In Dagupan, aging war veterans keep park from breathing its last.
Minutes after the ceremonies commemorating Gen. Douglas MacArthur's landing at the Lingayen Gulf 73 years ago, the park named in his honor along the beach in Barangay Bonuan here melted back into obscurity.
Wreaths were offered on Tuesday at the base of the seven-foot monument of MacArthur, who, on Jan. 9, 1945, landed with Allied soldiers to free Luzon from the grip of the Japanese Imperial Army.
His black pipe visible from afar, the MacArthur statue cuts a solitary figure in the middle of the park, facing the land with Bonuan Blue Beach as backdrop.
The 1,000-square meter park has no flowering plants to brighten up the place nor benches for visitors. Until recently, it was a dump for 20 years and restored by the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus.
'For the entire year, the park is deserted. It comes alive only for several hours every Jan. 9,' said Valentino Paras, 46, who herds goats nearby.
It is accessible through a gated private road, which opens only every Jan. 9 to receive guests, he said.
Somewhere near the park is a marker announcing that the general landed on the shore of Blue Beach.
According to blogger Simon Vistro, the marker inside a private residential property was installed in 1948 by the Philippine Historical Committee (the forerunner of the National Historical Institute).
No one knows the actual year when the park was put up. There are no records identifying who made the statue.
One side of the monument reads 'Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor,' and on the other, 'World War II Guerrillas' and 'It Can Be Done.'
A retired policeman, Dionisio Bolor, said he and his colleagues at the Knights of Columbus took it upon themselves in 2008 to 'reclaim the park' and to celebrate MacArthur's Luzon landing every Jan. 9.
'We cleaned the park of garbage and planted flowering plants around. Unfortunately, these plants were gone the day after [the celebration] because no one was guarding the park. We even planted 20 coconut trees but these were stolen, too,' Bolor said.
91-year-old war veteran Raymundo Cabrera reviews a 1945 photograph of American Gen. Douglas MacArthur when he returned with Allied troops to liberate the country.
But that has not bothered local war veterans and old-timers who make it a point to see the park when it is opened on Jan. 9.
'I was this boy,' said Alejandro Balolong, 88, pointing to a photograph of teenagers running toward the liberating Allied troops. Balolong was then 17 years old.
'[MacArthur] was in a military jeep ... so there was no doubt that he landed on the beach here and was passing near our place. People were very happy when they saw him,' he said.
MacArthur was on his way to downtown Dagupan to establish his first command post in Luzon. The structure is now used by Dagupan West Central Elementary School as a home economics building.