Contributed by JM Garcia, PIA-Bataan
Seventy-seven years after World War II left indelible scars in hearts of thousands of Filipino families, we return to the lands where our ancestors took their last stand in defense of the country. All roads lead to historic Bataan province this April.
The nation celebrates Philippine Veterans Week on April 5 to 11 pursuant to Proclamation No. 466, s. 1989, rekindling our memory again of the gallantry of Filipino war veterans during the invasion of Japanese forces from late 1941 to 1945. Almost eight decades later, we are facing at present the wars of the modern times—poverty, climate change, water crisis, illegal drugs.
Fragile war veterans with their families will once again step on the battlefield, that is Bataan, and scale the steep slope going to Mount Samat National Shrine for the annual commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan on April 9. The mountaintop shrine that features a towering cross honors the lives of about 76,000 soldiers, of whom approximately were 66,000 Filipinos and 10,000 Americans, who endured the Bataan Death March. Yearly, military officers and sports buffs retrace the grueling 140-kilometer march from Bataan to Pampanga and Tarlac provinces in a freedom trail.
At present, only about 5,000 World War II veterans are surviving and their number is fast dwindling. Due to deteriorating health brought by aging, an average of 295 WWII veterans die every month. The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) has been providing support for their welfare and to their families. PVAO is managing the pension accounts of nearly 160,000 living veterans of WWII, Korean and Vietnam wars, and the dependents of deceased or totally disabled veterans.
According to PVAO, the observance of Philippine Veterans Week and the 77th Araw ng Kagitingan, anchored on the theme Sakripisyo ng Beterano ay Gunitain, Gawing Tanglaw ng Kabataan Tungo sa Kaunlaran, preserves the principles and deeds of war heroes as it fosters patriotism especially among the youth.
“The purpose of history is to learn from it. A nation ignorant of its past after all, will never truly progress. This is the very reason events and commemorations such as these are celebrated, especially on a national level, in order to emphasize the role and efforts of our veterans in contributing to the freedom and democracy our nation enjoys today,” PVAO said.
Seventy-seven years after the war, we champion the war veterans and their life stories that teach us the consummate value of patriotism to the tune of our national anthem’s evocative last line. Today, the Filipino brand of courage is again at test with the many silent and loud battles each of us are confronting. We go back to Bataan, the last stand, and see how it has risen; akin to the ordinary Juan and Juana who just need to look back to see the future.