April 9: Bataan and bravery

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

The celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor officially started in June of 1987, when President Corazon C. Aquino signed a law that revised the dates of official Philippine holidays and April 9 being designated as Araw ng Kagitingan for the first time. Before this, the commemoration of the fall of Bataan was always referred to as Bataan Day, remembering the fall of Bataan to the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942 and the start of the infamous Bataan Death March.

By 1942, most of the Philippines was already under Japanese control although the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor Island remained protected by American and Filipino soldiers. Despite the bravery of its defenders, both eventually fell to Japanese rule and its commanding officer, Major General Edward P. King, Jr., officially surrendered to the Japanese.

Like many Philippine holidays, Araw ng Kagitingan was already commemorated a year after it happened, albeit by other terms and for other reasons. A year after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, the Japanese issued a proclamation “calling upon the residents of the City of Manila on 11 April 1943 to participate in the ceremonies to be held on the occasion of the first anniversary of the fall of Bataan...thereby paving the way for accelerating the program of economic reconstruction and social rehabilitation under the guidance of the Japanese Military Administration.”

In April 1961, President Carlos P. Garcia signed Republic Act No. 3022 into law, declaring April 9 of every year as “Bataan Day”. Two years later, on the 21st anniversary of the fall of Bataan, a joint United States-Philippine ceremony took place at Arlington National Cemetery. Wreaths were laid at the Tomb of the Unknowns by Philippine Ambassador Amelito R. Mutuc and by Capt. Tazewell T. Shepard, Jr., USN, Naval aide to President Kennedy, in memory of the fallen defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

Succeeding years continued the tradition of celebrating the heroism of our soldiers on April 9. On March 30, 1979, Hon. Pablo R. Roman of Bataan extoled the virtues of Bataan, calling it the ‘spirit of Filipino courage’ and that while it was technically a defeat for the Filipino and American soldiers, it was nevertheless a moral victory of our people. It was in 1987 when President Corazon Aquino signed executive order number 203 to revise the dates of Philippine holidays. In this order, April 9 was officially designated as the Araw ng Kagitingan (Bataan and Corregidor Day).

During President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term, most holidays were celebrated on the Monday nearest it, except for New Year’s Day and Christmas. By 2008, it was simplified to just “Araw ng Kagitingan” and celebrated on the nearest Monday. The succeeding administrations under Presidents Benigno Aquino III, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, and Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., celebrations have been strictly observed on April 9, instead of being moved to the nearest Monday, though in 2023 Marcos Jr. once more moved the holiday to a Monday.

We should always be proud of the fall of Bataan. As Rep. Roman said in 1979, Bataan was the spirit of courage of the Filipino people. But, we must also see what happened in Bataan as a cautionary tale. With our renewed military relationship with the United States, and with the possibility of a major conflict in the region involving China, we must be very careful in our military dealings with America. In 1942, our people made up almost 75% of the forces defending Bataan, while Filipino casualties were higher than American deaths. While official figures vary greatly, US sources estimate that 12,000 US and 66,000 Filipino soldiers walked the Death March resulting to 18,000 Filipino deaths but just 650 American deaths. This should never happen again. In today’s world, every soldier’s life, regardless of race, should be treated equally and the United States should no longer treat them as a simple military outpost at their disposal or as simple cannon fodder.

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