By Artemio A. Dumlao
BAGUIO CITY (June 6, 2011) – To most Filipino World War II veterans who are in their twilight years now, getting the promised compensation still remains as just a dream.
Two years after signing into law the said compensation, the United States government through its Department of War Veterans appropriated US$198 million for a one-time payment to World War II veterans of US$9,000.00 (about P378,000.00) each. The veterans still have not received a cent.
“We are still waiting,” said United States Armed Forces in the Philippines – Northern Luzon member Artemio Pekas, now an octogenarian. He was a commander in Sablan, Benguet during the war. The promised US$9,000.00 from the World War II Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation fund could have served them in their twilight years as they battle illnesses. They may even have a little fun before they “fade away”.
Elderly veterans, USAFIP women’s auxiliary group, or widows of the last world war, trooped to the Philippine Veterans Bank – Baguio at West Burnham Place Thursday last week to witness the opening of the bank.
Dressed in their old uniform and cap, they beamed as their names were called by bank executives.
Their hopes burned brighter when Mayor Mauricio Domogan discussed the equity compensation fund. But these hopes were immediately dashed when Domogan said his efforts went to naught as he tried to hurry up the processing of the benefit for the war heroes.
“We’ve been waiting for that,” added Pekas, who beamed when his name was mentioned by assistant vice president and North Luzon Area Head Paul Tuazon.
“Narining mo ang pangalan ko,” said the smiling octogenarian, who is also the sub-commander for Baguio and Benguet.
The compensation package is a one-time payment authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 where US$9,000.00 will be given to Filipino citizens and US$15,000.00 for veterans who are now American citizens.
These veterans were in organized military forces before July 1, 1946, or members of the organized guerrilla forces under commanders appointed, designated or recognized by the Commander in Chief, Southwest Pacific Area, or other competent authority in the Army of the United States.
Qualified also are persons who served in the Philippine Scouts under Section 14 of the Armed Forces Voluntary Recruitment Act of 1945.
The three groups of veterans are eligible if they were discharged or released from service under conditions that were not dishonorable, the law said.
Veteran Napoleon Gojo, now 81, would love also to see the release of the amount. “I’m already weak,” said the former colonel.
Felipe Romero, who is also from the 66th Infantry, said that some of their fellow veterans have received theirs, but many have not.
The 85-years old veteran blamed the delay on the military records that got burned down in a fire at the national veterans records in St. Louis, Missouri.
Last Thursday’s inauguration rites of the Baguio branch at its new site at Jesnor Building along Carino street, was attended by city officials.
Bank executives led by president Ricardo Balbido, Jr. and executive vice president and branch banking head Jesus Vicente Garcia are envisioning for “building a steady base of private and government clients” because it offers a “wide array of banking services including deposits, loans, time deposit products and cash management services.”
Baguio has been identified as a good site because of “its rich World War II history,” of which Pekas was a participant.
The 66th Infantry Batallion, to which Pekas belong to as well as war heroes like Francisco Paraan, former Benguet Governors Dennis Molintas and Bado Dangwa had been noted for their heroism.
“Veterans Bank Rich History”
The PVB was conceived to give service to war veterans. It was conceived in 1956, but was fully organized in June 16, 1963 with the passage of Republic Act 3518 that would also become its charter.
In pushing for its passage, the late Sen. Camilo Osias said: “True patriotism seeks no reward for services rendered to the State at great sacrifice even at the cost of life itself; but it is also the duty of the State to create the necessary atmosphere and incentives for her citizens.”