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A Glimpse on the Mental Health of Filipino World War II Soldiers and Civilians


Gezeme Santillan,

Polytechnic University of the Philippines

Over 76,000 starving and disease-ridden soldiers (roughly 60, 000 Filipinos and 10, 000-15, 000 Americans) were forced to surrender by Major General Edward P. King of the United States Army to the Japanese on the 9th of April, 1942. Afterwards, soldiers were forced to take a 140 kilometers (90 miles) hike from Mariveles, Bataan to Camp O'Donnell in San Fernando, Pampanga to Capas, Tarlac.

This was the infamous Bataan Death March where thousands of soldiers died during the hike due to dehydration, starvation, untreated wounds, and diseases before they could reach the camp. The march lasted for six (6) days and those prisoners who survived were only rescued during the Raid at Cabanatuan in early 1945. Furthermore, this event hastened the fall of Corregidor as soldiers weakened and fell behind the group. Despite that, most of them stood strong and become heroes for many people.

In commemoration to this event, Araw ng Kagitingan also known as Bataan Day or Bataan and Corregidor Day is proclaimed as national holiday under Republic Act 3022 sec. 1 which states that "the ninth day of April is hereby proclaimed as Bataan Day, and all public officials and citizens of the Philippines are enjoined to observe such day with a one-minute silence at 4:30 o’clock in the afternoon, and to hold appropriate rites in honor of the heroic defenders of Bataan and their parents, wives and/or widows."

The celebration aims to instill in the minds and the hearts of the Filipinos especially the youth that the freedom we certainly enjoy today was nourished by the blood and sacrifices of the veteran forefathers. It also emphasized the unconquerable spirits of our freedom fighters.

Moreover, the focal point of the celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) is the Dambana ng Kagitingan located in Mt. Samat in Bataan, which was built to memorialize the gallantry and epitomize our heroes who fought against the Japanese during World War 2.

To make the event more meaningful for everyone paticularly the youth, the Department of Education last March 06, 2018 encouraged the officials of the regional office, school’s division, and school to discuss the significance of the Araw ng Kagitingan and Philippine Veterans Week.


Jerald Vergara, RPm

Our Lady of Fatima University - Valenzuela

We remember the Day of Valor or Araw ng Kagitingan to commemorate the heroism of 64,000 Filipino (most are reservists and peasants) and 12,000 American soldiers who fall bloody but remain unbowed on the hand of Japanese forces during World War II. Aside from having double pay every 9th of April, here is a brief historical background about why we should be grateful to our brave heroes who stood-up against invaders 79 years ago.

On the 9th of April 1942, Bataan General Commander Edward King, Jr. of the United States Army was forced to surrender the starving and sick 76, 000 troops to the Empire of Japan. The captured defenders were forced to march from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga. The distance between two points was about 106 kilometers. Along the way thousands of prisoners gruesomely died due to dehydration, starvation, diseases, and tortures from Japanese guards; hence, the event was given an infamous name as Bataan Death March.

From San Fernando, the war prisoners were then taken cramped by boxcars going to Capas, Tarlac. The men were divided into groups of approximately 100 and cramped inside the boxcars which is meant for only 40 people. The survivors marched another 11 kilometers to reach Camp O’Donnell where some were killed, imprisoned, beaten, and forced labor for airfields and roads building.

The Fall of Bataan became a way for allied forces to prepare for conflicts during WWII since it slowed down the Japanese invaders to overrun all the U.S bases in the Pacific. The Bataan Peninsula was eventually recouped by American and Filipino liberation forces on February 8, 1945. The Day of Valor was a national day of remembrance until by virtue of Executive Order No. 203, s. 1987 proclaimed April 9 of every year as Araw ng Kagitingan and by Proclamation No. 466, s. 1989, designated April 5 to 11 of every year as Philippine Veterans Week.

For an additional reference, we have interviewed a history instructor from UP Diliman, Diego Magallona. According to him, The Philippines and Japan were in "very different situations" in 1941 when their invasion in our country began.

"The Philippines was a territory under direct United States rule until 1935 when it became a Commonwealth with an autonomous Filipino government. This was a transition period to the recognition of complete independence from the US by 1945. The Philippines had to build up its national defense from essentially the ground up, and this encountered many problems, from a lack of resources to inadequate training/experience," Magallona told TMPS team in an email. "The last major conflict experienced by the country was the Philippine-American War, which while brutal was by the 1930s already somewhat distant to many Filipinos. This may have led to a lack of urgency and seriousness among Filipinos with regards to the looming conflict, despite efforts of the Commonwealth government to build up the military and prepare civilians for wartime conditions. And when war came to the Philippines, the country was unprepared."

"Japan, on the other hand, had already been on a war footing for years prior, annexing Manchuria in 1931 and invading China in 1937, the latter being an especially brutal conflict that was still raging by the time the Philippines was invaded. This meant Japan’s military at least was more familiar with modern war – and its horrors. I cannot comment on the Japanese civilian experience/situation as I am less knowledgeable about that side. But in short, Imperial Japan itself was experienced and prepared to mobilize for and undertake a large-scale war."


AT Banico

University of the Philippines-Diliman

"Hindi na naaalis. Kapag nauungkat 'yon 'e, nabubuhay sa pag- iisip ng tao 'yon." -Jose Quilatan Sr.

The Battle of Manila was considered one of the most horrific events outside European borders in World War II. The hostility of the Japanese soldiers not to the warriors of the nation but to the civilian population was beyond measure-- women were raped, families were killed and hunger eradicated the last of the surviving population. For the war veterans such us Jose Quilatan Sr., and Oscar Buenconsejo, the wounds remain fresh as if they were received yesterday.

