Apart from the towns and cities around the province of Bataan, academic institutions have their own tales to tell. A central public elementary school in the city capital, the Balanga Elementary School has been known as the home of achievers; with its roster of notable alumni including the wife of former president Ramon Magsaysay, Luz Banzon-Magsaysay. Behind its current serene atmosphere is a rich, historical background that is a huge part of our country’s story.
Still standing after more than a century, the school served as a military base during the Japanese occupation. Giant windows made from capiz shells and gigantic wooden doors are the first things you’ll notice as you approach its halls. To preserve its original look, the administration regularly renovates the Gabaldon-type main building along with the classrooms which were once offices to the Allied forces, and cells to Filipino and American troops who were imprisoned after the fall of Bataan in 1942.
Behind the school is the surrender site marker where Major General Edward P. King Jr. submitted to Japanese Colonel Motoo Nakayama (who represented General Masaharu Homma), under a mango tree, in the hopes of preventing further casualties from continued fighting. Established in 2012, the monument is situated just across the Bataan World War II Museum, while the old, towering mango trees which stood even during the arrival of the Imperial Japanese Army are located near the school’s garden. Present also was a chamber where allied soldiers were tortured for information after the surrender of the base.
Inside the Balanga Elementary School, you can find a two-story museum that commemorates the fallen heroes of World War II. Its first floor takes each visitor on a trip back in time, with relics displayed in glass cases. The items vary, from excavated artifacts, to antique collections from private groups and relatives of war veterans. Dioramas depicting the dreadful Death March can also be seen along with artillery replicas. Upstairs, there are two rooms dedicated to the Balanga native and first lady of Bataan, Luz Banzon Magsaysay, as well as a Death March gallery courtesy by Tulay Foundation, a Filipino-Chinese non-government organization.
According to Catherine Mejia, keeper of the Bataan World War II Museum, the establishment was founded in 2014 by the He and She Club (HAS Club) of the Balanga Foundation, with Mario Banzon Magat as the curator. It was mainly built and is maintained through donations and contributions of government agencies, companies, and other institutions. At present, it is headed by Administrative Museum operations manager Teresita D. Pizarro.
Since its inception, the museum and the school have been included as must-visit destinations for educational field trips and research immersion programs. Even foreign and local tourists find themselves exploring the whole place, thanks to the promotion of Balanga’s Tourism Center, and accessible location through navigation apps. So whether you’re a history buff or curious about Bataan’s past, you shouldn’t miss Balanga Elementary School and Bataan World War II Museum in your checklist.
Bataan World War II Museum
Monday to Saturday
9 AM to 4 PM
Students – PHP 20
Senior Citizens – PHP 40
Regular Visitors – PHP 50
09392844978 / 09225639197 / 09205425526
Words by Jewel Sta. Ana
Photos by Clifford Dela Paz
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE April 2019