Aquino honors war veterans, ‘Ayungin’ soldiers

MANILA, Philippines – On the day that honors the brave, President Benigno Aquino III paid tribute to the country's war veterans and all soldiers enduring personal hardship to protect the country’s territorial integrity. 

At the commemoration of the Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) and the  72nd anniversary of the fall of Bataan on Wednesday, April 9, the President assured both veterans and the members of the Armed Forces that his administration is striving to match their sacrifice and devotion to duty.

Watch this report below.

After detailing the government's increased pension and health and education benefits for World War II veterans and their families, the President assured Philippine troops that the government is upgrading their hardware to prepare them for any possible battle. 

“As we continue to care for our veterans, so too have we continued to ensure that our soldiers in service today have the ability to fulfill their responsibilities. Should we ever need to enter battle, we cannot send our soldiers off armed only with their courage and daring,” Aquino said at the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor) on Mt Samat.

AFP upgrade

Aquino said the government has set aside P36 billion for the AFP Modernization and Capability Upgrade Program, and has completed 38 projects under the program from July 2010 to March 2014.

“This [program] includes the procurement of modern vessels and equipment that will certainly strengthen our Armed Forces. Even in this way, we will be able to lighten the weight of the responsibilities they fulfill in order to serve our country,” he said.

The President specially mentioned the 7 “brave Marines,”  led by First Lieutenant Mike Pelotera, who ended a 5-month grueling assignment at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal on March 29.

He said during their assignment, the soldiers endured nearly zero communication with their families and almost no fresh supplies as these were “blocked from reaching them.” 

Aquino was referring to the constant harassment of Philippine civilian boats with supplies for the Ayungin Shoal soldiers, by Chinese coast guard ships. A Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel, with local and foreign journalists, managed to slip past a Chinese ship on March 29.

The incident happened on the eve of Philippines' filing of a historic pleading with an arbitral tribunal against China’s claims on the West Philippine Sea (Scarborough Shoal).

“Day and night, on board the stranded BRP Sierra Madre, their dedication was anchored on keeping watch over, and safeguarding our territory. This is why, together with our veterans, soldiers like them are among those we honor today. The Filipino nation salutes all of you,” he said.

Increased benefits

Aquino highlighted the government's goal to provide  “sufficient care for our veterans and their families, enough to match their devotion to our country.”

“The government now has the obligation to take care of our veterans. The only problem: Many have joined the list, and have taken a share in the benefits, even if they are not true veterans. But the good news is we are now undertaking the Pensioner’s Revalidation Program,” he said.

The program verifies that every name on the list is a surviving pensioner. Because of this, Aquino said in 2014, the government ceased granting benefits to 22,534 accounts while 14,616 others were suspended.

“The result: we have retrieved pension remittances worth P396.61 million,” he said. “This March, the number of veterans and their spouses who are receiving service from the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office has reached 133,784. Now, we are making sure that every peso we give from our national coffers goes to the truly deserving,” Aquino said.

Aquino also highlighted health benefits available to veterans. He said the "doors of the Veteran Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) are wide open" for them.

In 2013, Aquino said the government spent P17 million for medical services for 1,092 veterans. He said the VMMC has even expanded veterans' benefits to include cataract operations, coronary angiogram and cardiac bypass as procedures shouldered by the government.

Additionally, the President said educational benefits for veterans’ dependents are also available. In the past year, 2,059 students' education were funded by PVAO. The government has pledged P36,000 annually per student qualified for benefits. – Rappler.com