[PHOTO - REARMAMENT President Aquino speaks about the modernization of the Philippine military at ceremonies marking Araw ng Kagitingan at the Mount Samat Shrine in Bataan on Monday. GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE]

PILAR, BATAAN, APRIL 11, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Greg Refraccion, Tonette Orejas Inquirer Northern Luzon - President Benigno Aquino III assured Filipino war veterans of subsidized health services and vowed to continue the modernization of the Armed Forces in Monday’s Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) rites that paid tribute to Filipino and American soldiers who fought the Japanese 70 years ago.

Mr. Aquino, who addressed the elderly soldiers and their relatives gathered at the Dambana ng Kagitingan entirely in Filipino, got thunderous applause when he announced that from March 31, 599 hospitals had been accredited by Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) as regional and provincial extensions, making it easy for the veterans to access medical benefits.

“The state honors our veterans and I believe we should repay their sacrifices by caring for them,” he said.

Colonel Roberto Gacayan, 85, a war veteran from La Union province, urged Mr. Aquino and legislators not to ignore the plight of the war veterans.

“It seems that the government has been slowly forgetting what we did during the war. We hope that our benefits will be increased … We will not live long and we hope that in the remaining years of our lives, we get to feel our true worth,” Gacayan, who heads the Confederation of World War II Veterans’ Sons and Daughters Inc., said.

“If it had not been for our sacrifices, the youth will not experience the freedom they are enjoying today,” he said.

Veterans’ welfare

According to Mr. Aquino, VMMC has been subsidizing services for cataract surgery, coronary angiogram procedure and cardiac bypass operations.

The President again drew applause when he cited the direct remittance servicing system of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), which is done through the banks or automated teller machines. This has enabled war veterans to receive their pensions faster and in correct amounts, he said.

The veterans’ list has also been purged, enabling government to generate savings that are used to support more pensioners, he said.

Ernesto Carolina, the PVAO administrator, said the House committee on veterans affairs had approved an increase in the old-age pension from P5,000 to P10,000, with an increase of P1,000 a year for the next five years.

A bill is also pending in Congress seeking to increase the burial assistance from P10,000 to P20,000.

Carolina said the PVAO had paid P4 billion to eligible pensioners, with the funds coming from the savings made from the purging of illegal claimants.

REMEMBRANCE World War II veteran Pascual F. Coloma, 87, remembers how he fought against the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1942, as he grips a .50-cal. machine gun, a relic of the war, at the Mount Samat Shrine in Pilar, Bataan, on Monday. He said the hospitalization benefits in PVAO-accredited hospitals had been doubled to P800 for a maximum of 45 days. The PVAO also pays for the premium of veterans’ membership in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.

Pensions for old age, disability and death are paid to nearly 250,000 veterans, their spouses and descendants, he said.

Leslie Bassett, deputy chief of mission of the United States Embassy, said that in the past two years, more than 18,000 Filipino veterans had received a total of over $220 million from the US government’s Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Program.

Modern military

The President told the war veterans that his administration was working to fully upgrade the capacity of the AFP.

“What we want is that should the situation turn into a conflict, we are able to give a fight,” he said in Filipino.

He then enumerated the latest purchases for the AFP: a Hamilton class cutter, renamed as BRP Gregorio del Pilar, and four combat utility helicopters.

At least 138 projects under the defense acquisition system are scheduled for completion within five years, he said.

Good governance

Mr. Aquino said these are being done because of the good governance of his administration, adding that “integrity and honor result in programs that benefit our people.”

“I know that the morale of government troops is high not only because of housing or combat allowance but also because they know that we have removed the culture of corruption in the [AFP] leadership,” he said.

Mr. Aquino began his speech with lengthy quotes from Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon and General Douglas MacArthur, the American general and commander of US forces in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

“I am greatly concerned as well regarding all the soldiers I have called to the colors and who are now manning the firing line. I want to decide in my own mind whether there is justification in allowing all these men to be killed, when for the final outcome of the war the shedding of their blood may be wholly unnecessary,” he said, quoting Quezon.

“It is no joke being responsible for the lives of thousands, millions of your countrymen. President Quezon might have asked himself: What is at stake? Is the sacrifice worth it?” Mr. Aquino said.

He said he did not want the loss of lives. “This is the root of our determination to strengthen our armed forces,” he said.

“All that we have been doing now to lay the groundwork for reforms, improve the economy and lift our brethren from poverty, come from a single thought: We owe it to those who sacrificed before us to make sure that it is worth it, very, very worth it to live free in the Philippines,” he said.

The occasion, he added, should also be a time to celebrate the strength of character of Filipinos “to fight the enemy with bravery, honor and love for country as the sharpest weapon of all.”

Mr. Aquino also praised the Philippines’ strong alliance with the United States, and confirmed the futility of violence and necessity of working with neighboring nations.

Bataan Day in the US

In her speech, Bassett said some 7,000 people in the United States, including war veterans and students in New Mexico, had joined a reenactment of the Death March yesterday to pass what she called “the torch of memory.”

