Day of defeat, day of valor

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

Today, April 9, 2023 is Easter Sunday. For Christians all over the world it is one of the holiest days of the year, as it marks the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead after his crucifixion on the Cross on Good Friday.

April 9, 2023 also marks one of those events in the life our nation that is being reviewed and re-examined as a day for national celebrations. We are the only nation in the world that commemorates a defeat, although some people prefer to look at it as a day of valor. For the first time, we mark Easter Sunday on the same day as the Fall of Bataan. Last year, 2022 Easter Sunday fell on April 17.

Earlier in 2021, Easter Sunday was celebrated on April 4. In November 2015, two young lawmakers from the Magdalo Party filed House Bill No. 6242, designating September 3 as the new “Araw Ng Kagitingan,” replacing April 9. The Magdalo lawmakers, Rep. Gary Alejano, PMA class of 1995, and Rep. Francisco Acedillo, PMA class of 1999, called for a change in our mindset that commemorates the nation’s darkest hour, rather than remembering its finest moments. They observed that “the country’s military victories carved by blood on the pages of history should be given due respect and recognition.”

Why Sept. 3 instead of April 9? According to Alejano and Acedillo, Sept. 3, 1896 was the day of the Battle of Imus, “the first big battle of the Philippine Revolution, which the Filipinos won, and Sept. 3, 1945 was the day Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander of Japanese forces in the Philippines, surrendered at Camp John Hay in Baguio City.”

In the year 1942, April 9, a Thursday, was the day that Philippine American forces in the Bataan peninsula under General Edward King, Jr. surrendered to the Japanese 14th Army under General Masaharu Homma. General King was a career artillery man with a law degree from the University of Georgia. He would spend three-and-a-half years in Japanese POW camps. After liberation from captivity, he declared that he was solely responsible for the surrender of Bataan in violation of orders from General MacArthur to continue the fight and even launch a counterattack. His immediate commander, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, refused to criticize King because “the decision which he was forced to make required unusual courage and strength of character.” Gen. Homma was a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Military Academy and the Army Staff College. A total of ten years spent as a military attaché in the United Kingdom gave him a deeper understanding of Western culture and a liberal, internationalist outlook that would complicate his military career. Shortly after the fall of Corregidor, he was relieved from command of the 14th Army and forced into early retirement, spending the rest of the war years in semi-reclusion in his home. It was reported that his relief was due to his handling of the Bataan campaign that took longer than expected.

On the morning of Thursday, April 9, 1942 General King decided to meet with Japanese officers under a white flag of surrender. After hours of difficult talks that lasted past noontime, King finally placed his pistol on the table, signifying surrender to the enemy. David McCullough, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of President Harry Truman, described the capitulation as “the largest surrender of an American fighting force since Appomattox.” (Appomattox, a small village in Virginia, was the scene of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, signaling the end of the US Civil War.) The surrender also took place on April 9. Lee surrendered an army of 28,000 while King gave up a Philippine-American force of 75,000.

In the evening of the same day, a message prepared by Captain Salvador P. Lopez was read by 3rd Lieutenant Normando Reyes over the Voice of Freedom radio from one of the Malinta tunnels in Corregidor:

“Good evening, everyone everywhere. This is the Voice of Freedom, broadcasting to you from somewhere in the Philippines.

“Bataan has fallen. The Philippine American troops on that war-ravaged and blood-stained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy. . .

“Bataan has fallen but the spirit that made it stand – a beacon to all the liberty-loving peoples of the world – cannot fall!”

Incidentally, Capt. Salvador P. Lopez would later serve as secretary of foreign affairs under president Diosdado Macapagal and later, Ambassador to the United Nations. He would also serve as president of the University of the Philippines from 1969 to 1975.

Today we mark Araw ng Kagitingan with the traditional visit by the President or his representative, accompanied by Japanese and American embassy officials, to the Dambana ng Kagitingan on Mt. Samat. We shall once again recall the heroism of men who fought fierce battles in Bataan. We shall relive the Death March and remember the concentration camp atrocities at O’Donnell in Tarlac. We should also remember the massacre of more than 300 Filipino officers and non-coms of the 91st Philippine Army Division who were executed by sword and bayonet, while in captivity. What took place was not the usual loss of life in battle; it was a case of cold-blooded mass murder of prisoners of war just two days after their surrender. No senior Japanese officer was held responsible for this atrocity.

After the war, General Homma was flown back to the Philippines. He was held responsible for the Death March, tried and executed by firing squad on April 3, 1946, exactly four years to the day he ordered the Good Friday offensive in Bataan.

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