Despite failing health and fading memory, vets persevere

He and his brother Priz, also a war veteran, traveled early Tuesday from Parang town, Maguindanao, five hours away, hoping to be able to file their claims early and go back home.

Priz Abad said his older brother, Ali, 94, had been looking forward to file his claim despite his fading memories.

"Kaya repeat siya nang repeat sa pangalan niya para malaman ng nag interview na hindi niya nakalimutan na sino siya," said Priz, 82, who fought with his brother.

Of Iranun descent, Priz said he and his brother went into hiding in Bongo Island, towards the west of Parang, when Japanese occupation forces overran Mindanao Island in the 1940s.

He said when the Americans landed in Parang, they asked him and his brother to help them quell pockets of resistance by Japanese soldiers who were still holding out in Davao.

Napoleon Corros, 88, of Koronadal City, narrated that every Filipino who was 18 or old enough to carry a gun was enlisted in the Army of the Philippine Commonwealth when President Manuel L. Quezon signed the National Defense Act, Commonwealth Act No. 1, on December 21 1935.

On November 30, 1941 the Army of the Philippine Commonwealth became the United States Army Forces in the Far East. The United States was able to recruit a total of 2,504 officers, 28,591 enlisted men, including 11,957 Philippine Scouts.

"I was 20 years old when I was enlisted. Until now I do not know why we went to war with the Japanese," Corros said in the vernacular.

He said all that he remembered was he followed the orders of President Manuel L. Quezon to fight alongside the Americans who promised to give Filipinos their independence.

"Di nga namin alam ano yang independence. Alam lang namin na Filipino kami at mga amo natin ang mga Amerikano dahil natalo nila tayo noong una (We didn't even know about independence. All we knew was that we were Filipinos and the Americans were our masters because they defeated us before)," Corros told MindaNews.

When the United States gave the Philippines its independence on July 4, 1946, Corros said he was very happy. 

"I was happy. We were all happy. Finally we no longer have masters," he said.

Pablo Naong, a retired school teacher and resident of Davao City, said he finally realized that it was time to fight the Japanese soldiers when he saw their cruelty during their occupation in Davao.

He said he saw how the Japanese soldiers became increasingly violent to the Davao residents as the tide of the war turned against them.

"I realized that I like the freedom and democracy that were taught by the Americans better that the Japanese way," Naong said.

Naong, who was 18 years then, joined the guerrilla units fighting the Japanese on March 4, 1944. His guerilla unit is among those recognized by the US government.

Last Tuesday, World War II veterans swamped the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), forcing officials to suspend by early afternoon the acceptance of applications to claim the $9,000 lump sum benefit from the United States government.

Officials transferred the venue to Magsaysay Park where some amenities like wheelchairs, hot rice porridge, police trainees and chairs were available for them, unlike the small, cramped office of PVAO on J. Abad Santos St. near the corner of Mabi
ni here.

Still, the requirement that they have to present themselves and be interviewed has proven too strenuous for the aging veterans.

Norma Miranda, PVAO chief in Davao City, said two of the veterans have collapsed out of sheer exhaustion last Tuesday, the first day of the filing of claims.

Miranda said they and the two employees from the US Department of Veterans Affairs can "realistically" process only 150 claims a day.

She said they estimated there are 1,500 to 2,000 living veterans in Southern Mindanao.

"At present we have already 850 applications that we have yet to process. I don't think we can finish them tomorrow," she said.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney has assured veterans the US Department of Veterans Affairs will process their claims and they do not have to go to Manila after tomorrow, the last day of the claims.

“We will find you and (go) to you,” Kenney said in a briefing with the Malacañang press corps.

But this was not reassuring to the veterans and their relatives.

"What if they cannot find our house? What will happen?" asked Robert Ledda of Koronadal City, who came to assist his father Jovencio.

Ledda said it will be more expensive if they will go to Manila and process their claims if the US Department of Veterans Affairs failed to find his father.

"We already spent a tidy sum when we were forced to stay in a hotel last Tuesday night. Wala kasi system dito," he said.

Miranda said they have no idea what the US Department of Veterans Affair will do after the deadline tomorrow. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)