“Some carried heavy packs to make the journey harder but not as hard as the cruel Calvary our heroes endured,” she said.

“Bataan commemoration takes place today across the United States … and in the many homes where veterans and their memories still dwell. On the high seas, the sailors of the USS Bataan will pause to commemorate this day, including Master Chief Noel Vergara, whose grandfather, Romeo Miranda, was a hero of Bataan,” she said.

Bassett stressed the importance of preserving freedom that Filipino and American soldiers had fought hard to win.

“Filipino and American soldiers relied on one another to survive the Death March and what came after. Today their children and grandchildren … proudly continue that tradition of friendship and mutual support,” she said.

“Today we live in an era of technological marvel. But you cannot download freedom from the Internet or buy liberty off the shelf. The heroes of Bataan remind us not to take what we have for granted but to cherish our freedom,” she said.

Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Toshinao Urabe, who also spoke in Filipino, extended his country’s sincerest apology and deep sense of remorse for the Japanese atrocities during World War II.

He said the Japanese of today are “a far cry” from the Japanese during the war.

Urabe said the United States, the Philippines and Japan had forged stronger ties and were now allies and friends. He stressed the importance of unity among the three countries.

“Sa pagkakaisa, tayo ay lalakas; sa pagkakawatak-watak, tayo ay babagsak (In unity, we will be strong; in conflict, we will fall),” he said.

Aside from war veterans and their families, former President Fidel Ramos, top military and police officials, Cabinet members, local officials and diplomats attended the Araw ng Kagitingan ceremonies at Mount Samat Shrine. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño 

Bataan Day? What’s that? By Kristine Felisse Mangunay Philippine Daily Inquirer 1:40 am | Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

[PHOTO - Route of the death march. Section from San Fernando to Capas was by rail.]

Several individuals in Caloocan City could not quite summon a response when asked if they knew why April 9 had been declared a holiday.

Joey Isaias, a jeepney driver who plies the Malabon-Monumento-MCU route, took a few seconds to think before answering that the extra day was in anticipation of the heavy influx of motorists returning from the provinces after the Holy Week break.

“Isn’t it because (the government) didn’t want vehicles to build up on the streets on Sunday or something?” the 45-year-old asked.

Isaias said he had not watched television for a long time and had heard about the day being declared a holiday from friends.

Asked if he had heard of the Fall of Bataan, or Araw ng Kagitingan, he said: “Yes, I think I have.”

However, he said he could not remember what it was all about, he said.

Even younger people were at a loss when they were asked why they thought government offices remained closed Monday.

An engineering sophomore at a Malabon-based university who identified himself only as “Caloy” said that all he knew was that Monday had been declared a holiday.

He did not really know why but it “didn’t really matter,” he said. What was important was that he had more time to play his favorite computer game.

“Actually, I don’t know. I just know I’m playing Dota with my friends later,” he said with a laugh.

He admitted that he had a history subject way back in high school, but everything that he had learned “had gone down the drain.”

“After my exams, I completely forgot about everything already,” he said.

He has not had any history courses in college yet, he said.

Kat Villaruel, a stall vendor in her early 20s, scratched her head when asked if the Fall of Bataan rang any bells.

Villaruel, who sells DVDs, admitted that she had never heard of the event, much less read anything about it. She doesn’t do much reading in the first place, she said.

“I usually get information by watching TV, but I haven’t been watching lately,” she said.

Asked why she thought Monday had been declared a holiday, Villaruel replied, “Honestly, I don’t know.”

PHOTO - Dead soldiers on the Bataan Death March. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Route of the death march. Section from San Fernando to Capas was by rail.

The Bataan Death March (Japanese:Batān Shi no Kōshin (バターン死の行進?)) was the forcible transfer, by the Imperial Japanese Army, of 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war (POWs) after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during World War II, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of prisoners.

The 128 km (80 mi) march was characterized by wide-ranging physical abuse and murder, and resulted in very high fatalities inflicted upon prisoners and civilians alike by the Japanese Army, and was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.

The march of death

The Japanese were unprepared for the number of prisoners that they were responsible for, and there was no organized plan for how to handle them.

Prisoners were stripped of their weapons and valuables, and told to march to Balanga, the capital of Bataan.

Many were beaten, bayonetted and mistreated.

The first major atrocity occurred when between 350 and 400 Filipino officers and NCOs were summarily executed after they had surrendered.

In June 2001, U.S. Congressional Representative Dana Rohrabacher described the horrors and brutality that the prisoners experienced on the march:

"They were beaten, and they were starved as they marched. Those who fell were bayoneted. Some of those who fell were beheaded by Japanese officers who were practicing with their samurai swords from horseback. The Japanese culture at that time reflected the view that any warrior who surrendered had no honor; thus was not to be treated like a human being. Thus they were not committing crimes against human beings. The Japanese soldiers at that time felt they were dealing with subhumans and animals."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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