President Benigno Aquino during the commemoration of of the 72nd Araw ng Kagitingan held in Bataan. (Michael Rey Baniquet)
BATAAN (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 9, 2014) - President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday paid tribute to World War II veterans and present-day soldiers for their dedication during the commemoration of the 72nd Araw ng Kagitingan on top of Mount Samat in Bataan.
While the World War II veterans deeply appreciated the recognition given to them by Aquino, they are also hoping for an increase in their pension allowances.
"What our President said is indeed good because he cited our bravery and heroism. However, we are hoping for an increase in our pension," WWII veteran Eugenio Ramos said.
Ramos said he is receiving only P6,700 a month which is not enough.
Aquino said the government has embarked on a re-validation program to clear the lists of fake veterans. He said that at the start of this year, the pension benefits of 22,534 accounts were stopped and there are still 14,616 accounts that remain suspended, resulting to the return (bringing back) of pension remittance amounting to P396.61 million.
With this, Aquino said the legitimate veterans and surviving spouses are numbered to 133,784 as of March. He also said that the Veterans Memorial Center has served 1,094 veterans in 2013 with medical assistance of P17 million.
He said the medical assistance include coronary, angiogram and bypass surgery.
Aside from the veterans, Aquino also paid tribute to soldiers like those defending the disputed Ayungin Shoal. "Beterano at kawal Pilipino, saludo sa inyo sambayanang Pilipino," he said.
American Ambassador Phlip Goldberg and Japanese Ambassador Toshinao Urabe also offered wreath of flowers at the colonnade of the War Memorial Shrine below the huge Memorial Cross.
“We express our heartfelt apology and deep remorse for the sufferings of so many during the war. We vowed never to wage war again,” Urabe said, adding that Japan will be happy to work with the Philippines and the United States for a common goal.
“We have to take time to honor and remember our heroes who rendered courage and sacrifices,” Goldberg said, adding the three countries are now allies and ready to help each other.
Governor Albert Garcia said that while the United States is helping the veterans, Urabe has signed an agreement to assist Bataan in the flooding problem in Hermosa town. "Bataan after enduring the pains of the past is now on the road to industrialization," he said.
In southern Philippines, the military's Eastern Mindanao Command, also held the same commemoration with deputy commander Brigadier General Alexander Balutan representing Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz III.
Balutan read the message of Cruz: "The celebration reminds us to relive the great acts of our forefathers who offered their ultimate sacrifice to bring back the sovereignty of our country. As we honor them today, let us not merely pay lip service to the ideals that they fought for. The essence of celebrating the Araw ng Kagitingan is realizing that we all share in the toil of nation building."
"Bilang mga sundalo, pangunahing tungkulin naming panatilihin ang kalayaan at protektahan kayo mula sa anumang mapanirang pwersa. Sa pamamagitan ng ating pagtutulungan, hindi malayong maabot natin ang ating matagal nang minimithi na kaunlaran at kapayapaan hindi lamang dito sa Rehiyon ng Davao kundi maging sa buong Pilipinas. I call for everyone, not only to remember our veterans on this day but also to constantly emulate their example. Only this way, we can truly honor them and give them the tribute that they deserve." (Ernie B. Esconde and Mark Navales)
Read President Aquino's Speech: (This is an English translation of the speech delivered at Mt. Samat, Pilar, Bataan, on April 9, 2014)
World War II began as the Philippines was preparing to transition from being an American colony to being a truly independent nation. And it was precisely because American forces were still here that our country became involved in a large-scale war. When our country was invaded, their fight became our fight as well. Even back then, it was clear to all Filipinos: small though we may be, if we know that we are on the side of what is right and just, we will fight.
During that time, the damage we took was severe. It is estimated that, out of our then-population of sixteen million, more than a million Filipinos perished. Countless other Filipinos also left the country to avoid the violence and conflict. According to the records, among Allied capitals, Manila was second only to Warsaw in Poland in terms of the extent of damage taken during the war.
More than seventy years have passed since World War II ended, and our situation now is vastly different. Countries that were once on opposing sides, firing at one another, are now on the same boat. Former rivals have shaken one another’s hands, embraced each other, and said, “The conflict is over, my friend. Let us help each other.” The small colony that was flattened during the war is now freely and proudly doing its part to ensure peace and mutual progress.
