The United States decided to grant independence to the Philippines in 1946 after an interim period, and under the Tydings-McDuffie Independence Act of 1934, the government of the islands was changed in 1935. In March 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a new constitution for the islands, which the Filipinos accepted in May. In September, Manuel Quezon was elected president, and in November, when he was inaugurated, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was formally established. Quezon was reelected president in November 1941.
Quezon wished to strengthen the defenses of the Philippines against a possible attack by Japan. In 1935, he invited General Douglas MacArthur to the islands as his military adviser, and the following year, Quezon appointed MacArthur field marshal of the Commonwealth forces. Although U.S. war plans called for defense of the Philippines, the U.S. Congress had done little to provide funding. In 1941, the Philippine army numbered only about 90,000 men, four-fifths of them Filipinos and the rest U.S. troops. The Philippine navy consisted of 2 torpedo boats, and the air force had 40 aircraft. With war threatening, in July 1941 these forces were integrated into the new U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, commanded by Lieutenant General MacArthur. The principal ground element of this force was Major General Jonathan Wainwright's Philippine Division, consisting of 8,000 Philippine Scouts commanded by U.S. officers, a U.S. infantry regiment of 2,000 men, and an artillery regiment. In August 1941, MacArthur began to mobilize and train the Philippine army's reserve forces of 10 lightly armed infantry divisions.
The Japanese attacked the Philippine Islands, beginning with air raids on Clark and Iba Airfields, on 8 December 1941. Japanese forces then landed and drove on Manila, forcing MacArthur to withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula. U.S. and Filipino forces fought surprisingly well and delayed the Japanese timetable. Cut off from the outside and starved of resources, even food, the Americans were forced to surrender on 9 April 1942. The fortified island of Corregidor fell on 6 May. President Roosevelt had already ordered MacArthur to Australia. President Quezon established a government-in-exile in Washington.
Japanese claims of Asian solidarity rang hollow with their practice of treating the Filipinos with contempt and brutality. The Japanese were surprised to discover that most Filipinos remained loyal to the United States. As early as 1943, Tokyo announced its plans to grant independence to the Philippines. Japanese leaders hoped that this would diminish anti-Japanese sentiment and allow some Japanese troops to be shifted elsewhere, but the Japanese also insisted that any grant of independence be accompanied by a declaration of war by the Philippines against the United States. Under Japanese pressure, in September 1944 the puppet Philippine government headed by Jose Laurel, former minister of the interior, declared war on the United States.
As elsewhere, there were collaborationist elements, but resistance activities also occurred. Resistance on the big island of Luzon was led by the Filipinos, Americans, and Hukbalahap ("Huks," People's Anti-Japanese Army) guerrillas. Although they did not seriously disrupt the Japanese occupation, they proved an irritant to the Japanese, provided intelligence information, and greatly assisted in the reconquest of the islands by U.S. troops.
Following U.S. landings in the Philippines in October 1944, the Philippine government was reestablished in the islands at Tacloban, Leyte, on 23 October. U.S. forces then invaded Luzon, and following two weeks of heavy fighting that devastated the city, retook Manila in February. Laurel and some other collaborators fled to Japan, where they eventually surrendered to U.S. authorities. On 5 July 1945, MacArthur announced that the Philippines had been liberated. The Philippine Congress met on 9 June for the first time since 1941, and in September it ratified the United Nations charter.
Following the liberation, MacArthur, much to the surprise of many, adopted a lenient attitude toward the collaborators and personally pardoned Manuel Roxas, a prominent collaborator who won election to the presidency in 1946. Sporadic violence continued in the Philippines after the war, fed by serious economic problems and separatism. Some guerrilla warfare occurred, led by the Huks. Independence came to the islands on schedule on 4 July 1946. The Philippines then concluded free trade agreements with the United States, secured significant funding for reconstruction, and granted long-term leases on military and naval bases to the United States. Spencer C. Tucker
Agoncillo, Teodora A., and Oscar M. Alfonso. History of the Filipino People. Quezon City, Philippines: Malaya Books, 1967.; Friend, Theodore. The Blue-Eyed Enemy: Japan against the West in Java and Luzon, 1942–1945. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.; Hartendorp, A. V. H. The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. 2 vols. Manila: Bookmark, 1967.; Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990.; Laurel Jose P. War Memoirs of Dr. Jose P. Laurel. Manila: Jose P. Laurel Memorial Foundation, 1980.; Lear, Elmer Norton. The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines: Leyte, 1941–1945. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1961.; Steinberg, David J. Philippine Collaboration in World War II. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967.
Spencer C. Tucker