In compliance with the directive of the Department of Health and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease,  the NATIONAL HISTORICAL COMMISSION OF THE PHILIPPINES, in coordination with the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office and the Province of Bataan, HAS CANCELLED ALL ACTIVITES RELATED TO THE COMMEMORATION OF THE 78th ANNIVERSARY OF THE ARAW NG KAGITINGAN. Nevertheless, we enjoin all Filipinos to join NHCP and its partners in giving tribute to the men and women who defended our country during the Second World War and also to all Filipinos who are currently working very hard in our battle against COVID 19.  (OFFICE OF THE NHCP CHAIRMAN)

Today, we commemorate the events that happened 78 years ago that led to the Fall of Bataan, which we call in our state commemoration as “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor). It makes sense to remind Filipinos, that similar to the state of emergency that we are facing today, those days beginning 8 December 1941, the Philippines faced a looming threat that endangered its very existence. The Empire of Japan, at around 3 am of 8 December 1941, Manila time, launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, decimating the U.S. fleet in the Pacific that would have defended the Philippines, then on the verge of independence slated in 1946. We were then halfway through the 10-year transitional period to ultimate independence from the United States. Unfortunately, this transition was abruptly interrupted. Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese forces commenced the invasion of the Philippines. Numerous Filipinos opted to go to the countryside. Many students had their schooling halted. In those uncertain times, Filipinos learned to grow their own food, utilized the rations they had, and waited with incessant hope for liberation. Meanwhile, the commander of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army, Douglas MacArthur, declared Manila an “Open City”, removing all defense capabilities of the city, hoping that the Japanese would leave the city unscathed. On New Year’s Day 1942, the Japanese finally took the Philippine capital without resistance, while President Manuel L. Quezon moved his government command center from Manila to Corregidor.

It was around January 1942 when MacArthur initiated his “War Plan Orange,” rousing all the Filipino and American troops to make their stand in the Bataan peninsula, in a last ditch effort to hold off enemy lines, hoping for reinforcements that never came, while defending Corregidor Island and preventing the Japanese from using Manila Bay’s natural harbor for further military deployment. Under the heat of the summer sun, the siege of Bataan lasted for 93 days, upon which both Filipino and American forces numbering 120,000 resisted the Japanese offensive amidst insurmountable odds. Aside from incessant shelling that could be heard by people in Manila, many of our heroic troops suffered hunger and various diseases like malaria, diarrhea, dysentery and scurvy.

On 3 April, the Japanese began a full-force attack on Bataan, partly in commemoration of the death of their first legendary emperor Jimmu. Ironically, it was also Good Friday of the Holy Week. The similarity of that occasion and the Holy Week we commemorate under quarantine is not lost to us.

But there is a limit to human strength. Demoralized and succumbing to various diseases, the collapse of defense lines was long in coming. General. Edward P. King negotiated the terms of surrender with the Japanese through General Nagano Kameichiro and Colonel Nakayama Motoo. On 9 April, Filipino and American soldiers, numbering to 80,000, surrendered. As if not content with the humiliation, these surrendered troops were made to walk from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando Pampanga, a full-stretch of 100 kilometers. This would be known in history as the Bataan Death March.

But while this historic event ended in utter defeat, we must never forget that it was at this very context that Valor or Kagitingan has had a deeper meaning to all of us who call Pilipinas our home.

As shown by our history, uncertainty indeed brings about fear and panic. Experts say that after COVID-19, we will have to get used to the “new normal.” But the same history shows us that many nameless Filipinos during the Second World War, while in fear, rose to the challenge of their day with hope. Aside from our brave soldiers who resisted the invaders for three months in Bataan, we have accounts of citizens who helped our troops in the death march by giving them water, by helping some escape, even when that compromised their own safety. We also have accounts of numerous medical professionals who took in Filipino, American and Japanese who were wounded, healed them, and showed that compassion is a language understood by all. This steadfast hope was the Filipino’s source of courage and BAYANIHAN, to do good even when our very survival is at stake, to choose to do what’s right even when it is difficult.

This heritage of Bayanihan is still with us today, with our fallen health workers who stood fast, and those who continue to resist and contain the invisible enemy—COVID-19: Our kind-hearted medical practitioners; soldiers, policemen, security guards and other men in uniform; legislators, national agencies, LGU and barangay officials; manufacturers, grocery store staffers and delivery drivers; farmers, fishermen, livestock raisers; journalists, media practitioners and field reporters; and the big corporations, foundations, religious groups and nameless donors who extended assistance to our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

We remember these lines, broadcasted via radio through the underground “Voice of Freedom,” upon the news of the Fall of Bataan, on Easter Sunday 1942:

“To all of them we give today the message of the angel of Easter morning: “Be not afraid, for He is risen.”

We, too, shall rise. After we have paid the full price of our redemption, we shall return to show the scars of sacrifices that all may touch and believe… No wall of stone shall then be strong enough to contain us, no human force shall suffice to hold us in subjection, we shall rise in the name of freedom and the East shall be alight with the glory of our liberation.”

Just as we had 78 years ago, with verve and optimism in braving new solutions, we hold on to the collective strength of our national character, our innate compassion, our faith, and our bayanihan spirit—ideals that have always defined what it means to be Filipino. May we continue to unite and persist in hope, as our Nation calls all of us to stay in our homes, and in our own way, encourage, support, and pray for our frontliners and the economically vulnerable, and even those in the line of duty at this pandemic battlefield.  As with all darkness that our country has faced, this too shall pass. And we shall emerge victorious.