Tarlac honors survivors, victims of 'Bataan Death March'

Despite the searing heat, thousands of Tarlaqueños participated in the "Paggunita Sa Capas", an annual commemoration dedicated to the thousands of Filipino and American soldiers who were forced into a brutal march by their Japanese conquerors after the fall of Bataan in April 9, 1942.

Filipino-American forces, numbering some 75,000, were ordered to lay down their arms by Major Gen. Edward P. King who realized that the dwindling amounts of ammunition, food and other supplies made their position untenable.

King's decision is in direct violation of Gen. Douglas McArthur's no surrender order. Appalled at the huge numbers of Allied prisoners at their hands and lacking the logistical means to transport and care for the latter, the Japanese then decided the survivors of the fighting in Bataan to Camp O' Donell, Capas, Tarlac, a hastily converted concentration camp.

The 128-kilometer march was characterized by wide-ranging physical abuse and murder, and resulted in very high fatalities inflicted upon prisoners and civilians alike by the Japanese Army, and was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.

All told, approximately 2,500-10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American prisoners of war died before they could reach Camp O'Donnell.

Death tolls vary, especially amongst Filipino prisoners of war, because historians cannot determine how many prisoners blended in with the civilian population and escaped.

Wednesday's commemoration is part of the 2013 Observance of the Philippine Veterans Week with this year’s theme “Ang Beterano: Sigla At Inspirasyon Ng Kabataan Tungo Sa Tuwid Na Daan.”

The observance of the Philippine Veterans Week and Day of Valor (Araw ng Kagitingan) is pursuant of Proclamation No. 499 series of 1989 and Executive Order No. 23, series of 1987, respectively, during the administration of the late President Corazon C. Aquino.

Present in the event were Tarlac Gov. Victor A. Yap, Department of National Defense undersecretary for civil, veterans and reserve affairs Eduardo Batac, and Philippine Veterans Affairs Office head Lt. Gen. Ernesto Carolina (retired).

All three participated in the wreath-laying ceremonythat took place beneath the 70-meter obelisk at the Capas National Shrine. They were joined by representatives of Ambassador Josef Rychtar of Czech Republic, and Capas Mayor Antonio C. Rodriguez, Jr,.

Yap, in his speech, said that the selflessness of the Filipino and American soldiers, demonstrated in the fight against the Japanese invader, ensure the democratic traditions and institutions will prevail in the Philippines.

He also urged today's generations to emulate the example of their World War II forebears in terms of patriotism and love for country.

The program was highlighted by a recognition ceremonyfor the outstanding war services of veterans Belino W. Alumno (posthumous), Esteban S. Esco, Raymundo G. Gadgad, Alberto M. Bugtong, Robert T. Bellasi and Santos T. Fianza, who traveled all the way from the Cordillera Administrative Region.

The six were members of the 66th Infantry Regiment, United States Army Forces in the Philippines - Northern Luzon (USAFIP-NL) who battled crack units of the Imperial Japanese Army in a bid to liberate Cordillera from the invaders.

All six men fought in the epic Battle of Bessang Pass that is historically known as the one of the fiercest battles fought during World War II.

Fighting began in February 1945 and ended in June, 14, of the same year with total victory for the Filipinos and their Allies. Their victory at Bessang Pass after six months ofrelentless military operations triggered the capture of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the over-all commander of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Pacific, in Kiangan, Benguet.