A trip to Bataan Technology Park, Inc. (BTPI) is like traveling back to a time when lands were devoid of skyscrapers and life was generally much simpler. While it’s named one, BTPI is not in the slightest an IT center nor a science park with soaring modern architecture or officeworkers in blazers and suits. It is rather 365 hectares of land in Morong, Bataan with lush greenery, vast fields, and a history of compassion and human goodness.
The BTPI traces its beginnings to 1980, when boats carrying Indochinese refugees—Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian—docked on the shores of Bataan. These people fled their lands to escape communism and found refuge in the country. The Philippines hosted Indochinese refugees for 14 years and BTPI became a safe haven for refugees from camps across Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hongkong, and Palawan.
As headquarters of the refugee program funded by the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) in Central Luzon, boat people from the asylum in Palawan who had passed the health screening, verification, and had been signed to a sponsor, got transferred to BTPI.
At BTPI, Indochinese were trained in the use of English for communication, given cultural lessons, and were aided in building skills and capabilities to prepare them for resettlement in any of the participating western countries: the USA, Australia, Canada, and France, among others. Refugees would stay in the camp for four to six months, or until they were ready to migrate, and once all the requirements for resettlement were met.
The BTPI refugee program ended in 1994, but the vibrant community it fostered remains in the photos and memorabilia displayed in the park’s museum.
Displayed at the museum were photos of refugees, cultural activities, to monumental events such as the mass by the Blessed John Paul II. Art, goods, and tools used for livelihood within the camp also found their place in the museum. Among the highlights of the museum were replicas of bunkhouses, actual items that once belonged to the refugees, and one of the original boats that carried the Indochinese. The boat was restored and preserved in partnership with the National Historical Commision. Another interesting element of the museum is a replica of the “monkey house,” which is where those who violate camp rules get “jail” time. According to the Vietnamese, the social rehabilitation center was for those who make monkey business, hence the moniker.
The museum was built to celebrate the refugees who are now very successful individuals in the country they migrated to.
Also within the vast lands of BTPI are a shrine of the Blessed John Paul II with a wooden cross made and gifted by the Vietnamese refugees as centerpiece, a sculpture of the Immaculate Concepcion just behind the shrine which is believed to be miraculous, and a Buddhist temple which overlooks lush trees and a stretch of river. In BTPI, there are various places of worship; there’s no discrimination of cultures and beliefs. The refugees had the freedom to explore their spirituality and for this, they are nothing but grateful.
The warm and knowledgeable, Daisy Fernando, who also took part in the refugee program as a social service worker, recounts that almost 400,000 refugees in BTPI were successfully resettled. During educational tours, they tell students to be proud of their Filipino heritage in that even during a time of political and economic unrest, we as a nation, were able to extend a helping hand to those in need.
The BTPI is now a subsidiary of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), which is a government-owned corporation responsible for rehabilitating and transforming former military bases into business centers that would create opportunities and profit for its surrounding community and the country. A special economic zone, BTPI was initially meant to be developed into an IT center but is now positioned for eco-tourism. BTPI is coordinating with the National Historic Commision for the improvement of the museum and are also seeking out funding. We look forward to seeing a more developed and picturesque BTPI.
BTPI is open from 8 AM to 4 PM daily, from Monday to Sunday. The entry to the museum costs PHP 30.
8 AM to 4 PM
Monday to Sunday
Words by Mia Carisse Barrientos
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE April 20