MANILA, Philippines – On National Heroes' Day, President Rodrigo Duterte announced the release of P4.7 billion for the widows of Philippine soldiers and World War II veterans and retired soldiers.
"For those who were not paid by the previous administration, for release is P4.7 billion for the payment of the total administrative liability, arrears of widows and deceased World War II veterans and AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] retirees who are 80 years old and above," said Duterte.
He was speaking on Monday, August 29, during the ceremony for National Heroes' Day at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
His audience of AFP retirees, World War II veterans, and widows of soldiers matched his announcement with enthusiastic applause.
Of the P4.7 billion, P3.5 billion will go to the widows while P1.2 billion will go to AFP retirees.
The joint Implementing Rules and Regulations facilitating the release has been signed by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, added Duterte.
"It will be released as soon as possible," said the President, to more cheers.
Duterte even gave a word of warning to soldiers.
"Be careful, if you are not loyal to your wives, she might be joining the P3.5 billion for the widows," he joked.
Lorenzana, in a chance interview with reporters, said the money is to be released "immediately."
The release will be processed by PVAO [Philippine Veterans Affairs Office] and GHQ [General Headquarters]," said the Defense Secretary.
In fact, the funds had been approved for release already during the latter part of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
"Actually, na-release na 'yan, okay na 'yan nung time ni Aquino pero hindi na nila na-release dahil sa ban noong elections," Lorenzana explained.
(Actually, it was approved for release already during Aquino's time but it wasn’t released because of the election-related ban on fund releases.)
Apart from these funds, Duterte said he would give P250,000 for every soldier who dies in action during his administration.
"Automatic, from my social fund, it's automatic P250,000…That's purely from me, from Office of the President," said Duterte.
Colonel Romeo Gaisano, a retired soldier, is gladdened by Duterte's announcement.
"Mas mabuti kung ibigay kasi matagal na naming hinihintay na i-release na," he told Rappler after Duterte's speech.
(It's good that it will be given because we've been waiting a long time for its release.)
Agapito Perez, a 90-year-old World War II veteran, said before the start of ceremonies that funds given to them by the government have been insufficient to meet their needs, which include medication and hospitalization for their old-age ailments.
"Walang nang nangyayari (Nothing happened), as a veteran. We are forgotten by the administration pero ngayon iba kay (but it's different now with) President Duterte," he said.
Amidst graves of fallen soldiers and heroes of the republic, Duterte reflected on his own definition of heroism.
Duterte said he considers one of his heroes the late Justice Jose Abad Santos who was taken by the Japanese during World War II and ordered to pledge allegiance to the Japanese flag. Santos refused, prompting his son to beg him to give the pledge so his life might be spared.
"His answer to his son was, ‘Son, do not do that to me because not everyone is given a chance to die for his country. I may be insignificant in this country, I'm not a splendid politician, but how I wish I could hear from my son the same pleading and how could I have responded the way the Chief Justice said before he died," said Duterte.
He however, made no mention of his intention to bury the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.