr. Speaker, I have come to make a report from the front lines of democracy. I have just returned from Leyte, Philippines.
More than two months have passed since I said au revoir to you upon this floor before rejoining Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific. Today it is my privilege to inform you that within that time I have seen the start of the liberation of my country, and I have returned to America and to this floor to bring to you, the American Congress, representing the American people, the gratitude of the people of the Philippines.
Within these past weeks we have stood upon Philippine soil; we have seen the American flag and the Filipino flag flying over that land again; we have talked with people who, since December 7, 1941, three full years, have fought, waited, and prayed with America. They are my people, and I speak to you now with their voice, and it is their story I have to tell. It is a story not for America alone but for the entire world.
It is the story of a people’s unwavering faith in America, unshaken by the bestiality of a brutal enemy during the long night of humiliation and defeat. It is the story of the redemption of a pledge in honor given by an American and in honor fulfilled in the truest American tradition. It is the story of Filipino civilian resistance that started without military leadership and grew from day to day and from island to island into one of the most spectacular underground movements in the world. It is the story of a government in exile returning to the homeland and taking over the civil government from the military without undergoing the throes of internecine warfare such as we see in many of the liberated countries in Europe today. It is the story of the blood brotherhood of two peoples of two different races and one human standard. It is the story of democracy at its best.
First of all, I want to report that we met with victory on Leyte and that our hold there is secure. It is our first step toward inevitable, final victory. Only one difference makes it unlike other victories.
That difference is Bataan.
Since Bataan, General MacArthur has been fighting for an idea. It was the American idea of freedom and democracy. He had seen his faith in the Filipino Nation upheld by Filipino loyalty to American ideals. His faith had been justified in the fox holes of Bataan. He was forced from the Philippines, but for two and one half years he held to that single purpose expressed in the pledge made then: “I will return.”
He kept that pledge on Leyte Beach in words that are now part of our known history: “I have returned.”
My story really begins with October 20 of this year, which for our forces was A-day, the day of our first attack on the Philippines which will serve as our springboard to Manila. It is not for me to tell you now how A-day was advanced by General MacArthur, nor of the weeks chopped off our schedule and the American lives saved by that priceless salvage in time, nor of the concentrated power expressed that morning in the numbers of men and ships and planes. Our front lines are long in the Pacific, and the action is terrible and swift. I shall speak only of the comparatively small sector before my eyes that morning as the troopship John Land moved up on the strip of shore objective that was Leyte.
Around us in Leyte Bay were 600 other ships—troop carriers, battleships, destroyers, cruisers, rocket ships— a massed unit that at one time, on its way to this place, had covered nearly a thousand miles of sea. The sky overhead was blanketed with American planes, pouring down hell over the Japanese installations. The naval bombardment was sonorous as an organ. It was one solid deafening roar, and the rocket ships were laying lines of explosion like embroidery along the shore, blasting everything in their way. There would be the roar of explosion and the puff of smoke and the fires starting in the Japanese fortifications and the coconut palms. Among the Japanese hiding in there were the Sixteenth Division, who had beaten us on Bataan. They had been responsible for the nightmare “March of Death” after Bataan fell.
All this time we were milling around on deck among swarms of the heartiest, finest men on earth, the American soldiers. Life or death was a split second away, but they were jostling and kidding and pushing around getting autographs on their short-snorter bills. Every man seemed to have a gun in one hand and a fountain pen in the other while moving up on Leyte in the concentrated might and fury of American vengeance written before us in smoke and in fire on earth and sea and sky. Never in my maddest dreams in Bataan could I have hoped for this—to see America on its way back—so surely armed with such indescribable power.
It was 10 o’clock in the morning, October 20, 1944.
The landing barges were on the water; the rope ladders were slapping against the ship’s side; the boys began piling overboard. These were your boys—healthy, strong, clean, well equipped—everything to fight with, everything to protect them, everything to fight for. The last night on board I had addressed them over the loud speaker. I had told them to remember those who had died on Bataan. Now, going over, the side, they grinned their clean, young grins and flipped thumbs up, and they said to me as I looked at them from the bridge, “Sir, for Bataan.”
Wave after wave of them went ashore. We watched them through glasses and mine blurred because I knew that many of them would not come back. The waters of Leyte Bay were a swarm with barges. Some were hit by Japanese mortar shells and went under. From those barges which sank only a few of the boys made shore. We saw the first casualties, piled on barges, brought back to the ships. On land our boys were ready with flame throwers and tanks and every manner of armament—they had everything. Waves of men kept pressing on between the palms and flames and blasted rubble that had been the Japanese barricades, and they were not being thrown back anywhere as far as our glasses could see. Only those were left on the beach and in the water who could not go on.
Red Beach, Palo, Leyte. Remember that landing place—the first step back; the first erasure against Corregidor and Bataan.
