BALANGA CITY, BATAAN: This Monday, the nation will again pay tribute to the Filipino soldiers who valiantly fought side by side with American troops against the Japanese invaders before and after Bataan fell on April 9, 1942.
The 76th celebration of Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor will be held in the hallowed grounds of Mount Samat in Pilar, Bataan where a 90.2-meter War Memorial Cross and a War Memorial Shrine stands.
Death and deprivation not brought by the cruelty of World War II but of old age and illnesses are fast decimating the dwindling ranks of surviving veterans in this province. And as time goes by, fewer are expected to make the lonely and feeble march during the Mount Samat rites and other events held to honor them every year.
The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) on Thursday reported that at present, there are only about 128 surviving World War II veterans in Bataan.
Pinky Montemayor, head of PVAO’s Field Service Extension Annex—Bataan, said that as of February 2017, there were about 171 living WWII veterans.
In just a brief span of a year, the report showed there were 43 deaths.
Montemayor said it would take time for her to cull from records the total number of WWII veterans in Bataan after the war.
Retired General Restituto Aguilar, PVAO chief of Veterans Memorial and Historical Division, said that in 1945, the United States recognized 400,000 Filipino veterans and another 400,000 remained unrecognized.
Of the 400,000 recognized, only 6,000 throughout the country are still alive. Yearly, there were 2,000 deaths recorded so that in three years, only a few hundred WWII veterans will be left, Aguilar added.
“In Bataan, many are now bed-ridden or sick and can no longer be present at events to receive their recognition. Some are wheelchair bound and the others are lying on their sickbed,” Montemayor said.
She categorized those receiving monthly pensions into members of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (Usaffe), recognized guerilla, not carried but paid guerilla, deserving guerilla and Hukbalahap.
Guerillas and Hukbalahap are those who fought the Japanese after Bataan surrendered on April 9, 1942.
All are receiving monthly pension of P5,000 plus P1,700 total disability pension for those aged 70 and above.
A surviving spouse receives only P5,000.
Montemayor said that in Bataan only four Usaffee members are still alive and the others are mostly recognized guerillas.
Nestorio Ceniza, 96, a native of Negros Oriental but residing in Balanga, is one of the four Usaffe veterans still alive. He joined the 71st Division in 1941 when he was 19 and a college freshman.
“I heeded the call of American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for all able-bodied individuals to join the military to fight the Japanese,” Ceniza, who is already short of hearing, said.
He fought from Pangasinan to the towns of Morong and Bagac in Bataan in December of 1941. Armed with a bolt action rifle he chose not to surrender when Bataan fell. But while seeking cover in the wilderness between Pangasinan and Zambales, Japanese soldiers captured him along with several others.
He was brought to Capas, Tarlac and incarcerated in the concentration camp from May 24, 1942 to January 20, 1943 where he got sick.
After the war, he went back to the military and became a member of the Philippine Constabulary, serving for 30 years.
Ceniza retired as a second lieutenant but receiving the pension of a first lieutenant.
Onofre Bugay, 96, of Santa Lucia in Samal, Bataan, is one of the surviving recognized guerillas. He was post commander in Samal and District 2 vice-commander.
District 2 was composed of the towns of Dinalupihan, Hermosa, Orani, Samal, Abucay and Morong.
He said that from more than 20 WWII veterans, they are now only eight.
Bugay performed military service from December 8, 1941 to July 3, 1946. He joined the guerilla resistance movement using a Springfield rifle he picked up after a firefight between Filipino soldiers and Japanese troops in Abucay, Bataan.
He was under the command of a certain Colonel Abad and Major Melchor Guevarra who later became mayor of Samal.
Bugay, like most of the other living veterans, is partly deaf and short of sight but can still walk.
“President Duterte, our pension is short for medicine. We hope it would be P20,000 a month,” he appealed.
Eugenio Agas, 95, of Barangay Calaguiman also in Samal, is another surviving guerilla but his wife said he’s already forgetful.
The old man prefers to lie on his mat on the floor being unable to walk and can only move slowly and sit on the floor.
“His pension could hardly buy his adult diapers. We wish it would be about P20,000,” his wife said.
Teodoro de Guzman, 95, of Barangay Wakas in Orion, Bataan, was post commander of Orion and another surviving recognized guerilla. He was a rifleman during the war under General Vicente Lim.
He is totally deaf.
He was hit by a bullet fired by a Japanese soldier while camped at Barangay Diwa in Pilar town which is below the giant cross of Mount Samat. A scar is visible on his leg.
De Guzman was a village chairman of Barangay Wakas for 21 years.
Like his fellow veterans, he said his pension can hardly buy him medicine.
Surviving World War II veteran Nestorio Ceniza, urged young men and women to stay away from drugs and instead find time to do good for the country.
“To the youths, do not forget to serve your country because it is the only one you have,” the old man said.
At 19 and was still a college freshman, Ceniza joined the 71st Division of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (Usaffe) that fought the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.
When Bataan fell on April 9, 1942, he did not surrender but escaped so as not to join the Death March like what happened to thousands of Filipino and American soldiers who hiked 160 kilometers from Bataan to the concentration camp in Capas, Tarlac.
But, he too did not escape the Capas concentration camp.
After the war, he continued his military service with the then Philippine Constabulary. He retired as second lieutenant after 30 years of service.
He said he was deprived of his financial benefit from the United States for many years adding that it was only during the time of former president Barrack Obama that he was recognized and given his pension.
“I had no pension from the American government from 1946,” the old man who is short of hearing said.
Ceniza, however, still has a sharp mind. He recited from memory the poem “Fall of Bataan” written by Captain Salvador Lopez as Bataan fell and was broadcasted over Voice of Freedom from the Malinta Channel in Corregidor Island.