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75th year of Bataan Death March

This year, we are observing the 75th year of the Bataan Death March. We are remembering the 75th year of an extraordinary heroic act by Filipino soldiers. This also hits quite near to home as I trace my roots in the province of Bataan. My mother was born in the town of Orani.

While reading through some articles on the Bataan Death March on the Internet, I came across an article from FoxNews.com which quoted Robert Hansen, a member of the board of directors of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society and the grandson of a Bataan survivor.

He said: “It was perhaps the second most consequential event of World War II after Pearl Harbor, but even the people in the Philippines do not know the history of the Bataan. It is so important to educate people about Bataan and to honor those who survived.”

I could not agree more.

Remembrance cannot be reduced to empty ceremonies but through meaningful reflections on our history as a people. I really hope that the Department of Education (DepEd) would intensify its efforts to improve the teaching of Philippine history to our children especially heroic stories such as the Bataan Death March.

The so-called Death March showcased supreme sacrifice on the part of Filipino and American soldiers in the face of Japanese occupation during World War II. I used to think about the difficulties I encountered growing up poor but that is no match to what our Filipino soldiers went through during the Death March. Not even close.

The Bataan Death March happened four months after the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in December 1941. As the invading forces crept in, 75,000 brave Filipino and American soldiers from the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) fought heroically for more than three months without reinforcement or air support. Imagine that. They were complete on their own and yet they fought for their country with courage.

On April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino Soldiers surrendered to Japanese forces. Historians recognize this as an important milestone in the war. First, despite the surrender, the gallant stand of Filipino soldiers delayed the war schedule of the Imperial Japanese Army. Some noted thatthis delay prevented the Japanese from reaching Australia. Second, even in surrender, the Filipino soldiers demonstrated that the Japanese were not an invincible force.

The Death March began when Filipino and American prisoners of war were forced to march 105 kilometers from Mariveles, Bataan, to San Fernando, Pampanga, then on to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac.

Just to give us, who were not there, an idea what that march would be like, 105 kilometers is equivalent to walking from Luneta to the Quezon City Memorial Circle eight times! Now, imagine yourself walking that distance under extreme heat, with no paved road,nor provisions for food, water, shelter or medicine.

The soldiers were weak, malnourished, and many suffering from malaria and beriberi. They were beaten, tortured and executed for walking slowly. The Death March lasted about five days.

I am delighted to know that in many areas in the United States, people are organizing events in order to commemorate this important historical event not just in the Philippines but also in the history of the Second World War.

For instance, a Bataan Memorial Death March was organized in New Mexico. This is an annual event that “honors American and Filipino military personnel and Filipino civilians who surrendered to the Japanese army after a four-month battle for control of Bataan in early 1942”.

In San Francisco, California, the Bataan Legacy Historical Society, is hosting a commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Bataan Death March onSaturday, April 8. Similar events are organized in Chesapeake, Texas and other parts of the US.

I hope that we Filipinos also exert effort to learn more about this tragic but heroic event in our history. We should do this to honor the memory of our Filipino heroes. Sometimes we tend to think of heroes in terms of the big personalities we have read in our history books. Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Antonio Luna, Marcelo del Pilar and many others are indeed heroes and deserving of our respect.

But there are other Filipino heroes, nameless and faceless who deserve our respect. Just like the Filipinos who defended our country in Bataan. Just like those who died or survived the Death March. Let us honor them by remembering their gallant acts. Let us remember and honor them by serving our country to the best of our abilities.
(Senator Manny Villar)