Three activities have been lined up for this year’s 77th Bataan Death March anniversary by the Philippine Veterans Bank in cooperation with the local governments of Bataan, Pampanga and Tarlac; a group called Without Limits in partnership with the Department of National Defense and the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office, Capas Freedom March.
“These events, which challenge runners through gruesome and gritty course, are our way of remembering, honoring and emulating the bravery and sacrifices of our World War II veterans during one of the darkest chapters of our country’s history,” stated Chairman Roberto De Ocampo of the Philippine Veterans Bank.
This would at least match the spirit that enveloped the previous years’ celebrations in White Sands, New Mexico in the USA of this historic event, though even in smaller numbers locally. He said the reason it has been held annually in New Mexico, US is that there was a small contingent that fought and were part of the march, explained Miguel Villa Real, president of the Philippine Veterans Bank during a press conference.
Yet, close to 85 percent of the 70,000 death marchers were Filipinos, and yet the Death March of Bataan had always been celebrated in New Mexico, the USA for several years now, he explained.
Around 10,000 of the marchers died along the 140 km route at an average of 600 to 800 people dying per kilometer of the route. They fought with the Japanese, along with some Americans, thereby stalling the timetable to end the war from January to April 9, when the American commanders surrendered. “Yet there was not much awareness and respect towards the Death March which is why PVB decided that something had to be done about this.
The first event is the Freedom Trail (to be held on March 2-3) starting from km0 in Mariveles, Bataan covering 140 kms all the way to Capas, Tarlac where the Capas National Shrine is. Participants may register as individual or a group of 8 or 16 that can walk 10 kms and then to be replaced by another group as they rest at the trail and the marchers will relay the Freedom March Symbolic Guidon (flag).
Last year, he said, the Bataan Freedom Trail sponsored the maintenance of the Death March markers (totaling 116 in all but 2 of which were destroyed recently by the contractor of the DPWH for road widening in Bataan and Tarlac). Each marker is sponsored by a family with the names of the soldiers who perished in the march. Their destruction enraged the second and third generation of the marchers who view the market as sacred. What this says is there is not much respect for these markers. Another 600 participants to the Freedom trail is expected to join this year, with participants from the United States and the youth (ROTC) and another option is to take the bus which will take the participants around the World War II sites.
The proceeds of these events will go to the maintenance of the markers. Last year, he said, the events raised P400,000 from the two events. Some of the funds would be used to put up a marker in what is now called Hospital No. 1 (where the injured marchers were treated).
On April 14 is the Bataan Run, a marathon of 10k and 5k for kids and pets and for the family.
We hope this will be a continuing annual event and surpass the numbers of participants in New Mexico, USA. “If they raise 8,000 marchers, we should raise 16,000 in the next 10 years and my personal take is if people know who their grandparents were as heroes then they would learn to value their sacrifice more,” Villa Real said adding that he learned of his grandparents’ participation only recently when he was already in the bank.
When you discover your grandparents as fighters in World War II then that is when you realize you have a rich family history and learn to value them more.
A third activity is the Ride for Valor on March 10 where participants would trace the entire route of the Death March I n a unique Big Bike Competitive tour called Ride and Seek from kmO in Mariveles, Bataan to Capas, Tarlac.
The Freedom Trail aims to involve more participants from the youth, the military and police and members of the US Special Forces, who were invited to join the solo or team relays.
By Rose de la Cruz