Class Opening, 1945

Manila Bulletin, June 13, 2016 | Go to article overview

Class Opening, 1945


"I shall return," Gen. Douglas MacArthur promised in 1942 and on Feb. 3, 1945, the starving Americans at UST were rescued and Manila north of the Pasig was safe.

Fighting continued in south Manila where, in the next four weeks, civilians were massacred by the trapped Japanese and mortared by the advancing Americans. Peace was restored on March 3 with much of the city destroyed.

As school year 2016-2017 opens, the challenge is the new Grade 11. In 1945, the challenge was opening Manila schools with nothing, described in a 19-page typescript found just a few days ago that my father, Juan C. Laya, must have dashed off around September 1945.

It begins: "When the din of battle was over in Manila, many schools had gone up in smoke or had gone down in crumbled ruins, and what was left in these had gone out into looters' nests. The main job of school heads was to grab equipment from the ruins, clear the debris of battle, and set up a school with the salvage."

On Feb. 20, with cannon still firing, the Secretary of Instruction and Information handed R40 to the 33-year-old Laya and ordered him to open a high school. "My school was to be set up on nothing--no school building, no desks, no teachers, no books, no janitors, no money, nothing at all. There was only myself, as acting principal preferred over more experienced men because I had not collaborated with the Japs."

North Manila's three high schools--Arellano, Mapa, and Torres--were filled with refugees and, after three days of searching, Laya succeeded in getting one semester's use of nine classrooms at Bonifacio Elementary School on Tayuman Street. In three weeks' time, Manila High School was born with 25 teachers and 832 students.

The real difficulty was people. "The student body was a mongrel group, coming from all over Manila, from all schools, public or private, not having any common tradition, neither the slightest loyalty to the new squatter school. [S]tudents were a salvage of the war, all war-shocked, desperately eager for better things as they came to after the nightmare of three years. …

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