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Let us not forget the Bataan Death March in PHL history

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by: Myrna Aquitania

Myrna's dad death march

Myrna’s dad death march

During my time in college, every undergrad student at the University of the Philippines will not be allowed to graduate without taking the required elective on PI 100 (better known as Philippine Institution 100  or Philippine History.

There were two prominent professors who taught this particular subject. Both of these professors have authored their Philippine History textbooks used as reference books by all Philippine high schools and universities. Both professors were well revered and respected by all of us. One was Profesor Teodoro Agoncillo and the other one was Dr. Gregorio Zaide. I can never forget my interest in Philippine History, particularly when numerous chapters were devoted to the Japanese time and how our soldiers fought along with Americans to free us from the Japanese.

As a daughter of a US Veteran (my dad was a Lt. Col. with the 133rd Infantry of the Philippine Scouts when he was captured by the Japanese), it pains me to read the circular on “Philippine Independence Declared” included in the press packet distributed during the Kalayaan 2013 reception for Senator Drillon at the Sheraton downtown recently. This relevant part of Philippine history seemed to have been forgotten in our pursuit for independence.

If I recall, from my PI 100 and PI 101 classes, on both Dr. Zaide and Prof. Agoncillo’s historical accounts, they made reference to General MacArthur’s “miscalculations” as the cause of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. According to them, General MacArthur’s thought process was “if the Japanese would attack at all, it would not be before April, 1942. By then, he thought, their (the American) defenses would be ready.” Unbeknownst to him, the enemy (Japanese) had their own timetable and ultimately of course, we all learned that “ten minutes on a bright Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 the first formation of Japanese fighter, bomber and torpedo aircraft roared over Oahu in Hawaii and the main target was the massive U.S. Naval fleet in Pearl Harbor.” Within minutes on the “attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese aircraft had flown over the Manila area, striking the naval station in Cavite.”

In Stanley Karnow’s book on “America’s Empire In The Philippines,” General MacArthur never entirely “recovered from his reputation and odd conduct on miscalculation regarding the capacity of the Japanese war psyche.”

For fear of the Japanese Army striking on my mom and her family due to my Dad’s capture as a prisoner, they fled to the hills in our hometown and our ancestral home was occupied by the Japanese Army and turned it into a garrison. There were times when they even witnessed some of their relatives killed in front of them.

My Dad was among those officers captured who participated in the Bataan Death March.

Per history book accounts, the Bataan Death March began on April, 1942. “It was the forcible transfer of the Imperial Japanese Army of 60,00 to 80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war after the Battle of Bataan during World War II.

I don’t claim to be fully knowledgeable in Philippine HIstory, but most of us know that our country, “the Philippines suffered so much atrocities during the Japanese time (1941 to 1946). Historical accounts claimed that there were “around 2,500 to 10,000 Filipinos and 100,000 to 650,000 American prisoners of war. The march spanned around 128 km or 80 miles from Mariveles and Balanga, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga and from San Fernando, survivors were loaded to a box train and the wounded or dead were brought to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac.”

Under the Japanese rule, “cruelty and brutality is routine. They were taught to equate surrender with disgrace.” To these Japanese troops according to some diaries acquired after the war, “beheadings, mutilations and killings of thousands of Filipinos and American soldiers were a bizarre brand of romantic sadism” to the point of  “exalting the skill of the executioner, the beauty of his blade and the courage of the victim.”

Though my Dad, as an officer was one of the prisoners who survived, the stories he related to my Mom and their family included utmost Japanese brutality inflicted on the prisoners. According to him, “thousands were beaten, bayoneted and there were even between 350 to 400 Filipno officers who were executed after they have surrendered. The prisoners marched without food or water and they starved for three days. Many of them died along the way from heat, exhaustion, sometimes they were buried alive by their comrades at the side of the road. Those prisoners who were unable to walk and fall behind were beaten, mutilated and bayoneted.” Some of those who fell were beheaded by “Japanese officers who were practicing with their samurai swords from horseback. In their culture, the Japanese believed their brutality on the prisoners was not considered a crime because in their view, any warrior who surrendered had no honor, thus they’re not treated as humans and their rationale was that the prisoners deserve to be treated like animals.”

Inflicted with various disease complications from participating in the Death March, my Dad passed away at the young age of 25 years old, a year after the Philippines was granted its independence.

The last paragraph on the circular distributed during the Kalayaaan 2013 states “ In 1935, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was established with U.S. approval, and Manuel Quezon was elected the country’s president. On July 4, 1946, full independence was granted to the Republic of the Philippines by the United States.”

In our pursuit for independence, we should all be reminded that  the atrocities we suffered from the Japanese from 1941 to 1944 and the significance of the Death March as part of Philippine history during World War II, should never be forgotten.

For opinions, suggestions or reactions, feel free to email this writer at: maquitania@aol.com.

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