Veterans hopeful to enjoy soon equal benefits like US counterparts
by Gilda V. Llames
Balanga, Bataan (10 April) -- In the twilight of their lives, surviving Filipino veterans of World War II are still hoping that the United States government would soon pass a legislation that would give them equal benefits as their American counterparts.
Modesto Nemer, now 80 years old and one of the few survivors of the last war, expressed optimism that he could still enjoy the fruits of his sacrifices when he fought side by side with his American comrades against the Japanese forces that invaded the Philippines 65 years ago.
Nemer, a resident of Olongapo City, and a member of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), never fails to join other veterans of World War II in the annual commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan, formerly called the Fall of Bataan, in Mt. Samat every April 9.
The historic mountain, located in Pilar, Bataan, is also known as the “Last Bastion of Democracy”. This is where Filipino and American soldiers tried to make a last stand to defend democracy but were ultimately out-numbered and out-powered by the Japanese forces.
In her message marking the 65th Araw ng Kagitingan rites in Mt. Samat, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo challenged the US government to pass the Equity Bill for Filipino Veterans “who fought alongside the American soldiers to preserve democracy”.
The chief executive’s message was read by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. The president had to cancel her scheduled appearance in Bataan to be with First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, who was rushed to the hospital for emergency heart surgery.
According to Ermita, President Arroyo had already ordered the Department of Budget and Management to release P1.8 billion to cover part of the government’s arrears in the veterans’ pension payments.
By 2008, Ermita added, the government will be up-to-date in pension payments.
At the Mt. Samat rites, Japanese Ambassador Ryuyichiro Yamazaki again expressed deep remorse and apologies to the Filipinos for atrocities committed by Japan during the last war.
American Ambassador Kristie Kenney waxed sentimental as she extolled the heroism of Filipino and American soldiers who “sacrificed their lives so that we could live in a free world”.
More than a thousand guests, composed of veterans, local officials, girls and boys scouts and members of the diplomatic corps attended the Mt. Samat rites. (PIA-Bataan) [top]