"Many veterans are living on borrowed time."
Uniformed veterans numbering in the hundreds of thousands are still waiting for the release of their increased pension benefits. This is spite of the 2019 General Appropriations Act having been signed by the President and the unequivocal pronouncement of former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno in 2018 during a meeting with the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association.
In that meeting, he gave his word that the funds were available and would be released on January 2019. Well guess what, the promised funds have not yet been released.
Over the last couple of months, conflicting reports have been filtering to local veteran groups about the imminent release of the promised pensions but all these reports turned out to be false. The latest news came last weekend in the form of a text message saying that the Department of Budget has now issued fiscal directive No. 123690 for the release of the increased pension benefits to be effective June 16 which is just three days away. This fiscal directive is in compliance to Executive Order No. 0-1906 signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
The message did not contain any dates when these documents were signed.
Since there are numbers to the documents, this latest news at least seems reliable than the others that came before it. Let us hope that this time it will turn out to be true for the sake of all veterans who have been waiting for the money. The problem is we do not know if the increased pension will include the unreleased differentials for the whole 2018 and the first five months of this year or not. If not, it will again be a struggle to get these 17-month differentials to be released. For retirees from the PNP, they are still waiting for 26 months pension differentials that have not yet been released as a result of the salary increases during the term of President Arroyo.
With due respect to individual officials, like Nesty Carolina of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office and others who I am sure are doing their best to improve the lot of veterans, the system now in place with regard to the treatment of veterans needs a major overhaul. Right now, veterans are just depending on leaders like the current President who are predisposed to improving the support for them.
If the leader happens to be selfish and uncaring, then veteran support is non-existent like what happened in the last administration.
What is needed is a support system that takes care of veterans regardless of who the President is. After all, it is the moral obligation of any government to take care of its fighting men who are now retired. At the rate that the government is releasing veteran’s benefits, many of them will be dead before their money will ever be released. This is because the life expectancy of Filipinos is about 71. Many veterans are therefore living on borrowed time. The only tangible benefit right now accruing to veterans is that every time active duty personnel gets an increase in their pay, personnel in the retired list also gets the increase. This however, does not happen very often. Growing old is harsh for veterans if one has been unable to save to prepare for old age. Retirees with service connected disabilities are not given extra pension for medical expenses like other countries. It has been only the last four years that the Philippine Veteran Hospitals opened its doors to retired military personnel. Even that is not enough because there is only one Veteran’s hospital located in Quezon City. We need more.
There ought to be at least one veteran’s hospital in the Visayas and Mindanao. Maybe one of the many lawmakers in both Houses of Congress who served both in the police and military could sponsor a bill for the purpose instead of concentrating their efforts fighting for their pork barrel. Another bill that they can consider is for PVAO to become a separate department instead of being just a part of the Defense department.
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During an interview a few days ago, President Duterte made a statement that floored all those who heard it. He said that people should just relax because come December of this year, travel between Cubao and Makati will just take five minutes.
We do not know if he meant this literally or simply a figure of speech to mean that traffic will soon drastically improve. Now, all government officials involved in traffic management are scratching their heads trying to figure out how best to do something in order not to make a liar of the President.
In the forefront of course are the MMDA, LTFRB, and LTO.
My first unsolicited advice to them is for them to ask the President for clarification if they can afford it so that time is not wasted trying to figure out exactly what the President wants to happen. December is not really not that far away. The next thing they should do is to see whether reducing travel time between Cubao and Makati to five minutes is doable or not. If not which seems to be the thinking of everyone, these traffic officials should come out with the best thing that they can do and tell the President straight without any hesitation. Given all that is known about the traffic conditions along EDSA, reducing travel along the road to five minutes cannot be done even if done between three and four in the morning where there is virtually no traffic. Even the entry of China, which the President mentioned in that TV interview, will not do the trick.