MANILA - The Philippines will mark this year the 75th anniversary of Japan's violent conquest of the Southeast Asian nation, earmarking events that will honor survivors from Japan's atrocities and commemorate the lessons from that chapter in the two countries' history, officials said Wednesday.
"Our countrymen, especially the youth, should not forget the Bataan Death March 75 years ago, in April 1942. This is the kind of heroism which is very difficult to find these days," Roberto de Ocampo, chairman of the Philippine Veterans Bank that was set up to support the country's war veterans, said in a news conference.
De Ocampo was citing the forced march for a number of days beginning April 9, 1942 by some 66,000 Filipino and 12,000 Americans who fell into the hands of Japanese soldiers.
The captives, mostly soldiers, began their walk from Bataan province and were later slumped into freight cars that brought them to their prison camp in Tarlac province 160 kilometers away, on Luzon Island. Historians said only around 54,000 arrived alive.
The so-called "Fall of Bataan" marked Japan's successful occupation of the Philippines, which was then a territory of the United States. It happened four months after Japan first occupied the Philippines in December 1941.
Japan has since apologized and expressed remorse for causing such sufferings in the Philippines.
"There are many other things that we have to remember with respect to (the Death March). Among those that are interesting is that, despite the cruelty that took place, to the point that it was ruled by the international court as an act of criminal war by Japan, we've come a long way towards our relations with the Japanese. We have basically, more or less, healed most of our wounds, and have friendly relations with them," de Ocampo said.
Japan's occupation of the Philippines lasted until 1945, and its payment of war reparations around a decade later led to the normalization of the two countries' diplomatic ties.
Manila and Tokyo currently regard each other as "strategic partners," with the former receiving substantial aid and investments from the latter.
To remember the sacrifices of the Filipino and American veterans during the Japanese rule 75 years ago, the Philippine Veterans Bank, in partnership with some groups, organized a marathon set for April 2, and a run-and-bike event on April 10 and 11 at the Death March route.
The Philippine Veterans Bank's Miguel Villa-Real said foreign participants, including those from Japan, are expected to take part in the events, which will also be complemented by other activities that the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office have lined up for that week.
"It's been 75 years, and Japan is now a very close friend and ally (of the Philippines). If the President invited the Japanese prime minister to his home, then there's no reason why they should not be invited here. We'll be very glad to have them participate in these activities," Ernesto Carolina, administrator of the veterans affairs office, said, recalling the Jan. 13 visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to President Rodrigo Duterte's residence in Davao City on Mindanao island.
"The clear message to everyone, including Japan, is that peace is a lot better than conquest. And therefore, we have learned our lessons over the years. And our peaceful relations are what we have to continue to expand and to remember," de Ocampo said.