In an interview with DW News, a German public broadcast service, Quilatan and Buenconsejo narrated how these wars happened in front of their eyes. During the time, Quilatan was a guerilla soldier fighting against the Japanese while Buenconsejo was a Filipino soldier fightig alongside the American troops.

"Naaalala ko 'yon 'di magagandang bagay na ginawa ng Hapon sa amin noong araw, ay masakit sa kalooban," Quilatan told the interviewers. "'Yong pagsabog ng bomba. . . 'yong mga tao ay sanay na, parang nanonood na lang ng pelikula."

The horrors of World War II still haunted its veterans and although some of them remained healthy and functional, the traumas brought by such war were never fully healed. Buenconsejo can still recall the details of the scenario on how it was back then.

"People are dying, just dying in the streets, starving," he narrated as he described the situation of the civilians and soldiers alike.

"They were raping the civilian population. . . At noong matatalo na talaga, they recieved an order: kill every Filipino you see."

When the war ended on March 3, the battle was still not over for the Philippines. Now the country lays in ruin, the problem lies on how the remaining civilians and soldiers will establish their own lives again with scarce resources left-- which was basically nothing.

"Kitang-kita 'yong mga sirang building. . . mga hukay sa ilalim. Parang nangangatog ka pang. takot ka pang ano," the former guerilla told DW.

Aside from this, Buenconsejo said that Filipino soldiers were not to compensated properly by the United States and only received a medal for fighting together with the America's troops. The promised pay, however, was never settled.

"We will get the same pay as the Americans because we were fighting the common ground and you are under Philippine commonwealth; therefore, you are United States' subjects. You'll be paid the same thing. After the war, anong nangyari? Ang Congress nila, kinansel."

Currently, both veterans who were interviewed share their experiences in hope of warning the people about how ugly war is and why it should be prevented as far as the leaders and the people can. Just like Quilatan, most of our veterans must've wished that these traumas and evil memories not to affect their fellow coutryman anymore.

You may watch the full documentary here:


There have been numerous researches about how war greatly affects a person during and after it. These results are evident on the interview above and here are some points we should consider in analyzing the mental health of war veterans:

According to Derek Summerfield of St. George's Hospital Medical School, extrajudicial execution, torture, disappearances, and sexual violation brings terror amongst soldiers and civilians during a war. In this context, the same set of human rights violations are usually referred to as "war crimes" and were mostly used by soldiers in order to assert dominance against their point of invasion. Summerfield also supported the claims of war crimes before by stating that these actions "maximises control over whole populations, as does the intentional destruction of the fabric of social, economic, and cultural life."

Both the veterans' accounts showed that war crimes are extremely high during their time. This may have triggered a great fear among everyone, which is also the inferred reason as to why Quilatan still feel shivers down his spine when he saw the destroyed heritage, as well as his statement "masakit sa kalooban" and Buenconsejo's body language while narrating.

This fear is theorized to have been rooted from the Philippines' underestimation of the Japanese armed power. According to Magallona, panic striked the Filipino civilians upon the invaders' occupation, and they have faced adversaries they have never seen before.

"Filipinos were subject to various policies and conditions that many had never experienced before: curfews, ration lines, neighborhood associations (these served an anti-guerrilla purpose of surveillance and limiting rations), and the constant presence of Japanese military troops. Abuses would also become rampant as the occupation dragged on: executions of suspected guerrillas and their supporters, rape of women and/or their abduction as “comfort women” (military sex slaves), and even the destruction of communities and massacres of the population (whether as reprisal for guerrilla activities or “scorched earth” to make a retreat/defeat as destructive as possible)."

For the same reason, both civilians and soldiers went through a series of what Magallona described as "dehumanized and romanticized enabling of cycle of brutality". While the civilians suffered the bitterness of the outcomes such as hunger and fear for their loved ones' lives, the soldiers were conditioned to treat the opposing force as "enemies" to make killing and fighting easier.

Murthy and Lakshminarayana's study "Mental health consequences of war: a brief review of research findings" found out that there is indeed an increase of mental illnesses because of war and its aftermath. Together with this result, here are the other findings excerpted from their abstract:

Studies of the general population show a definite increase in the incidence and prevalence of mental disorders. Women are more affected than men. Other vulnerable groups are children, the elderly and the disabled. Prevalence rates are associated with the degree of trauma, and the availability of physical and emotional support. The use of cultural and religious coping strategies is frequent in developing countries.

From this, we can safely conclude that people who survived the war may still be affected by traumas and what we call "warshock". They still need help-- they might be functional and normal from the outside but if these memories came back and won over them, it will take more to solve it.

What did we learn from it?

Our war veterans have experienced intense emotional and physical torture. Aside from the commemoration day and medals, it is important to assure that they are undergoing therapy in order to process the traumas, fears and unwanted memories they've accumulated during their dark days. With this, we believe that mental health matters not only as far as anxiety and depression goes, but to the victims and to those who've committed war crimes as well. A further investigation and research shall be done in order to reach these people as well because they are the living witnesses of our own history.

We hope that in spite of growing awareness about mental health, may we not forget about the darker and deeper aspects of it and may our modern era of psychological researchers reach those who have been buried by their own bitter past.

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Aldrin Adrales
Aldrin Adrales
Apr 10, 2021



Jhosam Mae Dayao
Jhosam Mae Dayao
Apr 10, 2021

very enlightening article ❤️


Jhaven Mañas
Jhaven Mañas
Apr 10, 2021

Good job!

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