April 19 is when we celebrate the Day of Valor. We take you to the greatest tribute to Filipino war heroes, right at Bataan’s Mt. Samat.
“On these grounds, men chose to die instead of surrender… Let all who read this take pride in the courage of our race,” echoed the white marble walls of the Shrine of Valor, as I looked on. The floor-to-ceiling narrative was that of the Battle of Bataan.
Shrine of Valor, the Battlefield
Bataan is the famous site of a vicious battle against the Japanese. A fight that lasted three months. It is also the starting trail of the Death March, where surrendered American and Filipino prisoners of war made their way 100 kilometers away to Tarlac on foot. Perched near the peak of Mt. Samat is the Shrine of Valor. Itself the allies’ last stronghold.
Because of its architectural beauty, I found it hard to imagine the devastation that once clung to its soil. The marble Shrine of Valor gleamed in spotless white under the heat of the sun. The Philippine flag waved fiercely against the high altitude winds. Bronze urns in adjacent corners, symbolizing a flame that burns eternal, welcomed us.
The Underground War Museum
Inside the Shrine of Valor’s marble colonnade are the war’s gritty details. Old photos clung on the walls showing cities burning and civilian casualties. Displayed are seemingly harmless armaments once used in combat. In the middle of the war museum is a scale of the two mountains key to the strategic war plan in Bataan — Mt. Mariveles and Mt. Samat. Their terrain combined with Bataan’s proximity to the capital city enabled the American-Filipino troops to delay the invading Japanese forces.
The Towering Cross
Behind the Shrine of Valor stood the 92-feet Memorial Cross, which holds a viewing deck across its arms. It was closed during our visit, but travelers can take the elevator and get a panoramic view of Bataan, the Manila Bay and even Corregidor Island and Manila at vantage point. Like a general overseeing the battlefield.
Sculpted at the base of the Memorial Cross are figures of familiar Filipino heroes such as Lapu-Lapu, Jose Rizal, Antonio Luna and Andres Bonifacio. I wondered if the towering figure rose as a single unifying symbol of revolutionary Filipinos throughout history. Visitors typically flock to the Shrine of Valor every 9th of April for Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor), a national holiday reserved for remembering our local heroes.
With the unique sights, it was hard to imagine that this was once a place of defeat, loss and surrender. Now, Mt. Samat is made a place of pride and salutation.
How to commute to Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor): From Balanga City, take a jeep to Kabog-Kabog and ask to be dropped off at the Mt. Samat jumpoff point. From the arc, you have three choices: (1) Take the tricycle ride which costs PHP100, per head, one way (2) Walk the six kilometer uphill and winding roads (3) Put those thumbs up in hopes of a hitchhike. An entrance fee of PHP30 is collected upon entrance, which grants all access to the museum and viewing deck.