We waded ashore. Under my feet I felt the crunch of my land, my country again, the earth of the Philippines. After two and one half years of forced absence—my native land. The landscape around us was raging with fires set by our rockets and flame throwers, and the rubble of Japanese installations was before us, and all around us on the beach were our dead. But this was it. The answer to millions of anguished prayers. Once more, a portion of our soil set free. In that moment on the beach there flashed through my mind a picture I had vowed never to forget, the picture of our dead who had been piled to the water’s edge on Bataan, and I thought to myself, how much easier they will rest tonight.
There were Japanese dead on Leyte, but while I felt no exultation over their strewn bodies I could not pity them. These were the men who had dealt out flame and death to our forces when we were helpless on Bataan. These were the bestial Japanese who had marched our naked and defenseless boys over those cruel miles and into the barbed-wire traps they called prisons. They had tied our men back to back and had bayoneted them. They had done unmentionable things. They had defiled an emblem never before dishonored. But not for long. Because the first thing I saw on Leyte was the American flag hoisted to a coconut tree, and beside it was our Filipino flag, both flying together again over the Philippines.
Under those united flags our soldiers were spread out in fox holes forming a wide guarding phalanx to protect General MacArthur and President Osmeña from the Japanese snipers. The crack of Japanese rifles answered by American guns interrupted all that followed. President Osmeña and General MacArthur sat down on a fallen tree trunk under a coconut palm and held the first conference on liberated Philippine soil, while all around them the soldiers watched from their fox holes, and beyond lay those who would not watch again.
It is the story of these men on Leyte beach that I have returned to tell you today, but it is also the story of other men who fought—in the beginning without uniforms or shoes or guns or food or hope. Their courage helped us on A-day at Leyte.
They are the Filipino guerrillas whose story can at last be told. The fall of Bataan has become a datemark: “Before Bataan fell,” or “after Bataan fell.” But an accuracy of date is a fallacy of fact. To the Filipinos Bataan never really fell. It spread. The Japanese hordes crushed it, then scattered the fragments, and like seeds sown afar, Bataan has spread throughout the Philippines, new crops in new earth. This was the civilian resistance against the enemy that no Japanese terrorism could stop. This was the Filipino underground movement that inspired General MacArthur to issue a special release upon landing on Leyte, praising their loyalty to America, their valor, and their tenacity.
For two and one half years we had been obliged to conceal their living story. How I long to tell it. How I wanted the American people and all people everywhere to know that a captive nation had united under bondage to light in support of the Americans who had once been their conquerors. No longer can we look to the Philippines and say: “This is Philippine earth, or this American.” It is Fil-America; it is the new world, the El Dorado of all those who throughout history have dreamed of freedom. It was founded by white and brown brothers who went cold and wet and hungry in tropic mud, who might have given up but did not, who joined forces and grew and survived against incredible opposition, thinking the same thoughts, sharing the same dreams, fighting for the same ideals—equality, fraternity, liberty. These have been fought for before, but never have we seen them so triumphant as we saw them that first day on Leyte.
America’s forces and the secret Filipino forces joined for the first time on Leyte. While our armadas of the sea and land and sky were driving the Japanese back, the guerrillas were synchronizing their attacks from the rear, not only on this island but everywhere in the Philippines. Even on Luzon they are fighting now to meet us on our way.
This is no hit-and-miss crusade. It is planned victory. We have been in active communication with the Philippines ever since Bataan. The Filipino guerrillas, motivated by loyalty to America, gave up their homes, their families, and any security that might be left them to live in woods and caves like animals, fighting when they could, facing capture and Japanese atrocities. Many died by torture.
The Filipino guerrillas knew all that America was planning, and they aided and abetted all plans. They were ready to welcome President Osmeña and his civil government. The Free Philippines magazine, printed for the Filipinos by the Office of War Information, was taken by submarine to the Philippines, and every copy delivered there was passed from hand to hand. Thus, every Filipino knew that President Quezon had died in America, that President Osmeña had taken his place in exile, and that America was bringing President Osmeña back to the Philippines. With makeshift radio sets and electric energy generated by hours of effort, they listened to KGEI from San Francisco and the Philippine Hour in Brisbane. During this past year American submarines have landed on Philippine coasts with clothing, guns, ammunition, radio sets, cigarettes, and chewing gum for the guerrilla army until the desperate Japanese overlords were driven to declare the possession of a stick of chewing gum punishable by death. The reports of Tokyo propagandists were futile against the swift and sure communication between the Filipinos who were in captivity and the Americans who were on the way.
Mr. Speaker, consider Leyte beside the scenes that have taken place in Paris, in Rome, and now in Brussels and in Athens. In Europe we have disorders, riots, civil war. There were shaven heads and brandings and the mobs taking justice into their own hands. But the reestablishment of the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines on Philippine soil has been accomplished with a dignity that should make every American proud. Directly after occupying a town or city, General MacArthur, inspired by the spirit of liberalism that has guided American policy since the inception of American rule in the Philippines, turns the liberated city back to the Commonwealth Government.
