How a day of defeat became ‘Araw ng Kagitingan’

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the author’s Tumblr and was also published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2018.

April 9, 1942.

What great irony it is to call the defeat of the Philippine and American Army by the Imperial Japanese invaders as “Araw ng Kagitingan.” Day of Valor. As if the name of the holiday was a great cover up to the greatest defeat of the US Army (and shall I say, the Filipino troops as well) in history.

At least that’s how it would appear to anyone in the country who are just feeling the relief because of the holiday, a nice interruption, to the drudgery of work in the middle of the week.

But to a select few, wrinkled in years, who witnessed the horrors of war, famine and death, those years were grueling and traumatic years. The scars they bear could never capture the reality of the endless banging of the guns, of the Japanese shouts they couldn’t understand, the cries of desperation from their fellowmen.

Death march begins 9 April 1942 | US National Guard
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Negotiating surrender dated 9 April 1942 | Associated Press

They—our lolos and lolas—are tucked within our homes, but oh what stories they tell. They would tell us how the explosions and shelling of Bataan and Corregidor could be heard even from Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard, Manila).

They would tell us how they witnessed many of their loved ones fight at Bataan, expecting reinforcements  that never came.

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Some men who fought have married just before the outbreak of war, and at the call of the newly formed Commonwealth government under President Quezon, just six years old (from 1935 to 1941), they left everything, their family and friends, to join this war, full of optimism, but knowing full well the uncertainty of what they were facing.

We call it Araw ng Kagitingan, because it was precisely in spite of the knowledge of their impending defeat that they kept on fighting as long as they could. They are the Greatest Generation. 

These commemorations serve not only as brief respite for us who work in our offices and labor in our schools. It is also a pause to remember that the freedom we experience every single day came at great cost. Its price was blood. And we live out and use this freedom, consciously and responsibly.

My Lolo Urbano died in the battlefield two days short of the surrender. I grieve even when I didn’t get to know the man, but I’m proud of this family heritage.

I will always remember the radio broadcast of Norman Reyes, written by Capt. Salvador P. Lopez via The Voice of Freedom, alluding the whole defeat to the story of Christ’s seeming defeat and eventual triumph because it happened past Holy Week: 

“All of us know the story of Easter Sunday. It was the triumph of light over darkness, life over death. It was the vindication of a seemingly unreasonable faith. It was the glorious resurrection of a leader, only three days before defeated and executed like a common felon.

Today, on the commemoration of that Resurrection, we can humbly and without presumption declare our faith and hope in our own resurrection, our own inevitable victory.

We, too, were betrayed by Judases. We were taken in the night by force of arms, and though we had done wrong to no man, our people were bound and delivered into the hands of our enemies. We have been with mock symbols of sovereignty, denied by weaklings, lashed with repeated oppression, tortured and starved. We have been given gall to drink, and we have shed our blood.

To those who look upon us from afar it must seem the Filipino people have descended into hell, into the valley of death. But we know that the patient and watching men who said their simple prayers in the hills of Bataan, have not lost faith, and we know that the hushed congregations in the churches throughout the land, drew from the gospel as Mass renewed hope in their resurrection.

To all of them we give today the message of the angel of Easter morning: “Be not afraid, for He is risen.”

We, too, shall rise. After we have paid the full price of our redemption, we shall return to show the scars of sacrifices that all may touch and believe. When the trumpets sound the hour we shall roll aside the stone before the tomb and the tyrant guards shall scatter in confusion. No wall of stone shall then be strong enough to contain us, no human force shall suffice to hold us in subjection, we shall rise in the name of freedom and the East shall be alight with the glory of our liberation.” 

It should be noted that their defeat was not in vain.

Bataan was a thorn in the flesh for the Japanese who could not push through with their plan of expansion as scheduled.

Just imagine: they lasted from January to April 9, 1942 despite the dwindling resources and rations, the fatigue, and the heat of the dry season. Holding those defense lines to resist the Japanese for three long months was no small feat. Only a firm conviction and love for Pilipinas could make them hold the defenses that long. 

Read the complete transcription of the “Voice of Freedom” broadcast here

Writer’s note: Here are my posts related to World War II, the bloodiest war in human history at the cost of millions of lives.

About the Author

Kristoffer Pasion the resident historian of Team SubSelfie.com. He is a public historian working for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. He has been serving in government for almost a decade, having worked as cultural officer for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2011-2013), and as history researcher for the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines (2013-2016).

He runs the blog Indiohistorian, and does active history writing on social media. He is finishing his masteral studies in History at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, pursuing research on the history of government institutions.

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