Friday, April 9, 2010

BATAAN World War II Survivor


Balanga City– It gave me immense pleasure working with a Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteer on a project which was in collaboration between the City Government of Balanga and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). We convoyed to Bataan Heroes’ Memorial College to conduct documentation about the experience of WWII in Bataan and how it is commemorated by Bataenos. This documentary will be used to promote better relationship between the people of Hiroshima, Japan and the City of Balanga through the Japanese Exchange Program on Peace Education.

Every year, on April 9, the Fall of Bataan is commemorated. Top government officials, Filipinos, American WWII veterans as well as their Japanese counterparts, and other visitors flock to Mt. Samat to participate in the annual rites held to honor the bravery of the soldiers who fought for the defense of Bataan. At the local government level, it takes a series of meetings and the formulation of a strategic plan to ensure the safety of those who will attend the activity especially, the personages which compose the delegation from overseas as well as the cream of Philippine society. Ironically, the activity loses its splendor after honoring the veterans.

Unearthing this gem is a challenging task. Madame Laureana S. Rosales, the gem I refer to and founder of the Bataan Heroes’ Memorial College, is a survivor of WWII. She narrated her terrible experiences of WWII here in Bataan. One has only to listen to determine how lurid her experiences had been.
“A wound that has been healed and that I would never want to re-open since we already have good relations with the Japanese today,” is how she describes her experiences of the war.

It was December 8, 1941, the Feast of the Immaculate Concepcion, when news of the Japanese declaration of war against the U.S reached our ears. On the afternoon of April 8, 1942 I saw a pair of brown hands in the sky. Somehow I felt it was a message to me coming from God. On the evening of that same day, there was an influx of people to our place in Cabcaben, Mariveles- the point where the infamous Death March would begin. We gathered news from Filipino soldiers about the burning of ammunition, war paraphernalia and soldiers’ barracks. American bases had already surrendered. We were holed up in one big place. At about 9:00 pm in the evening, we were forewarned by the local priest to make ourselves ugly and undesirable because there were stories circulating of Japanese soldiers abducting young Filipino women. To avoid such incidents, we were instructed to wear a long saya – a custom wear of older Filipinas at that time- so we would look older than we really were.

“For me it was the most terrible and abhorrent experience I have ever had. At that time, I and my family were all civilians. Some of the women committed suicide on the way to Capas, Tarlac. Our group was fortunate in that none of us was touched by the Japanese. In the course of our long walk, we would hear the sound of flowing water in a nearby river and some of us would go down for a drink to quench our thirst – only to be shot by Japanese soldiers. We walked in two lines – one line for civilians, the other line for captured Filipino and allied soldiers and guerrillas. We found ourselves in Limay on first afternoon after the fall of Bataan. We slept on open fields. 

But the prisoners were made to walk on and not given time to rest. That night, Japanese soldiers came and lighted the faces of the women. The beautiful ones they raped. Some of them were even my friends. The following morning we walked again. We walked again with soldiers, some of them very young and most of them eating leaves and grass and gulping river water from their canteens--- water that was dark and murky. Still they carried theirs canteens along the march. At times, when prisoners could no longer walk and were carried by their comrades, they were simply stabbed or bayoneted by Japanese soldiers. They were seen as burdens that had to be discarded on the way to Capas, Tarlac.
“The first time I saw a young soldier, about 19-20 years old, bayoneted by Japanese soldiers my heart bled. But I fought back the tears. We could not do anything for those prisoners without risking the ire of those savage Japanese soldiers. At another time, it was a morning, a young boy knelt in front of a Japanese soldier and begged for alms. Without a word, the Japanese soldiers stabbed him right in front of me! As blood gushed forth from the young boy’s body and seeped through the earth that surrounded him, all I could do was utter a prayer. I said,’Lord please give me a chance to honor all these prisoners, all these men, when I grow up.’ It was a pledge I made to honor the sacrifices made by our Filipino heroes during the WWII. Words cannot describe the horrible events that took place in our province at that time.

“After the war, I attended college. And God gave me the chance I prayed for. I erected two schools in Mindanao. It was on one April 9 when I was invited to Bataan to attend the celebration in honor of our WWII heroes. It was on that occasion that I met Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos. He struck me as someone who loved Bataan very much. For me, Pres. Marcos was the greatest President our country has ever had although most people would think of him as a dictator. He loved to honor the soldiers of Bataan. His love for them reminded me of the pledge I made years ago. It was them that I set my sights on in founding a school in honor of the heroes of Bataan as well as for its future heroes. Thus, the Bataan Heroes’ Memorial College was born!”

BHMC was envisioned by its founders to serve as a monument to the legacy left by the heroes of Bataan more than five decades ago. This legacy- of courage, human endurance, burning patriotism and the indomitability of the Filipino spirit - is worth emulating and inculcating in the minds of our youth. The ultimate and extreme sacrifices made by our Filipino soldiers and civilians then remained etched in the mind of its foundress, Dr. Laureana S. Rosales, because she was a witness to all those events. In the early part of 1978, she opened a school in Balanga, Bataan – the Bataan Heroes’ Memorial College.

In reality, her fame is difficult to fathom. She became tough because of her pain. She is very feminine, religious and courageous. A woman in her late 80’s, she is an internationally – acclaimed survivor, a recipient of so many prestigious recognitions both from America and Japan. Yet, despite the fame she remains a humble person. She saw the importance of education for the Filipino youth of today and has fought for it. She is, truly, one woman who has inspired and taught the real meaning of life to every BHMC student. My profound gratitude to you, Madame!


Mary said...

Hi Nenette, Thank you for sharing this heartfelt story. I am writing a book about the Battle of Bataan for young people. I was unaware of the memorial you show in the photograph above. Please contact me. I very much want to know more about it.
Thank you.

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