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The heroes of Bulacan

A World War II veteran of Malolos, Bulacan, shares her journey to freedom

SURVIVOR. World War II veteran Elvira Jimenez is grateful that she survived some of the toughest  years in Philippine history. Photo by Jee Geronimo/Rappler

BULACAN, Philippines – The premises of Barasoain Church on the morning of Wednesday, June 12, were teeming with people—students, adults, vendors, local and high-ranking government officials, Bulakeños.

But no one could appreciate the celebration of the 115th year of Philippine independence more than the old men and women seated in front—the Filipino veterans.

Elvira Jimenez, 88, was a first aid nurse during World War II in 1941. Before she joined the revolution, she was a clothes sewer who was friendly to the Japanese soldiers—too friendly they mistook her for Japanese, too.

This opened an opportunity for Jimenez to serve the Filipino guerrillas. In those days, women were not allowed to carry firearms, so she and her best friend waited for orders in one of Bulacan Military Area’s command posts.

Isa sa mga pinakamahirap na naging tungkulin namin dun, mayroong nagbalita sa post na mayroong bihag na isang American pilot, pinahanap sa amin, kung saan namin matatagpuan. Nagpapanggap kami na pangkaraniwang pamilya, hinahanap namin yung mga kasamahan naming magulang, ganun ginawa namin. Kasi noon, nakakaintindi kami ng kaunting Niponggo, nakikipag-usap kami doon sa mga hapon.”

(One of the hardest things we had to do was to look for an American pilot held hostage. We would act as family members, and look for our fellow veterans. We used to understand a little Niponggo before, and we would talk to the Japanese then.)

She recounted her story with much clarity, remembering even the time when she and her roommates in the command post were all too happy over a bar of chocolate, or when, during her birthday, she had to walk barefoot and bring supplies to other command posts.

A beam of hope

Freedom was scarce those days, but it was what every Filipino hoped for. 

“Ang unang itinuro ba naman sa amin ay mag-martsa…tapos pagsaludo, kasi ika, kailangan mong matutuhang mag-martsa kasi ‘pag nagkaroon ng victory parade, marunong kayo,” Jimenez shared.

(The first thing they taught us was to march…to salute, because for them, we have to learn how to march so that when a victory parade happens, we’re ready.)

Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa Jr., who was the guest speaker at the rites in Barasoain, opened his speech by paying tribute to war veterans like Jimenez: “Marami pong salamat sa kalayaang ibinigay ninyo sa ating bansa.” (Thank you for the freedom you gave to our country).

GRATITUDE. Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa shakes hands with a veteran. Beside him is Bulacan Gov Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado. Photo by AC Dimatatac

He called on this generation’s Bulakeños to sustain the freedom the country has achieved by contributing to the improvement of the Filipinos’ quality of life. “[Ito ang] mga dakilang ambag nating mga Pilipino upang masabing bayani tayo sa ating napiling kaparaanan,” he added. (These are our great contributions as Filipinos, to be able to say we are heroes in our chosen ways).

A call to the government

Jimenez believes the Philippines is truly free today. But enjoying that freedom can be tough for veterans like her who said their calls for increase in pension are not being heard.

She said she only receives P1,000 per month.

The government is mandated by law to provide benefits to veterans of military campaigns and wars such as the World War II.

Earlier in April, President Benigno Aquino III spoke to thousands of veterans in Bataan and informed them of the government’s effort for the full disbursement of the Total Administrative Disability or TAD Pensions, wherein an additional P1,700 will be added to the P5,000 a veteran will receive per month upon reaching the age of 70.

This is in addition to other benefits administered by the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office. 

HEROES TOO. Bulacan veterans are seated in front during the rites at Barasoain Church. Photo by AC Dimatatac

The veterans are no Jose Rizals or Andres Bonifacios. They did not write controversial novels or start underground movements.

But they are heroes in their own rights. – Rappler.com

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