Friday, August 9, 2013

July 20th: Bataan Historic Tour - A Visit to "Dambana ng Kagitingan"

Reading session - check.
Tree planting - check.

Next, task on the list - R&R. Wooo-hoo!

Aside from cultural immersion, one other thing my parents initially proposed to the IP Rondalla Tour planning committee is a visit to different historical places along the way. A visit to the "Dambana ng Kagitingan" (Shrine of Valor) was what they had in mind after the cultural immersion with the Aeta community. Unfortunately, this was dropped in favor of other activities.

Figure C. Top (right to left): Kuya Jun, Dad. Bottom (right to left): Tita Janeth, Mother, Tita Naty, Teacher Kat, Me!,
Principal Helen Mendoza. Not Pictured: Kuya Dondon
Our picture at the bas relief of our Philippine heroes. Can you name the heroes depicted in this bas relief?

Anyway, since we finished early, the Bayan-bayanan Elementary School teachers graciously offered to give us a guided tour of the site. For those of you who don't know, "Dambana ng Kagitingan" was built in honor of Filipino and American heroes who fought and died in Bataan against Japanese invaders during World War II. It is perched 1,787 feet high on Mt. Samat. From the parking lot, a long marble staircase leads up to the shrine and military museum. Standing even further up on top of Mt. Samat is a 302 feet tall, white cross that can be seen all the way to Manila on a clear day. 

Me and my parents at the bottom steps of "Dambana ng Kagitingan" that
sits atop Mt. Samat in the southern section of the Bataan peninsula.
Perched on top is the giant cross that honors the memories
of those who died in Bataan during World War II.  

The drive from Bayan-bayanan was quite short, but once we reached the foot of Mt. Samat, it was a long, slow, zig-zaggy climb to the site. We went up so high that my ears popped twice before reaching the top! But the view was superb. I can't remember anymore how many steps it took to get from the base to the was a lot! And we're just halfway to the top. I need to get back in shape.

Inscribed in the marble wall is an account of the Battle of Bataan where Filipino and American troops valiantly fought wave after wave of Japanese invaders for three months. After running out of ammunition, food and medicine, 60,000 to 80,000 remaining defenders laid down their arms and surrendered. What followed was the infamous Bataan Death March where some 2,000-10,000 Filipino and 100-600 American soldiers died or were killed by Japanese guards during the 128 km (80 mile) trek to Camp O'Donnel located in Capas, Tarlac province.

Wall incriptions on the south wall of the "Dambana ng Kagitingan" describing the Battle of Bataan. This battlefield, together
with the small, adjacent island of Corregidor, is where Filipino and American troops made their last stand against
Japanese invaders during World War II. This place also marks the starting point of the infamous "Bataan Death
March" that claimed hundreds of lives. A splendid museum is located at the basement.
Figure A. View of the "Dambana ng Kagitingan" cross taken from its base.
This structure is 36 floors high to the beam of the cross and sits on top
of Mt. Samat. Note the bas relief depicting important events in Philippine
history. Can you identify these events and the names of prominent
Philippine heroes depicted here?
Our next stop was the shrine's commemorative cross...Good thing my equally out-of-shape parents decided to take the SUV rather than take the steep stairs up. Haha. If the ride from the base of Mt. Samat to the shrine was tough, the drive from the base of the shrine to the top of Mt. Samat was worse than the Kennon Road of Baguio. I remember taking that ride the last time I visited the Philippines, and BOY it's a struggle! The road not only zigged-and-zagged like crazy, the climb was also very steep that even our SUV took a lot of grunting and huffing before we got up to the top. But it was a well worth the trip. The 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, forests and even the waters of Manila Bay was fascinating.  From this vantage point, the cross looked very tall and imposing. Now I know how ants feel when looking up on humans.
Figure B. Entrance to the cross. Inside is a five-person capacity elevator that 
takes visitors to the viewing portal at the top of the cross beam, 36 floors up.
Can you name the prominent Philippine heroes depicted in the bas relief mural?

Around the base of the cross are bas relief of important Philippine events and heroes. Walking around the cross, I realized the walls actually summarize some 400+ years of Philippine history in images. There was Lapu-lapu standing atop the slain Ferdinand Magellan, Apolinario Mabini sitting on a chair, General Antonio Luna standing at attention, Gabriella Silang, the Katipunan's membership rites, Andres Bonifacio, Tandang Sora, General Emilio Aguinaldo, the martyred priests Gomburza, Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine Revolution, Bataan/Corregidor's defense during World War II, and many more. Do you recognize these heroes and events from the pictures? I sure don't, but just ask your parents, and they'll know.

Our teacher-guides told us that we can actually go all the way up to the beam of the cross. At the eastern face of the cross is a small door leading to a narrow, 5-person elevator. As you can imagine, the line was long but the climb up some 302 feet (36 floors) took less than a minute. Once on top, the view was even more dramatic. We were literally on-top of the world...wooohooo! Once in a while, clouds would obstruct our view --- that's how high we were.

To give you an idea of how high we were, I've included a picture of the cars parked at the base of the shrine as seen from the cross' viewing window. Cool breeze enters the narrow viewing windows and serves as "natural air-conditioning." Standing 300 ft up in the air, on the arm of the gigantic cross, knowing there's nothing holding you except the concrete floor, gave me a weird, queasy feeling. 

Looking down at the parking lot from the
top of the cross beam, some 36 floors above Mt. Samat.

After savoring the view, sucking in the thin, fresh air, and having our pictures taken, it was time to go back down through that creaky, narrow, cramped 5-person elevator. The trip down was quite fast, as you can imagine. It was past 5:00 pm by the time we left Mt. Samat so we were quite famished. So, along the way we stopped by a road-side fruit store and bought lanzones, rambutan, atis, mango, and boiled sweet corn, my mother's favorite. All in all, it was a very productive, educational and enjoyable day.

Sierra Jamir

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