ON April 6, 1961 or exactly 60 years ago this week, Congress passed Republic Act 3022 that was signed into law by President Carlos P. Garcia “proclaiming the ninth day of April as Bataan Day and declaring it as a legal holiday.” The continuing observance of quarantine restrictions mutes anew this year’s observance. Yet the events that transpired on April 9, 1942 remain etched in the national memory.
A radio broadcast message, written by Captain Salvador P. Lopez (who became President of the University of the Philippines) was announced by Third Lieutenant Normando Ildefonso Reyes on the Voice of Freedom radio broadcast from the Malinta Tunnel in Corregidor island, across Bataan: “Bataan has fallen. The Philippine-American troops on this war-ravaged and bloodstained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy.”
The announcement signaling the surrender of Philippine-American troops also marked the start of the infamous Bataan Death March from Mariveles and Bagac towns in Bataan to Capas, Tarlac, a distance varying from 96 to 112 kilometers. More than 20,000 soldiers out of almost 80,000 died while being “transferred” to the Japanese army concentration camps in a march reportedly marked by “severe physical abuse and wanton killings.”
In November 1980, President Ferdinand Marcos decreed that May 6 would mark the observance of Araw ng Kagitingan, combining the commemoration of Bataan Day, Corregidor Day and Bessang Pass Day. After the EDSA People Power Revolution, President Corazon Aquino issued Executive Order No. 203 declaring anew the observance on April 9 of Bataan Day and Corregidor Day. When she issued Executive Order 292, the Administrative Code was amended, specifying the regular holidays to be observed in the country, including Araw ng Kagitingan on April 9. In Republic Act 9492 that institutionalized President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s “holiday economics” program, the observance of Araw ng Kagitingan was moved to the Monday nearest April 9 to ensure a three consecutive non-working days that would encourage travel and boost domestic tourism.
The Dambana ng Kagitingan atop Mt. Samat in Bataan has been the traditional focal point of the celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan. Notably, the Ambassadors of the United States and Japan represent their countries and reaffirm their solidarity with the Filipino people’s aspirations for a more prosperous nation. The US remains as the country’s mutual defense treaty partner while Japan has emerged as the country’s leading provider of official development assistance.
From the battlefield of armed combat, there are now new arenas for evincing the courage of Filipinos. Soldiers are trained to serve as frontliners in disaster response. For more than a year now, the nation has recognized the bravery, grit and perseverance of health care professionals and workers in caring for patients afflicted by the novel coronavirus. We also salute the dedication of riders who deliver food, workers in supermarkets and drugstores and security personnel – aside of course from dedicated daily wage earners who are family breadwinners. They are the new heroes who give meaning to Araw ng Kagitingan.