And now, we have gathered here to look up at the Shrine of Valor—a reminder of just how much we recognize and appreciate the heroism of our veterans during the Second World War; a symbol recognizing their bravery and the sacrifice they went through.
Perhaps if one asks the current generation about the meaning of sacrifice, the most fitting answer would be your example. Was it not you veterans who, for the sake of our flag, charged with full resolve into danger and uncertainty? In the face of great challenge, you withstood hunger, thirst, and pain; you did not think twice about putting your lives on the line for the well-being of the majority.
Through the example you have set, the Filipino spirit remains alive today. This is why, no matter how much time passes, the State will continue to recognize your contributions. What we want: Sufficient care for our veterans and their families, enough to match their devotion to our country.
The government now has the obligation to take care of our veterans. The only problem: Many have joined the list, and have taken a share in the benefits, even if they are not true veterans. But the good news is we are now undertaking the Pensioner’s Revalidation Program. Through making certain that the names of all our surviving pensioners are truly part of the list, we have ceased giving benefits to 22,534 accounts, and have suspended 14,616 accounts. The result: we have retrieved pension remittances worth 396.61 million pesos, and this March, the number of veterans and their spouses who are receiving service from the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office has reached 133,784. Now, we are making sure that every peso we give from our national coffers goes to the truly deserving.
When it comes to health, the doors to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC), as well as to its other branches across the nation, remain open to veterans who need care. In fact, just for 2013, the amount of medical services given to 1,092 veterans reached 17 million pesos. On top of that, the VMMC has even expanded the scope of the benefits available to you; now, services like cataract operations, coronary angiograms, and cardiac bypasses are part of the list of services the government will pay for.
Let us now turn to the educational benefits of your dependents. Just last year, the PVAO was able to provide for the schooling of 2,059 students. And when it comes to financial aid: we were able to give up to 36,000 a year for each qualified dependent of our veterans.
As we continue to care for our veterans, so too have we continued to ensure that our soldiers in service today have the ability to fulfill their responsibilities. Should we ever need to enter battle, we cannot send our soldiers off armed only with their courage and daring. This is why we have allotted over 36 billion pesos for our AFP Modernization and Capability Upgrade Program. From July 2010 to March 2014, we have already completed 38 projects under this Program. This includes the procurement of modern vessels and equipment that will certainly strengthen our Armed Forces. Even in this way, we will be able to lighten the weight of the responsibilities they fulfill in order to serve our country.
One example of this is the sacrifice of seven of our brave Marines, led by 1st Lieutenant Mike Pelotera, whose last designation was in Ayungin Shoal. Just think of the gravity of their sacrifice: For five months, their entire world revolved around the sea. They had almost no communication with their families; there were even times when the supplies and food they needed were blocked from reaching them. Day and night, on board the stranded BRP Sierra Madre, their dedication was anchored on keeping watch over, and safeguarding our territory. This is why, together with our veterans, soldiers like them are among those we honor today. The Filipino nation salutes all of you.
We are firm in our belief that the lessons of the past should never be forgotten. During the Second World War, a misunderstanding occurred between our countries, and we are all witness to the grim consequences of this. Today, it is clear that we are friends and partners—understanding that we are fellow citizens of humanity, with our own goals and our own fears; capable of comprehending the thinking, culture, and principles of each one; and working together to achieve the collective aspirations of our countries. In this way, we can ensure that dark chapter of our history will not repeat itself.
Throughout its history, the Philippines has undergone many trials. But each challenge we have answered has only allowed the unique Filipino spirit to grow even stronger and shine clearer. As we faced disasters that came one after the other, we showed the world that no calamity can crush the Filipino. We are today overcoming the cancer of corruption—which is why we are now recognized as a bastion of good and honest governance. We have shed our identity as the “Sick Man of Asia,” which is why we are now called a “Bright Spot” in the global economy. And on this day, on the Day of Valor, I ask all of you to join me in declaring: the Filipino will always stand for what is right.
The current generation of Filipinos is indeed fortunate: they need not look far to see and recognize true role models. From names etched in stone, to heroes whose stories did not find their way to being inscribed in books, and even to each Filipino doing his part to bring about lasting change—every single great act makes up and strengthens the identity of the Filipino people: unwavering in principle, brave, and ready to confront any challenge.