Rethinking “Kagitingan” for Young People in Times of Crisis

May 18, 2020
Emil Hofileña

Although April has already given way to May, the spirit of last month’s indoors celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan [Day of Valor] continues to resonate today in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The April 9 holiday is already one of solemn reverence for the thousands of Filipino and American soldiers who lost their lives at the Fall of Bataan 78 years ago. Today, death and sacrifice—albeit in a vastly different context—remain unfortunate signs of the times. And as our frontliners continue to work for the nation’s health and safety, students and young professionals also continue to seek ways to get involved—an echo of how numerous students at the onset of World War II simply refused to sit idly by.

In late 1941, around 30 to 40 cadets of the Ateneo Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) volunteered to join the Second Regular Division, together with students from several other Manila colleges (Montgomery, 2017). These cadets—ranging from 14 to 19 years of age—armed themselves with whatever rifles their schools would give them and traveled to Bataan (Montgomery, 2017).

Despite their lack of combat training, these cadets would soon have to learn tactics on their own as part of the guerrilla unit Hunters ROTC and as part of the USAFFE’s Anti-Tank Battalion in Bataan (Yap, 2014). The late Edmundo F. Nolasco—the last of those Atenean ROTC volunteers—recalled that their valor had not prepared them for the full scope of war. “It wasn’t like in the movies—shooting, medals, marches, parades, and all that. It was hunger, disease, sacrifice, killing,” Nolasco said (Yap, 2014). After the Japanese took Bataan, he and the other surrendered soldiers were made to endure the Death March, which Nolasco managed to escape with the help of a stranger (Yap, 2014).

Hunters ROTC Monument (Cainta). Photo by Ryomaandres / CC BY-SA (

In 2013, he was honored by the Ateneo with the Lux in Domino Award both for his service in the war and his celebrated work as a labor organizer (Yap, 2014). He passed away in 2017.

The celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan is a salute to the heroism of Nolasco and his fellow student volunteers. However, as the veteran notes, these historic battles should not only be remembered in terms of courage and service but also in terms of suffering—especially the suffering of those who should have had no part in it in the first place.

It is important to note that one cannot compare a pandemic to war. The enemy we face today should be defeated through governance that is clear, compassionate, and generous—not cunning, not oppressive, and certainly not through the use of military force. Yet the current administration continues to use aggressive wartime rhetoric, treating quarantine violators as criminals and destabilizers. Our frontliners—who are courageous and resilient—are disingenuously branded as “heroes” by the same officials who have withheld the proper medical support that the country needs.


As of May 7, the Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that 1,886 healthcare workers have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of these confirmed cases, 403 have recovered while 34 have died (Rey, 2020). Additionally, on April 14, it was announced that the DOH may allow medical graduates to conduct “limited practice” even if they have not obtained their medical licenses yet. These graduates may be deployed as a last resort to help with the increasing number of coronavirus patients (Merez, 2020). In other words, to be a frontliner is to be uncertain of one’s future.
Meanwhile, other students and young professionals continue to spearhead various grassroots initiatives—both online and through different organizations—to raise funds, provide food and supplies, and offer psychological aid to anyone affected by the pandemic. As it was in World War II, young people have resolved not to sit idly by.

In every national emergency, there are Filipinos who have proven their willingness to help causes bigger than themselves. But as we continue showing support for those of us—especially the young—who are risking their health and their safety every day, we must be cognizant of the tragic circumstances that bring young people into the line of fire. Not only that, but we must be cognizant of what causes these circumstances, who is to be held responsible, and what can be done to prevent more unnecessary sacrifice in the future. To commemorate our countrymen’s kagitingan also means seeking accountability and justice.

Photos from University Marketing and Communications Office


Merez, A. (2020, April 14). ‘Last resort’: Gov’t greenlights ‘limited practice’ of medicine graduates in COVID-19 fight. ABS-CBN News.

Montgomery, B. (2017). The leper spy: The story of an unlikely hero of World War II. Chicago Review Press Incorporated.

Rey, A. (2020, May 7). DOH says 1,886 health workers infected with coronavirus. Rappler.

Yap, D. (2014, April 10). Bataan veteran survives through kindness of Filipinos. Inquirer.

The views and opinions expressed in this note are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the School of Humanities and/or the Ateneo de Manila University.