According to Wikipedia: “The Old Bilibid Prison, then known as Carcel y Presidio Correccional (Spanish, “Correctional Jail and Military Prison”) occupied a rectangular piece of land which was part of the Mayhalique Estate in the heart of Manila. The old prison was established by the Spanish colonial government on 25 June 1865 via royal decree. It is divided into two sections: the Carcel, which could accommodate 600 inmates; and the Presidio, which could hold 527 prisoners.”
Initially used by the Japanese to house POWs, Old Bilibid Prison became the new home for the Baguio internees, as the Allies were invading Luzon. Frederic Stevens has this account in his book, Santo Tomas Internment Camp:
On December 27, 1944, notice was given that Camp [Baguio Internment Camp] would be transferred within twenty-four hours. The first contingent of internees left Baguio in fifteen trucks at 4 o’clock in the morning of December 28th. At Binalonan a halt was made and the party was tranferred to nine of the trucks, the other six returning to Baguio for the other internees. Naturally much of the baggage had to be left in Binalon and some was permanently lost. The first contingent arrived in Manila and were housed in the Old Bilibid Prison at 2 A.M., December 29th. The others followed soon after. Most of the baggage arrived in driblets during the next week. All Camp stores and community supplies were deliberately left behind or looted.
Bilibid offered new problems in sanitation. This place was one mass of filth, lice, bed bugs and rats. There were no broom, no mops, no means except hands with which to clean. An emgency crew was organized for the unwelcomed task. The beds, toilets, room and yard were finally cleaned up as well as possible and a Camp routine set up. Guards were kept at the gate at all times to keep a lookout and advise of any change in the situation. So strict was the Japanese guard over Bilibid that no work of outside happenings reached the internees or the war prisoners, who were located close-by. The internees were in Bilibid for three weeks before Santo Tomas, only two kilometers distant, knew of the transfer.
The food situation at Bilibid became serious. From 300 grams allowed in Baguio, the ration dropped to 200 grams per person per day during January and on February 1st was reduced to the unheard quantity of one hundred grams per person per day! Through the pity of the Japanese sergeant in charge of the food issue, a double quantity was given out, the internees receiving 200 grams. How long this could have continued without detection is a question, but conjectors are unnecessary.
On February 3rd, 1945, came the great day of deliverance, when the American forces, consisting of the First Calvalry, 37th Division, and 44th Tank Battalion, less than 1,000 strong, made their way through thousands of the encircling foe and began the task of rescue. The Japanese at Bilibid took shelter in fortified rifle pits and fought despartely. The first contact of the internees and war prisoners with the rescue troops took place on February 5th and from that time on the captives wwere well taken care of by the Forces of Liberation.
For more information:
- Santo Tomás Internment Camp, pages 316-323, Frederic H. Stevens, 1946
- Spirits Unbroken; The story of three years in a civilian internment camp, under the Japanese, at Baguio and at old Bilibid prison in the Philippines from December 1941 to February 1945, pages 244-276, R. Renton Hind, 1946
- Behind Barbed Wire and High Fences: Church of the Brethren Missionaries Trapped in Japanese Concentration Camp, Helen Frances Buehl Angeny, 2011
- Child of War : A Memoir of World War II Internment in the Philippines, chapter 6, Curtis Whitfield Tong & Samuel Hideo Yamashita, 2011
- Forbidden Diary: A Record of Wartime Internment, 1941-1945, pages 433-489, Natalie Crouter, 1980
- Under the Shadow of the Rising Sun : The True Story of a Missionary Family’s Survival and Faith in a Japanese Prisoner-of-War camp during WWII, Donald and Vesta Mansell, 2003
11 thoughts on “Old Bilibid Prison”
My parents (Edward and Helen Angeny) and I were interned in Baguio and Bilibid. My mother, Helen Buehl Angeny wrote a book, “Behind Barbed Wire and High Fences” which I would like to see added to the above list of books.
Hi, Carol. Thanks for your message. I have added your Mother’s book to the Old Bilibid Prison and the Baguio Internment Camp pages. Best regards, Cliff.
I have a scrap book of Charles Thomson lots of pictures related to the prison, letters from prisoners, prison art and much more. It is a huge book found at a flea market in Oakland CA.
Hi, Joe, thanks for your message. I am very interested in looking at the scrap book to see if there is any information I can use on this website. I will send you an email to talk to you about this.
Thanks again and regards, Cliff
This scrapbook sounds amazing! My grandfather and his parents were interned at Bilibid Prison from Dec. 1941 – Feb. 1945.
