Sunday, April 20, 2014

Honoring the battling bastards of Bataan: My short trip to the battlegrounds of World War II



For us in the military, the Holy Week is also a chance to spend time with the family. During this time, the AFP allows military personnel to take turns in spending short vacation.

While others took time fulfilling their religious obligations such as the traditional Visita Iglesia or participating in the Stations of the Cross, I decided to visit Bataan where a big cross was erected in honor of soldiers who defended our country.

Our precious destination is Mt. Samat, the site where the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor) stands up to this day.

I tagged my son along in this trip. I wanted him to appreciate history and learn more about the essence of soldiery as a profession. As an absentee father, I am also fulfilling my duty of spending memorable bonding moments with my son.

I have a short list of tasks to accomplish: We will visit historical places. I will teach him how to hunt and to survive in the woods. I will let him taste the  local dishes. 

Travel plan

Since we are leaving my wife behind, we planned for a 2-day, 1 night trip to Bataan.

Travelling by car, we left Manila at around 8:00am on Maundy Thursday (April 18, 2014). 

I was told that the regular travel time by car is about 3 hours. When we were approaching the toll gate in Balintawak, I realized that we were heading towards a traffic jam. Bad timing!

Moving in a snail pace along NLEX, we had to endure about 3.5 hours until we reached SCTEX toll gate. The sight of lesser number of vehicles gave us some relief. 

I briefed Harvey about the lahar flow along Pasig-Potrero River in Porac town, Pampanga that destroyed communities downstream after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in June 1991, during the time when I was still a 2nd year PMA cadet. He enjoyed the sights as we traveled along 93.77 km Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), the longest 4-lane e in expressway in the Philippines.
I showed him the beauty of Mt. Malasimbo in Dinalupihan town, Bataan. I told him that I once stayed on top of this mountain when I supervised the military operations of the Scout Rangers against NPA bandits in 2004. I told him the legend of Mt. Malasimbo as told by the local folks whom I met there: "If there is a cloud over Mt Malasimbo, a typhoon is coming!" 

The highway towards Mariveles was 'stress free' during that day. We appreciated the excellent scenery along the way.


I showed him the battlegrounds of World War II like the mountainous terrain in the background that can be found in the borders of Limay, Mariveles and Bagac towns. We were mesmerized by the captivating beauty of the countryside.

We spent our day treading the same paths followed by the Filipino warriors who fought against the Japanese in these grounds. He experienced the difficulties in navigating through thick vegetation, crossing creek lines, and foraging for food in the forest. 


I showed him the species of wild deer and boar that roam free in the hinterlands of Bataan. It was the first time that he personally saw these wild animals. Not the ordinary kambing or baboy ha?


Too exhausted and feasted on by gnats and tiny insects, we opted to stay in this hotel in Limay town for the night. Our deal was that the next time, we will set up camp in the forest to experience the life of a Scout Ranger and that of the Filipino guerillas of World War II.

The next day (Good Friday), I toured him around Limay town, the place where the first medical hospital for both American and Filipino forces was established. It is also the place where MGen Edward King surrendered his forces to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.

We headed to Pilar town to see the Shrine of Valor (Dambana ng Kagitingan) that can be found on top of Mt. Samat. I told him the story about the 'Battling bastards of Bataan' whose heroic actions are extraordinary and worthy of emulation.


Photo shows the landmarks that can used as reference in going to Mt. Samat. This is one of the Death March markers that can be found along Bataan Provincial Expressway up to San Fernando town in Pampanga which is more than a hundred kilometers away. I told Harvey the unthinkable hardships experienced by more or less 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers who walked towards San Fernando for at least 5 days without or with less water and food.

There is a motorcycle terminal near the direction marker. Those who are into serious 'penitensya' either jog or walk their way up to the revered shrine that was erected to honor the heroes of World War II.

Ohhhh, it was a Good Friday! Some of the die-hard Catholic devotees perform this religious ritual though it is not really encouraged by the Church. We saw these young boys along the road towards Mt. Samat.

We stopped at the site of the Final Battle of Bataan. We thought about the thousands of soldiers who died fighting for 4 months until they capitulated due to lack of food and critical war supplies on April 9, 1942. 

The gradual upward climb starts from this point located at the foot of the mountain. We spotted a lot of back packers who opted to lose some weight by inching their way up the summit on foot. 

For P25.00, you get a ticket to see the museum and use the public parking spaces inside the premises of the shrine.

The scenery below us was breath-taking. Harvey took this photo of me and my buddies Marlon and Jay.



The reward

For wholeheartedly joining this memorable trip, we treated ourselves to a simple meal here at Choco-Late de Batirol.

You can find this at the fuel station near the road intersection towards Mt Samat.

I was attracted here because I was reminded of the 'cocoa' that my mother Puring would personally prepare for us for our 'painit' every morning and even during merienda

I remembered that harvesting the 'cacao' fruits, drying them and grinding the roasted seeds, were among my chores during weekends. For that reason, I learned how to prepare 'espiso tsokolate' from scratch. 

I am very lucky to have enjoyed the 'food for the gods' according to the Mayan and Aztec traditions, during my younger years. As a child, I always thought it was the food for the poor because we could not probably afford to drink Nescafe during that time.

So, I urged Harvey to taste my childhood favorite drink. "Son, let's try the food for the gods!"









Our journey towards the battlefields of Bataan was a success. 

It was our bonding time and a quick review of our military history. 

It was our simple way of honoring our heroes, my fellow soldiers who fought for our country.