MANILA, Philippines?In what could be her last presidential gesture to honor the veterans of World War II, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Friday ordered the release this month of P1.2 billion worth of benefit payments to the surviving soldiers who fought in that war.
The President made the announcement shortly after returning from an overnight visit to Hanoi, Vietnam, where she attended the 16th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Leaders Summit.
?I return to Manila on Veterans? Day with good news. I have ordered the Department of Budget and Management and the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office to pay this month P1.2 billion worth of benefits to war veterans, in payment of the arrears of their total administrative disability to war veterans,? Ms Arroyo said in a written statement that she was supposed to deliver on her arrival.
Malacańang released her statement to reporters at the airport.
Ms Arroyo?s trip to Vietnam forced her to miss this year?s celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor), which she invariably commemorates by presiding over wreath-laying and other ceremonies at the Mt. Samat shrine in Bataan.
The country marks Araw ng Kagitingan on April 9 every year in honor of the veterans who fought invading Japanese troops during World War II. Mt. Samat, whose summit is marked by a giant cross, was the scene of the fierce battle that preceded the surrender of Filipino and United States forces in 1942.
The P1.2 billion will partially settle arrears on disability benefits for surviving veterans.
Defense Undersecretary Ernesto Carolina said from 32,000 to 34,000 veterans will receive about P81,000 each when the pay-outs are given starting this month.
The money will come from savings from the 2009 budget, he said.
In a phone interview, Carolina said the administrative disability benefit was actually promised to veterans in a law that was passed in 1994 granting the benefit to World War II veterans who had turned 70 years old.
He said that since the 1994 law was passed without any appropriations being made for its funding, the government now owes veterans arrears for the past 15 years.
Carolina said the release of the P1.2 billion was promised to the war veterans by the President in September 2009.
The pay-outs this month will be payment for four years worth of arrears.
Carolina said the President was able to provide an additional P3 billion for the same benefit in the 2010 national budget so that veterans will be able to receive them at the end of the year.