Yesterday was Day of Valor, when we commemorate the Fall of Bataan. Filipino and American soldiers fought overwhelming numbers of Japanese invaders for three months. It is also on April 9 that we commemorate the Fall of Corregidor. The late General Douglas MacArthur left Filipino and American soldiers with a promise: “I shall return.”
Those who died in Bataan and Corregidor must indeed be remembered.
What makes this day tragic, however, is the nation’s penchant for making holidays out of defeats instead of victories. April 9 is just an example. Ninoy Aquino was assassinated Aug. 21. Jose Rizal was executed Dec. 30. It’s masochism of the worst kind!
Somebody asked—when did we ever win?
Yes, we did win. On June 14, 1945, we won the Battle of Bessang Pass that led to the surrender of the infamous Japanese general, Tomiyuki Yamashita.
The Battle of Bessang Pass is also known as the Battle Among the Clouds. My brother Desiderio fought this battle as lieutenant of the Third Battalion under Major Conrado Rigor. In fact, it was Desi who led the assault team to overcome the Japanese soldiers who were on higher ground for almost three months. It was my brother who eventually led to the surrender of Yamashita, later on hanged for his war crimes.
Much later, when Desi became an associate justice of the Court of Appeals, he was awarded a silver star for “bravery beyond the call of duty.”
My other brother Willie was also a veteran of the Battle of Bessang Pass. In his desire to fight the Japanese, he jumped onto a passing truck along España Street. Our family later found out that Willie became a sergeant under the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos, a major of the Philippine Army. Willie survived the Death March and was in the Capas concentration camp until the Japanese gave amnesty to all who survived Bataan.
Desi, who was seven years older than me, was incarcerated in Fort Santiago for eight months when the Japanese occupied Manila. He was a member of the underground movement together with his bosom friend, the late Manuel Manahan, who later on became a senator.
But the freedom of both Desi and Willie did not last long. They later on decided to join the guerilla movement in Northern Luzon. That’s the reason why our family went to Abra, to join them, or else we would be in danger from the dreaded Makapili.
It’s tragic that the Battle of Bessang Pass did not merit any commemoration, much less a holiday.
The only presidents who marked this victory were Marcos and Fidel Ramos. They were both former soldiers. In fact, Ramos had a shrine built in Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, to commemorate this victory.
Perhaps one of the biggest fake news items ever peddled in the Philippines was the Yamashita treasure. This led to many so-called treasure hunters coming to the Philippines to look for this. The general was supposed to have raided Malaysia temples for their gold. For this, Yamashita was called the Tiger of Malaysia.
It was during the Marcos presidency that this rumor became widespread, especially during that time when Marcos was accused of amassing hidden wealth. Santa Banana, Marcos was supposed to have found that hidden treasure!
The big question—was there ever such a thing? I asked former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile about this. He laughed and said it was exactly that, a rumor.
This is why believe there should be a law against fake news, especially when they come from public officials who are subject to higher standards.
Freedom of expression and press freedom are not absolute, boundless or limitless.