The Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines from 1942-1945

Philippine History

Many people wonder why the Philippines remain underdeveloped compared to its Asian neighbors despite its abundance of natural resources, population, and excellent location. Like many nations, early political and social activities determine the Philippines ‘ future.  Among the notable political factors is the Japanese invasion and occupation in the region. While the foreigners took just three years in the Philippines, they left many devastating effects on the locals. The Japanese occupied the territory between 1942 and 1945 during World War II, intending to gain global power. Their invasion intensified conflicts in Philippian, creating oppression, deaths, and destruction of properties as the locals and regional powers supported the locals to ensure the nation remains independent.

The Global and Nation Contexts of the Japanese Invasion

The Japanese invasion in Philippians was part of the Asia-Pacific War that occurred between 1931 and 1945. Although scholars tie the conflict beginning to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the war had already started waging many decades ago before the events. Like many European nations, Japan was in a period of transition and needed to gain influence in the Asian region in the 1800s (Abreu, 17). Even then, unlike other superpowers, Japan’s smaller size and few natural resources imposed barriers to political expansion and development. Further, Western nations had already colonized most Asian states during this period, and Japan viewed their occupation as a setback (Cogan, 39). Japan’s only option was to seek imperial conquest in the neighborhoods. It aimed to occupy the Philippines to facilitate the Greater East Asia War.

The Philippians were already under the United States forces at the time of the Japanese invasion. To succeed, Japan had to oust the Americans and establish military control in the region. Conquering the area would prevent the U.S from advancing in Asia nations, provide the military base, and improve supplies and communications with the invaded countries(Cogan, 108). Nonetheless, the western powers already noted the move and the situation at hand. Although America planned for Philippian’s independence at the time, they had to mobilize their troops for war. Japan started the war by attacking the U. S. and the Commonwealth soldiers in Pearl Harbor, Malaya, and Hong Kong at the same time(Cogan, 36). The Japanese conquered the America and Philippian forces in April 1942 at Corregidor, but the battle continued until 1945 after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although the U.S. forces outnumbered the Japanese armies, they “mostly consisted of untrained young men” (Jose, 496). Japan’s early victory was because the U.S. had started withdrawing from the region, and the U.S. forces already ambushed the locals.

Life during the Occupation

Philippians’ lived in an oppressive life during the Japanese invasion. After the 1942 defeat of the America-Filipino army, Japanese forces established many military bases in the region that oppressed the locals. The period of Japanese occupation was like a sorrowful survival for the locals(Jose, 495). People had to put up with the constant battles, and most of them got injured in the process. Notably, all social and economic activities came to a standstill as the nation was under siege, especially after the conquest of Manila. The local supply of goods and services stopped because of the destruction of vital infrastructure as bridges, roads, and institutions. At first, many people only survived through trade but later turned to international food donations spearheaded by the Philippine Civil Affairs Unit(PCAU) after the condition worsened(Jose, 499). Realistically, locals became depressed with the situation and the tremendous cost of living.

The Japanese soldiers also killed and raped the locals. Almost “100,000 people- out of a population of one million were killed in Manila” alone by 16000 Japanese forces. Often, the soldier gathered Filipinas together and shot them at once to avoid wastage of ammunition. Afterward, the soldiers took the bodies in houses then burned them for easy disposal. The move led to the death of many people and the destruction of many houses. Jose claims that the Japanese forces mainly started their noble acts after “realizing that they were surrounded and doomed to die” (493). The sexual abuse that Philippian women experienced during the war “involved systematic planning and forcible drafting of about 200, 000 women” in the regions the Japanese forces “comfort zones” (Jose, 491). Life in these regions was hell as the soldiers raped and tortured the women continuously. Like many conflicts, the war resulted in a grievous violation of human rights on both sides of the forces (Gruhl, 124). In brief, the Japanese occupation of Filipina only resulted in suffering to the locals rather than improving their conditions as promised.

The response of Philippines’ to Japanese invasion

The Philippians actively resisted the Japanese forces through guerrilla warfare. Immediately after japans invasion, the locals formed many guerrilla movements to help free their nations owing to the U.S. promise of political independence. Despite the Japanese campaign against the guerrilla movements and continuous ambush, the rebellion only increased with time. These underground fighters were many and fierce such that they controlled almost 60% of the region(Jose, 494). In all the provinces, the locals joined different groups and pledged to fight the Japanese forces to the last minute. The leaders of these teams communicated and organized the leaders of various territories. They further gathered vital intelligence for the U.S. soldiers. At the same time, the American forces supported the underground fighters with supplies and warfare pieces of machinery. The collaboration continued until the Japanese forces surrendered.

Even then, like other regions, there were still locals and regions that collaborated with the Japanese forces. Among the Japanese rule, supporters included local leaders and elite groups(Jose, 503). While leaders were mainly for political influence, the locals’ elite groups believed collaboration was the only way to avoid the conflicts in the region. These rebel groups led by Jose Laurel, who served as the president of the Philippian puppet government, gave both intelligence and material support to the Japanese forces.

How the Philippine War Shaped the Early Years of the Third Republic

The new government, after the Philippian War, faced a challenge of building the nation, rewarding the U.S. The war left most of the local infrastructure and facilities wholly damaged (Abreu, 59). The government had to find ways of reconstructing production activities in all sectors and institutions. To help curb the situation, the leaders gave the U.S. parity rights overexploitation of natural resources in exchange for financial and material support (Jose, 497). The U.S. helped the government and locals through PCAU. Apart from relief food, the organization financed different activities like education and healthcare and even paid public workers. The country also opened up to international trade with the primary partner. Realistically, the period led to the construction of new infrastructure and the exploitation of natural resources to facilitate economic growth.

Another challenge that faced the nation was how to deal with those who collaborated with the Japanese. The American government made it clear that without punishing the rebellers, it would cut donations and material support to the nation(Jose, 499). Consequently, the authorities formed a local court where the collaborators were tried and jailed when found guilty. This move excluded the rebellers from the country’s leadership. Even so, after Roxas won the presidential election in 1946, all the jailed collaborators got released (Jose, 502). The amnesty brought initial warlords back to the political scene. As such, the nation never achieved the goal of punishing the rebellers as planned earlier.


Japanese invasion and occupation in the Philippines adversely affected both social and economic activities through infrastructure destruction, exploitation of the locals. Japanese forces invaded the region intending to oust the U.S forces and establish their rule to control Asian nations. The Philippian location could have provided excellent communication and ambush base for the Japanese troops. At first, the Japanese conquered the America-Filipino forces but later became overpowered. During the Japanese occupation, life was stressful as the forces tortured, raped, and killed the locals. Moreover, the destruction of facilities and institutions stopped any economic activioti3s from taking place. Individuals only depended on donations for survival. Even so, the locals formed many underground forces to help the U.S. forces drive away from the Japanese. After the end of the war, the new government’s primary agenda was reconstruction and building of the nation. Even then, the main problem was how to deal with the rebellions during the fight. The new leadership formed a local tribunal to punish the collaborators for national unity.



Works Cited

Abreu, Lualhati M. “Colonialism and Resistance: A Historical Perspective.” MORO READER (2008).

Cogan, Frances B. Captured: The Japanese Internment of American Civilians in the Philippines, 1941-1945. University of Georgia Press, 2012.

Gruhl, Werner. Imperial Japan’s World War Two: 1931-1945. Transaction Publishers, 2010.

Jose, Ricardo S. “Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People. Vol. 7. The Japanese Occupation.” Asian Publishing Company Limited.

Prof. Angela


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