Death March Km. 0 Park at Mariveles

For many jetsetting motorists, April 9 is a much-awaited holiday to hie off to a beach or inland resort for a quick summer getaway. This red-letter day is officially known as Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) which immortalizes the bravery of Filipino and American soldiers as they made a last stand against Japan in World War 2.

While it marks their surrender to the enemy, it highlights their uncommon valor against overwhelming odds, lest we be misled that it is a commemoration of defeat.

There was a time when this holiday was loosely called the “Fall of Bataan”. But with the change the province has undergone for the past 80 years, the word “fall” has been replaced by “pull” to emphasize its magnetic and touristic attraction, beyond the memories of the Pacific War.

What used to be an arduous trip not too long ago is now a breeze with the completion of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway and the improvement of the Roman Superhighway, the province’s main road.

Pit Stop 1: Balanga City. For an insightful drive around, pull over at the roadside Bataan Tourism Center, the provincial tourism office and a one-stop resource and information center for visitors. It has a souvenir shop, a diorama mini-museum, function room for viewing of war documentaries and tourism videos, and a newly-opened manicured park with promenade gardens, lagoons and ampitheater which serve as an alternative public recreational area.

Tucked in the city’s interiors is Balanga Elementary School where Fil-American troops surrendered to the Japanese in 1942. The surrender act is depicted through life-size bronze tableau and ad adjacent museum.

Towards sunset, you can witness some 9,500 endemic and migratory birds flying by at the City of Balanga Wetlands and Nature Park, a 34-hectare mangrove forest, foreshore and special ecotourism zone.

Bataan Tourism Park in Balanga

Pit Stop 2: Dambana ng Kagitingan. This iconic landmark atop Mt. Samat in Pilar is a must-see for all first-time visitors of Bataan, where the annual Araw ng Kagitingan rites are held.

Also known as Shrine of Valor, it is a government memorial complex whose centerpiece is a 92-meter tall cross punctuated by relief sculptures of the late National Artist Napoleon Abueva, a colonnade with the war dead’s names, and a museum. An added treat at the shrine’s platform is a commanding view of Corregidor Island just across the bay where the Japs rained bombs even after Bataan fell.

Aside from being a war memorial, Mt. Samat is also as an adventure tourism and enterprise zone with the recreational facilities installed, forest trails, waterfall and natural pool.

Pit Stop 3: Mariveles. Situated at the bottom-most part of the peninsular province is this beach town, once a favorite summer excursion place before Boracay heydays. Reachable through the so-called “killer loop” because of the breathtaking steep zigzag, it hosts the Km 0 park of the infamous Death March where over 70,000 surrenderees were gathered for the 100-km walk to their prison camp in Tarlac.

At the foothills of Mt. Mariveles is the Freeport Area of Bataan where The Oriental Hotel Bataan, a luxe stomping ground for business travelers and staycationers. Known in its past life as the Bataan Hilltop Hotel, it is a handiwork of late National Artist Leandro Locsin during his architectural heydays. Left idle for decades, the two-level circular brutalist style building was given a new lease on life as a chic contemporary hotel tucked in a lush tropical forest.

The Oriental Bataan

The resort hotel is also the town’s top dining spot, with Asian specialties ranging from Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian and Filipino favorites, and a seaview al fresco resto and grill which has brought back its sought-after Saturday live band and show of dancing staff and firedancers.

Used as quarters for medical frontliners during the first months of the pandemic quarantine, it has been welcoming corporate, leisure guests and special events.

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar Church

The hotel personnel, garbed in traditional Asian attire, can also act as tour guides around the go-to places in Mariveles, among them the Five Fingers Cove, San Miguel Peak, and Sisiman Beach and Lighthouse where Corregidor Island seems to be just a spitting distance away.

Visita Iglesia Pit Stops. If you plan to visit during the Holy Week, might was well do the traditional Visita Iglesia and visit some of the postcard-pretty Spanish-era churches which also figured during the Pacific War: the Cathedral Shrine Parish of St. Joseph, the churches of Abucay, Orion, Morong, Bagac, Orani, Pilar, or the recreated church inside Las Casas Filipinas De Acuzar Resort in Bagac.

If Bataan seems irresistible with all these wonders, break free and fall for its magnetic pull.