On April 9, 1942, the Philippines became the last country to surrender to the Japanese in Southeast Asia. The roughly 60,000 Filipino troops and around 11,000 to 15,000 US troops, who surrendered, were subjected to the infamous Bataan Death March where they were forced to walk more than 90 kilometers in horrific conditions.
During that seven-day march, thousands died due to starvation, dehydration, dysentery, and gratuitous violence. Those who survived faced unimaginable hardships as prisoners of war before being liberated after three years.
Araw ng Kagitingan, also known as Bataan Day, commemorates the Fall of Bataan during World War II and remembers the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers during those difficult times. According to Republic Act 3022 that was passed by Congress in 1961, part of the observance for Bataan Day is a moment of silence among citizens and public offices at 4:30 p.m.
As we reflect upon the sacrifices and atrocities that came with the Fall of Bataan and the ensuing Death March, we also celebrate the valor displayed by Filipino soldiers throughout that war.
That valor becomes even more relevant today, as Filipinos endure the difficult times caused by our nation’s monumental struggles in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Let us include in our thoughts and prayers the country’s frontliners, especially the healthcare workers, who have been showing exceptional bravery and resolve for more than a year now as they fight despite the daunting odds to care for the sick and do everything they can to keep a battered healthcare system from collapsing.
Unlike Major General Edward P. King, the commanding general of the Philippine-American forces in Bataan in 1942, our Filipino healthcare workers have not yet surrendered. But for many, the past year must have felt like an indefinite death march in terms of the steadily rising number of casualties and the monumental challenges and difficulties they have faced in this war against the coronavirus.
Today, let us pause for a moment of silence at 4:30 p.m. to commemorate the valor of the Filipinos, by our soldiers in 1942 and the thousands of selfless healthcare workers who are still in the trenches today, fighting to save lives and stave off an epidemic with whatever they have left, despite a government that has practically surrendered and left us to fend for ourselves.*