It was almost dusk, the skyline started to turn grey.
One jeepney ride from Bagac brings you to Pilar, Bataan. From the highway, you can hire a tricycle to go 7 kilometers up to the Shrine of Valor (Dambana ng Kagitingan) at the summit of Mt Samat.
The Shrine of Valor commemorates the heroes of Bataan, soldiers who took the last stand defending the land from the Japanese army during the World War II. In 1942, a dark and painful part of our history, the Death March happened. Some 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war was forced by the Japanese to walk a distance of 88 kilometers from Bataan to their internment camps. Nearly 10,000 of the prisoners, weakened by hunger and disease and unable to endure the tropical heat, expired along the way.
When you reach the site, you will realize that there’s more to the shrine than the memorial cross. On one side of the park, you can catch a view the mountains of Bataan as they bathe in the last rays of the sun. On another side, you see the rolling hills and the pale blue sky. The atmosphere is a little heavy, not easy to contain. The towering cross evokes feelings of being in a sacred place. At the same time, the cannons and the wide quiet space bring some melancholy.
After climbing the steps, you will find yourself at the colonnade, which is made of marble. There are big bronze urns on both sides of the entrance, symbolic of the eternal love for the country. At the center of the colonnade is an altar with a colorful stained glass art in the background. Engraved on the opposite walls are some scriptures retelling the heroism of the Filipino soldiers.
The Memorial Cross, which rises to 302 feet, is made of steel, concrete and marble. The exterior finish of the cross at the base up to an 11-meter level is capped with “Nabiag Na Bato” sculptural slabs and sculptural bas-reliefs depicting significant battles and historical events by National Artist Napoleon Abueva. Thirty-two storeys up the sky, in the arms of the cross, is the viewing gallery where the public and tourists can view the entire Bataan in 360-degree angle.
The shrine is open from 8AM to 5PM.
HOW TO GET THERE
1. From Manila, take a bus bound for Balanga, Bataan (i.e. Bataan Transit, Genesis). Travel time: 3 hours. Fare: P200
2. At the Balanga City Central Terminal, take a jeepney bound for Cabog Cabog and get off at the intersection to Mount Samat at Diwa, Pilar, Bataan. Travel time: about 20 minutes. Fare: P17
3. From there, you may either hike to the top of Mt. Samat or hire a tricycle parked at the corner of the road leading to the shrine. Fare: P100 per person, one-way.
Shrine’s grounds: P20
Viewing deck: P10