By Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – Consul General Mary Jo Bernardo Aragon announced on Wednesday, April 9 that the Philippine government had doubled its veterans’ pension budget so that all unpaid old age pension claims could be paid by the end of this year.
Consul General Aragon made the announcement at the celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor). The date also marks the fall of Bataan Peninsula into the hands of the Japanese during World War II.
“The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office has also reduced claims processing time in its delivery of pension payments,” Consul Aragon said. “Today, as I understand it from Secretary Teodoro, all pensioners can withdraw their pensions from ATMs.”
Consul Aragon also told a handful of Filipino World War II veterans that President Arroyo also had signed into law an amendment to Republic Act 6498
“This means that those veterans who receive benefits from the US government will not continue to receive whatever is due them from the Philippine government,” Consul Aragon added. These benefits include a monthly SSI payment of around $750.00 and medical coverage.
She also reiterated an earlier pledge to continue pushing for the passage of the Equity Bill for Filipino World War II veterans. Aragon added that a team composed of Senator Gordon, Congressman Solis (Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs), Antonio Diaz, and Roman Romulo, will be arriving this month to lobby for the bill that is presently debated in the US Congress.
“Of course, the Philippine government will continue its lobbying efforts with US Ambassador to the Philippines, Christy Keeney,” Consul Aragon said further.
Following a ceremonial flower offering at a shrine erected at the Rizal Hall of the Philippine Consulate General Office, Consul Aragon paid tribute to the veterans “for their courage and patriotism.”
Quoting from a speech delivered on April 7 by President Gloria Arroyo, Mrs. Aragon said: “The courage and patriotism of all our soldiers will shine through our efforts to forge lasting peace.”
Deputy Consul Dan Espiritu also read a message sent by Philippine Ambassador to the United States Willy Gaa.
“What we recall of this day is not the success of the overwhelming forces of the enemy, but the gallantry and courage of Filipino and American defenders. For long months, Filipino soldiers tenaciously stood their ground and fought with uncommon valor side by side with American soldiers in fending off the foreign invaders, fighting for their homeland and fighting for the cause of liberty, justice and democracy,” the statement read.
“Moral Debt: The Postwar Battle of Filipino Veterans,” a 25-minute documentary about the struggle for recognition of Filipino WWII veterans already living in the United States, was screened by the Consulate after the ceremonies at Rizal Hall. The documentary showed surviving veterans, most of them in their 80s and 90s, recalling their experience as US citizens, surviving on their meager SSI income holding odd jobs, sharing rooms with other veterans, away from their loved ones.
California Congressman Bob Filner, consistent supporter of the Equity Bill, recalls in the movie how he stumbled on his mission.
“When I first ran for Congress and visited Filipino neighborhoods and interviewed Filipino families, most of the people I talked to had fathers, brothers, grandfathers who were World II veterans,” Senator Filner shared.
He acknowledged that the bill is experiencing rough times in its quest for approval by the US Congress. “There is a demand that I find an offset, which means that I take money from old programs to pay for the benefits stipulated in the Equity Bill,” Filner said in the documentary.
“It’s been 66 years, and we are still fighting for the veterans’ benefits,” said San Francisco State University’s Professor Danilo Begonia. “How can you put a price tag on heroism? This is a grave injustice.”