Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Remembering the heroes

Dambana ng Kagitingan or Shrine of Valour in Bataan, Philippines.

Looking from afar, that huge cross on top of Mount Samat in Pilar, Bataan appears to be a religious monument to the uninitiated. Made more dramatic by the rays of the sun especially on midday, this place could easily pass as a Holy Week destination. But the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valour), in fact, is a historical shrine.
A word of caution, though: from the perspective of a tourist, there's nothing much to see in this monument. It's a seven-kilometer hike from the foot of Mount Samat, and when you reach the monument itself, it's nothing but a large marble edifice that would seem like a huge mausoleum. Further atop on the way to where the gigantic cross sits, there's nothing else than the, well, the cross and it's base with the names of the thousands of Filipinos who were part of the bloody Death March 70 years ago.
The first time I went here was in 2002. I was with my family back then. I didn't really get to appreciate this place at the time, and I was just thinking that the cool breeze and the breath-taking views from the mountain was actually the treat if you're up to see this place.
But just last Monday, I was sent to this place to cover the President at the Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valour) celebrations.
It was only when I brushed up on my Philippine history that I got to appreciate this place. Scrambling for mobile phone signal (which is a difficulty at this place), I tried to look up on Google what's the celebration for since I know I'm gonna go live on national TV in a few minutes and have that risk of being quizzed -- on air -- what the occasion is for.
Just to explain briefly, here's what I've found on the Internet:
At exactly April 9, 1942, the Americans surrendered Bataan to the Japanese. It was the second world war, and the Americans and the Japanese were fighting over the Philippines. To make the long story short, this was followed by the Death March, wherein some 76,000 Filipino, Filipino-Chinese and American prisoners of war were forced to walk 140 kilometers going to Camp O'Donnell in Capas, Tarlace (imagine walking from Manila to Subic in Pampanga) wherein along the way, thousands of prisoners died of hunger and diseases. Others, however, managed to escape.
And the monuments now made sense to me. I remember going to the crater of Mount Pinatubo in 2008 where we passed by this historical monument in Capas, Tarlac. That was it!

The historical monument in Capas, Tarlac. Taken in 2008.
Well, cheesy as it may sound, but 70 years hence, what's in it for us? I have my own answers. And for sure, students are being asked to write lengthy essays on that. I do hope every Filipino has an answer to that.
But at least, for the point of view of a traveler, a certain place makes a lot more sense if one is aware of its history -- whether it's in the Philippines or elsewhere around the globe.
And as for this place, I do hope that these monuments give us Filipinos that sense of pride for our history, culture, and heritage.
As a traveler, should I go and check this place out again? Why not, if I happen to pass by Bataan again.