Pangatian War Memorial (Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija)

Pangatian War Memorial

Pangatian War Memorial

Used as a military training camp for twenty years before World War II, the camp was converted into a concentration camp for U.S. and Filipino prisoners-of-war (POWs) captured at Bataan and Corregidor by the Japanese imperial forces. Nearly 2,000 Americans died of hunger and disease during the first two months of captivity.

The Soldier's Trust

The Soldier’s Trust

On January 30, 1945, the camp and its 516 inmates were bravely rescued and liberated, without much bloodshed, by Alamo Scouts and the US 6th Ranger Battalion under Lt.-Col. Henry Mucci, with the assistance of Filipino guerillas led by Captains Eduardo I. Joson (Squadron 213) and Juan Pajota (Squadron 201) who effectively prevented the Japanese reinforcements from proceeding to the camp. This rescue was described as one of the most daring and successful missions of its type in the annals of US military history.

Dirt road lined with cypress trees

Dirt road lined with cypress trees

That event, now immortalized in marble in the elevated, circular Pangatian War Memorial (started in 1982 and inaugurated on May 4, 1985), also contains monuments and memorabilia of the events that transpired during the occupation. A long dirt road, between rows of cypress trees, leads to the memorial. The focal point is a huge marble niche with
simply the name “Cabanatuan” engraved on it.

Marble niche with Cabanatuan engraved on it

Marble niche with the word “Cabanatuan” engraved on it

The roof deck has a large mural of Filipino and American soldiers carrying each other, arm-in-arm,  in battle. The concrete foundations of a water tank, at the back of the memorial, is the only structure that remains of the original Pangatian Concentration Camp.

Memorial wall on the left

Memorial wall on the left

Two long memorial walls, at the far end of the compound, are inscribed with the names and ranks of the American servicemen imprisoned in the camp (some of them West Pointers). Atop a circular platform are two identical markers, one in English and  the other in Filipino, from the National Historical Institute.

Memorial wall on the right

Memorial wall on the right

The shrine, one of the few places in the country where the American flag flies side-by-side with the Filipino flag, is maintained and managed by the American Battle Sites and Monument Commission.  The Pangatian Heroes Hall, a second memorial inaugurated on April 6, 2003 on a piece of land adjacent to the U.S.-maintained memorial, is owned and maintained by the Nueva Ecija provincial government. Sitting in the middle of a lush mango orchard, it pays tribute to the Filipino guerrillas who participated in that momentous rescueCamp Pangatian (11)

The rescue was made into a movie in 2005 called The Great Raid starring Benjamin Bratt, Joseph Fiennes, James Franco and local actor Cesar Montano as guerilla Capt. Juan Pajota.  However, unlike the film Baler, this was filmed, not in the actual site (nor in the country for that matter), but in Queensland, Australia.

Camp Pangatian: Cabanatuan-Palayan Rd., Brgy. Pangatian, Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija.

How to Get There: Camp Pangatian is located 8 kms. from Cabanatuan City.

On the Road to Baler

Canili-Diayo Dam (Alfonso Castaneda)

Baler, the provincial capital and center for trade and industry of Aurora province, recently hit it big when its namesake movie Baler won Best Picture and a host of other awards in last year’s Metro Manila Filmfest, its plot based on the 337-day (June 27, 1898-June 2, 1899) siege of its Spanish garrison by Filipino rebels.  When it finally surrendered (the last to do so in the country), Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, in admiration, declared, on June 30 (now Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day), that the remaining 33 Spanish soldiers were not be imprisoned but honored as friends.  Me and my family watched it and, being actually filmed on location, I was also impressed by its rugged scenery and decided to visit it, doing so on Holy Week.  Joining me were my two kids, Jandy and Cheska, plus lady friends Ms. Lourdes “Lulu” Siguenza and Ms. Rosevie “Vi” Sevilla, an avid photographer.

As we left Manila late afternoon of April 8, Wednesday.  Traffic was relatively light considering it was the eve of the Holy Week break but, once out at the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), I took the wrong exit and was, instead, on our way to Zambales before I realized my mistake and backtracked, losing valuable time (not to mention the gasoline) in the process.  Dinner was at a Chowking outlet at a rest station along NLEX.  Late evening caught us in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija, and tired from all these misadventures, decided to call it a night, pulling into a roadside drive-in motel.  I was speechless when Cheska inquired as to the strange furniture as well as the bathroom with the see-through glass in our room.

Camp Pangatian

Come morning, we continued on our way and made a short stopover, along the Cabanatuan-Palayan Rd., at Camp Pangatian, 8 kms. from Cabanatuan City.

Check out “Pangatian War Memorial

Provincial Capitol (Palayan City)

There are 2 routes to Baler – the Baler-Bongabon (Nueva Ecija) Road and the longer Pantabangan-Canili Road. As the former was impassable during the rainy season, we opted for the latter.  Just the same, at least 20 kms. of the trip was along gravel roads at Alfonso Castaneda (Nueva Vizcaya), the last town before entering Aurora province.  Here, we made photo op stopovers at Pantabangan Lake (a man-made lake resulting from the construction of the Pantabangan Dam) and its tributary, the Canili-Diayo Dam and Reservoir, probably the most picturesque irrigation dam in the country.

Check out “Canili-Diayo Dam and Reservoir


Millennium Tree

We entered Aurora province at Maria Aurora town (the province’s biggest).  Here, we made another stopover at  Balete Park and its star attraction – the Millennium Tree, a  massive, 49-m. high, 10-15 m. wide balete tree.

Check out “Millennium Tree