WWII veterans swamp PVAO in Davao

Norma Miranda, PVAO chief in Davao City, said they did not expect the influx of veterans from all over Southern Mindanao on the first day of the processing of claims.

Miranda said the two staffers from the PVAO central office could only handle 150 claims a day. The rest, she said, will have to come back next day.

"We are only processing 150 claims today. Those holding cards from 151 to 300, please return tomorrow," blared a bullhorn carried by a PVAO employee.

But as of 3:54 p.m. this afternoon, only 54 claims have been processed at the PVAO.

Miranda said they are revising their target to only 94 claims today. She said the processing will continue tomorrow and the venue will be transferred to Magsaysay Park in Davao City.

"At least there are trees in Magsaysay Park to provide shade for the old people," said lawyer Melchor J. Quitain, Davao legal officer.

Quitain went to the PVAO this morning after learning that hundreds of veterans have arrived to process their claims.

"PVAO did not inform us about this. We could have helped the old veterans," he said.

Magsaysay Park

Quitain asked Miranda to transfer the processing to Magsaysay Park where trees and tents are available for the old men and their families.

He also asked the City Social Welfare Department to cook rice porridge so the veterans could have something to eat and ordered ambulances to be on stand by near the PVAO.

Hundreds of aging war veterans accompanied by their relatives went to the small PVAO office on J. Abad Santos St. near the corner of Mabini here after officials announced they will process the claims starting today Feb. 24 until Feb. 26.

Only three PVAO offices in Mindanao are authorized to process the claims. Aside from the one in this city, the two designated offices are those inside Camp Navarro, headquarters of the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command in Upper Calarian, Zamboanga City; and Camp Edilberto Evangelista, headquarters of the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division, in Barangay Patag, Cagayan de Oro City. 

Veterans who could not file their claims by Feb. 26 have up to Feb. 16 next year.

US Ambassador Kristie Kenney told the Malacanang Press Corps on February 23 that ailing veterans need not leave town because “we will find you and come to you.”  (See frequently asked questions)

Many veterans, some from General Santos City and Parang in Maguindanao, came as early as 7 a.m. at the PVAO here. They swamped the small office forming long lines and braving the humidity in the streets.

The same confusion also happened in Cagayan de Oro City where an estimated 3,000 war veterans flocked to the PVAO in Camp Evangelista.

"We were not informed by PVAO that they have an activity with the old veterans," Maj. Michele Anayron, spokesperson of the 4ID, told MindaNews by phone.

Anayron said they took pity on the veterans and immediately laid out tents and chairs. He said they also prepared some food for the veterans.

ike the Davao local government, Anayron said they offered PVAO the use of their gym for the processing of the claims.

Bodily carried

Some were too weak to walk and had to be brought on wheelchairs or bodily carried by relatives.

Others — including a veteran who was too poor to pay his bus fare from Digos City and had to endure an hour, bumpy ride on a motorcycle driven by a nephew — had to rest inside a  waiting ambulance.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs has stipulated that only surviving veterans can receive the $9,000 (roughly P434,000) lump sum benefit.

US President Barack Obama signed into law the $787-billion stimulus package bill, which included the $198-million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which “formally recognizes the service of Filipino WWII veterans as active military service in the Armed Forces.”

But many veterans said they fought bravely against the Japanese not for the money but out of love for country and democracy.

"What I suffered during the Death March cannot be paid by money. I fought because I love my country and democracy," said Zacarias Morales of Davao City.

Morales was 21 years old when he joined the Philippine Army Air Corps as aerialvphotographer.

"We flew everyday. I was bringing a big camera, took photographs, and after we landed, I developed the pictures," Morales narrated.

He said most of the pictures he took were landscapes that were used as terrain maps for the soldiers.

Morales said he fought in Bataan when the order from General Douglas MacArthur came for the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) units to head to the peninsula on the day before Christmas in 1941.

"We waited for the biggest convoy that MacArthur had promised that will come to our rescue. It did not come," he said.

Morales, who settled with his family in Davao City in 1969, said he was lucky to survive the Death March.

"We had no food, no water and if we fell out of the line to get these, our guards would kill us. The weak and the sick were bayoneted to death," Morales said. "No money can pay that," he stressed.

Erminio Paclan of Toril, Davao City, said USAFFE soldiers received only a salary of ten pesos a month. But the money, he said was worthless and could not buy anything.

"I did not think that someday I will be paid for being a soldier. I carried that big gun of mine because we were called to defend our country," Paclan said. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)