PNoy: We're Indebted To War Veterans

MANILA, Philippines - Saying the country is forever indebted to their bravery and sacrifice, President Benigno S. Aquino III Monday assured the surviving Filipino veterans of World War II of the government's continuing assistance.

The President paid tribute to the veterans in ceremonies at the Mt. Samat Shrine in Pilar, Bataan marking the 70th anniversary of the Araw ng Kagitingan.

President Aquino said there are now 599 hospitals accredited by the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) as regional and provincial extensions that provide medical services to war veterans such as cataract operations, coronary angiogram, and cardiac bypass operations.

He also said the government continues to clean the list of war veterans to ensure that they would be able to receive benefits due them.

Araw ng Kagitingan celebrates the Filipino veterans' bravery and love for country as their sharpest sword in fighting for freedom 70 years ago, Aquino said.

''We are indebted to our war veterans in ensuring that their sacrifices would not be put to waste,'' Aquino said in Filipino.

Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Toshinao Urabe expressed ''deep apology and a deep sense of remorse to the tragedy,'' referring to the Bataan Death March.

In 1942, 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war who surrendered to the Japanese army were forced to march 128 kilometers from Mariveles to San Fernando in Pampanga, where they were packed into trains and taken to Capas, Tarlac.

Thousands of prisoners were killed during the march.

''We pay tribute to those who endured hardships and pain,'' Toshinao said. ''The Japanese today are a far cry from the Japanese in those days.''

He said the Philippines and the Unites States are now among Japan's closest allies, noting the assistance from the two countries during the Japan earthquake and tsunami last year.

US Deputy of Mission Leslie Bassett, representing Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr., said the US Embassy has provided a total of $220 million to over 18,000 Filipino war veterans.

President Aquino said the Philippine government continues to modernize the armed forces.

He said that aside from the Hamilton class cutter BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the US will be donating another cutter to the Philippine military by May.

Aquino said four utility combat helicopters had arrived and four more will be delivered in November.

President Aquino also assured that his administration is weeding out the culture of corruption in the military. (Additional report from Mar T. Supnad)

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