“IN 1941, Japan was invading almost all the [Asian] countries because of their aggressive expansion… We were still called the Philippine Islands back then. Almost immediately, the countries around us surrendered in a matter of days. The Philippines is the only country that resisted the Japanese. From Dec. 8 when they invaded Philippines, it was only after four months that the Philippines decided to surrender,” Miguel Angelo C. Villa-Real, Philippine Veterans Bank Marketing Communications Division Head, said as he narrated the events of the Battle of Bataan.

“The Japanese were so mad at us because we resisted for four months instead of a few days. And because of that, they wanted us to go through the [Bataan] Death March,” he continued.

On April 9, 1942, approximately 75,000 Filipino and American troops were forced to march 112 kilometers from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga as they were transferred to prison camps. Under the heat of the harsh summer sun, suffering thirst and hunger, the troops were harshly treated by Japanese guards. The march lasted for five days. The total numbers of deaths along the way remains unknown but they were in the thousands.

Through Republic Act 1789 or the Reparations law, $20 million was paid by Japan to the Philippines — a portion of which was allotted for the Veterans Trust Fund. Under Republic Act 3518, the Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB) was established in 1963. It is owned by World War II veterans and their heirs and currently has 60 branches nationwide.

In line with Philippine Veterans Week which runs from April 4 to 11, and the 77th anniversary of the Bataan Death March, the Philippine Veterans Bank, in partnership with the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) and the Provincial Government of Bataan, has mounted fund-raising programs in honor of World War 2 veterans who survived the Death March. These activities have been held since 2014.

“It’s a good example of the Filipino spirit… I think it was lost over time because people now ask why we celebrate a defeat. But actually, it’s a very good example of resistance, [of] fighting for what you believe in, nationalism, and of brotherhood or sisterhood because of supporting each other,” Mr. Villa-Real told BusinessWorld during an interview at the PVB main office in Makati on April 4.

The idea behind the programs was inspired from the Bataan Memorial Death March (BMDM) — a commemoration attended by WWII veterans, survivors, and descendants which has been held annually since 1989 in New Mexico in the United States of America.

Among the PVB’s programs this year were the Freedom Trail March on March 2 and 3 which retraced the original 140-km route of the Death March and drew over a thousand participants. Meanwhile, the first Ride for Valor, a bike tour from Kilometer Zero in Bataan to Capas, Tarlac where the Death March ended, was held on March 10.

The PVB’s third program for the year is the 6th Bataan Freedom Run which will be held on April 14. The 42-kilometer route will start at the Balanga Capitol in Balanga, Bataan and end at Mt. Samat. The marathon is divided into three categories: 42- and 21-km marathon for adults; 10-, 5-, and 1-km courses for children; and a 1-km course for dogs.

Mr. Villa-Real said that they are targeting 2,000 participants for this year’s marathon, hoping to beat last year’s record of 1,500.

Proceeds from the marathon will be used to fund the restoration and maintenance of 120 historical markers along the Death March route, and landmarks such as the Last Horse Cavalry Charge in Morong, Bataan and the site of the Bataan hospital.

“We are often asked why we commemorate it. It’s not a defeat. It’s a symbol of Filipino love for country and heroism. That’s why we do this. We want people to understand what happened because if they understand they won’t ask the question again.” Mr. Villa-Real said. “Some say ‘It takes a defeat to show your true character.’ I think it did for many Filipinos.”

For inquiries, contact secretariat@withoutlimits.ph. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman