Araw ng Kagitingan marks historical significance of Bataan, Corregidor and Bessang Pass

Published April 9, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Today’s observance of Araw ng Kagitingan commemorates the bravery and heroism of Filipinos who fought in Bataan, Corregidor and Bessang Pass.  

The fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 marked the end of organized resistance by the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) — that included the Philippine Army — to the invading Japanese forces on Luzon island.  Less than a month later, the fall of Corregidor, an island fortress across the entrance to Manila Bay, provided access to what was regarded as the finest natural harbor in the Far East.  These twin debacles enabled the Japanese occupation of Manila from 1942 to 1945.

In June 1945, the US Armed Forces in the Philippines – Northern Luzon (USAFIP-NL) led by Colonel Russell Volckmann and composed of five infantry regiments and one artillery battalion of about 20,000 Filipino soldiers defeated the Japanese army headed by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the “Tiger of Malaya” and conqueror of Singapore, in the famous Battle of Bessang Pass.  Located in Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, Bessang Pass was a strategic entry point to the Cordillera mountains.

What is the significance of these three battles?  These signify the contest between two rival ideologies: totalitarianism and militarism on one hand versus democracy and civilian supremacy on the other.  The Filipinos demonstrated raw courage in battling an army that enjoyed superiority of armaments and earned rebuke for cruelty and inhumane treatment during its period of occupation. 

The declaration of Bataan Day as a legal holiday in the country emphasized the importance of its observance. In Republic Act No. 3022, An Act Proclaiming The Ninth Day Of April As Bataan Day And Declaring It As A Legal Holiday, “the ninth day of April is hereby proclaimed as Bataan Day, and all public officials and citizens of the Philippines are enjoined to observe such day with a one-minute silence at 4:30 o’clock in the afternoon, and to hold appropriate rites in honor of the heroic defenders of Bataan and their parents, wives and/or widows.”

In last year’s observance, attention was called to the emergence of new heroes: the valiant frontliners in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to their dedication to duty, the country survived and overcame the cruel onslaught of a malady that claimed almost 60,000 lives and triggered a deep economic recession.

Today’s observance of Araw ng Kagitingan occurs exactly one month before another watershed moment: Election Day on May 9.  

Filipinos are once again called upon to exercise their right of suffrage that is critical in ensuring the vitality of democracy. Democracy’s vibrancy is anchored upon the attainment of sustained economic growth that redounds to the wellbeing of all citizens. While our forebears fought and died to secure our country’s freedom, we need to install capable leaders that will lead the country to greater prosperity.