His Excellency Ferdinand E. Marcos
President of the Philippines
On Araw ng Kagitingan
[Delivered on May 6, 1984]
Our commemoration today of three historic events of the last war has become, after the passing of the years, less a commemoration of victory or defeat in battle, but an affirmation of the triumph of the human spirit over the agonies of war.
Bataan, Corregidor, Bessang Pass—we celebrate these three as one because they have come to symbolize for us this transcendent spirit which draws no distinction between friend and foe of yesteryears. Here everyone comes as a friend among us, in honor and homage to all our countrymen who fell in battle.
All of us must always regret that our countries ever had to face each other on these battlefields we now recall, and that so much of our manhood had to be sacrificed in so costly and futile a conflict.
Nothing can fully redeem the sorrows of that tragic time, for either your countries or mine. Our grief endures, and the mourning will go on.
But however colossal the tragedy, there is great meaning nonetheless in the fact that from the ashes of destruction, have risen the nations we are today. And that these nations can gather here in a reunion for peace and bury the rancor and enmities of the past.
It is this above all perhaps that tells us Bataan, Corregidor and Bessang Pass are not fated to become mere pages of history, but rather indelible lessons for men and nations to learn from.
It is this that withdraws from the finality of death something infinitely precious and priceless in the heroism of men in war.
We shall not presume to say what the war has meant for our brother nations represented here, although we have an idea of it from our years of working together. For our country and our people, the lessons of the war have always lain very close to what we cherish and treasure as a nation.
It never fails, first, to remind us that freedom is not cheap and can only be preserved by the strong in spirit. Whatever costs therefore our people had to bear — in the loss of a million lives and in the ruins of our cities and towns — we willingly paid the price, and will again, if god forbid, such an exacting trial will descend on us once more.
But if the war has indubitably taught us this lesson, it has also impressed on us that conflict is not necessarily the portion of men and nations, that with patient and dedicated effort we can see our way out of conflict towards recognition and celebration of our common humanity. Nowhere is this so well exemplified than in the example of cooperation that has marked our relations with one another during the post-war era.
To remember these themes is not to do so in self-congratulation over our good fortune, but to strengthen ourselves for the vigil which we must keep over the challenges of the present.
We should imagine indeed that the incalculable cost of the last Global War should already have taught mankind an unforgettable lesson on the insanity and futility of war. Yet conflicts among nations continue to fester and smolder in the world around us.
We should imagine that there would now be a much greater respect for the rights of self-determination and independence of sovereign peoples and nations. Yet in so many parts of the world, freedom today has to be defended in exactly the same way that we defended ours forty two years ago.
We should imagine that the arsenals of war would by now be coming down, replaced by the tools of building and creation. Yet we witness from year to year more and more resources committed to the manufacture and purchase of weapons of destruction.
We should imagine that men and nations, after the war would be more concerned today with assisting and cooperating with one another. Yet we see instead so many trying to deny each other the resources and the means to progress.
In sum the world continues to hang suspended amidst the dangerous divisions from which war has always sprung. The divisions between the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor, the developed and the less developed.
And we all languish before the sight of so much opportunity and resource to realize mankind’s greatest moments on earth, being turned instead towards the perpetuation of crisis.
In knowing therefore at what price we have defended and preserved our freedom, and what progress we have made towards cooperation, our nations have been assiduous pupils of tragedies of war. But we can hardly be oblivious to the perils of a world that still has to find a sense of common security and tranquility. Nor can we be insensitive to perhaps the greatest challenge of all: that of closing the great chasm between rich and poor nations which constitutes the principal realm of danger in our time.
The example of human fortitude and heroism provided by the battles of Bataan, Corregidor and Bessang Pass shows us that formidable challenges are not met save by the greatest exertions of will and effort.
And we remember these chapters of the war best by recognizing that there are many battles still to be fought, before peace is truly won and progress becomes the birthright of all humanity.