Pinay playwright bats for Pinoy vets’ inclusion in WWII history
Berkeley-based Filipina Cecilia Gaerlan is on a mission. A novelist, playwright and occasional travel organizer, the Imus, Cavite, native wants to introduce young Americans to the important role Filipino soldiers played in World War II.
It was a special, if not sentimental mission. Gaerlan's father, Luis Gaerlan Jr., was among the brave Filipinos who fought alongside the Americans during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.
Photo from Cecilia Gaerlan's website
Not only that, Luis was also a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March, which saw the deaths of thousands of Filipino and American POWs — mostly Filipinos — at the hands of Japanese Imperial Forces in April 1942.
"By the end of [World War II], approximately 1,000,000 Filipino civilians perished," Gaerlan said in her website. "And yet today, the Filipino soldiers' role during WWII and the suffering of the entire Filipino nation are not mentioned in US history books."
Left out in books
According to Gaerlan, during public readings of her historical World War II novel In Her Mother's Image, she noticed that not many Americans knew what happened during the war in the Philippines, including the Bataan Death March.
Inspired by her father's first-hand account of the war, which she said he loved telling them when they were growing up in the Philippines, Gaerlan decided to learn more about what really happened during the forcible 97-kilometer death trek from Mariveles, Bataan, to Capas, Tarlac, which her father and many others endured.
“To my dismay, I discovered that some books do not even mention the Filipino soldiers even though they manned 7/8ths of the main line of resistance and did most of the fighting and the dying,” she said on Bataan Legacy, a documentery film on the fall of Bataan that she created.
In the same documentary, Gaerlan said the Filipino soldiers' role during the war has been “ignored, derided, and in some instances, even maligned.”
She even went as far as saying that the Filipino soldiers were “used, deceived and sacrificed” to win the war.
As a vehicle for her mission, Gaerlan launched in the United States the Bataan Legacy Historical Society, which, according to its website, aims “to educate the public on the historical significance of Bataan and World War II in the Philippines by presenting the war from different perspectives — Filipinos, Americans, soldiers, civilians and other nationalities.”
One of Bataan Legacy's goals is to include the Bataan Death March, which it describes as a “seminal point of World War II history,” in the curriculum in high schools throughout the US, and at present, it is lobbying for the implementation of Assembly Bill 199 (AB199), a bill California passed in 2011 encouraging the inclusion of the Filipinos’ role during WWII in the social studies curriculum for Grades 7-12.
In an interview with Priceonomics, Gaerlan said when she first heard about AB199 in 2012, her first question was: “Is anybody implementing this?” Turned out it wasn't.
But luck was on her side.
At that time, the California Board of Education was in the process of revising its curriculum guidelines — a task it does only once in 10 years. Gaerlan seized the opportunity to get Bataan and the Filipino soldiers included in World War II history.
“I thought it was going to be an easy thing,” she told Priceonomics. “I didn’t realize this was going to be a multi-year process.”
With the assistance of several other organizations, Gaerlan and her Bataan Legacy group started “petitioning assembly members to strengthen the bill, spearheaded a campaign on Change.org, and networked relentlessly,” according to Priceonomics. The ultimate goal is to implement AB199 not only in schools in California, but also in schools across the US.
For their efforts, the group has received commendations from California legislators, including a proclamation from Governor Jerry Brown.
If all goes well, Gaerlan's efforts are set to pay off next year: between April and May 2016, the California Board of Education is expected to give its final stamp of approval on the new curriculum.
Gaerlan, however, is on a wait-and-see mode. “I will not believe it until I see it,” she told Priceonomics. —KBK, GMA News