Sunday, February 04, 2007

Pilgrimage to Mount Samat

I called my first trip to Mount Samat a pilgrimage, a visit to a sacred place.
I consider Mount Samat sacred for its rich history, and for the role it played in the shaping our nation.
I roughly had any idea about Mount Samat until my very first visit yesterday February 3, 2007 together with my family, uncles, aunts, and specially my grandmother.
For my grandmother, it was nostalgia.
During the second world war, she met my late grandfather in the Visayas and their romance and courtship were interrupted and complicated by the interference of war which kept them apart from each other for three years.
But that is another beautiful story.
Mount Samat is situated in the town of Pilar, province of Bataan, north of Metro Manila.
It is a two--and-a-half-hour road trip from Manila spanning one hundred forty kilometers.
Mount Samat is historically significant because it was the last stronghold of Filipino and American fighters against the Japanese Imperial Forces in World War II.
If you are Filipino, you must have heard of the "Fall of Bataan."
Well, Bataan fell only over the dead bodies of gallant Filipinos who stood their ground at Mount Samat.
Bataan Fell on April 9, 1942.
That is why every April 9 is a holiday, named "Araw ng Kagitingan."
It brings tribute to Filipino bravery who were willing to give up their lives in defense of freedom.
I learned a wealth about Philippine history during my first visit to Mount Samat yesterday.
Mount Samat is also about the friendship that Filipinos established with the United States.
In Mount Samat, you will fairly understand this bond between America and the Philippines, which is unique if you compare the bond that the United States has with other neighboring countries herein Asia.
Why is the Philippines a strong ally (some say puppet) of America?
Go to Mount Samat and you will see why.
At Mount Samat you get a better understanding of the ties that bind.
Mount Samat is a lonesome mountain that you can get to by car today.
You experience that well-paved zig-zag road going up the summit.
At the top of the mountain, there is what is known as the huge, and towering Memorial Cross, a cement and steel-re-inforced cross standing 92 meters high.
There is an elevator that will take visitors up, and that is the nearest you can ever get to the sky in that area.
At the top of the cross you can get a view of the plains of Luzon and the cloud of pollution that engulfs the metropolis far away.
But it is a sight to behold. This wind is so strong. It is chilliy up there.
There is also a museum at Mount Samat which unravels many of the untold stories that happened during world war II.
It is the best education you can ever get about Philippine history and Filipino-American friendship.
There are war artifacts, guns, uniforms, and other war paraphernalia and equipment that have been preserved.
They remain mute witnesses to the ravages and destruction that war brought to thousands of human lives..
It was only at my crash history -schooling at Mount Samat that I am now able to relay the chronology of events that led to world war II.
Here it is:
As you may know, the Philipines was ceded by Spain to the United States in 1898 after ruling for over four hundred years.
The Americans became our substitute colonizers, and introduced much of Western culture.
But the United States intended to grant full independence to the Philppines that is why in 1935, pursuant to the Tydings-Mc Duffie law a ten-year transition was accorded the Philippines in preaparation for full liberation.
But Japan at this time was ever expanding over the Pacific.
It wanted to conquer much of Asia and the Pacific enroute to its ambition to be a dominant military and economic power in the global arena.
It was because of the non-lifting of the economic and oil embargo against Japan by the west, particularly the United States, which triggered the sneaky attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 9, 1941.
Just hours after the Pearl harbor attack, Japanese forces invaded the Philippines, striking in strategic locations in Davao, Baguio, Clark airfiled.
It was said that the Japanese attack in December 1941 reduced General Douglas Mc Artuhur's (commander of the United States Armed Forces of the Far East, USAFFE) airpower in the Philippines to less than half.
Japanese Imperial forces subdued Manila, that is why Filipino and American troops retreated to Bataan, and Mount Samat was the most strategic place to camp.
Bataan finally fell in April 1942.
Mc Arthur had earlier left for Australia in Mach 1942 leaving behind his famous promise "I shall return."
Meanwhile, President Manuel Quezon, his family and top Philippine officials stealthily left onboard a U.S. submarine for the United States to set up a government in exile.
For three years Japanese forces ruled the country, committing atrocities by killing innocent civilians and raping our women.
They tried to "Japanize" the Philippines, but failed because they never won the symphathy of Fililinos who raged silently against the reign of terror the Japanese wielded in the archipelago.
We have heard of the stories of now elderly females who became "comfort women" (sex slaves) of Japanese soldiers during the war.
Three years later, Mc Arthur fulfilled his promise by returning to the Philippines with an armada of battleships prepratory to wiping out the Japanese in this part of the world.
My grandfather, a war veteran, published a book where he narrated his life as a guerilla during the war and reviewing his book, the chronology of history became clearer.
We who did not live during those tumultuous times should take time out to relive those events with a visit to Mount Samat.
No amount of book-reading will ever match the wealth of history you can gain even with just a one-day visit to Mount Samat.
Everyday, buses of domestic and foreign tourists (even Japanese) visit Mount Samat.
It is not just a visit to a tourist attraction.
It is a pilgrimage to hallowed ground.

No comments: