Philippines


The Philippines is a land of contrasts. An archipelago of more than 7,100 islands with almost 100 million inhabitants, it is the most Hispanic nation in Asia but a place all its own. From shades of Spanish culture, Roman Catholicism and Islam, American-style malls and fast food, and its very name in honor of King Philip II of Spain, the country has long been shaped by foreign influences. Combined with its indigenous heritage, the Philippines has become a nation diverse and unique. From the millions of Filipinos who work hard around the world to provide for their families back home to the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) that devastated the central part of the country in November 2013, the Philippines is a land filled with resilience and hope. Poverty and an increasing sense that life is getting better for most. Beauty and bad traffic. Gorgeous volcanoes that wipe out cities and villages. Delicious food cheap and fattening. Warm and friendly people who live life and make the best of what may come, for better or for worse. If you have the chance to visit the Philippines, take it. But don’t simply head to a beach resort for scuba diving and a tan. Hop in a Jeepney and go off the beaten path. You’ll never know what you’ll find in this incredible archipelago.

More About the Philippines

A View of Taal Lake and Volcano Island in Tagaytay

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Sunset over Manila Bay

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Entrance Gate of Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila

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Kilometer Marker 21 of the Bataan Death March and Mt. Samet on the Bataan Peninsula

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Bataan Death March, Philippines (Video)


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During my 2014 trip to the Philippines, I retraced the route of the infamous Bataan Death March on the Bataan Peninsula on Luzon Island north of Manila. It was fortuitous that I followed the route on the 72nd anniversary of the March.

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After the surrender of the U.S.-Filipino Bataan Defense Force during World War II to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, thousands of American and Filipino prisoners were force marched 102 kilometers from Mariveles and Bagac on the Bataan Peninsula to San Fernando in Pampanga. An estimated 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war endured the seven-day Bataan Death March. Those who made it to San Fernando on April 17, 1942, were loaded onto train cars by the hundreds and transferred by rail to the concentration camp at Camp O’Donell. Approximately 2,500-10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American prisoners of war died  from execution, exhaustion, injury, thirst, malaria, and other causes along the way. Survivors were held prisoner until Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II in September 1945.

This video footage shows what the route of the Bataan Death March looks like today.

Route of the Bataan Death March, Philippines

No longer a dirt trail, much of it is now the Bataan Provincial Expressway. It begins at Zero Kilometer Death March Marker (Km 00) Memorial in Mariveles. A second route from Bagac, a district in the interior of Bataan Peninsula where thousands more prisoners were forced marched, merges with the Mariveles branch at Kilometer 23. The highway continues north to San Fernando with dozens of markers and memorials along the way.

Bataan Death March Route

The video begins at Zero Kilometer and follows the Bataan Death March route from kilometer 4 to 13. The shaky cam from an air-conditioned vehicle doesn’t convey what prisoners of war endured during the March, but it will give you a sense of the challenges they faced en route.

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Remembering the Diplomats on Memorial Day


“Remembering the Diplomats on Memorial Day,” a piece I wrote last year. This is dedicated to the Foreign Service officers we lost in the past year – Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, and Anne Smedinghoff. This year, please remember the diplomats and all civilians who serve their country on the front lines of freedom.

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Every year on Memorial Day, American flags are flown to honor members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died or were wounded in the line of duty. Their service is noble, and I appreciate that our country publicly acknowledges their sacrifices.

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Scant attention, however, is paid to the civilians who serve courageously in the line of fire. Diplomats and other civilians who work for the U.S. government are often placed in dangerous and unstable locales around the world. They have participated in every war and conflict since the Revolutionary War alongside their military colleagues. In some cases, the civilians stayed behind after the troops withdrew, as happened last year in Iraq. They were also stationed in places without the benefit of U.S. military support when unrest occurred, as happened in Libya, Syria, and in other countries that experienced upheaval during the Arab Spring.

Hundreds of American diplomats…

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Remembering the Diplomats on Memorial Day


Every year on Memorial Day, American flags are flown to honor members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died or were wounded in the line of duty. Their service is noble, and I appreciate that our country publicly acknowledges their sacrifices.

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Scant attention, however, is paid to the civilians who serve courageously in the line of fire. Diplomats and other civilians who work for the U.S. government are often placed in dangerous and unstable locales around the world. They have participated in every war and conflict since the Revolutionary War alongside their military colleagues. In some cases, the civilians stayed behind after the troops withdrew, as happened last year in Iraq. They were also stationed in places without the benefit of U.S. military support when unrest occurred, as happened in Libya, Syria, and in other countries that experienced upheaval during the Arab Spring.

Hundreds of American diplomats have died in the line of duty. Their deaths were caused by natural disasters, diseases, killings, assassinations, and trying to save others’ lives. Two memorial plaques in the entrance hall of the State Department list the names of the 231 diplomats who have died in the line of duty since William Palfrey was lost at sea in 1780. More recently, Brian Adkins was killed in his home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2007, and David Foy was killed in 2006 by a car bomb in Karachi, Pakistan. This figure does not include the 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days during the 1979-80 Iran Hostage Crisis when students and militants overran the then-U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The International News offers a sobering analysis of the history of violence against American diplomats, reporting that 111 have been killed or assassinated since 1780. According to the State Department, more ambassadors than U.S. generals or admirals have been killed since World War II. The U.S. Diplomacy Project tells the tales of diplomats who were put in harm’s way while serving overseas.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA         While 231 may not sound like a large number, consider that at any given time there are only about 11,000 American diplomats versus the more than 2.5 million members of the U.S. Armed Forces. A rough comparison of casualties during the Iraq War in 2008 revealed that personnel working for the State Department in Iraq during 2003-08 had a casualty rate of about 50% that of their military counterparts. As the events of September 11, 2001, showed, you don’t have be involved in active combat to be a casualty of war and terrorism.

Civilians who serve our country overseas work for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other U.S. Government agencies or as contractors. Many support the U.S. military and diplomatic corps in hostile and dangerous conditions. They are unsung heroes who are rarely featured on the evening news or in movies. They labor in obscurity to protect the freedoms that Americans enjoy.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act (Public Law 90-363) set aside Memorial Day as a federal holiday to be celebrated each year on the last day of May. The law, however, does not specify who or what it commemorates. That’s up to you to decide. In the minds of many Americans, Memorial Day is a day to honor the U.S. Armed Forces, but this was not always so. The holiday known in the late 1800’s as Decoration Day recognized the veterans of the Union Army who fought in the American Civil War. After World War I, the generally accepted meaning of the day was to honor all Americans, military or civilian, who died in any war. This changed following World War II. It’s time to return to the days when we acknowledged the efforts of all who serve their country bravely in and out of uniform.

This Memorial Day, amid the barbeques, car races, fireworks, and gatherings, remember the diplomats and other civilians who faithfully serve their country in harm’s way.

Happy Memorial Day. God bless America, and God bless those who serve our country.

NFATC

Click here to read my 2007 post on Memorial Day.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State. The photos belong to the author.

clip_image001M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. His collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.