Any way I could get copies or pictures from this scrapbook?
Thank you for your time and preserving this important history.
Joe, if you still have the book I would be very much interested. My father was prisoner at Bilibad for almost the entirety of the war.
My father says that he was stationed at a prison near Manila sometime between his arrival in the Philippines in July of 1945 and January of 1946. I have no factual evidence of his posting since his records were destroyed in the Archives fire of 1973. A Philippine acquaintance of his lived in worked in Manila and mentioned a camp in a letter to my mom, shortly after my father’s return stateside. My father died in 2012 and I have been searching for evidence that would put in at a particular site. I know that Santo Thomas held allied internees until their liberation but have no information about what the place was used for after the liberation. I do know that General Yamashiko was held prisoner at Bilibid from September of 1945 until his war crimes trial in 1946. I know that others were held there as well, and it seems the most likely site for my father’s posting given the timeline. I have not been able to obtain any unit numbers because of the fire, but I do know that he was a Sound and Flash Unit Commander with the rank of Captain in what must have been an Artillery battalion. Another source suggested that many of those units were broken up and given other assignments after the surrender and that serving in a prison as an officer augmenting MPs was possible. Do you, or any of your associates, have any idea who was guarding Japanese POWs at during that post surrender time period? I do not expect a miracle like someone’s dad knowing my dad in the Philippines, but any info that places US soldiers as guards would add some credence to what he told me. If I had been smarter in the time he told me about it I would have asked the right questions, but hindsight is 20/20 as we all know. Any help would be appreciated and this seems like a great site so thanks for keeping it up, even if you are unable to provide much, or any help.
Craig R. Hood
Craig, thanks for your comments and the question regarding your father’s service in the Philippines. According to A.V.H. Hartendorp, in his book The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, the Japanese who were captured or surrendered, were put into two camps. Following is from volume 2, page 631, of that work: “Many thousands of Japanese prisoners were taken in the Philippines during the weeks following the surrender, and early in October  it was reported that they numbered over 60,000, or approximately one-eight of the original enemy force in the country, but stragglers were still coming in. Most of the prisoners were held in a large camp near Santa Rosa, Laguna, 40 kilometers from Manila. Officers numbering some 1,500, including forty generals and admirals, were imprisoned at Muntinlupa [New Bilibid Prison]. Late in October the newspapers reported that 138,000 Japanese in the Philippine area would shortly be transported to Japan, but this number included civilians.” I am sure that both camps required many guards, during this period, but I will have to check through other sources to see what units were involved. If I find out anything more, I will certainly let you know. Regards, Cliff
I checked in with your website 2 and a half years ago and you gave me some useful info about American supervised camps for Japanese POWs after the Japanese surrendered. Covid shut down the Archives in St. Louis for nearly 2 years, but I finally received a few documents from them a few months ago. Though I never discovered where in the Philippines my Dad was stationed, I did learn that as a field artillery officer, he was reassigned to the 471st AAA AW in Manila in July of 1945. I have learned that most of these anti-aircraft units were disbanded and reassigned to either infantry or Military Police since the German and Japanese air forces were decimated by this date in 1945. This is, likely what happened to my Dad’s unit. He never fought with this unit and was probably assigned to replace another officer who was rotated stateside. Based on what you suggested in an earlier post, First Lt. Robert Thorndike Hood was likely assigned as an MP to the Prison camp in Santa Rosa Laguna or Bilibid in Manila. Given that he said he travelled to Manila to visit his friend, Quinton Eala who worked for the Agriculture and Science Dept. in Manila, best guess is Santa Rosa Laguna. Most Japanese POW camps were run as labor camps until the prisoners were repatriated in 1946. So, unless one of your members or texters knew my Dad or had additional information about these camps, I will likely never know where he served. I am satisfied that I know enough to make an educated guess and am confident that knowing what happened to AAA AW units, that he likely served in one of those camps and that his anecdotal accounts of what happened are true. I thought I would just mention this to you and your site in the event it is useful to any of your subscribers or any who had similar questions.
Thank you, Cliff, I will follow up on the the Santo Rosa Laguna area. I appreciate the help. It is the missing link for my son and myself.
My father Sargent Bill Fox (37TH) was one of the first in the prison release in Feb 1945. I would love to find any other published information regarding the release of the prisoners and those who went into to release them. My Dad received several honors for the event. Dad passed away in 2010, he really never spoke of any of this. I so wish we had more info and I have no idea where to start.