IN the few days since the signing of the veterans’ “stimulus bill” the discussion is all about the benefits: (1) if qualified dependents of veterans who died days after the bill became law can claim $ 9,000 (2) if veterans who are too ill and cannot write nor sign papers can still collect $ 9,000 through their dependents (3) if veterans who are “brain dead” (or on life-support) are qualified to receive full benefits, and (4) if application forms can be sent to claimants’ homes or hospital rooms.
Filling forms properly
Answering any of the above without full guidelines from the US Embassy may mean instant loss of benefits. The veteran, age 96, who “wrote X” shown on TV faces all the uncertainties/disqualifications.
In a previous article I ventured a guess that most living claimants fought the enemy forces in 1942 at age 18, and are now nearing 85 up. But officers born between 1910 and 1920 (89 to 99 years old) may not be alive anymore, except for very few exceptions in longevity.
Wheelchair, cane, etc.
Last week front-page pictures and news reports were about veterans limping their way asking questions about their fate. Some were on wheelchairs or leaning heavily on cheap aluminum canes and pretended to be strong and healthy.
In my town I know one qualified veteran, who is now 94 years old (born 1915, Frank Sinatra’s birth year). He taught in high school after 1945. He has no complaint except for body pains and aches common to old boys and girls in their late 80s or early 90s.
The waiting creditors/lenders
Most veterans who may get $ 9,000 expect to hold their check for a few hours/days before entrusting them to creditors (or Bombay-style lenders) who advanced cash for medicines, performance-enhancing vitamins, milk/chocolate, etc.
It is not expected that the dollar benefit will be added to their savings that don’t exist. It is doubtful that, with dozens of dependents expecting it, a large amount will be left for the remaining few years of the veteran’s misery.
Remembering their heroism?
Years ago our brave soldiers and freedom fighters stopped telling tales of bravery in battle or skirmishes between enemy and guerilla platoons. Bataan, Corregidor, Lingayen Gulf and the Leyte landing or invasion ceased to be important events or subjects as early as 30 or 40 years ago.
Only the officers of the various veterans legions, here and abroad, lobbied and waited with great expectations. But they knew the fading years and hope may end one day but not at age 80, 85, or 90.
No whistle of joy
The sick or sickly veterans who may benefit from the dollar lump-sum mostly are in dire need, but the time to whistle with joy may not come today or tomorrow. The passing years were too long to move them to “another show of gratitude” to the giver.
All the famous names who fought hard in Bataan were long gone – Napoleon Valeriano, Alfredo Santos, Carmelo Barbero were just three of the hundreds who died years ago.
Fighting under two flags
The one great trait of our veterans has a quality of its own: None of them ever complained of their suffering in total misery while waiting for any form of recompense from America. They knew they fought or died under two flags: Stars and stripes and Aguinaldo’s banner of the 1898 Republic.
The trek to 14 venues where claims are filed is just starting. It’s like “Death March” all over again.
Their one and last prayer? To live for one more year and get the final cash reward or symbol.
Those who are too infirm to remember their service to PI and America may wonder and ask: What’s the $ 9,000 for? (Comments are welcome at email@example.com)
By Atty. Romeo V. Pefianco
MANILA, Philippines—For these Filipino war veterans and their heirs, recognition for their efforts and their rightful place in history are more important than the $198-million compensation package from the US government.
“Our lives are priceless. It cannot be measured in dollars,” said Col. Rafael Estrada, founder of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Inc. (DBC), during the group’s weekly fellowship at the Veterans Center in Taguig City Wednesday.
Estrada, now 90, said the Filipino veterans “volunteered” their lives when the Philippines was still a colony of the United States.
“We were not fighting for the Philippines, we were fighting for America,” he said.
The veteran dropped by for the fellowship and left soon after because he was not feeling well.
“I don’t know if gratitude is the right word,” Estrada said. “The fact is that the American people, through their president, have finally come to the financial aid of the poor Filipino veterans.”
Rafael Evangelista, a “national commander” of the DBC, said that attaching a monetary value to the veterans’ efforts “make you look like mercenaries.” He is the son of Dr. Rafael L. Evangelista, who served in the Medical Corps of the US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
Retired 2nd Lt. Emilio Aquino, who enlisted as a corporal with the USAFFE on Oct. 7, 1941, said during the DBC fellowship that he was just glad he was still around. “Obviously, I’m happy,” he said with a wide grin.
The DBC was organized in 1948 in recognition of the services of some 80,000 Filipinos who were conscripted in July 1941 on orders of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The Filipinos were trained and organized by the US government to fight together with American troops a day after Japanese planes wiped out the US naval forces at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.
War dead, survivors
Thousands of USAFFE soldiers died in Bataan and Corregidor, while many of those who survived would meet the same fate during the Death March, or the forced transfer of prisoners from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac.
Thousands more died in the camp, according to two survivors who attended Wednesday’s fellowship.
Retired Brig. Gen. Felix Pestaña and retired 2nd Lt. Simplicio Copiaco remembered burying 20 to 25 bodies a day at Camp O’Donnell. “We have no pencil, no paper. We didn’t even know their names,” Pestaña said.
Getting the names of those who died and survived, and honoring their sacrifice and ensuring their place in history was a topic discussed at the fellowship.
Evangelista said the DBC would sponsor a project to expand the Wall of Heroes at Camp O’Donnell after Pestaña noted that his name was there, while his friends who had died were not even engraved.
Through the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), the group has commissioned Dr. Trota Jose to compile the personal accounts of the men and women in WWII.
“This is not just a history the way it’s written, but it’s the story of the men and women who were there,” Jose said.
Copiaco said that when his company was “wiped out,” he was sent to Pampanga to recruit farmers to the USAFFE.
“We got them in the rice fields, taught them how to shoot, gave them uniforms and boots, and they were soldiers,” he recalled.
Apparently, a lot of the written records about the heroism of the Filipino veterans have to be corrected.
Some veterans who attended the fellowship said Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the leader of the Japanese Imperial Army, did not surrender to the Americans at Camp John Hay as recorded in history books but was captured by Igorot volunteer soldiers in the Mountain Province.
Jose’s book, to be titled “Defending Bataan and Beyond” and set for release in October, will set the records straight.