Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Capas National Shrine gets a new monument

On Monday Steve guided for a group which arrived from the province of Cavite in two small bancas. Several of the adults were supporters of a local orphanage, and three boys, orphans, were also among the group. All went well until they was ready to return to Cavite, at which point the Coast Guard informed them that the banceros were in violation of several regulations, including one bancero having arrived without his license, no life jackets on board either boat, and overloading the bancas. The one bancero claimed to have forgotten to bring his license, and both acknowledged that they should have brought the life jackets, but also asserted that in the past they have never been approached by the Coast Guard. (Due to a number of banca accidents in the Philippines in recent months, it appears that the Coast Guard is cracking down on unsafe practices, something that will ultimately save lives.)

After a lengthy discussion, the Coast Guard agreed to let both banceros return home with their boats, but were adamant that the passengers find another way back to Cavite. This meant either renting a large banca from Corregidor at considerable cost, or taking the Sun Cruises ferry to Manila and then finding their way back to the orphanage by bus. They chose the ferry, and as it turned out, we were going to Manila that afternoon so we spent the 75-minute trip visiting with some of them. So be forewarned: if you are coming to Corregidor via banca, make sure that your bancero is in Coast Guard compliance, or you could be stuck in a similar frustrating situation.

The reason that we were going to Manila was to attend the annual Bataan Death March remembrance ceremony at the Capas National Shrine in Tarlac. In the past it has been scheduled soon after the Mount Samat ceremony of April 9, thus taking place while we were still on tour with our Valor Tours group. This year it was moved to the 20th in hope of drawing a larger audience. The shrine is located at the site of Camp O’Donnell, terminus of the DM and the initial prison camp for the 50-55,000 soldiers who survived it.

After an overnight stay in our usual hostel in Malate, we were off to Makati where we joined a distinguished group for the ride to Capas. Edgar (Bubi) Krohn, whom we have featured in the past, rented a 10-passenger van for us. The group included Leslie Murray of the Filipino-American Memorial Endowment, her husband Brian, author Marie Vallejo, retired Doctor of Economics Benito Legarda, Jr., and Elsa, a website designer hard at work on the site for F.A.M.E.

We left Makati at 8:30, hoping to arrive at the shrine before the program’s scheduled start at 11:00. However, traffic was so heavy that we didn’t get out of Metro Manila until 10:00, putting us almost an hour behind the goal. Given the group in the van, it was an enjoyable and interesting ride. Bubi was directing the driver in Tagalog, and talking with Benito in Spanish. Bubi’s first language is German, since his ancestors came to the Philippines from Germany. He says that he also “gets by” in French, and we can vouch for his excellent English.

Leslie had phoned ahead, and since our group included some of the honored guests, everyone at Capas waited patiently for us. We arrived shortly after 11:30, and the ceremony got underway around noon, opening with the playing of the Australian, U.S., and Philippine National Anthems. After the invocation and several introductions, Dr. Rico Jose – a highly reputed historian and professor at the University of the Philippines – gave the keynote talk. He was dressed in period clothing which he described for us, a typical Filipino Scout’s uniform, essentially a one-piece blue denim coverall. Then Dr. Legarda announced and unveiled the new monument dedicated to the Filipino civilians of the three provinces of the DM – Bataan, Pampanga, and Tarlac – who aided the soldiers along the Death March, at risk to their own lives. Approximately eighty percent of the participants of the DM were Filipinos, and this new marker was dedicated to Filipino civilians. Therefore we found it a bit ironic and sad that most of the 100 or so in attendance were Americans and Australians, many of them members of the Angeles Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2485. We hope that the smaller Filipino contingent was a byproduct of publicity challenges combined with the event taking place on a work-day, and not due to apathy. We were pleased that a number of our friends from the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society in attendance. They came wearing their authentic khaki uniforms, serving as an honor, lending a nice air of formaility to the event.

The two of us have prior experience with lunch at VPF Post 2485, since we always stop there during our trips with Valor Tours. Our sincere thanks go to Bubi Krohn, who treated the group to a tasty though very late lunch. Thanks also to Leslie for her invitation and encouragement to attend in spite of having just gotten back to Corregidor following our tour.

Fortunately for all of us, we seemed to encounter less traffic on our ride back to Manila. We arrived at the hostel about 7 o’clock, much more tired than you’d expect from a day mostly spent sitting. Wednesday morning we returned to Corregidor, with no major events scheduled for a while.

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