To Bear the Burden of the Past

Thursday, April 20, 2017

bataan day of valor

War is a concept that eludes comprehension. Every aspect of it is impossible to grasp. Watching the reenactment of the Battle of Bataan, a major event during World War II, during the 75th celebration of the Araw ng Kagitingan, I find its realities unthinkable.
75th araw ng kagitingan bataan

75th araw ng kagitingan bataan

75th araw ng kagitingan bataan

War is so incomprehensible because of the blinding certainty of its outcome. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the context, the aftermath never changes. Governed by the most malicious of intents, it shouldn’t be a surprise that war spawns horror. Death always follows it. Suffering is inevitable.

Thousands of our countrymen died during these horrible times. Their sacrifices are something to be proud of, I agree. Their courage should never be forgotten. But the truth is, during World War II, Filipinos fought a war that was not theirs to fight. We were but pawns. And this makes me angry.

See, that’s the thing about wars. Its consequences transcend generations. 75 years have passed since the Fall of Bataan, and its echoes still ring in the air. We, the lucky ones who weren’t alive during such dark days, recognize – even if only subconsciously – the aftermath of World War II. It is woven into the very fabric of our society; its overflow seeping into our mores and biases. 

Our veterans, those who survived, have it the hardest. They are burdened with conflicting notions and memories. For the last 75 years, they have been afforded a celebration. A commemoration of their valor and their service not only to their country but to the world. They serve as monuments to our capacity for great sacrifices, as a reminder not to make the same mistakes of the past. They are heroes in every sense of the word, but imagine having have to live the rest of your days with scars that extend beyond the flesh. They’ve seen the worst of humanity. That tends to change people. And our veterans, try as they may be to live a normal life, will never be the same. Some wounds cannot be healed, not even by time.

Which is why I was glad when, during the Araw ng Kagitingan program in Mt. Samat, incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, with all his hubris and potty-mouth, ordered the release of 6 billion pesos for the veterans’ pension. Hearing our veterans cheer as the president made this announcement was both touching and heart-rending. 75 years. That was how long it took to get what was due to them.
75th araw ng kagitingan bataan

president duterte mt samat

75th araw ng kagitingan duterte

There was another significant moment during this program in Mt. Samat. It was when I realized the kind of people the Japanese are. They, too, carry a burden. The consequences of World War II had seeped into their present just like it had into ours. Albeit in a different form, the shadow of their past clearly hovers over modern day Japan and its people. They were one of the perpetrators of that war, but unlike the others, there are efforts by them to make up for their sins. Every year since the Day of Valor has been celebrated, Japan’s ambassador had never been absent. And every year, they apologize. I can only imagine how hard it must be to attend an event where you and your country are perceived as the antagonist. Yet they still show up.
75th araw ng kagitingan mt samat

Japan, it seems to me, is at peace with their past and carries its burden willingly. They make up to the world by being the disciplined, respectful, and quirky nation that they are now. As a whole, the Japanese people are quick to apologize when World War II is mentioned. And some of them even go beyond the apologies and make it their personal mission to make amends.

Take Kenji Mori, for example. The man has been going around the Philippines, mostly to schools, to donate supplies and equipment. He had even recently donated Rizaliana books, including a first edition print of Noli Me Tangere, to the National Library. Throughout the 75th Araw ng Kagitingan celebration, it was reported that Mr. Mori spent millions to facilitate a grand spectacle for Bataan. His donations were used as prizes for the Drum and Lyre Competition, and Poster-making Contest. But the bulk of the budget was for the 25-minute, 75,000-shot fireworks display on the eve of April 9.
75th araw ng kagitingan

75th araw ng kagitingan
Orani was hailed as the grand champion

75th araw ng kagitingan

The Koro Bangkal Magbikin – the first Aeta children's choir – was one of the performers during the special concert in Pilar. The concert featured only local artists.
Held in the municipality of Pilar, what was dubbed as the Grandest Pyrotechnics headlined the celebratory program in honor of the veterans. The program kicked off with a Drum and Lyre Competition, followed by a concert of local artists. Imploring the audience to “remember the Japanese well,” Mr. Mori sang Lupang Hinirang before signaling the pyrotechnic show. Bataaños gathered to witness the one-of-a-kind display, gasping in awe of the craftsmanship of world-renowned Filipino fireworks manufacturer Dragon Fireworks. The skies of Bataan lit up with bursts of colorful lights. But Bataan was illuminated not just by fireworks that night. There was also a sense of peace.
fireworks display bataan
This was one of the winning pieces from Bataan's Photo Contest.

grandest pyrotechnics araw ng kagitinga

We may have not forgotten,” said Philippine Veterans Affairs Office Administrator Ernesto Carolina. But we have definitely forgiven.

That one weekend in Bataan taught me many things. One: that sometimes, there is no choice but to fight, and if you must fight, do so valiantly. Two: the greatest honor we can give our veterans is to never repeat the mistakes of the past. And three: it is ultimately sincerity, not time, that engenders forgiveness.

We all carry the burden of war. It is a task we share, not just with our countrymen, but with the entire world. Our forefathers have carried it, and our sons and daughters will do so as well. Let us lighten the load by taking the lessons of the past to heart.

Because if the concept of war can be a reality, so does peace.


For more awesome photos, check out The Dennis Murillo Photography.

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