This June, the Philippines will celebrate the 119th anniversary of its independence from Spain. In lieu of that, we'd like to highlight some of the Philippines' top historical spots — starting with Bataan, a province in Central Luzon.
Being surrounded by the South China Sea, Subic Bay and Manila Bay, Bataan became the site for one of the most infamous events in Philippine history. When Japan invaded the country in World War II, Bataan was one of the last strongholds of the defending Filipino-American forces. Eventually, Bataan fell to the invading army, and thousands of Filipino and American soldiers were forced to participate in what is now known as the Bataan Death March.
Today, the Death March is commemorated every April 9 to honor the thousands of soldiers who gave their lives making the journey between Saisaih Point, Bataan and Camp O'Donnell, Tarlac. Even now, Bataan's residents are still haunted by the unfortunate soldiers' literal and figurative ghosts.
Not all is grim and gloomy in Bataan, though. It's also home to other wonderful sites, such as:
Abucay Church (St. Dominic Parish Church)
World War II wasn't the only time Bataan made a mark on Philippine history. In 1647, the Dutch set foot on the town of Abucay, and tried to use it as a launchpad to conquer Luzon Island. Needless to say, the invasion failed, but it also cost roughly 200 lives, most of which were lost in the courtyard of the Abucay Church. Today, you can see a plaque in front of the church, commemorating the bravery of the defenders who died there.
Ever since, Abucay Church bore witness to other noteworthy historical events. It was the site of one of the country's oldest printing presses, and was the Partido de Bataan's seat of government until the latter transferred to Balanga. The church was also twice destroyed by natural disasters, but managed to survive and stand to this day as one of Bataan's most important historical sites.
Vietnamese Shrine at Morong
On May 12, 1981, 65 Vietnamese citizens fled the war-torn city of Nha Trang on two motorized fishing boats. The boats ended up drifting somewhere off Mabayo Beach in Morong, where they were rescued by the locals. Almost a month later, 12 more Vietnamese landed off Napot Point (also in Morong), where they were also rescued by locals.
Ever since, Bataan would host countless Indochinese refugees between 1980 and 1994. As a tribute to the refugees, plaques depicting the stories of the "boat people" were made and kept in the Bataan Technology Park Inc. (BTPI), which was formerly the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC). You can also see old Buddhist shrines left behind by the refugees, such as replicas of the Bayon Shrine and the Pha That Luang monument in Laos.
Like many of Bataan's tourist sites, Ciudad Acuzar seems frozen in time. Short for "Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar," the museum-slash-heritage park boasts of 30 Spanish colonial buildings, which were transplanted from various locations around the country. The builders plan to add at least 50 more heritage houses, so you can expect restaurants, beaches, swimming pools and calesa rides to crop up here sometime soon.
Playa La Caleta
Aside from the refugee camps in Morong, you'll also want to hop over to the nearby island of Playa La Caleta. It has cool, quiet beaches, and is a good jump-off point for sites like the Velasco Pink Beach and the Biga and Caragman Coves.
The only downside is that the island has no electricity and mobile phone coverage. But hey: If you're looking to get away from the stressful city life, there's no better place to go!
Pawikan Conservation Center
Want to see sea turtles? At the Pawikan Conservation Center in Morong (pawikan being the Filipino term for "sea turtles"), you can see plenty of those and more. The center aims to revive the local population of turtles, all of which have been driven to near-extinction by illegal fishing, poaching and pollution. From a safe distance, you can see how beautiful the pawikan are, as well as watch them lay eggs on the shore.
Tortugas Bay Park
At the provincial capital of Balanga, you can drop by the Tortugas Bay Park (a.k.a. Balanga Wetland and Nature Park). It's a great spot for bird watching, especially in the early morning or just before sunset. You can see herons, egrets and other avian species going about their daily business in the bay's waters. Did we mention the beach is a great spot for watching the sunset?
Bataan is a province steeped in history and mystery. It's seen its fair share of tragedies, but has also given hope to those who sought it out. Take a look at the six spots above, and see for yourself what we're talking about.