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Corregidor relics relieve war victims’ pain

By Fe Zamora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:04:00 04/27/2009

Filed Under: War, history, Places, Monuments & Heritage Sites, Tourism, Veterans Affairs

CORREGIDOR ISLAND?Seeing the war relics brought a rush of painful memories of World War II, but 67-year-old Chinese-Filipino businessman Paquito Ang welcomed the feeling.

?War is terrible, but I?m glad I came here,? said Ang, who lost his father during the war.

?For years, I avoided watching war movies. I was traumatized by the war,? said Corazon Sumabat, 82, who survived a Japanese machine-gun attack.

Retired teacher Pilar Francisco, 76, was 8 years old when Japanese forces attacked the Philippines in December 1941. Her family hid in Novaliches, then situated in semi-forested farmlands. There, Francisco heard stories about the cruelty of the Japanese.

Viewing the concrete ruins that used to be the soldiers? barracks and the assorted weapons preserved in their original state, Sumabat and Franciso were glad that they had finally come face-to-face with the relics from a war that scarred them in their youth.

?War is cruel,? Sumabat, who had been travelling around the world with her husband, said. ?This memorial should remind us of the atrocities of war.?

Tourists with a sense of purpose and history should not miss this island at the mouth of Manila Bay, 48 kilometers west of Manila or about three hours of lounging in a luxury 7107 Islands Cruise ship.

?The historical value [of the island] is the main attraction, but Corregidor has a lot more to offer,? Lt. Col. Artemio Matibag, executive director of the Corregidor Foundation Inc., said in a telephone interview.

Corregidor was the last bastion of US forces in the Philippines in World War II. They maintained their headquarters at the Malinta Tunnel, a bomb-proof tunnel complex built by the US Corps of Engineers in 1922. The tunnel was completed in 1932.

Malinta Tunnel

The Malinta Tunnel was also the seat of the Philippine Commonwealth government during the war. Then President Manuel L. Quezon and US Gen. Douglas MacArthur took off from the island for Australia in February 1942.

Corregidor fell to the Japanese Imperial Army on May 6, 1942, or 27 days after Bataan fell on April 9, 1942.

For the sentimental war veterans and their kin, the island is a treasure trove of memories of courage, heroism and love of country.

?There are veterans who come here for the last time. They are in their ?80s and ?90s,? Matibag said.

For those who were too young to fight during the war, a visit here made them come to grips with their deep-seated trauma about the war.

Tourist destination

For the able-bodied adventurers and nature trippers, Matibag said the island has areas for trekking, rock climbing, swimming and snorkeling.

Last year, Matibag said a total of 65,072 tourists visited the island. It was a dismal number compared to the 103,000 visitors in 2003.

Tourism on the island declined largely because of problems of transportation. ?Tourism also depends on fuel costs and the general economic situation,? he said.

Matibag hopes for a resurgence of the tourism industry with a new cruise ship, plus the publicity generated by the United States? decision setting up a $198-million financial package for some 18,000 surviving Filipino war veterans.

Most of the 100 tourists who visited the war memorial last month on board the 7107 Islands Cruise ship agreed that the veterans deserved recognition and financial aid?no matter how little and how late?and a shrine in their honor.

Matibag described tourism here as ?extremely seasonal.?

?It usually starts in December and peaks in April and May, with the Fall of Bataan and the Fall of Corregidor,? he said.

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