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PH’s great sacrifices forgotten

01:03 AM December 26, 2015

I read the Inquirer editorial on the World War II Filipino veterans and the efforts to record their stories. (“A terrible forgetting,” Opinion, 12/13/15). It is in our national interest to record these stories and tell the Filipino youth of the sacrifices made by their ancestors to win the freedom the world is enjoying today.

Bataan Legacy Historical Society was founded because of the lack of information here in the United States about the Filipino defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. Here in the United States, most books only mention “American defenders” even though seven-eighths of the main line of resistance were manned by Filipinos. US Army Forces in the Far East (Usaffe) consisted of 19,000 Americans, 12,000 Philippine Scouts (mostly Filipinos under American officers) and 119,000 Philippine Commonwealth soldiers. Most of the fighting and the dying were made by the Filipinos.

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The world also needs to know about the atrocities that the Filipino nation suffered, especially during the Battle for Manila (February-March 1945). The liberation of the Philippines could not have happened if not for the guerrilla network that laid down the foundation for the return of the Allied Forces.

Here in the United States, we are currently working with the California Department of Education to include the Bataan Death March and parts of World War II in the Philippines in the US history curriculum for Grade 11. It is a long and arduous process but it is something that needs to be done to recognize the sacrifices of the Filipino soldiers and the entire Filipino nation.

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The Fall of Bataan is often remembered as the biggest single surrender in history. But its bigger significance is overlooked. Despite being abandoned early on during the war, the soldiers of Bataan, mostly suffering from starvation and disease, were able to delay the timetable of the Imperial Japanese Army—from 52 days to 99 days—before they were forced to surrender on April 9, 1942. But despite these sacrifices, the First Surplus Rescission Act was signed in February 1946 (the Second Surplus Rescission Act was signed a few months later), which deemed the service of the Filipinos as not being full-time, thereby denying them their veterans’ benefits.

Every year since 1989, a bill has been introduced in the US Congress to reverse this but there is such a lack of political will to do this. This year, we have a chance to restore justice with the introduction of House Resolution No. 2737 and S. 1555, which seek the awarding, collectively, of a Gold Medal for the Filipino veterans of World War II. This could very well be our last chance to do this because there are only a handful of World War II veterans left alive. And so we must muster all the support that we can get to pass these bills.

This seminal point of history must be taught not just in the United States but especially so in the Philippines (including Japan). This is the greatest legacy of our nation and should be a source of pride for our people. Instead, it has been swept under the rug, forgotten in the name of economic prosperity.

Although the war and the atrocities against the Filipino nation happened more than 70 years ago, these events are an important part of our history and moral fiber. Perhaps, that is why our politicians lack the moral fiber needed to work for the good of the nation. And so we ask the Department of Education and President Aquino to have these important lessons of history taught in our schools. We need a moral compass that is sorely lacking today. That is why each and every student in the United States, Japan and especially in the Philippines, must learn of these great sacrifices. We owe it to future generations of Filipinos to tell them about their greatest heritage.

Bataan Legacy Historical Society and Memorare Manila 1945 collaborated on an exhibition (Sept. 12, 2015 to Jan. 9, 2016) and conference (Oct. 24, 2015) in San Francisco, and will continue to do the same next year in order to tell the world about the sacrifices of the Filipino people during World War II. We hope that we can all join one another in teaching the world about the great sacrifices made by the Filipino nation.

—CECILIA I. GAERLAN, executive director, Bataan Legacy Historical Society, www.bataanlegacy.org

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TAGS: Fall of Bataan, war veterans, World War II
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