Capas: Honouring the Fallen at Capas Shrine
I admit that I am a history buff. Especially, when it is about the Philippine history. That’s why visiting historical places gives me excitement and thrill.
But for our destination, Capas Shrine, what we felt is not excitement, but reverence. Reverence because it serves as a memorial to those who offered their lives for the country. Though we already visited this place several times before, this time, the feeling is different.
Upon entrance to Capas Shrine, you can feel the eerie atmosphere because it is too quiet. It has been a mute witness to one of the most gruesome chapter in the country’s history, the Bataan Death March. Up to 80,000 soldiers, both Filipino and American, who became prisoners of war by the Japanese, was forced by their captors to walk from Mariveles, Bataan, up to Capas, Tarlac in World War 2. They endured walking almost one hundred kilometers of trail without food or water, and some of them were physically abused. Those who were unable to walk further were simply bayoneted. Those who dared escape were shot. It is said that about 2,500 up to 10,000 prisoner soldiers died before reaching their destination.
In 1996, the site started to be developed under watch of President Fidel Ramos and the Department of National Defense, and to commemorate and show reverence to the World War II soldiers who were part of the Death March.
Last April 2003, a 70-meter obelisk was unveiled at the new memorial wall, where the interment camp once stood.
The obelisk is surrounded by the Wall f Heroes Memorial. A black marble wall, where the known names of the Filipinos who died on the Death March were etched. Also written here are poems celebrating their heroism, as well as the number of dead and taken prisoners. The site, which measured approximately 90 hectares, were also filled with thousands of trees that represents the dead.
Here are some of the interesting monuments including the inscriptions in their markers:
CAPAS CONCENTRATION CAMP (NHI Inscription)
Itinatag noong 1940 bilang Camp O’Donnell. Nagsilbing bilangguan ng mahigit na 40,000 kawal pilipino at 9,000 kawal amerikano na bihag ng digma na dumanas ng death march. Humigit Kumulang sa 30,000 ang namatay sa kampong ito sanhin ng sakit at ibayong pahirap mula Abril hanggang Hunyo 1942.Inilibing sa iisang hukay ang mga nasawing bayani. Nakilala sa pangalang Capas Concentration Camp. Naging bahagi ng Clark Air base Military Reservation makaraan ang ikalawang digmaang pandaigdig. Ibinalik sa Republika ng Pilipinas 9 Abril 1982. Ipinahayag na isang pambansang dambana 9 Oktubre 1991.
DEATH MARCH BOXCAR (Inscription)
After the death march which claimed many lives, Filipino and American prisoners of war, having walked 105 kilometres from Mariveles and Bagac, Bataan under the intense April heat, were assembled in San Fernando, Pampanga and were loaded into boxcar.
This Boxcar and many like it, we used to transport Filipino and American prisoners of war – the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, from San Fernando Pampanga to prisons camp in Capas, Tarlac after the long march.It was one of the many freight cars of the Manila Railroad Company before the world war ll. Measuring about six feet long, eight feet wide and six feet high. This boxcar had wooden walls and metal roof. A larger version made of steel, was 33 feet long, seven feet high and eight feet wide.
At San Fernando, the prisoners were loaded into the boxcars by the Japanese guards who used their rifle butts and bayonets to squeeze more people than the capacity of the boxcars. Fifty to sixty people were forced into this particular type car. As many as one hundred fifty to one hundred sixty men were crammed into the larger version of this boxcar.
The boxcars so tightly packed that it became impossible to sit down. The only source of ventilation and air was a tiny slit in the door of each boxcar.
The car, under the sweltering sun, rapidly became an oven and men suffocated in the heat. Those afflicted with dysentery could not control their defecation and soon the floor of the car was filthy with excrement, urine and vomit. Many died where they stood at the boxcar.
The “Obelisk” Is the focal center of the entire shrine site which stands for peace. The needle-like tower consist of three sections symbolizing the Filipino, American and Japanese people in the modern age of global peace, who have learned the lessons of war from the past. Regulatory signal beacons is installed atop the obelisk, to symbolize the height of nationalistic aspiration of Filipinos towards peace and freedom.
THE MINI-FOREST (NATURE PARK)
To date, approximately 35 hectares of land have been utilized for the reforestation of the shrine. About 25,000 trees of various species (Mahogany, Duhat, Alibangbang, Mango, etc.) have been planted. The reforestation of the shrine area is very appropriate action of the government so as to invoke environment consciousness among the people in the province.
A solemn gathering place to remember and honor the war heroes. The large space provided allows the people to view the magnificence of the peace monument (Obelisk). The scale and proportion of the site will create a monumental effect to excite the spectators imagination.
A wide mall along central axis from the front (main) gateway, to the Ceremonial Plaza, to the Flag pole and stretching to the Memorial Plaza and the Obelisk. This central walk is flanked on both sided by mini-flagpole to accentuate the approach to the Obelisk.
Defenders’ Hall and the Battling Bastards of Bataan
Also inside the compound is a small museum, called Defenders’ Hall, which was built by a group of Americans. Inside this hall are framed pictures of the actual death march, depictions of the American and Filipino lives during the Japanese regime, and some officials and heroes.
Near this hall is an area where tombstones for the perished Americans soldiers, whom they called “Battling Bastards of Bataan,” sit quietly. Other tombstones represent other foreign prisoners and officials who have fought for the liberty of the country. (Source: Tarlac Website)
Commute– Take the Baguio-bound bus and alight at Capas. Take a jeep plying O’Donnell or Navy and tell the driver you’ll alighting at the Capas National Shrine. You can see from the highway the obelisk which looks like a needle at the distance.
* If alone, it is NOT advisable to take the tricycle because of the distance (7 km)
Private Vehicle – If taking your own vehicles, you can go all the way to Capas. From Capas market (just along the highway), take the road going to O’Donnell or Navy (this is also the way to Mt Pinatubo)
Entrance Fee – PhP10 per person, PhP5 discount for the students. Free for Capas resident and veteran.
Parking Fee – PhP30
- According to the guards/caretakers here, some of the war relics displayed here were stolen.
- If going up Mt Pinatubo, then you will probably pass by this shrine since the road to Mt. Pinatubo is in Capas.
- You can bring flowers and offer some prayers for the fallen soldiers.
- It is advisable to visit the shrine before or after the Heroes Day. It is because the flagpoles here have flags unfurled.
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- San Jose Lake
- Monasterio de San Jose
- Aquino Museum
- Isdaan Floating Restaurant