How I wish the world could have witnessed the ceremony on the capitol steps in Tacloban when, in the presence of the Presidential and military staffs, just two days after it was freed from enemy control, General MacArthur delivered Tacloban into the constitutional charge of President Osmeña. In Osmeña’s simple words of acknowledgment, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was reestablished on Philippine soil.
During the next days the schools were reopened and mass was said in the churches. Religion and knowledge, God and learning, two matters the Japanese forgot, returned to Leyte together with freedom. During that first week other towns were retaken, and the same procedure was followed.
The transition from military to civil government was as smooth as it was rapid. This smooth transition was due to three factors: First, General MacArthur, as a true American, has faithfully followed the liberal policy set by this Congress in dealing with the Philippines, a policy that has been reaffirmed time and again by that steadfast friend of the Filipino people, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; second, President Osmeña had a master plan ready, and the blueprints, as prepared by him and his government, had been laid out in advance; and, third, because the Filipino people were prepared for the restoration of their constitutional rights and liberties. To them, Sergio Osmeña is the symbol of Filipino unity, and they rallied to his side when he sounded the clarion call of oneness and responsibility. He said:
Ours is a constitutional Government; ours is a community educated in the norms of a Christian civilization. Due respect for the law, rigid adherence to those principles established in civilized countries, complete obedience to the decisions of the courts—all these involve forms of character and high moral attributes that are possession of enlightened countries like ours. On the threshold of occupying a sovereign place in the concert of free nations, we must live up to our responsibilities. We must prove our ability to maintain domestic peace and our capacity to mete out justice. Precisely when the eyes of the civilized world are focused on our country, we cannot allow acts of personal revenge and misguided zeal to cast a reflection on our civilization and our ability to maintain an orderly government. Ours is a Government by law: the splendor of its majesty must never be dimmed in our land.
This is the story I have come back from the Philippines to tell you. It is of General MacArthur and the idea he has lived and fought for since he left Bataan. It is of President Osmeña and his plan for the future of the Philippines—rehabilitation, relief, early independence—that has fitted together and worked along with all that was planned by America. It is the story of that great Filipino underground army that fought in heart-breaking secrecy for two and a half years and their final triumph in sharing our victory at Leyte. And it is, moreover, each and all of these, American feelings and Filipino feelings, different reasons and different earth, but all stirred by the same impulse that can be summed up in one word—Bataan.
I saw Bataan again on Leyte. Filipinos and Americans there shared understanding of one another, having shared the same hunger for liberty, the same sacrifices and death and glories, and the same God. From this American Congress we obtained political equality; in Bataan we won social equality. That is why it is impossible to encompass in communiqués the way the American G. I. feels toward the Filipino who fought alongside his fellow American in the same fox hole in Bataan and later inside the barricade as his ally and friend; impossible to compress in print the way the Filipino feels towards G. I. Joe, his comrade-in-arms and liberator. This is democracy as we saw it on Bataan. It is on Leyte, set like a torch between East and West.
Between these two places within a space of two and a half years, we have compressed the greatest story in all freedom’s history. It did not begin at Leyte, however, or even in Bataan. The first words were written within this Chamber with the passage of the Jones Act in 1916. To it can be dedicated this sacrifice and brotherhood between men of two races and a single human standard. Bataan was the first chapter written in the mingled blood of Filipinos and Americans, and Leyte and every recovered Philippine mile are others, all leading to the final shared exaltation at the fall of imperial Tokyo.
This is democracy’s story written by your sons and mine, a story for all the world. I have returned temporarily from the fighting front to bring it to you and to bring you renewed assurance of the pledged gratitude and loyalty of the people of the Philippines.
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Mrs. ROGERS of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, just a few minutes ago we heard a very moving, very dramatic story, the true picture of our re-entry into the Philippines, the landing on Leyte, delivered by General ROMULO. I wish it might be printed and that every schoolroom all over this great land of ours would have it framed and hung on the wall.
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Mr. TARVER. Mr. Speaker, earlier in the day on this third anniversary of the disaster of Pearl Harbor we were privileged to listen to the Resident Commissioner from the Philippines, General Romulo, as he gave to us an eyewitness story of the landing of the American soldiers on Leyte Island on October 20, 1944. I have heard no more eloquent and informative address delivered during the several years of my service here than was delivered by General Romulo. I am sure the hearts of all us were moved when we heard his description of the heroism displayed on that occasion and the sufferings and the hardships which were undergone by those many thousands of American boys who performed those deeds of valor on October 20 and on subsequent days.
Source: Presidential Museum and Library