LINGAYEN, Pangasinan — There are only 370 World War II veterans in Pangasinan today, from some 15,000 after World War II when peace finally reigned again throughout the land 72 years ago.
This is based on records of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), an agency of the government which takes care of the welfare of the veterans and assures them that they get what they deserve under the law as heroes of the country.
PVAO regional chief Romeo Madriaga said there were 499 veterans in the list last year, which means that in just one year, 129 passed away.
He said because of old age and failing health, the number of World War II veterans continues to dwindle.
All the 370 in the roster are now in their twilight years with at least 13 of them centenarians.
Madriaga noted that Pangasinan had the most number of veterans after the war, in the same level as the province of Cebu.
He attributed this to the aggressive guerrilla recruitment activities undertaken after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor by then lieutenants Robert Lapham and Edwin Ramsey, both from the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
Madriaga said that it was the two valiant USAFFE officers who recruited Filipinos to the guerrilla movement to fight the Japanese.
There were 15,000 men and women who joined their group and when the war ended, all of them went back to their respective villages to again tend to their farms after serving their motherland.
Others used their back pay to start businesses while some used their educational benefits to go back to school, finished degrees and became professionals.
Madriaga noted that during the reunion of veterans during the 72nd commemoration of the Lingayen Gulf Landings, there were only 76 who were able to come.
All of them were fetched by Pangasinan provincial buses from their residences to be able to attend the commemoration, then brought back to their respective homes in the afternoon.
They again benefited from a medical and dental mission and given financial incentives and other tokens by Governor Amado Espino III.
Under Espino’s father, then Governor and now Fifth District Rep. Amado Espino III, a Pangasinan Veterans Day was set every January 9 each year in honor of the veterans.
Madriaga noted that Pangasinan is perhaps the only province in the whole country today that treats its World War II veterans as some kind of first class citizens because of their sacrifices so that the Filipinos would become free.
The veterans enjoy free hospitalization and medicines in all the 14 hospitals operated by the province and even by private hospitals accredited by PVAO.
All of them and their kin are given Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) cards so that in case they need hospitalization, they would not pay anything.
Dr. Vivencio Vilalflor Jr., president and chairman of the board of the Villaflor Doctors Memorial Hospital, said there are 20 medical procedures identified by PVAO which World War II veterans can avail for free.
They can avail of procedures even in the province in any government or accredited hospitals so that they need not spend money for transportation if they go to the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City.
With their PVAO affiliation as well as their PhilHealth cards, the veterans do not have to pay anything if they get sick, said Dr. Villaflor. Leonardo Micua/PNA-northboundasia.com