April 9 of every year has been declared as a national holiday in observance of Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) by virtue of Executive Order No. 203 series of 1987, while Proclamation No. 4660 series of 1989 designated April 5 to 11 of every year as Philippine Veterans Week.

Araw ng Kagitingan commemorates the heroism of Filipino and American soldiers when the Japanese occupied the Philippines during World War II. MGen. Edward P. King of the United States Army was forced to surrender with more than 769,000 Filipino, Chinese and American soldiers to the Japanese at dawn of April 9, 1942. The soldiers were forced to take the 90 mile (about 145 kilometers) hike to Camp O’Donell in Capaz, Tarlac.

The Death March

ousands of prisoners died during the hike also known as the “Bataan Death March” due to starvation, dehydration and diseases before they could reach the camp. The prisoners were beaten randomly and often denied food and water for several days. Some were tortured to death. Those who fell behind were usually  executed through various means: shot, beheaded or bayoneted. The commonly used “sun treatment” was when they were forced to sit silently in the blazing sun without water or even shade of his helmet.

American and Filipino forces regain Bataan

Despite the trials of defeat, the captured soldiers stood strong and heroes emerged from the event. The surrender of Bataan hastened the Fall of Corregidor. However, without this stand, the Japanese might have quickly overrun all of the US bases in the Pacific. Bataan forced them to slow down, giving the allies valuable time to prepare for engagements such as the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, which followed closely thereafter. American and Filipino liberation forces eventually retook the Bataan Peninsula on February 8, 1945.

The annual celebration honors all Filipino heroes, patriots, martyrs and defenders who fought and died for the country’s freedom and liberty from the time of Lapu-Lapu to the Philippine Revolution against Spain, the Filipino – American War and World War II.

It also honors Filipino defenders who fought in the Korean War, Vietnam War, veterans of military campaigns, members of the humanitarian contingents to other countries and modern day veterans who have rendered honorable military service in defending our beloved Philippines in time of war and in faithfully upholding their duty to preserve sovereignty and national security.

Tribute to honor sacrifices of war heroes

This year’s 75th year commemoration bears the theme, “Parangal sa mga Beterano, Tungo sa Bayan na Nararapat sa mga Pilipino, mga Pilipino na Nararapat sa Bayan,” – echoing the message of being the deserving Filipinos for our freedom today which has been bravely fought by our Veterans of World War II. Today’s celebration is a loving tribute to honor and take pride of the war heroes’ sacrifices for our country 75 years ago.

Indeed, Araw ng Kagitingan should be a very important event for every Filipino because it reminds us of our duty to fight for the liberty of our country against invaders. It also gives recognition and value to those who have done  heroic acts but are never recognized.

First Zamboanga del Sur Veterans District Commander Claudio F. Porio in his message during the 75th Araw ng Kagitingan reminds every Filipino to become a part of what the war heroes have fought for.

“I challenge the Filipinos of this generation to be vigilant against foreign invasions. Never again will we allow sufferings and death,” he added.

In this day and age, “heroes are born not only in war. One can be a hero even in the  simple act of bringing smiles and comfort to a fellow countryman in distress,” Commander Porio underscored. (ALT/CAL/PIA9-Zamboanga del Sur)