Impact of Japanese Occupation in the Philippines: Considering Effects of World War II on Post-Colonial Philippines

A Japanese soldier stand in front of US propaganda, in the Philippines.

The Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia, which only ended in 1945, was overall a catalyst to the nationalistic movements among region’s nations as well as their eventual independence. Although the Philippines achievement of independence in 1946 after the war seems to reinforce this view, it could also be said that the Japanese invasion instead hampered the achievement of independence.

Pre-War Movement Towards Independence

In contrast to other Southeast Asian nations, the nationalistic desire was already present in the Philippines, most prominently through the actions of national hero José Rizal. In fact, the Philippines were the first country to declare independence, doing so in 1898 with the end of Spanish colonialism, though that was quashed by the subsequent colonialism by the United States.

Another plus point for the Philippines is that unlike the colonizers in other countries, the Americans were more open to the idea of Philippine’s eventual independence, even with their implementation of direct rule. Policies such as the Jones Act in 1916 or the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1935 all pointed to a Philippines that was already about to achieve independence.

The Japanese Invasion Derailed Philippines Independence

As such, the Japanese invasion, accompanied by destruction and loss of life and property, especially in Manila could be said to have crippled the Philippines progress to independence. Economic poverty would continue to be a feature of Japanese rule over the years, such as the use of the Japanese currency, derisively termed as “Mickey Mouse money”.

Political upheavals also divided the country as a divide emerged between those who chose to cooperate with the Japanese, and those who eventually became guerillas. One such group was the Hukbalahap, whose violence was a reaction both to Japanese rule and their discontent with the previous class structure. Corruption and violence prevailed, as respect for law and order disappeared. The sense of nationhood was put aside in the individual pursuit for family survival among the Filipinos.

The Japanese Invasion Altered Independent Philippines

Despite the above, the Philippines declaration of independence and subsequent rule by its own rulers still did occur much earlier than other countries such as Vietnam. In that light, the effect of Japanese occupation did really have a crippling effect on the nationa’s development.

An alternative and less negative perspective worth considering would be to see the Japanese invasion as altering rather than solely hampering the Philippines once they had achieved independence.

Increased perception of Philippines as a Southeast Asian nation

Previously, the Philippines had been fairly isolated from the rest of the Southeast Asian nations, yet the common experience of the war would move itself closer to the rest of the region, both in political relationships and in cultural perceptions. This is seen especially in how the Philippines was one of ASEAN’s founding members during the association’s establishment in 1967.

Changed relationship with America

The Philippines also had to grapple with its relationship with the United States, in many ways which perhaps would not occur without the Japanese occupation. This included the relative lack of aid supplied to the Philippines(the Americans were more focused on pumping money into rebuilding Japan), as well as economic concessions which favoured America, such as the rigid currency link of the peso and dollar, which was viewed as unfair.

America also wanted the continued usage of their military bases as the cold war progressed. This was viewed as an infringement of sovereignty, not only in a territorial sense, but also as military personnel were not subject to Philippine law, but rather that of their own military law.

A More Aggressive Filipino Society

The violence during the war years contributed to a society more prepared to use aggressiveness. This was especially seen in Huk guerilla war which continued after World War II and was only curbed by Ramon Magsaysay, the president from 1953 to 1955.

These changes to the country would have a profound effect in political developments as well as the Filipino’s way of lives over time, through the post-war years, the period of Ferdinand Marco’s presidency, and beyond.


  1. A Short History of South-east Asia (3rd edition) by Peter Church (published 2003)
  2. The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia Edited by Normal G. Owen et al. (published 2005)