Cable cars, interactive museums, a theme park, an ecumenical chapel and a convention center. These are what visitors to the Shrine of Valor on Mount Samat may find there in the future.
The Department of Tourism and the Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority recently announced the Mount Samat National Shrine as their flagship project to turn the shrine into a sustainable tourist destination. Soon, visitors will not go there on a day tour to check not just the war memorial but will stay longer to enjoy the other tourist attractions.
It’s an ambitious project for this extinct volcano that is actually a parasitic cone of Mount Mariveles. At 550 meters, it stands between Mount Mariveles and Mount Natib. Mount Samat is located in Pilar, Bataan.
The most vicious battle against the Japanese Imperial Army was fought on Mount Samat during the last days of the Battle of Bataan. After three months of fighting, the sick and starving men of Maj. Gen. Edward King surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. Over 78,000 American and Filipino soldiers were forced to march the 140-kilometer road from Bataan to Capas, Tarlac. Termed as the “Death March,” thousands of soldiers died along the way from exhaustion, starvation and disease.
The Dambana ng Kagitingan or the Shrine of Valor was commissioned by then-President Ferdinand Marcos in 1966 to be finished on the 25th anniversary of the fall of Bataan. For lack of funds, however, the shrine was only completed in 1970, in time for the 25th anniversary of the end of World War 2.
The Philippine Congress passed Republic Act 3022 in 1961 declaring April 9 of every year as Bataan Day. In 1987, under Executive Order 203, the April 9 holiday was renamed Araw ng Kagitingan. The highlights of the Araw ng Kagitingan activities are usually held at the Mount Samat National Shrine.
How to get there
On a clear day, the giant memorial cross can be seen from Manila. It may look close but Mount Samat is 134 kilometers from the Philippine capital.
To get there, drive from Manila via North Luzon Expressway and then continue to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway and exit at Dinalupihan. From there, turn right to Roman Highway. After about 24 kilometers or upon reaching the Mount Samat junction, turn right to the road going to Morong. After about 4.5 kilometers, turn left to Mount Samat. The winding road climbs up 6.5 kilometers before finally reaching the entrance to the shrine. Entrance fee is P20 and parking fee is P30. There is a large parking lot in front of the Colonnade but there is also limited parking space way up near the Memorial Cross.
What to see, what to do
Located in an area covering over 70,000 hectares, the shrine and many of its structures were designed and built by famous Filipino architects and artists. The whole shrine was designed by Lorenzo del Castillo and its landscape by Dolly Quimbo-Perez.
National Artist Napoleon Abueva worked on the 19 high relief sculptures on the Colonnade, a marble-clad structure surrounded by an esplanade. At its center is an altar with stained glass murals designed by Ceno Rivera. In front of the Colonnade is a giant flagpole with the Philippine flag overlooking the whole province of Bataan and Manila Bay.
On the left side of the Colonnade is a staircase that leads to the War Museum. The museum contains a wide collection of armaments used by American, Filipino and Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Bataan.
At the back of the Colonnade, a footpath leads to the base of the Memorial Cross. It’s actually a 50-meter climb that zigzags thru the mountain slope that is paved with stepping stones. Alternatively, there is a road on the right side of the Colonnade that goes up the peak.
The Memorial Cross is a 92-meter structure with a 30-meter wide arm. It has an elevator and a viewing gallery that is 5.5 meters wide and 27.4 meters long. The base of the cross is capped by sculptural slabs also made by Napoleon Abueva depicting the heroism of Jose Rizal, Antonio Luna and Lapu-Lapu.
At the foot of Mount Samat is Dunsulan Falls where one can cool off after climbing the shrine.
Where to stay, what to eat
The visit to Mount Samat can actually be done as a day trip from Manila and so there’s no need to stay there overnight. But those who wish to combine this with a weekend in one of the many beach resorts in Morong, Bataan, can book an overnight accommodation there. There’s Montemar, Phi Phi, Coralview and La Vista in Morong to name a few.
For dining, there are two good restaurants located at the junction going to Mount Samat: Ima Flora’s Pamangan and Chef Le Fusion. Ima Flora serves tasty but affordable Kapampangan dishes turo-turo style. Chef Le Fusion serves favorite Filipino and continental dishes.
Those who wish to try something different can head to Morong and try the Vietnamese food at Loleng’s Hu Tieu-an. Loleng is a Filipina who used to work at the refugee camp in Morong and she learned how to prepare delicious Vietnamese pho dishes there.
But there’s one dish that every visitor to Mount Samat must try, and it can only be found at the nearby Balanga market. It’s a unique noodle dish and it’s prepared by an old lady named Estrella. It’s called Spabok; it’s actually spaghetti noodles with palabok sauce. Yes, pasta with tinapa, chicharon and calamansi. It’s unique, tasty, cheap and filling. It makes the trip to the bastion of freedom even more liberating.