Historical markers are reminders to future generations of pride and sacrifice, of heroic events in the past that shaped who we are as a people and as as nation.
The Bataan Death March historical markers, for instance — 138 white obelisks set up along the route of the infamous march to remind present-day Filipinos of one of the worst atrocities committed during World War II.
On April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces defending the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Army. In a barbaric move, the Japanese then forced the hungry, weakened soldiers, some 76,000 in all, to march from Bataan to Tarlac, a punishing distance of over 100 kilometers, without medicine or food and constantly at the risk of being killed.
By the time the march ended six days later, exhaustion, illness and summary executions had greatly reduced the ranks of the prisoners — the estimated deaths ranging from 500 to 650 Americans and 5,000 to 18,000 Filipinos.
The Bataan Death March would later be declared a war crime, and Japanese military leaders, including Gen. Masaharu Homma who led the 14th Army in the Philippines, found guilty and executed.
The Filipino and American soldiers who either perished in Bataan or Corregidor and in the Death March, or survived to tell the tale, became symbols of wartime courage and sacrifice, their valor eventually honored with the historical markers that would dot the blood-soaked road they had taken with their fallen comrades from Bagac, Bataan to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac.
But this year’s celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan last Tuesday was preceded by the distressing news that the markers have been found reduced to a sorry state — many damaged due to neglect and road works.
Robert Hudson is vice president of Filipino-American Memorial Endowment Inc. (FAME), a nonprofit organization that provides maintenance for the markers. His father, TSgt. Richard Hudson, was an American Death March survivor. Hudson moved to the Philippines in 2012 and works to maintain the markers, sometimes even painting and cleaning the markers himself together with his wife Rosalie.
So one can imagine his horror when he found two markers “damaged by road crews” in Mariveles, Bataan, (the 6th kilometer, near the start of the trail) and in Capas, Tarlac (the 109th kilometer, near the end). Hudson said the culprits were contractors hired by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
One marker had been moved to make way for a drainage ditch and is now inside a private compound. Others have been left covered in trash and overgrown greenery. Some markers are now faded, their white paint long weathered. A few teeter on concrete sidewalks, defaced and discarded, after their bases were excavated.
The DPWH appears to have been dislodging the markers without care or consideration, as if the markers mean nothing, or, worse, are considered impediments.
Hudson said FAME has been asking for donations for years to maintain these structures (it costs P18,000 to replace the bases for two markers) as well as other World War II monuments.
While the Philippines makes short shrift of history by neglecting its historical landmarks and memorials, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, for instance, a memorial to the Bataan Death March stands, depicting Filipino and American soldiers holding each other up, their footprints etched on the ground.
Likewise, the city of San Fernando, Pampanga, chooses to remember by maintaining its old train station museum, which has a marker that reminds how soldiers from Mariveles were loaded briefly on to stifling cargo boxcars before they arrived at the Capas train station, at which point they were forced to march to Camp O’Donnell.
Last February, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar issued Department Order No. 12 series of 2019, which said: “All building officials, project engineers and implementing offices are directed to consult and coordinate with the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) and other NCAs (national cultural agencies), prior to any issuance of permits/certificates for any proposed construction, renovation, retrofitting or demolition activities that may affect the integrity of historical and cultural sites or any adjoining historical, or cultural sites.”
Exhibit 1 for the DPWH should be the damaged Death March markers. It needs to look at the liability of its contractors, and work with cultural agencies to restore and thereafter protect and maintain these monuments. Commemorating a Day of Valor every year in honor of our heroes is a hollow gesture, if the memorials to their heroism are thoughtlessly left to the mercy of backhoes, bulldozers and public forgetfulness.
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