APRIL 10, 2007 (STAR) President Arroyo assured World War II veterans yesterday that government will be able to catch up with its arrears on pension payments by next year even as she called on United States lawmakers to pass legislation that would benefit Filipino veterans.

In a speech read for her by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita at the 65th anniversary celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan in Mt. Samat in Bataan, Mrs. Arroyo paid tribute to Filipino soldiers who during World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War, fought for the country’s freedom "in an unbroken tradition of valor that stretches to today’s war on terror and insurgency."

"For the veterans who are still with us today, here in front of us, I shall continue to serve you and your loved ones with full understanding and a deep sympathy for your needs," the President said.

She was not able to make it to Bataan as she opted to stay at the bedside of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, who was rushed to the St. Louis Hospital in Baguio City on Easter Sunday night after complaining of abdominal pains. He was diagnosed as suffering from gastritis. He was discharged yesterday but was immediately transferred to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, triggering speculations about his true state of health.

According to Mrs. Arroyo, the national government has released a total of P19.57 billion between 2006 and 2007 for regular pensions and P1.6 billion for pension arrears for the remaining months of the year.

The Department of Budget and Management will release P9 billion for regular pensions, she said.

"I am instructing the Secretary of Budget to release another P1.8 billion for pension arrears by 2008, next year we will be up to date in our pension payments," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Among those who attended the yearly commemoration were United States Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Ryuchiro Yamazaki, Bataan Gov. Enrique Garcia, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., officials of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines and other members of the diplomatic community.

Mrs. Arroyo noted the US Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs is scheduled to conduct a hearing on veterans’ issues and the pending Veterans’ Equity Bill on April 11.

She said the development is the closest the US legislature has come towards the possible passage of the long-delayed Equity Bill for the veterans, "given their contributions to preserving the democracy and given that our historic and strategic cooperation continues in fighting challenges to the values and ideals that we all share and hold dear."

"We hope that all the US officials will support all these efforts to pass legislation that would allow our Filipino veterans to obtain the benefits they have long sought and truly deserve," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Her administration, she said, has made the tough but necessary decision to strengthen the economy, including raising taxes. But the fiscal reforms are now paying off and there are funds to invest in job creation, new roads, bridges and ports and more for education and health care and veterans’ pensions, her statement said.

Noting that many Filipino war veterans opted to spend their last days in other countries such as the United States, Mrs. Arroyo said: "With the help of our friends in the US Congress and the US government, we have a vision for the day when all Filipino veterans can choose to live in the Philippines, close to family and friends, enjoying the veterans’ benefits that will give them a high quality of life." – Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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