CAMP O'DONNELL, CAPAS, TARLAC, April 7, 2004 (STAR) By Benjie Villa - GMA declares war vs poverty in Araw ng Kagitingan rites.

There is a war still going on across the country, President Arroyo told World War II veterans here during the commemoration rites of Araw ng Kagitingan yesterday.

Her administration, she said, continues to "wage war against poverty and lack of jobs."

The President arrived at the Capas National Shrine here, site of the former Japanese concentration camp where the infamous Death March culminated, together with Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

Mrs. Arroyo laid a wreath before the national shrine’s obelisk that has been dedicated to the memory of those who died of hunger and disease during the Death March, as well as those who perished as prisoners-of-war in the former concentration camp.

Gov. Jose Yap said the annual event "serves to preserve the heroism of our soldiers and veterans in our national memory so that we can continue charting our bright future."

Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan and Tarlac Reps. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and Jesli Lapus also joined the ceremonies.

While in the province, the President barnstormed two of Tarlac’s vote-rich towns. She first arrived in Concepcion, hometown of former Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. and flew by chopper to Camiling after the ceremonies.

EDITORIAL - Day of valor The Philippine Star 04/07/2004

Each year the ranks of those who remember Bataan Day thin out. Yesterday a President born after World War II rallied the people behind another war: against poverty, and the many other ills that plague the repu-blic.

Because Good Friday this year falls on April 9, ceremonies marking Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor started yesterday in Capas, Tarlac, and will continue today on Mt. Samat in Bataan. The veterans who managed to make it to the annual ritual relived, as usual, the day in 1942 when Bataan fell and the Death March started. For much of the rest of this year, the 5,000 or so surviving veterans of the war will be busy grappling with the problems of old age and fighting for the benefits still denied them half a century after World War II.

The veterans feel neglected not just by the United States, for whose army they fought during the war, but also by their own government, which provides a piddling amount as monthly pension for retired soldiers. If it’s any consolation to veterans of World War II, the complaints of Philippine soldiers about government neglect continue to this day. In active duty, the soldiers grouse about poor pay, substandard boots and lack of ammunition. In retirement they complain about delayed payments of paltry pensions.

Recent retirees and the new generation of soldiers at least have not undergone the kind of torture and extreme deprivation experienced by the thousands of Filipinos who volunteered to fight the Japanese occupation forces during World War II. Those valiant soldiers fought and suffered out of sheer love of country.

We remember the feats of celluloid heroes, rewarding them for their make-believe sacrifices by electing them to the highest offices of the land. Yet we forget true heroes who risked their lives to preserve the values and way of life that we hold dear. Each year there are fewer veterans of World War II. A nation that does not honor its real heroes should not wonder why there is a dearth of people ready to put their country above self.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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